How does the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning demand equality for women through her sonnet ‘If Thou Must Love Me’?
Going by the overall condition of women in the Victorian Era, E. B. Browning seems to raise her voice against the male-dominated (patriarchal) society. Women were to stay more or less an “ornament of society”. But she was not willing to accept that. She demanded to be loved genuinely, not as a symbol of beauty.
The very title and starting of the sonnet, ‘If thou must love me’ shows a kind of nonchalant attitude towards the conventional way or concept of love. She is here serious about her value and claims to be equal to a man and inflicts her own conditions if her lover has to love her at all. She hates the idea that someone would love her for her looks or beauty which is transitory (short-lived). Rather, she prefers to be loved and respected for her knowledge, skills and other valuable personality traits.
In the Victorian era women did not have the right to vote, the right to sue and right to own property. They were not given the opportunity to study classical and commercial subjects. They were deemed as a ‘social ornament’ who were valued for physical appearance. However some women like Elizabeth Barrett Browning did make a mark in society. Though in her writings she passionately spoke of child labour and oppression of women, in this poem she mocks the courtly kind of love, as an unrealistic measure of love.