The Myth of Women as 'Victims'
Women are abused in some families, just as children and men are. Women also abuse other women --- just as men sometimes do. Feminists often seem to be women who suffer from depression, and who have taught themselves to be in a constant state of high anger. Lesbian couples sometimes have a history of severe abuse. Which gender abuses more often, or with more traumatic effect? I don't know. But I don't think human biology has turned any of us into tender saplings that bend or break at the merest breath of a spring breeze.
The formidable aunt is a stock character of Victorian humor because many women of that time were like that. There's a reason why 19th century England was named after Queen Victoria. They were largely unsentimental times. The poor lived Dickensian lives. Disasters like the Irish potato famine were not uncommon, even in the wealthier countries. Victorian sentimentality flourished mainly in fantasy, as Jane Austen made so clear in her novels. The best fiction of Victorian times always features powerhouse women.
It's not just Wodehouse who portrayed powerful mothers, aunts, and mothers-in-law. They can be found throughout history, long before the feminist movement officially claimed to represent oppressed women. The scheming and deadly Lady Macbeth was not just a fictional character. Shakespeare's court characters are taken from Elizabethan court life, and it was Elizabeth I who sent her rival Queen Mary to the chopping block, after all. Elizabeth had her enemies killed because that was how royals survived and conquered in her time.
In fact, modern feminism is only the most recent manifestation of the powerhouse female. Feminism was propagated by power-driven women who simply claimed (without a shred of evidence) that all women are victims. Tell that to the Last Empress of China, or Hillary Clinton, or Michelle Obama. Or any of Obama's women commissars like Janet Napolitano. Or the Harvard feminist commissars who threw Larry Summers out of the presidency for making a non-PC remark.
Mothers and mothers-in-law played a huge role in dynastic succession struggles, because they often knew that their sons would be killed if they did not get rid of his competitors. The Ottomans at one time simply killed off all the dynastic competitors to the chosen sultan as a matter of practical policy. In the sultan's throne room the women of the harem watched, hidden behind a screen, but they were keeping score of all of the sultan's acts and plotting with his eunuchs. These women delighted in power, like the Empress Livia (see Robert Graves' I, Claudius). The Ottomans finally decreed that their sultans must not marry; instead, they had concubines, whose sons were technically not entitled to inherit the throne. I doubt that it made much of a difference.
The politically powerful women of Rome were often monsters of sexual exploitation and public sadism. They were as eager to see the sadistic Coliseum spectacles of bloody murder and rapine as the men. To them, vicious cruelty was entertainment. They were not porcelain dolls.
The early Soviet Union was full of women commissars serving Lenin and Stalin. After the death of Mao Zedong, the Gang of Four who ruled China were led by Jiang Qing, Mao's last wife. And you can be sure that today, in the hermit Stalinocracy of Kim Jong Il, women are deeply involved in plotting and scheming to decide the succession.
Some victims; some beach bunnies.