Paul Halsall

Introduction to the Medieval World

Class 22: Gendered History: Roles of Medieval Women and Men

Assigned Reading:



I. Introduction - Gender in History A. Fields of history -Political and constitutional - reflects Whig concerns -economic - reflects Marxist concerns -social - reflects sociological concerns -History of mentalities - reflects Freudian concerns Recent political social movements -Black -Women's -Gay and Lesbian -Has implications for what historians study. B. Women in History Half of humanity is women. Yet look at history books. Virtually all men. This reflects a very real truth. Historiography has tended to concentrate on public aspects of life, but for centuries women have been excluded from public roles. Recent history has tried to widen the picture. -By looking at private life and roles -Most women were married, ergo look at marriage -looking at demography -looking at what power/agency women did have. C. Many viewpoints in Women's history [and feminism] -Great mothers -Explaining patriarchy -Explaining how things came together culturally. D. Variety of women's experience Even in the middle ages we have been able to outline changes in society and culture that had effect on women's lives. Women's lives varied over time and distance. They had many roles to play. II. Women's Marital Status Probably the most important aspect of a women's life, and the possibilities open to her was her marital status A. Unmarried - Under father's or mother's rule might have responsibility around the house Not usually educated B. Married - Under husband's rule Child rearing probably major role C. Widowed - Most powerful position Had control of own income could be married off by a feudal lord. III. Women and Work A. Peasants Married -Farm work -Housework Widowed -Brewing ale -Sewing B. Aristocracy -Uncomfortable living arrangements at first -household management -sewing C. Townswomen - after commercial revolution gets under way -Women's guilds -selling food - hucksters -attempts to exclude them in some towns D. Women and the Professions -Teaching - only in convents -Law - no -Medicine - yes - tradition of women doctors, not many -Midwives IV. Women and Power A woman's position then depended very often on her relationship to a man. But this did not mean women lacked all power or agency. A. Sources and reality Most written by men. Also we have to rely on laws etc. But we see even lower class women could boss around their husband son occasion - Wife of Bath. Personal circumstance can never be ignored. B. Aristocrats -Widows - administrating lands Supporting and promoting children Commissioning art and writing Women as book owners C. Queens Repeatedly women could hold power as Queens Not usually Queens regnant, although that too sometimes - Eleanor of Aquitaine - Blanche of Castile - Urarca of Leon/Castile V. Women and Religion A. Bible - Has powerful women Naomi and Ruth. Delilah, Mary Magdalene, BV Mary. B. Early Church Order of Widows Deaconesses C. Patristic Misogyny - Mix biology and story of Eve -Women as fields to be plowed -as deficient men -women as bringers of sin into the world -as sexually voracious -Reflected in Gregorian reform. D. Nuns 1. Double Monasteries in early middle ages 2. Women's Monasteries - enclosure 3. St. Clare - failure to break out Appeal of vita apostolica E. Late Medieval Women's Religion and Mysticism -Women living together - Beguines. Late 13th C. on -Mysticism -Julian of Norwich. Jesus as Mother -Use of food to control bodies. F. Women writers Hildegard of Bingen Christine de Pisan VI. Varieties of Marriage A. Choice in Marriage Church law v. Family strategy - -Royalty and Aristocratic women -Townswomen -Peasants B. Women and Sex - Double standard - to preserve lineages - not a sufficient explanation C. Early middle ages - shortage of women - Brideprice D. Later middle ages - Dowry system E. European Marriage Pattern - Hajnal develops in late middle ages -Equal ages -Late marriage -few children Possibly contribute to development of capitalism and industrialization. VII. Women and Children Theory of history of childhood -Philippe Aries - no children in MA -Psychohistory - constant transference BUT There were children in the middle ages. High Mortality VII A new Field - The history of Sexuality? Class discussion on "homoerotic texts" and Thorp readings. Did heterosexuality exist in the middle ages?

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© Paul Halsall, 1996.

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