Gender in the Early Modern Period

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  • Gender in the Early Modern Period (according to Bernard Capp, other historians in bold)
    • Mish on Long Meg of Westminster
      • doughty young woman who dressed as a man, fought and overcame male adversaries
      • Performed heroic feats in Henry VIII's wars against France
      • example of how defying gender roles in this period often were impermanent
        • Meg married and vowed to be respectful and obedient wife
    • Gender constituted one of key foundations of European order
      • Shaped almost every sphere (social, economic, political, religious)
    • Despite some changes, fundamental assumptions underpinning educated and popular thinking regarding women, survived intact
      • Ideas reaching back to classical and biblical times
        • influenced relationships within family
    • Family
      • Seen as loving partnership
      • Husband had absolute, unquestionable supremacy
      • Social unit best equipped to raise children and transmit social values to next generation
      • Unstable (through death, not divorce)
      • Frequently contained members biologically unrelated to either parent
    • Axiom throughout Europe that two sexes possessed very different characteristics
      • Male superior
      • Basis
        • Christian religion was essentially male-orientated
          • Like Judaic tradition it had its roots in
          • God created Adam first, Eve was companion and 'helpmeet'
          • Eve's weakness in face of temptation had triggered man's fall and expulsion from Garden of Eden
          • New Testament reinforced message
            • Jesus choosing male disciples and St Paul preaching duty of obedience of women
          • Protestant Reformation further strengthened religion's male character by rejecting cult of saints and of the Virgin Mary
        • Religious teaching was supported by medical science stretching back to Greeks
          • Aristotle had taught women were imperfect men
          • For centuries, physicians explained human body was composed of four 'humours':
            • Balance found in women (primarily cold and moist) made them intellectually, morally and physically weaker
          • According to Laqeuer
            • Some physicians believed there was only a single sex
              • humoral balance alone responsible for creating male and female sexual identities
                • should balance be reversed a man might turn into a woman (or vice versa, should balance be reversed)
                  • Such fears may have contributed to nervousness about gender and alarm whenever women imitated male dress or men behaved effeminately
    • Work
      • Manual work
        • Physical strength remained essential requirement in many occupations, including agriculture
          • Gave men obvious advantage
        • Though manual work made many women physically strong
          • offset by repeated pregnancies and care of small children
    • Custom
      • Gender-based assumptions had led to many areas to exclusion from:
        • Education
        • Many trades and professions
      • Most  people naturally absorbed ideas and values of society in which they had grown up
        • Strong-minded individuals tempted to challenge them could not point to any place or time when things had been different
    • Patriarchal
      • Description of early modern European society
      • Male authority underpinned within family and in society at large by web of laws, regulations and custom
    • Regional variations
      • Roman Law, religion and custom combined to limit women's freedom and rights far more severely in Southern Europe than in the north
      • Foreign visitors sometimes described England (with considerable exaggeration) as a paradise for women
        • No one spoke in such terms of Spain or Italy
          • where middle- and upper-class women were largely confined to home


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