Womens Roles


Depending on a woman^Òs role or class in society, she could be restricted or
praised by her words and actions. As in almost any civilization, money brings
certain advantages, the greatest one of the Renaissance times being education.
The upper class women were taught that silence towards and obligation to their
husbands was considered proper. Eloquence was equivalent to silence in the
male frame of mind. Keeping with the theme of male dominance, it has been said
that "Woman^Òs attempt to rule is an act of treason." (2) Any act of liberation
was seen as a violation against God, otherwise the people they called "men"
(2). The speech of a woman has been compared to "the naked of her limbs" (4)
inferring the spoken thought of a woman with any basis in intellect would be
shameful, embarrassing or something even to look down upon. Therefore, because
any outward act of intelligence was a "violation," this could be seen as a
distinct limitation.

But it has also been said that a woman could "speak very elegantly and she was
able in all those languages to answer ambassadors on the sudden." (1)
Although, it was only being applied to Queen Elizabeth I, the statement can
also be applied to other such greats in the past like Queen Isabella of Spain,
Anne of Brittany-Queen of Charles VIII, and of the mid 1440^Òs- Isotta Nogarola
(5). The idea of a woman^Òs intelligence was not completely denounced in
Renaissance times; everyone knew that it did exist, but the people went out
about repressing it in such a way that it was viewed by the majority of people
as something disgraceful and disreputable. 

Within the homes, for upper class women, some of the problems as mentioned
above remained, but where not as severe always. Moving on, the upper class did
have some leverage when it came to their inner family circle. For example, the
wealthier families paid nurses to breast feed their children. But, then again,
because of this, the wealthier women bore more children, each time risking
their lives; for the morality rate of childbirth was 10% in all women. The age
range for the wealthy women to have children fell somewhere in adolescence
while the range for the poorer and merchant classes was their mid-twenties.

One of the most important thing when it came to raising a child was to make
sure that he or she had all his or her needs fulfilled, most importantly, once
again, being necessity of knowledge in social skills and humanitarian studies.
The poorer and merchant classes could not afford a formal education but men
and women alike were trained in some kind of trade. The wealthier families
could afford tutors. Reading was stressed, but the concept of silence and
eloquence being interchangeable was still stressed among women. Yet after
understanding the significance of a quality education, the two main goals of a
woman^Òs education were still to develop the belief that male was superior and
to master the tools needed to raise a family properly. 

Even still, it was difficult to obtain this kind of quality education in the
humanistic studies that so few women fulfilled. According to Laura Cereta,
"^ÅKnowledge is not given as a gift, but (is gained) with diligence."*. The
ability to learn is in all women. She continues to re-enforce that women have
not banded together strongly enough in their fight for a quality schooling
when she states," (But) where we (women) should be forceful we are (too often)
devious; where we should be confident we are insecure. (Even worse), we are
content with our condition."* . Women have not been strong enough in their
fight for knowledge even though Cereta clearly points out throughout her
writings they had the definite mental capability. It was society that hindered

Continuing with the motif of hindrance, because society limited women in a
number of ways in getting a quality course of study, many entered the convent.
This way, they could receive a quality education for free. Both upper and
merchant class families would put their daughters in convents for one basic
reason; they could not afford to marry both daughters because the dowries of
each would be lessened and not as "attractive" when making marriage
arrangements. Though this seemed to be an advantageous way of learning, it did
have its faults. According to Christen de Pisan, "Some say that clerks or
priests have written your works for you for they could not come from feminine
intelligence^Å" (7). As once can see, it was not only in the "social" aspect
that women have been neglected the recognition of mind, but also in the church
where one would conceive respect is almost obligatory. But then again, the
church^Òs prestige in general was declining. 

Also, in the convent, they were forced to practice chastity. Women who bore
illegitimate children not only faced the banishment and bring disgrace upon
their families, but taxation, imprisonment and banishment. Women had a
multitude of opinions about the convents. Some saw it as a "house of
detention," but others looked at this more positively. As I stated above this
was one of the few places that a women could receive a meritorious education,
mainly with a focus on the humanities. In the 10c, a woodcut by Alfred D^× rer,
he shows a 10c nun giving self-written Latin satires to Emperor Otto I (15).
"They were recovered and published in 1501 by the German humanist Conrad
Celtis" (15). In some rare instances, women did become recognized.

For those women who were not forced to go into the convent and wished to work,
they were also presented with a number of possibilities and restrictions. Like
the upper Renaissance women, their family situation(s) were equal in such the
man was head. The major difference between the two classes has to be their
daily tasks. Not only did the merchant-urban class have to raise a family, but
they also held trade jobs. Many women were butchers, iron workers, and a
collection of diversified types of artisans. Nevertheless, women were not
allowed to teach others their trade. One would say that a woman probably was
not competent enough to teach it to others. But if she was competent enough to
learn it, why would one doubt that she could teach it? The last difference
that occurred with merchant women was that they did earn some respect in their
work place, but it would never be publicly recognized.

Society, through the ages, looked at women as a group, like an other
discriminated group, not as people of manifold capabilities. Although this
view of women as a minority is continued into today^Òs society, one could say
that some progress has been made in the aspects of education and occupations. 


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