Lives of Women in the Renaissance
The renaissance began a momentous time in the history of Western Europe. Many new forms and styles of arts, literature, and customs emerged during this period. Economic, social, and cultural changes affected the lives of everyone. Particularly the role of women in society was affected. There were four categories that women were labeled to, wives, mothers, widows and daughters. Within each of these branches, certain duties were always expected of them. Jacob Burckhardt once wrote, “to understand the higher forms of social intercourse in this period, we must keep before our minds the fact that women stood on a footing of perfect equality with men.”. It is a widely known fact that this in no way was true. Inequalities between men and women have always affected society. Men were constantly gaining up on women and spoke of them with contempt. They believed that woman was more sinful than man. This belief goes back to original sin when Eve had been seduced by the devil. Eve’s actions made men assume that women deserved to suffer. However, the Renaissance helped to narrow the gap between the two sexes. All women whether they are of noble blood, a shopkeeper’s sister, or a farm worker’s daughter, were placed on a higher pedestal then they had expected during this time. Women’s positions in society had effects on the Renaissance period just as great as any mans.
Noble women don’t appear to have a hard life, but when you look between the lines they have it just as rough as any other women of that time. From the beginning, young women were required to learn the basic household skills that they would be expected to execute as wives and mothers. These women did perform textile work, but they did it for luxury, they did not actually need the items they would make. They would use gold thread in their tapestries instead of common cotton. Other domestic skills consisted of embroidering, spinning, weaving, managing economy, supervising servants, and nursing any ailing household members. Beyond this noble women were expected to entertain their husband’s guests and see to the purchase and storage of supplies for the house. From their mothers, young ladies learned about the values of chastity, obedience and silence. Girls were expected to be seen and not heard. Going to church was most often the only time they would get any kind of social interaction outside their families. An early humanist once said he would rather see a girl “deaf and blind than over stimulated to pleasure.”
Teachings of virginity were strong in anyone’s home for both boys and girls in all classes. Before a young lady was to be married, her father had to assure her fiancee’s father that she was indeed a virgin. If a young woman lost her virginity, by rape or seduction, she was most likely to be abandoned by her family. This also meant she was liable to turn to prostitution as a form of employment.
Marriage was more of a political game than a true love story. Most girls who did think seriously about marriage did not think falling in love was a basis for getting married. A young noble woman’s father, or male kin, determined the fate of their daughter’s hand. The decision was based on political, social, and business agreements between families. When a woman married, she was expected to bring in some of her father’s wealth to the family. Marriage turned into more of a business transaction between the parents of the two fiances. Men often didn’t see his wife-to-be until the day for the signing of the marriage contract. Adolescent girls of twelve or thirteen usually married older men. These men would be in their late twenties and early thirties on most occasions. This resulted in loveless marriages which led to many more problems. Adultery was constantly looked upon as a serious crime committed by a wife.
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