Women's Identity Of Women In The Early Modern Period

Submitted By rebeccamflucker
Words: 3317
Pages: 14

The effects of the Protestant Reformation in England went far beyond the alterations made to Catholic doctrine. Starting with Henry VIII’s rejection of the papacy and concluding with the Elizabethan Settlement in 1559, English culture was altered indefinitely1. A striking feature of early modern English society was the institutionalized male dominance over women and children in the family. This centuries old patriarchal structure of society became more rigid with the onset of Protestantism. As a result, the female sex were subjected to an adjustment to their gender identity. Another defining attribute of the early modern period, was the importance of one’s credit. The combination of gender and reputation formed the enduring public identity of any person, constituting as it did the communal appraisal of an individual’s worth2. The notion of gender, in the early modern period, was redefined in such a way that women’s identities were sculpted based on the importance of credit in coordination with the deep rooted patriarchal structure of society, as determined from a Protestant perspective. This paper will thus argue that women’s gender identity was redefined with stricter boundaries, done so under the Protestant ethic, relaying importance on patriarchy and good credit. In order to do this, this paper will analyze how the transformed gender identity of women restricted their roles in the political, economical and social spheres of their experience of the transformation of society. It is important to understand that there is a difference between the concepts sex and gender. While both recognize the distinctions between men and women, sex determines the difference between males and females purely on biological evidence. Gender, on the other hand, is a notion that is sociological in nature, composing the feelings, attitudes, and behaviours associated with being male or female. Additionally, one’s gender identity is determined with their identification, or sense of belonging to a particular sex, based on biological, psychological and social reasoning. In the early modern period, as holds true even today, women’s experience of society differed based on what social class and geographical region a female belonged to, paying special attention to whether it was an urban or rural setting 3. Marital status also plays a central role in determining the way in which a woman experiences society4. The fluidity in the nature of the concept of gender is a prime reason to define what gender in the early modern period was and came to be. Women’s role in society had for centuries been prescribed by a model of patriarchy provided by Christianity. As Protestantism began to take hold it’s influence altered the intellectual and structural foundations of male dominance. The following five factors came to define this transitioning perspective: first, history, custom and language reinforced the intellectual and legal foundations of patriarchy; in turn, female subordination was thought to reflect the natural order; consequently, the patriarchal mindset recognized a close link between domestic and political order; in principle and practice, the law was reflective of this, and provided a fourth prop for male superiority. The fifth and most important ideological pillar of patriarchy was scripture. It was in Genesis 3:16, for instance, where it states that ‘unto the woman God said . . . thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee’5. This indicates a model of women’s obedience to men in marriage. This subordination of women derives from the Great Chain notion that women were designed by God to be inferior to men and that their impulsive, loud and loose nature was why men were sent on a relentless campaign headed by Church and the elite, in the oppression against women. For it was in the spontaneous nature of women that dire consequences for peace were created and thus social order was threatened by them. This highlights that tensions