Middle Ages Women Rights - Medieval Women Roles Facts and Information
The role of women in Medieval times was dictated by Church doctrine. The Church held two contradicting views on women. One view was that women were evil; the daughters of Eve. The other view was that women were blessed as the Virgin mother of Christ. Overall, women were thought to be inferior to men and were treated as such. Although many women succumbed to their inferior placement, a few women managed to rise above and rule not only their men folk but kingdoms as well. Regardless of how women were treated, they remained the backbone of the medieval family.
Both noble and peasant Medieval women had a difficult life. Most women of both social classes were restricted to household tasks such as cooking, sewing, weaving and spinning. In addition to household tasks, peasant women worked in the fields. However, women also hunted for food and some fought in battles. When their homes and castles were under siege, as was common in these days of instability, women took up arms in defense. When Raymond of Tripoli went to plead his case to the King of Jerusalem, he left his wife in charge of defense of the castle knowing Saladin threatened his domain.
A few women were merchants, apothecaries and blacksmiths. Many were midwives. Still a few women managed to have enough time to engage in creative activities such as writing, playing musical instruments, dancing and painting. These artistic women were apart of the nobility. Peasant women had little time for such frivolities.
Education in the Middle Ages was generally reserved for the nobility. Women were not encouraged to get an education. At the age of eight, boys began their education away from their mothers and/or nurses. It was believed that if they remained around women, the boys would acquire feminine traits. Boys began their education in knighthood. Likewise, girls began their education in managing the manor. They were taught only what it was thought that women would need to know to manage the estates and nothing more. However, like everything else there were exceptions.
St. Thomas Aquinas stated a widely accepted notion regarding women, quote The woman is subject to man on account of the weakness of her nature. Man is the beginning of woman and her end, just as God is the beginning and end of every creature. Children ought to love their father more than they love their mother. end of quote Medieval society and more specifically the Church had no place for a well-educated woman. It was thought that women had weaker minds. Either by conditioning or by submission, many women thought this true. These women did not encourage or support any notions of educating their female offspring such as the case regarding Christine de Pisan's education.
Education was a key factor in a women's status. Those women who were not educated tended to accept their inferior placement. Those women who were educated challenged the system. Educated women were more assertive and aggressive. Some acted within the system working towards their goals through their men. Others actively sought acknowledgement through writing such as Christine de Pisan. Over her mother's objections, her father insisted Christine received an excellent education. Christine wrote the book, The Book of Arms and Chivalry, the handbook for knightly conduct widely thought to be written by a man. Throughout her life, Christine opposed the traditions that suppressed women with her writings.
The Church regarded women as the daughter of Eve. Women were objects of temptations and thereby dangerous. Consequently, women were barred from holding any position of authority within the Church and were excluded from the priesthood. However, women were allowed to be a member of the regular clergy and follow a monastic order. Many women of the nobility converted their homes into Benedictine convents. These convents provided a religious education to women of all classes. In these convent women as nuns hand copied and illustrated Christian and Classical manuscripts just as monks did in the monasteries. This tedious task helped preserve history and literature that might otherwise have been forgotten.
Many women devoted their lives to God and spiritual matters. A few of these women were sincere in their devotion. However, most nuns had been placed in religious houses by their parent not by choice. Hence, the religious houses were not as chaste as they were intended. Nuns were known to take bribes, have sex with other clergy, perform herbal abortions and take part in other scandalous affairs. This behavior contributed to the negative attitudes of society towards women. The prevailing view among the churchmen was that women were weak self indulgent and inherently inferior. This is not to say that monks did not behave any better. Women were blamed for the monk's lewd behavior because women were thought to be temptresses.
The clergy often debated the roles of women in Medieval Times. The mere act of debating the issue signifies women's overall lowly status. Thomas Aquinas debated whether women should have been created in the first production of things in reference to creation. From his analysis, he concluded that women were indeed inferior but were necessary as a helpmate to man and for propagating the species.