Sunday, January 25, 2009

'The Reformation of Women' Chp. 7 of "Becoming Visible"

Susan C. Karant-Nunn concluded chapter 7 with the firm statement that "the Reformations worsened women's position." Using the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as her historical markers, Karant-Nunn discusses how each reformed path of Christendom led to religious, economic and social refashioning of women's roles in each category; the greatest emphasis is, of course, placed on the changes in the religious practices of women.

In many ways, Karant-Nunn's work parallels Joan Kelly's article, 'Did women have a Renaissance?' Both the Reformation and the Renaissance which seem to provide greater progress for humankind have the opposite affect on women. Karant-Nunn relates how before the Reformation, women were members of confraternities, nuns and healers. She also claims women were allowed some part in feast days, processions and the commissioning of art. Karant-Nunn argues that the Protestants stripped women of such inclusion, focusing more on the role of women as wives and mothers. Many convents were closed, forcing women without skills back into a world they were ill prepared for. Protestant reasoning said that all people had lustful desires and that marriage was ideal to keep such in check and propagate the next generation of Christian believers. Because Protestantism could only survive in state-sponsored environments, both the church and state worked to reign in institutions that supported single women, namely convents and brothels. The Protestant attitude,Karant-Nunn asserts was even more hostile to women than before because it rejected the iconography and worship of the Virgin Mary which provided another woman aside from Eve for women to become associated with.

The Counter-Reformation sought to impose uniformity, which Karant-Nunn argues, led to the narrowing of religious scope for women. Though convents remained an option for women, the movement of nuns into the secular world was much more limited and essentially they were confined within the walls of the convent and more heavily regulated than before.

The final piece Karant-Nunn discusses is the witch craze. She says that without the compliance of theologians, judges, lawyers and magistrates, the with craze never would have occurred; essentially the world view of all these educated men was steeped in religiosity that allowed for the hunting of witches. The witch hunting was associated with females and included treatises written about women and witches and sexual overtones which all reveal in Karant-Nunn's opinion how the anxiety over church and state caused by the Reformations revealed the misogynistic attitudes of the society.

-Deborah Goodwin

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