Friday, February 6, 2009

Would you rather live in Salem or Montaillou?

After reading "The Women and Men of Montaillou and Salem Village: Patterns of Gender and Power" from Mary Hartman's The Household and the Making of History we discussed if we would prefer to live in seventeenth-century Salem or early modern Montaillou. The overwhelming choice of class members was Salem. I was so struck by the reasoning for this choice that I include the highlights here:
Reasons for choosing Salem:
Respect (mentioned three times)
Responsibility (mentioned three times) Overall quality of life for women (mentioned twice) Just legal system (mentioned twice) Lack of pressure to marry “someone extremely older than you” (mentioned twice)
More overlap with men and women’s roles (mentioned twice)
More power in daily life (mentioned twice)
Because women had it “a little easier than Montaillou” More equality (less machismo)

And then these quotes that neatly summarize the ambiguity of preferring Salem:

  • “In Salem the men more readily admitted their fears of women gaining social power”
    “I wouldn’t have wanted to live there [Salem] then, but before [the trials], I’d want to live in Salem. Probably.”
  • “Even though my chances of being raped, accused of witchcraft, and becoming a “spinster” would be greater, I would have more freedom in choice of work, gender roles would be less defined, and since women would outnumber men, it would be more acceptable for me to choose not to get married than it would be in Montaillou. (Where I probably wouldn’t have a choice.)"
  • “Despite Salem being more dangerous as far as the propensity to be a victim of violent assault, I feel Salem is more akin to the world I am acclimatized to. Today women aren’t considered witches and executed, but something that rhymes with witches and are sacrificed on the altar of public opinion.”

Reasons for choosing Montaillou:

  • “Who’s to say that the women didn’t retaliate with equally derogatory remarks that were not recorded?”
  • “Even though, perhaps, women on the whole were less revered than in Salem and more openly scorned they also had more autonomy in their own sphere”

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