Saturday, January 29, 2011

Women in the Catholic Reformation: Patricia Ranft and Teresa of Avila

As I read “A Key to the Counter Reformation Women,” I loved how Ranft took another author’s thesis and, while giving credit to the author, built upon it. I thought this was a perfect example of what we are trying to do—to build upon the current historiography and join in the conversation of European Women’s History. The author adds to the argument by claiming that women gained power because of their relationship to the patriarchal society of Catholicism. She explains that Women sought spiritual direction and appealed to their confessors, both actions were accomplished through “The Confessor-Spiritual Director.” In explaining the structure of the patriarchal society contained within the Catholic Church, Ranft shows the ability of such a society to flex and allow power over religious matters to be controlled by each individual woman, while still maintaining the power of the patriarchal society.

In reading the excerpts of the biography of Teresa of Avila, I found them to be rather intriguing. One selection in particular I found appealing was Chapter 10. In this chapter, Saint Teresa explains the ways in which she has found mercy in the Lord and the power of prayer. She also states her view of being a woman, as it pertains to the context of religion and her function within the church’s structure. She states “the very thought that I am a woman is enough to make my wings droop -- how much more, then, the thought that I am such a wicked one! ... it is seen that on so foul and malodorous a dunghill He [the Lord] has planted a garden of sweet flowers.” This statement bothered me when I read it, and still does. Though she was a very pious and wonderful saint, because she was a woman she felt as if she was worthless and could not achieve, except in the Lord. Though perhaps she is proclaiming her humility, I wonder at her thoughts concerning women’s role in religion and if their religious experiences were valid and useful enough to impart to others.

I chose to classify these sources under the themes of Religion and Gender because they both address the roles, or views, of women in Catholic society contrasted with that of men.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wiesner-Hanks and Karant-Nunn: One Wise(ner) Lady, and Another Wise Lady Who Isn't A Nun

Here’s the question of the day: is a revolution really a revolution if conditions stay the same or worsen for half the population? Is an intellectual movement a movement if the wives of the Great Thinkers don’t actually move? The two articles that deal with this question fall under this general theme: finding a place for women within traditionally masculine categories and periods of history. Merry Wisner-Hanks’ article addresses the concerns first raised by Kelly’s article “Did Women Have A Renaissance?” in the 1970s. She acknowledges some of the concerns of this article and of surrounding scholarship, scholars who maintain that broad historical and chronological categories first established by male scholars and that have primarily studied male actors are not applicable to the field of women’s history. This argument seems important to acknowledge: it’s a bit like writing that United States a country where men have the right to life and liberty while ignoring the slaves harvesting the crops that sustain that life.
The term “early modern” also might imply “modern Europe against a yet-to-be-modernized non-Europe” (543). This is a problem for all western scholars – why should we pretend that it isn’t? Our categories of analysis have long rested upon cultural assumptions, and these assumptions are important to know and to understand before we can rid ourselves of them. Ultimately, Wiesner-Hanks’ argument becomes one that refutes essentialism and decides to be creative, looking at new historical areas of study which have taken on the idea of women in history. “Change outweighs continuity across the medieval/modern divide” (545). Her most convincing arguments are her articulations of these new fields of study, including the vast impact of female household members on religious revolutions and movements, the newly-recognized “camp followers” in military history, as well as the effects of Ottoman slavery on mothers and sisters who were left behind. It seems like we might just be missing the scholars who will acknowledge these facts and study them at length.
Susan C. Karant-Nunn, is an example of a scholar who follows this line of thinking. She outlines a detailed analysis of the women who were involved in or affected by the events of the Reformation – a sweeping category that, as she shows, that can be used for effectively analyzing the lives of women at the time and changes that impacted their lives specifically. She details the lives of women in religious sects who were forced out of convents and brothels, and how this shift contributed to an overall focus toward women in the home. These changes, she believes, may have led to a decline in religious and social choices, as well as rights for women. The doctrines of the Protestant faith that led the Reformation established an entirely new role for women: an elevated status as wives and homemakers, and an accompanying strengthening of the power of the state to intervene in these relationships through the state marriage court (184). Counter-Reformation movements also changed the lives of women in significant ways, most significantly through increased religious scholarship and fervor by all Catholics, including women (188).
Both Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks base their scholarship on the concern that throwing out all categories altogether might depict women’s lives as “motionless,” a constant that isn’t a part of history scholarship and therefore shouldn’t be bothered with it (543). I argue that women do, in fact, need a Renaissance, because their contributions and involvement in the period are impossible to ignore for those who decide that it’s valid to look for them. Rejecting the systems by which we have been analyzing history sets the historical conversation back by too much, and in too many ways.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan's writing fit best under the category of "gender" as she essentially seeks to define the worth of men and women in their own separate spheres. Her work starts off with as she recounts her experience of learning through the writings of men that women were cursed for the evil nature of their sex. She stated, "this reason alone, in short, made me conclude that although my intellect in its simplicity and ignorance did not recognize the great defects in myself and in other women, it must nonetheless be so" (120). The important part to note here is that she did not see any fault in herself or others, thereby suggesting that the ideas of inferiority and baseness that were applied to the woman race were merely constructed by men with no legitimate basis for such condemnation. Therefore, we can see that the "inferiority of women" defies nature, and therefore defies the will of God. Pizan furthers this notion by recounting her prayer wherein she stated, "For lest I am mistaken in my faith, I am not allowed to doubt that Your infinite wisdom and perfect goodness created anything that is not good" (120). We learn through teachings of our own church, paricularly the January 2011 visiting teaching message, that men and women were created equal, but that the divine roles of men and women are different. That is why women are given intelligence in the first place: to fulfill their designated role as women.

Her prayer ends with, more or less, a deferrment of responsibility for her ability to please God. "But since Your kindness does not extend to me, forgive my negligence in Your service, good Lord God, and let it not displease You: for the servant who recieves fewer gifts from his lord is less obliged to be of service to him" (120). This statement brings up the never ending debate of nature versus nuture. She claims that because she was endowed with the shortcomings of being a woman she cannot elevate herself above what she has been given. But as we know that men and women were created equal, we are left to conclude that Pizan's hopelessness is a result of societal conditioning that has trained her to submit to men as they are the higher sex. This idea of social conditioning is reemphasized as the Lady of Reason referred to the writings of men as "strange opinions," thereby suggesting unnatural philosophies (121).

The 3 ladies commission Pizan to build a "city of ladies" where beauty and virtue will be preserved and respected in the highest degree. This city will only be open to pious women, excluding all men with their corruptive powers. The creation of the city seems to imply a superiority of the female specie, for without the presence of men all would cease to exist (common knowledge). But there is something about select women that needs to be preserved and isolated in a utopian city, which seems to suggest that these women have overcome the need for men. However, later we read that there is a division of men between those who are good and honorable, and those who are predisposed to sin (129-30). Because the good men are to be praised and admired, it almost seems hypocritical that the city of ladies would ban such goodness from their midst, but rather these men should be embraced and welcomed amidst a community that values goodness.

On the other hand, the bad men are to be pitied for their inability to overcome their own weaknesses. One of the 3 ladies states, "all evil things that are said about women in such a general way only hurt those who say them, and women themselves" (122), and then she goes on to explain that men who speak ill of women are merely overcompensating for their own failings, such as living an unchaste life, and as such a man becomes stricken in years and without repentance he places the blame on women for his eternal condemnation because he had not the power to resist. In this sense, Pizan almost reverses the role of gender by asserting that instead of women being inherently evil it is the men, for they are the weaker sex in terms of moral uprightness. Men too easily fall into temptation, and therefore more easily become instruments of the devil.

Sorry this is so long. I guess I just had a lot of thought as I read this.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hartman Ch.1

I'm still a little iffy as to how to do this, but here goes.

First of all, the primary chapter in Hartman's book could be classified as quite a few of the given themes (like most readings), but I think the best fit is marriage and family. Hartman is essentially proposing a new way of writing, reading and processing not only historiography of women, but primary sources of women. This involves reevaluating what it is we as historians (and general public) assign importance to. Perhaps this is naive or just stupid of me, but many of her points I read with the impression that they would be difficult, if not impossible, to contest. For example, I think its pretty clear that the household is overlooked in history. I'd like to see someone who could prove it to be equally represented, as "substantially" represented is partial and easier to fudge. Although what I've said thus far has made the book and ideology out to be aggressive and radical, what is  most interesting and appealing to me was the nature of the influence. Hartman states clearly that her objective is more soft, though just as strong. She is not trying to revamp the entire would as through rebellion or anger, rather she hopes to essentially fine-tune the lens through which gender and happenings are assigned significance.
As the table of contents hinted at, a vastly important point in Hartman's argument deals with the subject of age and marriage, specifically in women. It seems that trends of later marriages are linked to many other societal details. For me, the first chapter gave credibility to her ideology. There's something very empowering in beginning to reevaluate or at least realize the significance and capability of studying the household and women's contributions. To pull in Ulrich's article, for some there is something intimidating about the prospect of attaining value in society and history only through rebellion or shocking displays. Hartman's thought process really has potential to change that notion, and it'll be nice to get deeper into the solid argument with the following chapters.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Welcome to History 318 - European Women's History

This course is designed to provide the student with a general knowledge of European women’s lives since 1400 and the historiography of women’s history and gender history. Class will consist of a combination of lectures, discussions, exams, reports, and class presentations. Discussion is encouraged during all class times.