Thursday, February 24, 2011

Women and the Revolution

The readings for the Women and the Revolution covered the political transitions surrounding the French Revolution with three primary sources and chapter 10 from Becoming Visible. These documents fit in the categories of gender, citizenship, and education.

The French Revolution marked the early beginnings of modern democracy including the ideas of citizenship, popular sovereignty, and human rights, but prejudices toward the female gender continued to persist. During July 1789, the National Guardsmen accompanied by men and women stormed the Bastille marking liberty's victory over despotism (Visible 270). Then in August the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted. However, this document that declared human rights left out the hundreds of women that had participated in politics. The declaration only recognized active, tax-paying men as having the right to legal citizenship. In contrast, women were seen as passive citizens who could never attain that right (Visible 273). Despite the active involvement of many women in this movement, their ability to gain citizenship next to men remained out of reach once the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was implemented that strengthened the polarity of gender roles.

The text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen holds many ideals of the Enlightenment era including the right to life, liberty and property. I found it very interesting that even though women were active participants in political debates and activities like pamphleteering, salons, and marches, they were ignored in this monumental document. This was the "most extensive feminine political engagement in the Western world in the early modern period" and Lafayette decided to cut them out of the draft (Visible 265)? How could women not be outraged and proceed with more vigor than ever before to assert their equality? Fortunately, women did not give up at this gender segregation development but decided to fight for democratic ideals as well as express their disappointment with the declaration.

Olympe de Gouges wrote an ironic twist to the declaration to show political authorities that women had the right to be recognized as fully legal citizens. Her work, the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, depicts her disgust with the original document and strives to belittle the male voices that have tried to oppress her sex. She declares in the preamble, "The sex that is as superior in beauty as it is in courage during the sufferings of maternity recognizes and declares in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of woman and of female citizens" (Gouges). She believes women are born free and are equal to men, which is illustrated by the seventeen articles in her declaration that give women the same rights and privileges as men. Her aversion to society's ideas about gender and citizenship are displayed in this and other works produced during this tumultuous era.

Mary Wollstonecraft talks about education and liberty in chapter two of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She sees the lack of women's education as the contributing factor to a woman's lack of liberty. Wollstonecraft believes that "all the writers who have written on the subject of female education and manners from Rousseau to Dr. Gregory have contributed to render women more artificial, weak characters, than they would otherwise have been; and more consequently, more useless members of society" (Wollstonecraft). Just as Wollstonecraft advocates, women are capable of reason just as man, and they should be entitled to receive education that will enable women to engage in society. Finally, Wollstonecraft found that the only difference between man and woman is the "superior advantage of liberty, which enables [man] to see more of life" (Wollstonecraft). Perhaps if women were better educated then they could participate in the same ideals of liberty that men already enjoyed. Wollstonecraft and Gouges spoke out against the status quo to change the political course; they were united by the concept of liberating women from inferior positions instituted by society as seen in education, citizenship, and gender roles.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Resistance from the Margins: Worsted Spinners

This reading was about how the worsted spinners in Yorkshire were an essential part of the industrial revolution, yet historians tend to completely ignore their influence on society. This falls under the theme of employment and work, and is also very connected to gender.

From the beginning, worsted spinners helped Yorkshire emerge as the "national center of worsted production, securing a prominent place in Britain's manufacturing economy" (221). Even through all the changes of the business of spinning, the spinners always had some sort of employment even if it was minimal. Through the employment of worsted spinners, it was evident that the occupation and employment were very gendered. One example of this is that an employer "refused to recognize most of the women he employed as independent workers" (224). He listed them under their husband's names because he would not see them as their own. The status of spinners was link to gender, and gave it a low status: "In an age when the wider culture increasingly defined work by its links to the market, the ties of spinning to the household and domestic sphere ensured its low status" (224).

It is interesting how jobs are so gendered and how that affects their status. Spinning was once link very closely to the market, but because women dominate the business, it is considered domestic and has a low status. Although if men dominated the business, then it would not be considered a domestic job. Even though it was considered a household, domestic chore, women made the most of their job. Their communities were very close and protected each other. "In a world where people and landscapes were known in minute detail, family ties, neighborhood life, and the experience of work forged deep layers of social cohesion and often, antipathy to outsiders" (237). These women worked hard and did all that they could to "to assert themselves and advance their interests" (226). The worsted spinners of Yorkshire may have been ignored by historians, but they were hard workers and made the most of their employment even though their gender prohibited them from many advantages a the growing world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Emergence of Modern Women

The time for me to blog has come! And thankfully, I have been selected to blog on our readings from Becoming Visible ch. 9 and the article, "Education for All" by Christine Mayer. Although I have previously never read extensively on the Enlightenment, I felt a distinct excitement as I read about the eighteenth century. Just as my title points out, this truly is a time when we begin to see an emerging of what would become the modern women of today.

I, like probably many of you, glanced at the title of "Education for All" and immediately wrote on the top of my paper: "EDUCATION", expecting this entire article to fit neatly under this heading. However, with further study came the realization that during this time period, the greater topic for discussion was gender roles and women's nature. The struggle in proper education became representative of a greater underlying topic of discussion: the role of women in society. It was through the topic education and the acquisition of knowledge that men tried to prolong their reign over women. However, the Enlightenment opened a door to a world of educated women. Now the article, "Education for All" spoke directly on Germany's slightly delayed Enlightenment. There were two main groups of reasoning behind the education of women. The first declared that women needed to be educated in the Lord's gospel so that she could teach her children to be God-fearing and for a women to be a vital asset in a man's ideal household. The second, more humanistic, group pushed for education for future employment of women and helping the poor help themselves.

The enlightenment truly was a time for "social critique" of all that had once been accepted as is; the church, the home/family, and the state. Writers such as Diderot and René Descarte, tried desperately to break away from tradition and social restrictions in order to find true freedom and rights. In the Nun, Diderot boldly describes the evils found in current society by having his main character experience the lesbian mother superior and a corrupt family, trying to reach her God-given "natural right" and "human freedom" (Becoming Visible, 252). Descarte pushed more for the "radical" view that men and women complemented each other; that each were vital to the other. The "Education for All" article mentioned those who broke through social norms to declare that "men's and women's intellectual capabilities were fundamentally the same" (741).

While women did not gain most of their rights at this time, it is evident that the Enlightenment encouraged people to speak against the harsh restrictions of society and become free-thinking. With this open atmosphere for critique came the advancement of women.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hartman Chapters 4 and 5

The problems that the societies of Montaillou and Salem faced seemed to be related to marriage and family and the power that the men wanted to contain. In Montaillou, it was important for the men to keep control of their ostal and to be able to pass it onto an heir one day. Most of the women seemed to keep with the Catholic faith, which placed more importance on the roles of wives and mothers. Hartman tells us that the population was increasing and that because of poor weather conditions they didn’t have the food supplies to support everyone. For the men to be able to be able to contain control of their ostal, it makes sense that they would break away from the Catholic teachings so that they weren’t forced to follow rules that could lead them to lose all that they were working for. They could then incorporate new ways to live their life that allowed them to maintain their ostals and allowed them to maintain the power that they had.

In Salem, most of the accusers were women, so at first you might not think that men were struggling to keep control in society. Hartman makes the argument that even though the women were making most of the accusations, they were doing it on behalf of the men in Salem to protect them. Hartman uses evidence from Karlsen to support this idea. Karlsen notes that the majority of people who were accused of being witches were women. Most of the women that were accused were older, had no male heir, and were either single or widowed. The circumstances that these women were in gave them more power in society compared to the other women, which could lead to the men feeling that they were losing some of the power that they once had. After reading about how the societies were set up, I think that Hartman was able to successfully prove her point and showed how men wanted to be able to maintain their power.