This essay examines the economic activities and "work" of aristocratic women, c.1000–c.1400. Despite the limitations posed by law, custom, and social expectation, women played a central role in preserving and transferring family wealth through marriage, gifts, and inheritance. They were equally crucial in matters of household and estate management. Both older and recent scholarship explores the complexity of the woman's experience within the European family. Her role was neither rigidly static nor in perpetual flux. The diversity of a woman's economic responsibilities and her influence in the family reveal the inherent flexibility of the medieval family, once considered staunchly patriarchal. While some have argued that the patrilineal descent group was narrowing in this period, medieval families devised strategies to preserve the integrity of their holdings and to provide for a range of kin, regardless of gender.
Christian literature in late antiquity offered contrasting models of female sanctity, emphasizing alternately the gender ambiguity of the young woman dressed as a man, and the nuptial imagery of the bride of Christ. Three texts, the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla, the fourth-century Letter 22 to Eustochium by Saint Jerome, and the fifth- or sixth-century Passion of Eugenia, illustrate contrasting ways of thinking about how Christian literature could allow a young woman to reinvent herself.
Susan Mosher Stuard
Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, morgengabe, a husband's gift to his wife marking the formal consummation of marriage, was replaced in Italian, southern French, and Spanish towns with Roman dos or dowry, a gift from a bride's family that was her inheritance (legitim). In time, this momentous change spread north beyond the Alps. The resulting dotal regime abetted the monetization of the economy and placed increased authority in the hands of husbands, who managed dowry although they did not own it. A family's honor and prestige rode on grants of dowry. Disputes, lawsuits, and consilia (legal opinions) highlight the consequences of investing sums that were granted for daughters' dowries. In 1425 Florence created the Monte delle Doti to invest family funds for future dowries. Thereafter government finances were entwined with families' finances. To justify separating women's ownership of dowry from men's management, Aristotelian principles of women's incapacity were invoked.
The Byzantines perceived the body as malleable, able to be changed to suit the needs of society. They also believed that the appearance of the outer body reflected the quality of the inner person's soul. As a result, bodily appearance became an important marker for gender, class, and moral worth. Within the religious community, sexuality represented the ungoverned worldliness of the body and abstention the purity of the soul. The Byzantines bridged the gap between the worldly and the ascetic by creating a new kind of man, the eunuch. The eunuch lived and worked outside the realities of family and clan and was believed to have special connections to the spiritual world. Because the Byzantines were so conscious of outward appearances, they regularly commented on the appearance and actions of eunuchs, ascribing to them the best and worst kinds of natures and, in turn, reflecting attitudes about their own bodies.
Given the comparatively slow pace of human evolution, the body, as a biological entity, may be taken more or less as a historical constant during the past 1500 years. But every interaction with that body was mediated by culture, and thus gender analysis is a driving force in the expanding field of the history of health. This essay looks at how changing expectations of gender and knowledge shaped medical and surgical interventions in three circumstances: pregnancy; childbirth emergencies; and the care of intersexed persons. The field of the history of health is still rapidly expanding, and the perspectives of gender analysis are a major part of what is driving that expansion forward.
Carolingian ideas of "home" and "family" encompassed a wide range of meanings from physical buildings to kin and free and unfree dependents. Kinship ties played a vital role, both socially and politically, and marriage practices reflected that; Carolingian reforms respected parents' strategies concerning their children's marriages. The Frankish economy was structured around nuclear households, from peasant tenancies to the huge estates presided over by noble men and women. Male and female activities in both production and consumption were partially, but not completely gender-specific. Dowries provided some economic independence for women, but female wealth often depended on contingent factors such as family size and the attitudes of male relatives. The ordered conjugal household was an important image in Carolingian moral thought, with married women holding a subordinate, but honored position. Frankish ideology focused more on elite women's role in the management of dependents and social networks than on purely "housewifely" activities.
This article discusses women and gender relations under communism, beginning in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, continuing through the Cold War era in Eastern Europe, and including Cuba and China today. It addresses communist gender theory, ideology, and discourse. Women’s role in politics and government is discussed. The article covers employment and education, the peasant and urban family, social policies, and socialist consumption. Under communism, the article argues, women, especially married mothers, broke through traditional resistance to women’s participation in paid, including skilled, labour. Their levels of education and employment increased dramatically in most communist states. Yet women did not attain economic equality with men in any communist society and their share of political power remained stunningly low.
Civic court records are a rare source for medieval social experience and attitudes, including low-status people who do not appear in most records. Because the requirements for proof in Roman law included fama, reputation, and status, witnesses in court discussed and at times differed over which aspects of a person’s behavior determined their honesty and respectability. This could become an implicit debate over gender expectations. Can a concubine be considered an honest woman? The article explores a 1295 case in which a wealthy politician was charged with the rape of a woman who lived as a concubine. The case hinged on the complex medieval legal understandings of rape. It is also a vivid example of a power struggle waged in and out of the court, involving both bribery and judicial torture. Ultimately, it reveals how class and gender expectations for men and women influenced the court process.
The cult of saints in the Middle Ages is considered here through the operation of gender. Gender is shown to be have determined who was considered a saint, how holiness was pursued by individuals, described in hagiography, remembered, and approached. Early Christian communities admired heroic martyrdom in men and women, but medieval religious institutions offered men many more opportunities to develop saintly reputations: as bishops, hermits, and missionaries. With the growth of towns after the year 1100, niches developed for collective as well as individual holy lives for men and women, in households and neighborhoods; friars often appreciated and encouraged such lives, sometimes committing them to hagiography. Such writing about saints was a prolific genre, alongside the pilgrimage travelogue and miracles worked by saints at shrines. Gender, wealth and status determined the chances to encounter saints through pilgrimage, to possess hagiography, and to use material objects in devotion.
Cultures of devotion in multiple forms were central to medieval lives, and because of their significance they became sites for defining and negotiating gender identities and issues. The essay first examines whether participation in communal rituals and popular devotion was open to women as well as to men. A second issue was the availability of membership for women in the religious orders, and a third was the relationship between male religious authorities and the women who sought a life of holiness, whether in or out of traditional communities. Other topics involve the gendered role of visual images and material objects in stimulating mystical experiences, and the role of devotional texts explicitly addressed to women. Finally, the essay takes up the destabilizing of gender identities in the language of medieval spirituality. In all cases, new paradigms and scholarship of the last forty years have challenged previous assertions about religious culture.
The growing cities of late medieval northern Europe offered religiously gifted laypeople contexts in which to devote themselves fully to religion without having to leave the world or to take vows. Countless women, and a few men, lived as lay recluses and anchorites, secluded in the midst of cities; others pursued holiness in the private households of beguines, adherents of the Modern Devotion, or ascetic widows. These holy women and men were the innovative pioneers of a new lay spirituality. By studying about twenty spiritual biographies written by or about holy laywomen, this essay seeks to determine their involvement in religious culture and in the shared spirituality of the holy women (mulieres religiosae) and the faithful at large. It focuses on ascetic, devotional households; personal networks and confraternities; women's intellectual work; and the claiming, by some women, of religious authority.
This article discusses the relationship between gender history and the history of the family, especially in the field of consumer studies, and examines works that consider the rise of a ‘modern’ public sphere, structured around mass consumption and potentially more inclusive with respect to women. Reframing Jürgen Habermas's account with a gender-conscious approach and recognizing the power of the discourse in shaping historical processes, some of the studies it considers critically utilize the Habermasian assumption that commercial culture caused a radical transformation of the classic bourgeois public realm. Focusing on the contemporary debate about women shoppers and the challenge they posed to the masculine public sphere, these works explore the tensions between different ‘publics’ that were emerging in the nineteenth century within European societies and the changing ways in which domesticity and motherhood were linked to consumer culture. The article also looks at the politicization of everyday life in twentieth-century Europe.
Donna R. Gabaccia
Because the United States celebrates itself as a beacon of liberty, emancipation is one of the most common themes in the history of immigrant women and the exploitation of women, as workers or as wives, tends to be traced to the patriarchy of foreign communities or immigrant men rather than to unequal American gender relations. At least since the colonial era, opportunities for immigrant women from Europe to expand their own sense of personal autonomy and agency have surpassed opportunities for immigrant women from Asia, Latin America, Africa, or the Caribbean. Gender inequality for immigrant women is less the result of confrontations between differing immigrant and American forms of patriarchy and more the product of gendered forms of American racism.
This chapter explores transformations in European sexual mores and practices in the era of the two world wars. It pays particular attention to the contradictory dynamics of the interwar era: on the one hand, a considerable loosening of sexual customs, especially for females; on the other, an unprecedented effort on the part of national and local governments to intervene in their citizens’ private lives. The phenomenon of increased state intervention in the intimate sphere—that of relationships, bedrooms, and bodies—would be true both for those nations that turned to fascism and those that remained democratic. But no changes would be as convulsive and consequential as those wrought by the slaughter unleashed in the Second World War, as sexuality also exploded out of the familial framework—a fact that explains a great deal about the renewed turns to conservatism and domesticity which would follow in that war’s wake.
Susanne Klausen and Alison Bashford
This article analyzes the preoccupation of eugenics with fertility control—a broad term denoting all methods by which humans seek to induce, prevent, or terminate pregnancy. It also discusses the role of eugenicists in establishing birth control clinics, and to advocate for more controversial technologies of reproductive control such as sterilization and sometimes abortion. It also shows the link between feminist, eugenic, and neo-Malthusian discourses. It begins with the classic definition of eugenics and then indicates that contraceptive information would be offered to married women who are too young, ill, or weak for pregnancy, or who experienced pregnancy too frequently. This article also provides an understanding of the role played by feminism in the social acceptance of technologies of reproductive control. It concludes that eugenic feminists often connected by neo-Malthusian ideas have played a leading role in developing new reproductive technologies.
This chapter explores the evolution of gender and women’s rights struggles in Iraq since the establishment of the Personal Status Code in 1959 and shed light on the ethnosectarian fragmentation of women’s legal rights in post-invasion Iraq. The chapter argues that in order to explore women’s rights and conditions of lives in Iraq it is essential to explore the evolution of women’s rights and gender issues historically and through a complex lens of analysis rather than applying a predefined argument involving an undifferentiated “Islam” or age-old gender-based violence. It seeks to show that gender issues have been entangled with issues of nationhood, religion, and with the nature of the political regime since the very foundation of the Iraqi Republic in 1958. First, the chapter examines the debates and mobilizations around women’s legal rights in Iraq. Secondly, it highlights the development of political, economic, and military violence since the 1980s and its impact on gender norms and relations. Finally, it analyzes the specific context of ethnosectarian fragmentation in which Iraqi women have lived and mobilized since 2003.
The historiography of gender in the Ancien Régime has explored two sets of interrelated issues. One is the question of the changing nature of men's and women's experiences and the ways in which they related to each other. Another is the way in which gender had an integral role in shifting cultural, political, and—explored to a much lesser extent this far—economic patterns. In both cases, historians have debated whether gender hierarchy intensified and women's opportunities became more constrained, whether changing patterns reformulated gendered expectations but not in a way that a “better or worse” paradigm is appropriate, or whether new forms of gender relations created new opportunities. In the Ancien Régime, gender made a difference: for all social ranks whether peasants, artisans, or nobles, for economic matters as market practices intensified and a consumer revolution ushered in new fashions for Parisians and peasants alike, for cultural processes as traditional categories were problematized and new possibilities were debated, and for political debates as novel forms of politics as well as innovative ideas about sovereignty and authority emerged.
Jews living in northern Europe during the High Middle Ages inhabited large urban centers and lived in close proximity to their Christian neighbors. This led to daily contact between Jews and Christians and shared realms of experience and practice. This article examines the lives of Jewish women during the High Middle Ages. Using a poem written after the death of Dulcia of Worms in the 1196, it outlines the characteristics of women's religious and social lives during the period, and it also explores the gender understandings and conventions of Jews in medieval Europe. Comparing Jewish and Christian society, the article sets out distinctive and shared practices related to gender and religion.
Elisa von Joeden‐Forgey
This article aims to shows that a consideration of gender is crucial to the understanding of the crime of genocide, because genocide is an historical process that is, at its core, about group reproduction. The perpetrators must either annul reproduction within the group or appropriate the progeny in order to destroy the group in the long run. While the perpetrators' ultimate aim is the material destruction of the target group, the means used to achieve this end tend to target men and women according to their perceived and actual positions within the reproductive process. As part of the killing, then, one finds in all genocides a shared set of tortures involving generative symbols and institutions (reproductive organs, infants and small children, and the bonds that promote family coherence).
Catriona M. M. Macdonald
Women's history, as conceived since the 1970s, was not the first and has not been the sole avenue through which gender concerns have intruded upon comfortable historical conventions, nor has it always offered the most successful or most obvious approach to gendering Scotland's past. This article considers the ways in which women's histories (as opposed to women's history) have informed Scottish historiography in the last hundred years, and examines the extent to which gender perspectives (no matter how crude or old-fashioned) infused writings on Scotland's past in this period. It looks at the views of Scottish historians such as Agnes Mure Mackenzie, in whose histories nationhood rather than gender offered the dominant perspective. Between 1899 and 1969, establishing Scottish history's place within a resistant academic environment, challenging Whig perspectives on Scotland's past, and achieving both within a political context in which Scottish nationalism was regularly treated as an incidental and faintly comic distraction, proved to be the principal and most distinctive motivating factors in Scottish historical scholarship.