Differences in Gender Roles During the Middle Ages

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Women in the Middle Ages

History is marked by specific periods; which illustrates the cultural, economic, religious, and educational setting of the time. One such era is the Middle Ages or Medieval Period. This period that dates from around 850-1400, was defined by the “Italian Renaissance humanist, Francesco Petrarch, who coined the term Middle Ages to describe the period in European history from the end of the Roman Empire until his own time, the 1300s”. There were many changes that occurred during this span in history; such as the development of cities and the marketplace, which allowed some people to obtain financial wealth and move into a new social bracket. This redistribution of the pecking order was a source of distress for some medieval Europeans, therefore, the need to determine a new class structure arose. As a result, medieval intellects classified the different sets of people; “those who pray (monks), those who fight (nobles), and those who work (peasants)”. This new caste system put people’s minds at ease because “they asserted that the three orders had been established by God and that every person had been assigned a fixed place in the social order”. However, the three social categories did not include women of the middle ages, who were important fixtures of the time. Nevertheless, what roles did woman play during the medieval era in conjunction to their male counterparts? Women’s roles and lifestyles varied according to their marital and/or social status; whether a noble or a peasant. Just like their male counterparts; females could be grouped according to their social class, which facilitated what their daily lifestyle entailed. Where the men of the Middle Ages were split into three categories depending on the type of work that they performed; the women of the Medieval Period were divided into five classifications based on their rank within society. The five groups were; women from the class that was landed and free, religious women, women whose families provided the free burgesses, women of a lower estate, and peasants. The first class of women, which comprised of females who were married and whose husband’s owned land or the nobility class, only made up a small portion of the population. The women who fell into this division were free of the manorial lord and were labeled as the yeoman’s wife, the knight’s wife, and the lady of the manor. The noble woman had the easiest life of all the female classes because they had servants to care for the daily household chores and the aristocratic woman’s main responsibility was to delegate these tasks. More so, the patrician’s wife was an influential person who had to deal with the management of acres of land, crops, animals and property; hundreds of employees and their homes; legal arguments. Some other tasks that a noble woman may have had to attend to were supervising the renting out of lands and property, organizing the defense of the estates in the event of an attack, and solving problems with subordinate employees. Since, the bourgeoisie man was free to participate in politics, trade, engage in wars and crusades, this led them to travel Europe extensively and made them absent for long periods of time; hence, the lady of the manor was left with the responsibility to care for the home front and run the daily operations. The noble female, thus, was entrusted to manage the manor to include all the workers and control her husband’s position during his absence. The second group of women in the Middle Ages was the religious sect or the nun. Women who made up this faction were mostly from upper class families; about 7-10% of the female unmarried population. The female population that found solitude in the convent did so because it was an alternative to married life. Some women’s families did not or could not find their daughter a husband, thus, they married the church, and other woman joined because they had a genuine religious vocation. The...
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