Women’s Rights in Early Modern France

Ideas About Gender

The issue of gender has existed for many years, and the experiences of many people have always been shaped by the circumstances surrounding them. In the early modern period, there were different experiences of the European people that gave them different ideas about gender. During this time, different people had different ideas about gender, and this went a long way in shaping their experiences and played a vital role in treatment of different genders (Fiorenza & Copeland, 1994).

During the early 1960s in France women went through tough times as they had to be respectful, obedient, and dutifully serve their husbands. However, men did not seem to notice this as they went ahead to beat them mercilessly, as in the case of Oger and Renault who kept on beating his wife over and over again. This shows that men during that time had a very low opinion of their wives as Renault kept beating his wife without a fear of hurting her. He repeatedly abused her emotionally and physically. A statement from one of the witnesses during the divorce session claimed that he used to tell her that he would beat her but not kill her, so that she would die of the beats later on. This clearly demonstrates the inhuman ideas men had of women during that time as they considered them property that could be used as they pleased (Kristof & WuDunn, 2009).

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Separation from an abusive or unfulfilling marriage during this period in France was almost an impossible mission as many court cases did not grant petitioners their wishes. The main issue was separation and division of property. Wives used to bring in dowry whenever they got married. In exchange, women expected their husbands to be household men who would treat them well and cherish them. This was, however, not the case as many women complained that their husband were nothing close to their expectations. There was the case of Mary Lechou who went to Provost’s court to demand a separation from her husband who was wasting her dowry by getting drunk and neglecting it. Her husband sold off her dowry and began to abuse her. In her petition, the woman explains the nature of her marriage which was quite different from what she expected when she got into it. One can therefore deduct that men did not see the value of women in their lives at that time, because they did not strive to add value to whatever they brought to the marriage. Most men squandered off the money with the other women and then turned to abuse their women.

From the difficulty in acquiring a petition in France, it is clear that women were almost powerless over their husbands. In most cases, women had no say in marriages, and before they were granted a petition, they had to go through many challenges, especially in proving their allegations to the court. This meant that they needed evidence, friends, and relatives who would stand as witnesses.

Women were regarded as sexual property at this time, and any small mistake on their part resulted in extreme measures. The story of Margate Knowsley is a true picture of how women experienced difficulties depending on the ideas people had of them. Despite the fact that she was the victim in the case of Jerome, people branded her as a whore. Many people used to talk about her rendezvous behind the church with other men. The sexual advances by Jerome brought this about, and it seems that people were quick to judge her because of her illiteracy. On the other hand, one can look at the situation from the viewpoint of how people in those times had little regard for women. In the case of Jerome and Margate, people only took advantage of the situation. Some wanted to behave as if they wanted to help her, but the truth was that they had ulterior motives to seek revenge against Jerome. This is worsened by her imprisonment, because she denied the allegations against her.

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The main focus was on the reputation of men, and everyone forgot that women also had a reputation to protect. It comes out clearly that people had a focus on protecting the image of men and their families and friends, while woman with their children suffered through it all . This is, however, contradictory to the issue when Jerome’s wife was given charity by the elders to pay the stipend in six months. This shows that people tend to favor some women yet they did not show any mercy for Margate who had to stay in prison for months with a suckling baby. This shows that inequality was not against all women, but those who were illiterate and poor with no means to fend for themselves. The situation takes an interesting turn as one gets to see how injustice the system was. Women could be vindicated and ashamed publicly for a minor mistake as confessing about a man of God, yet no one takes into account his part of the mistake. Women had to pay for the mistakes and injustices done to them by men. The humiliation that comes as a part of the punishment was even worse. It seems that violence was the order of the day as men saw it fit to discipline women in their homes and in public for any minor mistake (Rowbotham, 1977-1973).

Ideas about people seem to be the order of the day. In small towns where people knew each other well, there was little privacy, and men and women could not keep their lives private. As a result, gossip and false talk was rampant. The ideas people had of others in the town would influence their reputation. If people failed to know one deeply, then incidences of being misjudged were numerous. This was the case with many women who suffered just because people had different conceptions about them, and many ended up suffering because of crimes they had not committed (Darty & Potter, 1984).

Men had total power over women, and in many cases they were in charge of determining what would come out publicly or what was to be kept private. As a result, many women did not have a chance of getting fair treatment. This resulted in many cases of injustices against women who were always on the receiving end whenever there were any problems in their families or in the society. This went a long way in discrimination of women, which made their lives worse. Illiteracy among women was also a factor that made it difficult for women to seek justice and fair treatment whenever they would. They had to depend on men to help them out of difficult situations. This is despite their value in the families considering they put in much money as dowry (Budryte, Vaughn & Riegg, 2009).

Inadequacy on the side of women was never tolerated as men expected them to come in with the whole package. However, when it came to men, they were always an exception. Even though this was not cited as women sought separation from their husbands, many men were always inadequate. A majority of them were drunkards who seemed to forget that they had a responsibility to fulfill. This was to be tolerated by women, because they were considered inferior to men. The idea here was that women had to be perfect and look out for the family. This was not to be used to gauge the behavior of men who were never treated on the same caliber as women. Male offenders seemed to get away with major or minor offences, as they seem to be above the law.

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In this case, I believe that all authors are presenting the same explanations for the differences in experiences and how they are shaped by their ideas. It is clear that people have certain conceptions in their minds and they play a key role in determining how they express them. Men have always felt superior because of their strength and biblical teachings that they seemed to use to their advantage. As a result, women were always suffering on their hands. This is not to say that women had no power. This can be seen in the essays, where women had little power that they could use to make life a little better for themselves. The authors present situations that show what kind of life women during that period had. It was full of suffering and manipulation from men.

Illiteracy seemed to be the worst situation among women. This made it even more difficult to maneuver on a world controlled by men who seemed to look out for their interests over that of their families and wives. The authors go ahead to give different though kind of related experiences by different women who may undergo one injustice or the other in different countries. This shows that the situation was similar in all European countries at the time. How women survived during the time where masculinity was the order of the day is a difficult question to ask, but having the power little by little so them through (Balos & Fellows, 1994).

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