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Gender During Early Modern Europe

Between the year 1000 to 1600, critical shifts were experienced in Europe’s different spheres of life. Historically, changes took place in leadership, Christianity, language, music, and gender. Arguably, the gender issue has been a hot topic in Europe since this medieval period. Globally, women are feeling underrepresented when discussing the gender issue. Females feel dominated by men, hence championing gender equality. Presently, women are getting more space in the diverse vital public spheres, making it possible to advance their struggle for equality between sexes in society. Women hold different governmental and nongovernmental dockets, exponentially reducing the view that women are underestimated and despised by males. However, following the gender history critically, it becomes evident that despite the challenges which women faced in the medieval periods in Europe, it is worth noting that they equally embraced great success and recognition in society from the c. 1000- 1600. In other words, as years, decades, and centuries continued to change, the glory of women shifted for the better. Therefore, gender in medieval Europe continued to embrace equality, advancing the recognition of women in society.

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Environmentally, most European civilians in the medieval period lived in rural communities, making their daily living from farming in their large tracks of land. According to Karras, from c.1000 to 1200, women were peasants, having domestic responsibilities which included caring for their children, tending livestock, weaving, and equally preparing food in the kitchen1. Understandably, most of the women had the attitude that there were occupations meant for men only, whereas others are meant for women. As a result, domestic chores were solely seen as duties which should be incorporated by women only. Homestead activities such as cooking were considered to belong to women only, and it was a ‘taboo’ for men to be in the kitchen. Mothers could get out of their compounds only if they were going to farm in their big plantations and taking care of the livestock. They could be paid pennies for their exemplary hard work. Thus, women’s roles were to perform domestic jobs, including cooking, tending livestock, and feeding the children in early modern Europe.

During early modern Europe, gender was discussed as per the Bible, requiring everyone to adhere and coordinate themselves how the Bible illustrates gender. Tomas opine that the medieval, modern Europeans gave colossal weight to the Bible2. Notably, Adam was created from Adam’s rib, hence interpreting this statement that women should always be subordinate to their husbands. As the Holy book develops, a woman was responsible for the expulsion of man from the garden of Eden. In medieval art, women’s responsibility was heavily emphasized by illustrating a female’s head close to the serpent. The Biblical idea that the woman ate the forbidden is a sign of disobedience to God. Consequently, women were inferior to their male counterparts, having weaker memory, and equally tempting men into sin. Holistically, men had a negative attitude towards women, interpreting that earthly suffering could not have been there if it were not for them. Humans could have had an excellent lifestyle, which is stress-free. Connectedly, between the c.1000-1200, women were discriminated against due to Biblical allusions.

During the middle ages, society, more so men, emphasized the teaching and doctrines of Paul, the apostle. Buckwalter and Baten create an understanding that men should have authority over their women. Women were forbidden from teaching, but rather instructing them to remain silent. Despite Mary giving birth to baby Jesus, individuals in the Medieval period referred to her as the ‘second eve’. Men saw her as being made of Eve’s detrimental sins. The perception of men towards was critically based on the teachings of the Bible and in the book of apostle Paul, championing the idea that women are the causers of every terrible omen. Every female was associated with sin, hence not allowed to stand before a multitude in the synagogue to preach or even share different critical information sets. Therefore, the medieval society taught about the doctrines of apostle Paul, hence discriminating against women in the European community.

However, in the later late 1200s upwards, women commenced to exercise power, hence disqualifying and challenging the stereotypical image created early about women. According to Buckwalter and Baten, women were considered subservient and oppressed in society. In churches, women commenced holding positions that had greater responsibility, including becoming the covenant’s abbesses. Arguably, during the monasteries, which housed both women and men, the appointed abbess could have a senior role than the monks. The female gender started developing a sense of belonging in society, striving to prove their male counterparts wrong by delivering top-notch services. As a result, men developed massive hope and trust in women, giving them more severe roles within the different governmental and nongovernmental parastatals. The decision to choose some women to represent their fellows acted as a scorecard, which enhanced the need for more women to be incorporated in the diverse projects. Connectedly, it is prudent noting that it is in the late 1200s, subsequently, that women commenced getting access to multiple schools and formal occupations, defeating the analogy of allowing females to engage in the that was explicitly meant for men.

Additionally, outside the monastic walls, women started being incorporated into the political powers and systems. According to Warner, that Queen Isabella ruled between 1295 and 1358. Historically, the Queen took over from her husband, Edward the second. Isabella plotted with her lover Sir Robert Mortimer to overthrow. Edward II ruled between 1284-1327, that is, for 43 years. The four decades that Edward II ruled England demonstrated that men often feel dominant over others in society. The Queen confirmed that leadership and democracy are about a desire to lead and allow others to transform the specific idea by getting into office equally. Male leaders dominate the leadership positions, hence a critical indication of gender equality in society. It is essential to reiterate that regardless of the challenges and obstacles women were facing in society, they started getting transparent and authentic ways and channels to join different offices and persuade them to vote for them. Significantly, as time continued moving towards enlightenment, females equally got excellent opportunities, which seemed impossibilities previously.

Regardless of the overwhelming majority of women not influence society, some women in the Middle ages were considered powerful. In the 1300s, a woman had two options, whereby the first one is to be a wife, whereas the second one is to be a nun. It was not a must for a female to give birth, considering that it was optional. In other words, an individual could have decided to be a mother and give birth or never want to give birth because of childbearing and other related ordeals. There was less external pressure for females to act against their wishes. One could only decide to get married after making up their minds and being ready to engage in a long-lasting courtship. In marriages, females were mostly expected to be prayerful, hardworking, and equally live a life of contemplation. Therefore, women had the freedom to make personal decisions, whether they can want to get married or otherwise.

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Regardless of women having the opportunity to choose when and who they can be married to, history presents a comprehension that most girls were married at a teenage age. According to Davis et al., there were critical entities and qualifications which women among their fellows to assume whether an individual is fit for marriage in the 1200s. After being married as teenagers, they had specific domestic responsibilities. This was opposed to the 1000s, whereby they could be connected to suitors with limited integration. Thus, between the 1000s-3000s, women had a say on who to engage in marriage.

Women commenced accumulating more wealth, which indicated that society was opening up, whereby gender equality was a good topic. Jones alludes that in the 1300s, women had several servants, helping them in coordinating different duties, including childcare, cleaning, and cooking. As mentioned earlier, women could engage in farming activities during the early 1000s but could not get compensation equal to their effort. In the 1300s, women obtained the space to coordinate their farming and other industrial activities, which enhanced their financial development, hence providing a source of employment for others. From the late 1300s onwards, women became financially independent in society. Due to industrialization, most women engaged and were employed in different positions. The role of females in society changed tremendously, whereby they embraced popular diversions for aristocratic women. Women incorporated other new functions in the 1300s, including playing games, dancing, hunting, and religious activities. Therefore, as decades and centuries unfolded, women become more independent socioeconomically.

In the gender issue, pregnancy and childbirth underwent critical changes between the 1000s to the 1500s. According to Obladen, the Caesarean section was only coordinated among dead women in the 1000s to the 1400s. The practice was inevitably fatal for women; hence it could be coordinated among expectant mothers who were about to die or already dead. Different complications, including a breech presentation, minor operations, were relatively considered quite challenging, costing a patient’s life. In the 1500s, the first thriving Caesarean section was coordinated, critically reducing the mortality rate among pregnant women during childbearing. Connectedly, the pregnancy and childbearing gender issue took a great transition between the 1000s to the 1500s, making it better.

Significantly, midwives are the ones who attended the laboring women. Throughout the 1000-1500 period, only women were responsible for ensuring effective delivery among their fellow mothers (Obladen, 2018). Comprehending the childbirth process skills was through practical learning and experiences. One could physically see how a specific situation is handled, hence incorporating the same learnt knowledge in solving a similar problem. However, Obladen (2018) mentions that despite the childbearing practice being learned through experience, formal training commenced in the late Middle Ages, in 1500. Midwives were critically responsible for coordinating emergency baptisms when the life of the infant was projected to be at risk, including caring for the mother. Therefore, it is evident that women’s childbearing experiences changed from the early to the late Medieval Ages, shifting from informal to formal training.

Distinctively, there is a vast difference between women’s status in Europe and China during the Medieval Ages. On the one hand, women were struggling to attain equality in society in terms of representation. Men were relatively more compared to women in different public and private occupation positions. On the other hand, in China during the Medieval Ages, women’s status varied between regions during the Shang dynasty. According to Murphey, the Lower Xiajiadian culture of the Dadianzi in the North contained an equal number of women and men in different representation areas. Thus, there is a distinct gender equality gap in Europe and China during Early Modern Europe, whereby sex balance was evident in China.

In conclusion, it is paramount to note that it is dangerous to generalize regarding medieval women’s experience and status, considering that their lives were shaped by multiple considerations, similar to the present society. Interpreting women’s place in medieval society must strike a balance between achievements and status, wealth, exceptional individuals, and ordinary women’s experience, whose lives left significant traces on the history books. During Early Modern Europe, between c.1000-1600, women in Europe faced the highest sense of gender inequality, whereby men were occupying every space in society. However, women commenced being recognized towards the end of the period, hence giving them hope to reach men’s community standards. Comparatively, despite Europe being behind in enhancing gender equality during the Medieval era, it is prudent noting that it was making critical steps towards improving balance. Unlike Europe, China is among the countries that embraced gender balance in society, whereby women had equal representation. Above all, there is a need for the present governments and nongovernmental parastatals to ensure balanced recruitment criteria which can reflect gender equality.


Baumann, Heide. “Stories of women at the top: narratives and counternarratives of women’s (non-) representation in executive leadership.” Palgrave Communications 3, no. 1 (2017): 1-13. Web.

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Buckwalter, Laura Maravall, and Joerg Baten. “Valkyries: Was gender equality high in the Scandinavian periphery since Viking times? Evidence from enamel hypoplasia and height ratios.” Economics & Human Biology 34 (2019): 181-193. Web.

Davis, Eden M., Kyungmin Kim, and Karen L. Fingerman. “Is an empty nest best? Coresidence with adult children and parental marital quality before and after the great recession.” The Journals of Gerontology: Series B 73, no. 3 (2018): 372-381. Web.

Jones, Claire Taylor. Ruling the spirit: women, liturgy, and Dominican reform in late medieval Germany. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.

Karras, Ruth Mazo. Sexuality in medieval Europe: Doing unto others. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

Murphey, Rhoads, and Kristin Stapleton. A history of Asia. Routledge, 2019.

Obladen, Michael. “From “apparent death” to “birth asphyxia”: a history of blame.Pediatric Research 83, no. 2 (2018): 403-411. Web.

Tomas, Natalie R. The Medici women: gender and power in Renaissance Florence. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

Warner, Kathryn. Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen. Amberley Publishing Limited, 2016.

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