The Control of Women in Early Modern Europe Essay

The Control of Women in Early Modern Europe Essay

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Do you believe in equal rights for women? During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the rights of women were restricted when compared to the rights of men. Many of these rights were based upon the social and marital status of the woman, but regardless of her status, she had less rights than her husband. As I will argue in this paper, men controlled women and limited their rights with regard to guardianship, serving as a witness, and owning property. Women were viewed as inferior to men and often considered unable to make intellectual decisions. As Professor Byars stated in class, women at this time had illegitimate power rather than legitimate power. Anything they received, they received from someone or something else. Women only obtained wealth or power in a manner deemed appropriate by men. Women faced restrictions and lack of personal control their entire life and were under the authority of men.
Men didn’t believe women could manage their personal affairs. Once a woman’s husband passed away, she was considered unable to manage her own life and was assigned a guardian to oversee her various affairs by a council or court system. This acting guardian was also assigned to her children and would oversee the affairs of the children until they turned legal age. Since the woman lost control of her children, it was the guardian who made decisions based upon what he thought was best for her children. The father of her deceased husband often had more to say about the children’s future than the mother. The only time the mother had full control of her children were if the children were illegitimate (Weisner 231).
Guardianship was also another way for cities to control the inheritance of the widow. As Merry Weisner stated in her essa...

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...erty was left to male heirs. Man was considered the head of the household and the master of women. It was the belief that by strengthening the power of the husband, you strengthen the power of the family (Scchneider 235). It is clear equal rights for men and women did not appear until well after the sixteenth and seventh centuries in early modern Europe. Women were under the control of men.

Works Cited

Schneider, Zoe. “Women Before the Bench: Female Litigants in Early Modern Normandy.”
Early Modern Europe: Issues and Interpretations. Eds. James B. Collins and Karen L.
Taylor. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 2006. 241-257.

Weisner, Merry. “Political, Economic, and Legal Structures.” Early Modern Europe: Issues
and Interpretations. Eds. James B. Collins and Karen L. Taylor. Malden, MA:
Blackwell Publishing. 2006. 222-240.

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