Feminists have been cast as destroyers of families and other cherished institutions. They have been blamed for problems such as the delinquency of adolescents, the inability of qualified males to find jobs, and the erosion of standards in the professions, the schools, and the academy. If women would only embrace traditional roles, the argument seems to go, there would be far fewer societal problems.
Before the feminist movement appeared, women were suppressed and limited their social and political life. In late Middle Age, at a particular social level, women shared models of thought and behaviour which set them apart as a group from men of the same social class. Whereas elite women have left a rich variety of writings, little has remained of the mental or material culture of ordinary women (Anderson 1987). The difficulties are increased by the fact that social distinction played less part in female culture than in early modern culture generally. Central to the female world was the woman with knowledge, the midwife who was herself a mother (Anderson 1987). The majority of women, from the poorest to the most aristocratic, shared direct experience of maternity. Even a woman of high social status who had not borne a child could find herself on the periphery of a key aspect of female culture (Smith, 2000).
Given that women ideally belonged to the household, and men cla ...Show more