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...
Although, since women were perceived as sexually unstable, men regarded them as being at risk in mixed company, men were also suspicious of women in all female company, fearing their opportunities for gossip. Social distinction, age, and geographical location all played a part in shaping women's bonds. Nevertheless, across these divisions there were aspects of a common culture which women shared. Their cultures and values connected them to fundamental concerns: giving birth, childrearing, and sustaining life. From women's own perspective, they preserved a culture with important life-enhancing values (Anderson 1987). In comparison, men appeared to be preoccupied with politics, authority, and their masculine vanity and virility. Within their own culture, women shaped and enhanced the lives of both sexes, across all ages. Women shared a female consciousness (Smith, 2000).
During Middle Ages, religion and spirituality played a dominant role in life of women determining their morals and values. Religious and neighbourly or charitable occasions also offered women opportunities to construct feminine spheres of social dominance. Visits to the sick and dying were women's special concern because of their nursing expertise. As records of testamentary disputes confirm, the deathbed was a 'feminized' locale. Church was another setting where women demarcated their own spatial and sociable terrain. Women's quarrels about 'place' were generally confined to their own sector of the church; only rarely did, they publicly question their segregation from men (Anderson 1987). Yet while worshipping in the established church, they did not passively accept the places appointed for them by the clergy and churchwardens. The