In this essay, we will be looking at the way the role of women has changed between the 13th century and the 20th century. We will be looking at three areas: behaviour and expectations, work and money and leisure activities. In each section, we will first look at the 13th century and then compare it to the 18th-20th centuries. Finally, we will summarise whether things improved for women or not in the 700 years we will be looking at.
The behaviour and expectations held against women, in my opinion, have not changed all that much. For example: in both 1200 and 1900 women were expected to do all the tedious, unwanted and dangerous jobs in factories, fields or at home. They were expected to clean, look after the children and keep an eye on the servants. In 1200, they had to behave how their husbands wanted them to behave, and if they didn’t behave well their husband could sell them, beat them or even use a scold’s bridle. In 1900, it was slightly better, but not by much. Girls were finally allowed to go to school, but women’s jobs did not improve.
Money for women, as with all their other possessions, was actually owned by their husbands or fathers. They worked in very simple, repetitive jobs that men did not want to do. They were therefore required to have very little skill. Even if they managed to do jobs that the men would do, they would be paid substantially less than them. All the work was some kind of manual labour, such as farming. Once they were married, they would normally become a housewife. Here, they would have to look after children and their husbands, and they would also have to do all the cleaning in the house. If they managed to get a bit of spare time in amongst all the housework, they would be expected to either do spinning or sewing; still manual labour that was required to help them live.
Throughout the next few hundred years, things didn’t get much better for women in the workplace. In fact, the conditions of their jobs were actually getting worse and were gradually becoming more dangerous. They were still given the tedious jobs that men didn’t want to do and it was always manual labour. Even by the 1900s, they still had no financial control and all their hard earned money would automatically belong to their husband or father. The scenery had also changed too; instead of just being housewives, women could now get jobs as farm hands, although few chose this option as they still had to do most of the work a housewife would do anyway.
During the limited spare time of women in the 1200s, they were very restricted on how they could relax. They most wealthy of them would be allowed to go riding and most would be able to visit friends, mainly female, and if they were to visit male friends, it would never be unaccompanied. If their house contained a garden, then they would quite often be found relaxing there, sometimes reading a book, if they were literate. Everyone would have been religious, and therefore religious practices would be allowed, although, as it was something that was expected of all people, not just women, I cannot justly say that it was something done for leisure.
Nothing changed at all in the years before 1900, the only freedom that was given was that women were now allowed to play games of cards, although everything they did, they could only do with fellow women. Things may have got a bit better, but not a lot had changed and women were still greatly underprivileged.
I don’t think that any progress had been made for women between 1200-1900. In fact, in certain areas, I think that the status of women had decreased, although only slightly. By 1900, women were still greatly inferior to men and they were still basically owned by men. Everything they did was controlled by men and they were hardly ever allowed to do anything without a man watching over them. I think this was greatly unfair and I would have expected more progress to have been made in the way of a woman’s rights and status over a period of 700 years.