Male Dominance Of Women During The Renaissance

1831 words - 8 pages

“Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.”1 As the Renaissance came to a climax in Southern Europe during the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century, this Biblical verse was just one of many methods employed to place women under the control of men in society. The restrictions placed on women were in many respects a reflection of the changes sweeping society at the time, leading men to reemphasize a patriarchal order of society. As Europe moved beyond the chaos and confusion left in the wake of the Bubonic plague, it became critical to not only make a variety of changes but also to reinstate ...view middle of the document...

The fees required to wear the fine clothing outlined in the laws created a boundary that was difficult for lower class society women to cross. Within this, it also placed women clearly under the authority of the men who regulated and enforced these laws. As well, there may have been some religious motivation behind these laws to discourage the elaborate clothing worn by women. As 1 Peter 3:3 clearly outlines, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.”4 With the religious reform of the Renaissance which insisted upon a literal interpretation of the Bible, these laws helped to create social order within the structure of the religious changes of the period. Thus, the restrictions placed on women through the sumptuary laws had not only monetary motivations but also societal and religious.
While not governmentally regulated, the patriarchal family that was firmly established throughout the Renaissance was another indication of male elevation over women. The greater emphasis on the patriarchal family was often encouraged by the reformers of the day who wished for reform within the current social structures. For men such as Martin Luther, reform depended on strong leaders to enforce discipline. To meet this need, the reformers turned to the men who had always been the head, therefore placing a new, larger importance upon the male as the head of the family. The clear subjectiveness of women is indicated through Cornelius Johnson’s painting of the Baron Capell’s family where the women are clearly focused on the men while the men are focused on the painter and audience, illustrating the male dominance and female meekness.6 The patriarchal family was a concrete way for men to establish their authority under the justification of Biblical reasoning. This Biblical reasoning comes from Romans 13:1-5 which outlines that every person must be subject to the governing authorities established by God; in this case, reformers, as well as society, insisted that these authority figures were men, specifically husbands and fathers.7 Through the patriarchal family, men used previous social structure combined with new religious reform to reassert authority over women.
With the other restrictions placed on women, social opportunity was also significantly limited. It was these limitations which often led women to desperate measures to find a social position as well as obtain money. As was evident in the case of Niccolo di Giunta, men were able to lorde their authority over women in order to entice them into corrupt behavior.8 Even the fact that adultery and brothels were legal during the Renaissance period indicates this acceptance that men were superior and had authority over the women they led to corruption. Women’s willingness to be led into this life of sin and corruption indicates their desperation as well. Some women were enticed into the livelihood by men like...

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