The Invisible Contributors and Maintainers of Society

woman giving birth

Until recently, history consisted only of men. The writers of history were mainly men, portraying history as being created and maintained by their fellow gender. Men always carried out the most important roles: they formed the armies, were preferred as the monarchs and took up the roles in government. It’s this disallowing of women to perform these jobs that they are seen less within history, benefitting these writers in portraying men as more important, and the lesser jobs women did perform not being noted by the writers. This leaves us with a male-orientated and controlled development through time in which women are invisible. They hardly have any importance to this development and to history itself, except providing future generations. The recent shift to look at their importance and the vital roles they performed has been caused by gender equality and the increase, if not introduction of, female historical writers. It has revealed the countless jobs women had throughout history, this article focusing on the early modern period in particular. This period was a fascinating time that included the modernisation of society and social thought, as well as the growth of individual wealth and national economy. Women played an astounding role in these changes and proves that without them, they wouldn’t have taken place.

Women performed multiple roles essential to the economy and Dr Anne Stott claims that their work was essential to this component of society but was frequently under-reported. In the French village of Artigat, for instance, women hoed, trimmed the vines and cut the grapes as well as rented the land, sheared sheep and took cows and calves in contracts. They were also known to be midwives, healers and market traders. Furthermore, Monica Chojnacka argues that in early modern Venice, unmarried, married or widowed women worked for a living and helped keep the city running through their labour, services and products. This shows the amount of jobs women pursued just in two European countries during this time, revealing a different side of them not previously thought. A possible reason for gender inequality, including that women weren’t allowed to carry out many jobs associated with men is that the female body was seen as imperfect, the female organs being the male turned inside out. They were seen as weaker to men, true to some extent, as men’s bodies are naturally built to be stronger. This perception of the female body causes us to turn to the role of women as mothers as this was seen as their staple role in life due to their biological childbearing and rearing abilities.

The nature of a woman’s life in terms of having children depended considerably on social class. Upper-class women were more likely to be pregnant most of the time once married compared to working-class women. Despite this, the Virgin Mary was regarded as the perfect example of a woman, suggesting women should have children to follow her example, and to fulfil their goal of life. After the Reformation, the worship of the Virgin Mary in England was not allowed, but she still remained a significant figure in Christianity. Due to higher-class women being pregnant more of the time, they were more likely to be at risk of dying in childbirth compared to working women. Despite women having the ability to feed their children biologically, only poor women actually breastfed their children. A reason for this was the belief that sex had a bad effect on the quality of the milk and therefore the health of the baby. A wet-nurse would be decided to be used by the father.

So why are women so often forgotten in history? It clearly supports and reflects the patriarchal dominance at the time. After all, until the Suffragette Movement in the early 1900s, societies bowed down to the needs and wishes of men and women couldn’t do anything to help their situation because they were sinful from being born. It also begs the question of whether society has developed behind schedule. Did women in early modern Europe, or even in the medieval period, agree to the limitations of jobs they could perform and the expectation of them to have children? This is difficult to unearth due to their illiteracy which was ironically caused by this inequality. However, what we do know is that women played a highly active if not vital role in society which would not have developed in the way that it did, quickly and effectively, despite all of the fall-backs that weakened this development. Therefore, we can confidently say that without women, our society wouldn’t nearly look the same as it does today. They are the invisible contributors and maintainers of society.

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