Beheading Patriarchy in a Disjointed Gender-nation

Irina Lessne
6 min readMay 21, 2020

G.D. Anderson once suggested that “Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”(G.D.Anderson) Over the course of history men have been elevated on a pedastol propelled by feelings of pride and superiority while their female counterparts have been degraded to that of an obedient dog; inferior and ever responsive to her master. Since the biblical era, men have developed mental idealationd based upon qualities they find appealing and on the otherhand, unapealling, in women. Throughout this paper, I aim to shed light on the shadows that have detrimentally been cast upon women. By delving into historical texts such as Merry E. Wiesner’s “Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe” and Kim Hall’s “Marriage and the Household” I hope to uncover what patriarchal scholars have been overlooking for centuries . . . the innate beauty and strength that lies within each and every woman. Additionally, through bringing to life, some of the earliest beliefs regarding negative viewpoints about women, readers may develop a better understanding about Spenser and how these philosophies lay at the foundation of his literary work, The Faerie Queene.

While much of the pre 1500s literature composed about women was done so in a negative light, “only a few individuals recognized that . . . almost all written records came from male authors and that a very different picture might have emerged had women also left records of their toughts.”(Wiesner 10) In many ways it is evident that too much attention has been spent on recording history . . . but what about recalling herstory? Perhaps this stems from the invisible power heierarchy and gender dichotomy that has dominated our world since the earliest of days. Humanists during the early modern period (1521), believed that “Men received the greatest praise for courage, wisdom, and power and women, inclding female rulers, for piety, modesty, and obedience.”(Weisner 16) The traits listed above are essentially guidelines for what later came to be those assoiciated with the ideal woman. The major religions of Christianity and Judaism offer suggestions as to what men and women’s roles are in society.

According to Jewish scripture, the ideal woman was “the mother of many children, up working before sunrise to provide food and clothing for her household, making no objections when her husband brought home comcubines or a second wife, totally obedient and deferential.”(Jewish Scriptures qtd in Weisner 11) Views were generally shared amongst major religious sects and unfortunatley beliefs in regard men, but women in particular were skewed in a rather distorted and cloudy manner. Early modern women were perceived as “highly visible social subjects, always the objects of surveilance, correction and comment.”(Hall 262) Women were seen as incable beings who “needed male assistance in everything because of their physical and intellectual weakness.”(Weisner 14) Beliefs such as these were held true in upcoming decades and centuries but the conversation shifted into more of a positive discussion rather than an accusation. Women were not targeted quite as harshly in literature and the arts but “play[ed] a passive roll; they bestow[ed] handkerchiefs, but [did] not roam the world in search of dragons or villains.”(Weisner 15) It is possible that Spenser incorporated this view of women into The Faierie Queene, and more speficically in the way he would choose to portray femininity. I feel that this view of women could have affected the way in which he chose to depict female characters such as Una, in a sterotypically innoent and pure yet bold and adventurous way.

Women were either portrayed in a pure, obedient and docile way or in a more shrewish, monstrous and villanous realm. Those who didn’t meet their needs or live up to their expectations were criticized for their deemed imperfctions of “female pride, lasciviousness, obsstinancy, desire for mastery, jealousy, talkativeness, vanity, greed, extravagance, infidelity, physical and moral inferiority, and caprice.”(Weisner 19) In some ways, Spenser has taken the qualities posessed by the “ideal woman” and personified them within Una, and has gathered all the qualities listed above and dispersed them throughout his poem. The rather monstrous qualities expressed throughout the early modern period can perhaps explain why women were either presented as heavenly godesses or vile beasts. There could be no happy medium, and women fell into one of the two categories, therefore creating a ruthlessly gender based dichotomy.

Men lusted after women who upheld morales and were virtuous, pious and pure in all their being. In many ways, the virtuous or desired wife could be described, metaphorically as being “either the snail or the tortoise, both animals never leave their “houses” and are totally silent.”(Wiesner 20) The ideal woman has been presented in many different forms across the arts and is typically seen taking after children, contemplating a church sermon, studying scriptures, and dressing modestly from head to toe. Even though a woman had control over her own body, mind and actions, she was forced to discard of these freedom upon marriage. As central as love is to more modern marriages in todays society, “European marriages were being more explicitly defined as voluntary bonds between spouses who regarded their unions not just as vehicles for full membership in the community but as the principal site of their emotional lives and the exclusive domains of their sexual lives.”(Hall 265) Religious views on the prospect of marriage differed greatly across cultures and religious. Marriage in the Catholic faith, for example, was a “necessary evil that kept men and women from sin and ensured orderly propogation and property.”(Hall 265) When women were married, they terminated their rights to their own property, in addition to their decisions and utmost desires in life. Marriage was a powerful force that in some cases was cited as the key reason for excluding women from public offices or duties . . . [additionally] all property that a wife brought into a marrriage and all wages she earned during the marriage were considered the property of her husband.”(Weisner 31) In many ways, wives were slaves to their husbands and gave up their freedoms of speech and free will upon exchanging wedding vows. Much like the way individuals perceived different traits in women, so were beliefs in regard to marriage . . . differing, unique and no better or worse, more right or wrong than any other.

Women, regardless of their characteristics and outward tendencies, are creatures of god and should be treated with dignity and respect. Sadly, women during the Renassaince period, and throughout the 16th century were expected to uphold values of obedience and modesty to the highest degree. Those who accted beyond the norm and posessed anything but the desired traits and characteristics, were looked down upon and scofffed at for their incompetency. Through the articles help readers better understand the gender based constructs and dichotomies, they they by no means justify the maltreatment of women during this time period. When all is said and done and as Doctor Seuss once proclaimed, “A person is a person no matter how small”. At the end of the day, a woman is a creature of god and her voice should be raised to the level of that of her male counterpart. Ultimatley, the ideal concept of a woman is but a hoax, an unatainable figment of our imagination and in my mind, it should be disregarded completely. After reading these accounts, it is fair to suggest that Spenser could have applied the core values that lie within the virtuous and perhaps monstrous women in the world, and applied the traits ranging from purity to shrewishness to female characters such as Una and Duessa, in his poem, The Faerie Queene. Even though the future is uncertain and gender inequality continues to be an issue of concern, I hold true to the belief that with a shift in mindset, every woman will be treated with the dignity, respect and love that they so rightfully deserve.

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Irina Lessne

Just a girl with a cup of coffee in one hand and a notebook in the other hoping to make an impact in the world