Women in Society Throughout History
Women in Society throughout History Throughout history, women have been seen in many different lights. From a woman’s perspective she is strong, smart, helpful and equal to men. In the eyes of men, she is seen as the weaker being, the housewife, and the caretaker. By looking at the following pieces of writing, one can see that through the centuries, women have struggled to break out of the mold that man had put her in and make themselves known in society as important. In Utopia written by Sir Thomas More, he talks about the idea of a perfect world, if it could ever be possible, and what it would be like.
The reader is given a chance to think for himself about what his own ideas would be for his “perfect world”. For women who read this during More’s time, they could have been dreaming of a perfect world where women were allowed better jobs, and were given the right to vote. For those women who read it now, they may be dreaming of a world where a woman is president and both men and women gain equal wages in the workplace. After reading Utopia it is revealed that More’s world is only concerned with men, and what men can gain from it.
In More’s own utopia he believes that, “Everything is shared equally, and all men live in plenty. ” (More 81) This proves that men would be the only one to gain something from the world. More’s main concern was with the way a government was run. He didn’t believe that a nation could “be governed justly or happily”. (More 80) The same goes for the way women perceive today’s government. This has been an issue since the time of More. Most women disagree with the way in which the government is run, but it seems that it is not up to them to change it no matter how hard they try.
Of Domesticall Duties by William Goudge explains that even if a woman’s husband is “a man of lewd and beastly conditions”, “a drunkard, a glutton, a profane swaggerer”, or a “blasphemer” (Goudge 195) she still must take care of him. In the time of Goudge, during the 1630’s, women were supposed to give birth to and raise children, cook and clean. She was also supposed to honor and take good care of her husband no matter what kind of man he was. Even though this man may “carry the image of the devil” (Goudge 195) he is still made in God’s image, therefore he is an important creature and must be properly taken care of by his wife.
Since religion and the male influence in society were so prominent in this time, women knew nothing else but to do as they were told. They would never even think of talking or striking back against their “duties”. In 1792, a woman named Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In her writing, she makes it clear that women were perceived as the weaker sex. She states that “women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind”. (Wollstonecraft 333) This was the mold that women had been trying to break out of for centuries.
She also explains that women are told from the time they are born that they should be gentle and kind and have a “softness of temper” in order to gain the protection of a man. (Wollstonecraft 333) She also says, that women are told that beauty is the only thing they need until their twenties. Mary Wollstonecraft says that this belief is a true insult to the female species. What Wollstonecraft wanted to get across to women was that it was “ok” for women to be strong and powerful. She did not want women to be afraid of what people said or thought about them.
In Mary Wollstonecraft’s time, women were taught “never for a moment feel herself independent. ” (Wollstonecraft 335) She exclaims later that this way of thinking is purely nonsensical. She later explains that if women are so inferior and weak then a woman’s consequences for her actions should be less than a man’s; not equal. She states that though she personally loves man, women should not be obligated to pay them honor and respect when it is not deserved. Finally, she makes a statement in which she says if a man can make himself a god then so shall a woman.
Since all people were created equal she believes that it is her duty to show her fellow man that the female can prevail and become an important figure in society. By the 1770s, America had become a free nation. Everyone wanted to be a part of the new, free way of thinking. In 1776, The Declaration of Independence was created by Thomas Jefferson. It was a distinct document created to explain the rights of both men and women in America. This was the first time in history that women were actually given the chance to have rights “equal” to those of men. Later in history, we find that those rights weren’t always carried out for women.
For example, women were not always allowed to vote in America, but according to the declaration, they had “Freedom of Speech”. By not having the right to vote, women’s voices were silenced in the American society. Therefore the so called “equal rights” had no meaning according to women. The most famous excerpt from the Declaration of Independence is found in its second paragraph. This paragraph reads, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson 354) Many women became offended by this because of the use of the word “men”. If this list of rights was supposed to be for both men and women, then both men and women should have been included in the wording of the document. Once again, the males had power over the women, even though it was being masked by the word “freedom”. As a response to the negativity and put downs from men, Olympe De Gouges created a new declaration for women to follow; it was called the Declaration of the Rights of Women. She gave women much hope about where they stood in society.
She made women realize that, “woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights. ” (Gouges 372) It was extremely important for women to feel important and needed in society. Since women made up such a large portion of society it was necessary for men to realize that everyone’s opinions mattered and that the decisions made by the government needed to be accepted not only by men but by women as well. Another important point that Olympe De Gouges makes is that both men and women alike are entitled to “liberty, property, security and especially resistance to oppression. (Gouges 372) Why should women want to live in America, “the land of the free”, if they were going to be oppressed for their personal beliefs and opinions? By doing that the American way of life was just being contradicted. The essay Woman in Her Social and Domestic Character by Elizabeth Poole Sanford goes against what most women want to be viewed as. For centuries women wanted to “get out of the kitchen” and be seen as something more than just a useful housewife, but Sanford tells women that “domestic life is a women’s sphere” (Sanford 488) and that it should be her main focus and concern to keep a clean house and cater to her husband.
She says that “a woman may make a man’s home delightful”. (Sanford 488) On a better note, Sanford feels that in return for her superior household work, society should repay her with domestic comfort. One good thing about this piece of writing is that Sanford does not put women down. She never states that women are weak, just that they are delicate, graceful and humble. Sanford’s main focus is that women learn that domestic life is their calling from Christianity. The point she is making is that women should do what God wants them to do and not what they want to do n the government. The final piece of writing is The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman written by Alexandra Kollontai. What makes this piece of writing different from all the others is the fact that it is a factual account by a woman. Alexandra Kollontai became a Bolshevik or a member of the Russian Communist party in 1915. She was “the only woman to hold a cabinet post in the new Bolshevik government. ” (Kollontai 668) Her main concern was to gain economic liberty for the women of Russia and the get financial help or welfare for struggling mothers.
The work that she did was not seen as important and many people disliked her for the efforts she made. As a “gentle form of exile”, (Kollontai 668) Kollontai was given a government position in Norway in order to keep her ideas from spreading throughout Russia. While still in Russia her projects included, free public housing for those living on the streets, and orphanages for helpless children. She also created free hospitals for maternity and pre-natal care. This was not seen as appropriate because Kollontai was aiding unwed mothers who were having children out of wedlock.
Alexandra Kollontai was exiled from Russia due to the fact that she went against the customary actions of Russian society. By exploring these seven different pieces of writing, one can see that throughout the years, women have become more accepted in society. In the beginning women were allowed only to stay home and cook and clean, but with a little perseverance and a lot of hard work the women of the world have been able to make their voices heard. This is seen most prominently in the United States.
The hard work of women has gained them the right to vote, the right to hold public office and the right to work in the same field as men. These are just a few of the obstacles women have overcome throughout time. Each author gained a bit more insight into the world of women, which showed the reader what things women had gained throughout each time period. It is because of our world’s history that these authors were able to convey each idea in their own way, and include the needed information to show the reader what it was that women wanted from their society.
Works Cited Page James M. Brophy, Joshua Cole, Steven Epstein et al. , Perspectives from the Past: Primary Sources in Western Civilizations: From the Age of Absolutism through Contemporary Times (Third Edition), New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2005 Goudge, William, “From Of Domesticall Duties,” in Brophy et al. , ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 195. Wollstonecraft, Mary, “From A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” in Brophy et al. , ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 332-337. Jefferson, Thomas, “From The Declaration of Independence,” in Brophy et al. ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 354- 356. Sanford, Elizabeth Poole, “From Women in Her Social and Domestic Character,” in Brophy et al. , ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 487-489. More, Thomas, “From Utopia,” in Brophy et al. , ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 80-84. De Gouge, Olympe, “From Declaration of the Rights of Women,” in Brophy et al. , ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 372-374 Kollontai, Alexandra, “From The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman,” in Brophy et al. , ed. , Perspectives from the Past, 668-671.