'Financially dependent, without property and denied a political and legal status.' To what extent is this a fair judgement on lay women in the late Middle Ages?

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‘Financially dependent, without property and denied a political and legal status.’ To what extent is this a fair judgement on lay women in the late Middle Ages?

                James Kim (g)

        The status of women was mostly based on how much control they had over their body. The extent of their legal, economic, political power, and access to education were the criteria by which they were assessed upon. Lay women were divided into different stages of life: unmarried, married, or widowed. As they went through these different stages, their statuses and rights would change drastically although there were a few recorded exceptions. In general, Europe in the late Middle Ages was based on a patriarchal society, with the men being in control of the household and guilds. Women being financially dependent, without property and having been denied political and legal status can only be considered a fair judgement to a certain extent depending on whether they were peasants, aristocrats and prosperous women in cities.

        Peasant women had a lot of limitations in aspects of life. They had no access to education, which affected their legal status when it came to court with the women having no political voice at all, while the husband talked. Interestingly, peasant women did have more freedom than aristocratic women in the sense that they had a wider choice of marriage due to the lack of dowry land. Thus, they could choose their own sexual partner. However, once they got married, they gained relative financial power. Not only did peasant women work on the fields alongside their husbands, but also they produced milk, cheese, and beer in the household. This would then be sold in the local market by the women, while the men would relax with friends or spend time with the children. In a larger scale, for all the work on the fields, household, and marketplace, women were being paid only 70% of the men’s wages. This is why even with all the extra chores and work away from the fields, they would still be financially indebted to men due to their restricted salary. Matters were worse for peasant widows. They were only given one third of their dead husband’s income, which mean they would have to live a financially unstable life without a husband. Consequently, widowed peasants would re-marry, live with other widows, or beg as an alternative solution to their financial tribulations. This implies that they are financially dependent to men.

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        Aristocratic women had a different story from that of peasant women in terms of their financial and political power. Marriage would mark a stage of financial dependence for aristocrats, according to Antwerp poet, Anna Bijns. “But one who earns her board and clothes/ shouldn’t scurry to suffer a man’s rod” implies that an economically self-sufficient woman would turn into a financially dependent woman when she gets married. The husband would take control over the household and the finance, which leaves the woman financially dependent, without property. On the other hand, the stage of being widowed, was when aristocratic women were ...

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