Sex and Subjection

Attitudes to Women in Early Modern Society
Sommerville, Margaret R.
Date published: 
July 1995

What was the lot of women in early-modern society? Were their opportunities and horizons limited by new dividions between public and private life, by the increased emphasis on female chastity, by a newly subordinate role in economic life? Or has the tide of historical revision run to far? Did the Renaissance and reformation really affect women so balefully? In order to be able to judge this question, an understanding of the conventional male view of women, their nature and role is necessary. Margaret Sommerville examines the orthodox views of female nature and of women's rights and duties. She shows their pervasive influence in the functioning of family, society and government. The thought of the age is expressed in terms of the age and the author explains how it was perfectly possible, without hypocrasy or inconsistency, to hold that all people were in some sense equal, but that the development of legal and governmental structures entailing the subjection of women was morally acceptable and, indeed, commendable.