Historically, women of the nobility have had to acquiesce to the rather rigid requirements of society in order to preserve, it seems, what men, the makers of society, thought their proper place should be. For me, I am drawn to people that tend to see beyond the pale and buck the trends of society, whatever they may be. This does not mean to suggest that I relish the renegade or a society in disorder, quite the contrary, but I do admire those that exhibit leadership and foresight. Laura Cereta was once such person. She is generally credited with being one of the first female Renaissance feminists, itself a rather solitary position. She was quoted as saying with regard to the women of her day, “empty women, who strive for no good but exist to adorn themselves….These women of majestic pride, fantastic coiffures, outlandish ornament, and necks bound with gold or pearls bear the glittering symbols of their captivity to men. For knowledge is not given as a gift, but though study….The free mind, not afraid of labor, presses on to attain the good.”
While she was referencing women not being allowed to partake in education, methinks that there was more. She makes a point of remarking about the jewelry, adornments, and “great hair” which to me is rather an indictment of women of her age simply giving themselves over to the accoutrements of the age, a placating of them via men, if you will. The reason I bring this up is that it seems to me that for most of European history up to the age we are currently engaged in, this has been the pattern for women of nobility. Not so with women of a “lesser class”. Many were not only allowed to work, but had no choice in the matter…so by proxy…class didn’t matter. It is true that noble women of the middle ages had much more control and status than their counterparts much later on. I believe that this was primarily due to the fact that they were the ones that would control the manor while their husbands were off defending the king and fulfilling their obligations according to feudal law and tradition.
Finally, through the passage of time, the ideals and if I may say, wishes of Laura Cereta were to come to fruition…to a degree. The readings assigned seem to show women of the upper classes finally stepping forward and claiming their position that, dare I say, was due them. It would not be without a fight, and a drastic change in the way that “proper society” would see them, but it was coming nonetheless, due in no small part to their participation and organization of salon, enlightenment thinkers, and the recognition that women could, and would, contribute significantly to society. Is there anyone that doesn’t rank Elizabeth I as one of the most influential monarchs in history? Should we dismiss Maria Theresa as simply a women who gained the throne by a twist of fate? Catherine the Great…shall I say more?
It strikes me that it is the fight, during this period, of the women of means, nobility, who were struggling to get their just due, and the readings that we were assigned seemed to suggest that they were to now enter that fight, and not shrink from the battle.