The Mental World of Stuart Women: Three Studies

The Mental World of Stuart Women: Three Studies

The Mental World of Stuart Women: Three Studies

The Mental World of Stuart Women: Three Studies

Excerpt

When Adam delved and Eve span Who was then the gentleman?

The couplet chanted by the peasant rebels of 1381 harks back to a fictive past when no distinctions of wealth or status had emerged. Yet the rhyme assumes that gender had already split the first couple into two occupational classes. An economy based on the sexual division of labour seemed so natural to Englishmen that they found it difficult to conceive of any society, however inchoate, in which gender domains did not exist. In early seventeenth-century England, the boundaries defined by gender were as fundamental to the ordering of everyday life as those dictated by class. Its distinctions were marked by dress and deportment and were exhibited in virtually every social situation. At the Sunday church service, where the collective notion of the social order was mapped on to physical space through the arrangement of the congregants, villagers were first separated by gender and then ranked according to the stepwise hierarchy of degree. Even the early Quakers retained a form of segregated seating despite their radical notions about women's equality.

This partitioned seating arrangement suggests a world in which male and female domains were seen as different in kind but essentially parallel. It is an appropriate symbol of everyday village life, in which the husbandman and his wife divided the complementary tasks of household and field according to a rough and ready equality. Although men and women worked in separate spheres, each sex was regarded as sovereign in its own domain, and each half of the partnership was deemed . . .

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