The Devotes: Women and Church in Seventeenth-Century France

The Devotes: Women and Church in Seventeenth-Century France

The Devotes: Women and Church in Seventeenth-Century France

The Devotes: Women and Church in Seventeenth-Century France

Excerpt

Nowhere has the metaphor of war between the sexes been more liberally employed than in describing French society in the seventeenth century. Almost every indicator of social relationships which historians have examined -- religion, politics, the law, medical practice, literature, business, and marital and family relationships -- has supported their thesis of a growing male-female dichotomy, an aggressive antifeminism, an irresistible trend towards patriarchy. The picture emerges of a society like an armed camp, with men in control of all strategic points. Yet it also appears that the men lived in a constant state of anxious vigilance, always alert to the other sex's efforts at usurpation. The image that haunted their thoughts was that of the "world turned upside-down": the mule riding the muleteer, the woman commanding the man, a thing against all nature and reason.

Many explanations have been given for this situation. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is fear: the profound psychic aftershocks of the Black Death, which continued to rumble in "great mortalities," in schisms, wars, and social disruptions -- and finally, in the devastating experience of the Reformation. To allay this mood of fear, scapegoats were sought and found, and among them were women.

Though misogyny predated the Christian era, it was easily transplanted into Christian thought. "In Paradise, between Adam and God there was only one woman; but she did not rest until she had succeeded in chasing her husband from the garden of delights, and condemning Christ to the agony of the cross." And the daughters of Eve had inherited all her weaknesses: her credulity, frivolity, inconstancy -- and carnality. In medieval thought woman was fun-

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