Throughout the early period of the female life course, there was an ever present male decision maker—a woman’s father, husband, brother or son. Seldom was a woman independent of a male who decided, or at the least influenced, her actions. The transition from a childhood of total dependence on her parents into an adult world associated with marriage marked a change in identity. She became a wife, living in a different household, maybe even a different town, and her social personality also changed—she was no longer a child. In this chapter we turn our attention to this change and its associated anxieties and dramas. The process of change, however, is seen through the prism of male writing and attitudes that privileged the elite male. The dominant voice in the expression of the female life course is that of the paterfamilias or her father. This is a problem in terms of information; we will not discover the feelings of a young girl about to embark on her first marriage and transition into adult life. The information we have is constructed with reference to the adult male’s experience and perception of his daughter, sister, mother or wife. Only rarely do we get glimpses of the female experience of her own life. We are dealing with the methodological problem of studying a gender that is known only through the writings of another gender (see Joshel 1992:3-24 for a lucid discussion of this problem). The prism through which we glimpse women consists of idealised images and stereotypical ‘bad’ women, that usually served a first purpose other than telling us anything about the women concerned (see Fischler 1994; Laurence 1997). However, these images are often framed or constructed with reference to the ideological image of the female at Rome that reveals the structure within which the experience of the transition to adulthood was made.
The female life course consisted of a number of more or less distinct stages—acceptance by father, childhood, betrothal, marriage, childbirth and motherhood, followed in all likelihood by bereavement and/or divorce and/or remarriage. Where her brother may have made the transition to adulthood in a series of gradual stages and growing worldly experience, a girl made it on the day of her wedding (see Chapter 6). Prior to this day most of a girl’s education would have been focused on preparing her for marriage. For a girl