Women, Family, and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991

By David Herlihy; A. Molho | Go to book overview

3
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF MMEDIEVAL WOMEN

Versed in reconstructing all dimensions of past human experience, many modern social historians have become especially interested in women. Partly inspired by the contemporary feminist movement (whose advocates have correctly pointed out that the history of roughly half of humanity has been systematically slighted), these historians also recognize that in the natural and social history of any society, women have unique and critical functions. They carry the new generation to term, sustain children in early life, and usually introduce the young to the society and culture of which they will be a part. Women begin the processes through which human cultures strive to achieve what their individual members cannot--indefinite life, immortality.

Few historians are willing to accept the claims of sociobiologists, who find culture already programmed in genes and who subordinate cultural history to natural history. But most would agree that human societies and civilizations cannot be properly evaluated or appreciated without considering the basic biological experiences of their members. These crucial events--including the duration of life itself under various social and historical conditions, as well as the timing of nursing and weaning, sexual maturity, marriage and mating, reproduction, menopause, and aging--are often by no means parallel experiences for both men and women and can have radically different consequences for each sex.

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