The Renaissance was a time of innovation. It was period where the old ideas of the Middle Ages were discarded and replaced with new ideas that were spread across Europe. Traditional periodization has always considered the Renaissance as a turning point that resulted in a great leap forward, until it was challenged by Joan Kelly-Gadol and her work on women in the Renaissance. This incited debate among historians on whether or not women benefitted from the Renaissance. Some say that the Renaissance was an event that caused women to see a new s an consciousness of themselves.
Others say that the Renaissance caused a relative loss of position and power in women. I agree with the arguments of historian Joan Kelly-Gadol, author of “Did Women Have a Renaissance,” who supports the latter idea. Kelly-Gadol states how cultural and social developments during the Renaissance benefited men greatly. However she also states that these developments adversely affected women. She proves this by comparing treatment of women in the Middle Ages to women in the Renaissance. Her first point related to courtly love in Medieval times.
She stated how knights xpressed their love by serving their ladies. A knight and his lady were mutual and equal and had a different relationship compared to other patriarchal family relations. Kelly-Gadol’s use of Marie de Vendatour’s quote “A lady must honor her love as a friend, not a master,” heavily reiterates how women and men were life partners during this time period. However, during the time of the Renaissance, women became more submissive and male and female relationships no longer had the intimacy that was common during the Middle Ages.
Women lost respect and were no longer desired. Furthermore, Kelly-Gadol includes information from Baldassare Castiglione’s handbook for the nobility, where Baldassare talks about how the Renaissance lady should be equal to the courtier with same virtues, education, and knowledge of culture. However, the handbook states that instead, women prioritize charm instead of character while the male prioritize occupation. This shows the decreasing in importance of women in relationships.
Castiglione even indirectly acknowledges how women were subjugated by the courtier to adopt “woman’s ways. Kelly-Gadol furthers the oint by explaining how women were bound to chastity, and were mere tools for pleasure in marriage. This was shown in woman’s weighty dresses that served to conceal the woman’s body, but also show off the husband’s status in the hierarchy. Because of these points, I agree with Kelly-Gadol on the idea that the Renaissance did not benefit women by negatively affecting relationships and confining Renaissance women’s status and importance. While reading Kelly-Gadol’s arguments, I was given an abundance of information pertaining to courting systems in the
Middle Ages. This was due to feudalism contributed to the courtly love system. The relationship between lady and knight was seen as a companionship, rather than a master and subordinate, and required a declaration of love that was sealed with a kiss when the love was returned. Feudalism also influenced how a knight acted to his lady. The knight was loyal and served the lady, as a knight would his master. These attributes in the Middle Ages greatly differed from the Renaissance, since women were in a mutual relationship rather than a subjugated relationship.
Castiglione’s handbook even admitted to the dominance of the lady by the man to have him adopt “woman’s ways. ” This established social expectations of women to look “soft and feminine” and appear “tender and languid. ” I found it interesting how a transition from one time period to another led to such a major impact on the gender hierarchy. Margaret L. King, historian and author of “Women of the Renaissance,” supports the idea that women in the Renaissance found a new consciousness of themselves as women, to which I disagree.
While King makes strong points with examples of omen who were able to reach positions of power and influence, her arguments are full of contradictions. She also mainly accounts for women of high social status or importance. For example, King mentions Joan of Arc as an influential women, who wore armor and rallied a king. At first, this seems like a benefit to women, being an indication that women were able to hold an influential role in society at the time. However, she contradicts this belief by stating how Joan was insulted and hated, being called names such as heretic, liar, and sorceress.
King also mentions women who held roles in power, yet contradicts her statement again by stating that these women were already in proximity to power and only gained power through “absent husbands, dead fathers, and immature sons. ” This further reiterates the low status of women, with only being able to reach positions of power through proximity and with the lack of male replacement. King further contradicts her statement by saying even with this, only a small amount of women were even able to reach a position of power. This disregards the rest of women society on whether or not they ruly benefitted from the Renaissance.
The women who were able to hold high statuses were criticized of being traitors and being unable to govern property due to their sexual nature. So while women did received power, it was not widely accepted and approved. King herself explains how the rule of these women “provoked controversy about the legitimacy of female rule,” which was due to the ideology that being a women was a hindrance to being a ruler. King also focuses on how women in high positions exercised the power of patronage, which they were able to shape thought and culture.
This only applied to women in positions of authority, so it was not really a benefit to all Renaissance women. King also states how women became bound to the household and husbands. She supports this by stating “She [Women] should be a good manager of her husband’s ‘property and hourse and children,’ and possess ‘all qualities… in a good mother. ” This shows that women did not benefit, but were considered less important and specialized. Women in the Renaissance were only seen to care for the home. Because of King’s many contradiction to her points, I disagree ith her claims on the benefits of women in the Renaissance.
Despite disagreeing with King’s points, the points nonetheless held learning merit. I learned about the effects of controversy that came from women leaders. I was also surprised at the amount of women who actually held positions of power in a patriarchal society. These women included Joan of Arc, Caterina Sforza, Catherine d’Medici, Queen Elizabeth, and the list goes on. It was inspiring to learn of these women’s accomplishments, such as Sforza defending her family’s interests and cities ollowing the assassination of her husband Riario.
Queen Elizabeth was the only woman to hold sovereign power during the renaissance and went under different aliases such as Astrea, Deborah, and Diana. As ruler, she took on roles that she considered indeterminate in sex, such as men-women, king- queen, and mother-son. She strived to act manlike and maintained her virginity in order to not fall under influence of a male consort. So in the end, while the Renaissance did not benefit women during the time, women with authority positions were able to help shape society.