Women in Early Modern England and Contemporary Romania

Autor: prof. Bogdan Maria-Georgiana

In early modern England, society was gender-oriented, in the sense that women were seen as having specific responsibilities in the social circles, within the household and towards their husbands and children. Women were educated to understand that their role resided in the practice of and reputation of chastity. They had various attributes: it was their responsibility to understand and administrate medicine, they were supposed to have good cookery skills, they grew vegetables, they took care of the dairy work, they preserved and made new clothes and they knitted and took care of children.

After they were married, women had the possibility to adopt the role of a female sole trader, which meant that they could do business, such as selling fruit and vegetables at the market; unmarried women did not have this privilege, and so they had to work for themselves with their own hands. Unmarried women, and also wives, were required to be silent in public and obedient to their fathers and husbands and have a perfect behaviour in the social circles they would attend. Widows enjoyed the most freedom, as they could make their own decisions, without being forced to consult with a man, and they could manage their own affairs and were treated differently in men’s circles.

Another category of women is represented by those living and working in brothels, as this was the single way for some of them to make a living. They were subordinated to men, but also superior to them, as they used their sexuality to offer men something they wanted. This can be seen as an example of indirect power, which, unfortunately, meant nothing in the society. Prostitute women were discriminated, pushed away, and humiliated in most cases. Most men considered them as an example of how weak women were, debating the case that women in brothels were clear examples of how women yielded to temptation and sexual desire more than men did.

However, things started to change throughout the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, when women found the strength necessary to speak their minds, to evolve, and thus gain power. Women started to have their voices heard in the parishes and communities, asking for political rights, or asking to be able to preach in a church. The attitude, in general, changed, as all the members of the family were now required to make their own contributions and to be productive for the household’s well-being; this meant that women were allowed to go outside their established limits.

At a higher level, the role of women was very important in the monarchy – a woman could succeed to the throne if there were no male heirs, which was excluded in France, for example. In the same manner, women belonging to the aristocratic class enjoyed a different social environment and opportunities to develop their knowledge and education. They enjoyed a different status, such as being able to go to the theatre, but they had to wear masks to conceal their identity and to make sure no one would recognise them. Therefore, the status of Elizabethan noble women was more privileged than that of women from other social classes. While they could not hold important positions in the state hierarchy, Elizabethan noble women excelled in arts and crafts (embroidery, tapestry, etc.) and they were cultivated writers and translators.

In contemporary Romania, the status of women has begun to change by promoting, in a systematic and determined manner, the idea of equality between men and women. The Romanian Constitution states that there is no difference between the two genders and that there are no rules which can discriminate one party or another. Once the government wanted Romania to be part of the European Union, much attention has been given to the measures that are being taken in order to make sure that gender equality is established and respected. Women in contemporary Romania do enjoy more social power and freedom than women did in early modern England.

Women in modern-day Romania work in different domains: health and social healthcare, banking, tourism, commerce and agriculture; if, in the past, their salaries were lower than those of men, nowadays this has almost disappeared, because the differences between salaries are among the lowest in the European Union. Nevertheless, the number of women being employed is lower because women have family responsibilities and they choose to stay at home to take care of the children. It is true that there are alo men who choose to do so, but there are very few cases and they are bound to do so for different reasons: either because their wives earn more money if they go to work or because they lost their jobs.

Politically speaking, Romania is not situated in a very good position, as there are few women in the Parliament, in the Presidential group or in the government – three times less than the average at the European level. This low number of women involved in politics has nothing to do with women not being capable of taking care of the implied responsibilities. This is why the European Union has asked for the introduction of gender quotas, thus making it possible for more women to access these domains. The same thing happened when it was discovered that the number of women was far less than the number of men in the private system. They had to see that it was a problem of old-school habits, which could be overcome through education and political measures that would make sure the false limits between the two genders would disappear.



Berry, Helen and Elizabeth Foyster. ” Introduction. ” The Family in Early Modern England. Edited by Helen Berry and Elizabeth Foyster, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, pp.1-17.

Bucholz, Robert and Newton Key. Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

Hill, Bridget. Eighteenth-Century Women: An Anthology. 2nd ed. 1984. London: Routledge, 2013.

Popescu, Raluca. ” Profilul familiei românești contemporane.” Calitatea Vieiii XXI, 2010, pp.17-37.

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