[–] VestalVirgin 20 points Edited

Interesting article.

Ever since I learnt that there was a period in the Middle Ages when men didn't ban women from working a trade in their own right, I suspected that the steady increase in womens' rights that history books want to make us believe in is not true.

One nitpick:

Of course, any “golden age” claim has to come with a caveat: women did not have the vote, many were abused exploited, badly paid and they generally died quite young

Women not having the vote can hardly be counted, seeing as men didn't have the vote, either. That injustice only started when men got the vote.(Germany would have still consisted of several monarchies at that time. Not sure about when men in England got a vote, but I don't think male peasants could vote in the late 14th century.)

Women in the Middle Ages also didn't have inside toilets, showers, or fastfood, but neither did men.

(I will let the other points stand. Men died younger, too, but not as often as women died in childbirth, so that can be counted.)

Women in the Middle Ages also had it better because there were bathhouses where no men were allowed to swing their dicks around in the womens' area ...

Women's rights are at an all-time low now in the aspect of privacy and dignity.

Without political change, progress, as we see time and again in history, can easily be reversed.

Yes. That's exactly what I have been suspecting ever since I started mistrusting the "things just get better and better" hypothesis.

Some text from David Graeber's Debt: the first 5000 years:

'In the very earliest Sumerian texts, particularly those from roughly 3000 to 2500 BC, women are everywhere. Early histories not only record the names of numerous female rulers, but make clear that women were well represented among the ranks of doctors, merchants, scribes, and public officials, and generally free to take part in all aspects of public life. One cannot speak of full gender equality: men still outnumbered women in all these areas. Still, one gets the sense of a society not so different than that which prevails in much of the developed world today. Over the course of the next thousand years or so, all this changes. The place of women in civic life erodes; gradually, the more familiar patriarchal pattern takes shape, with its emphasis on chastity and premarital virginity, a weakening and eventually wholesale disappearance of women's role in government and the liberal professions, and the loss of women's independent legal status, which renders them wards of their husbands. By the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC, we begin to see large numbers of women sequestered away in harems and (in some places, at least), subjected to obligatory veiling.

In fact, this appears to reflect a much broader worldwide pattern. It has always been something of a scandal for those who like to see the advance of science and technology, the accumulation of learning, economic growth-" human progress," as we like to call it-as necessarily leading to greater human freedom, that for women, the exact opposite often seems to be the case.'

Wasn't there a major civilizational collapse in Eurasia in 1200 BC? I haven't read much into it, but it stands to reason that it would lead to men tightening the screws on women, which almost inevitably happens during a major crisis.

Yes, the Bronze Age Collapse. My first thought was that they weakened society by limiting women and contributed to the crisis that way.

The Collapse is still very mysterious, we may never know what really happened.

Not sure about when men in England got a vote, but I don't think male peasants could vote in the late 14th century.

Probably not. I think only a small number of landowners could vote prior to the Reform Act 1832, which was also the law that for the first time disenfranchised British women on the basis of sex. More men were enfranchised in 1867 and 1884, and finally with the Representation of the People Act 1918 all adult men received suffrage. Some women property owners were also allowed to vote in colonial America, but after the founding of the US, their sex became a disability codified into law state by state.

Women not having the vote can hardly be counted, seeing as men didn't have the vote, either. That injustice only started when men got the vote.(Germany would have still consisted of several monarchies at that time. Not sure about when men in England got a vote, but I don't think male peasants could vote in the late 14th century.)

I had this thought too, but England has a certain history of having a parliament that I don't really understand. So maybe she's talking about women not being allowed in the Parliament of England?

[–] VestalVirgin 2 points Edited

Yes, that thought occurred to me, but I would have thought that ALL men being allowed to vote for the parliament would have been a relatively new thing - I know that in many "democracies" voting rights were limited to, for example, landowners.

And I think women would not have felt the injustice as much if it was only very few men who got privileges that women didn't get.

(In the GDR, there was not much of a feminist movement. The party members who got to have cars and luxury items were mostly men, but most men didn't have more than most women. Women got to have all sorts of jobs, so they didn't feel more oppressed than men. They certainly felt oppressed, but as citizens, not as women. I imagine it would have been similar in the Middle Ages, at least in that "golden era". Commoners in monarchies don't tend to feel oppressed because they don't have a right to vote, it is just the normal status quo - people always complain about bad governments, but there's a serious change in thinking needed to even consider a democracy. People told fairytales about good and just kings, not about democracies. I think in England, it was noblemen who first felt oppressed by having to do what the king said.)

Great article but don't read the comments.

They are a lengthy screed of male misogynist after male misogynist.

The worst is the guy who explained to his young daughter that women earn less because they "gossip and don't get any work done".

It's the most depressing set of comments I've read in a long while.

I read Unherd comments when I doubt that being an internet moderator is a good use of my time. Makes me a believer again.

Honestly I was so sickened I'm considered not renewing my Unherd subscription.

A year ago it was quite an interesting place with a lot of centre-left stuff and diverse views.

Now it's clear the userbase is largely a cesspool of right wing male bigots. I feel sorry for the writers on there.

I wouldn't unsub over it. You're paying them for the articles, not the comments. The fact that they continue to publish good stuff in spite of many of their readers reflects well on them. It's hard for publishers to not be swayed by their audience.

Unmoderated internet comments tend towards that sort of MRA drivel/spam. Give men a soapbox and that's what they do, they don't even need to be rewarded for it. If the platform doesn't want to moderate comments (and why would they, moderating is insane) then that's how the comments will be.

But why is social change so easily reversed? Writing about the end of the medieval era’s so-called golden age for women, Caroline Barron notes that, despite their economic power, women did not manage to increase their political representation. They did not take up positions in the city wards or guilds, let alone in law offices and parliament. The contemporary USA, where the recent decline in women’s rights has been most precipitous, has far fewer women in politics than Scandinavian countries, which are routinely rated as the best for women to live in.

Women are useful workers — particularly in struggling economies. But the opportunity to earn money means little without the opportunity to represent ourselves, in parliaments and the judiciary, in board rooms and financial institutions. Without political change, progress, as we see time and again in history, can easily be reversed.

Marion Turner is the J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Her latest book is The Wife of Bath: A Biography.

Really cool! I need to check out books by this professor.

I've always suspected the Middle Ages were called "Dark Ages" partly because women fared better then than in the more "enlightened" eras. Women had been active in many professions until they were pushed out by male-dominated guilds. And most witch hunts took place during the 16th and 17th centuries, but many people today erroneously believe these were "medieval" practices.

[–] hmimperialtortie cats plz 3 points

The Middle Ages and Dark Ages are quite separate. The Dark Ages, in England at least, refers to the first country of centuries or so after the departure of the Romans, when the Anglo-Saxons were still pagan and illiterate. The term is at least partly about the lack of written records. It certainly doesn’t refer to the later Saxon kingdoms (say during the Viking invasions) or the contemporary Carolingian empire.

[–] Gyndalf 0 points Edited

The term “Dark Ages” used to be synonymous with the early Middle Ages. Now most historians just call it the Early Middle Ages.

After the departure of Rome the Angles (Norse and Danish invaders and immigrants who settled East Anglia) and the Saxons (Germanic invaders and immigrants who conquered much of what remained of the British tribes after Rome departed) had yet to settle what is present-day England.

The “dark” in Dark Ages denoted not so much a lack of records but a lack of cultural and scientific progress. Decline in European feudalism is generally considered to mark the end of the early Middle Ages. The Saxon kingdoms and Danish/Norse invasion existed well before the end of the Early Middle Ages.

[–] hmimperialtortie cats plz 0 points

I didn’t say the Saxon kingdoms and Danish kingdoms in England were part of the Middle Ages, but that they weren’t the Dark Ages. Illiteracy and the return to paganism were what I always understand to be the criteria of the classicist scholars who coined the term.

They are called Dark Ages, because the elite that displaced the other elite, need some propaganda to make their own barbarism look better.

Not while they were dying in the millions during childbirth and from preventable diseases and extreme violence, no. I can appreciate that there were some advantages in terms of inheritance/employment compared to later centuries, but medieval times were absolutely horrendous for women physically.

[–] VestalVirgin 13 points Edited

Death in childbirth did not improve when women's legal rights got worse, though, so they still had it better in the 14th century than in the 16th.

Violence would likely have remained pretty much the same, at least domestic violence - and that's worse when you can't own property.

And well, yeah, preventable diseases were shit, but they were the same for men.

If I had the choice, I'd always choose to live in modern times, though perhaps I would prefer to have been born ten or twenty years earlier.

Violence has steadily decreased over time and would have been better in the 16th century compared to the 14th, but still, you're right it was no picnic. Modern times are WAY better for women than any other point in history has been, even though it doesn't always feel like it.