Today I was doing some prep for a history instruction next Thursday and part of the instruction includes a library tour where I would show the class, generally, where to find the history books in the stacks as well as the reference section (for LCC that’s D-E-F) so easy enough. As I’m walking through trying to get a grasp of the natural progression I came across two very different but equally interesting books.
The first book I pulled is a true History style book called: Life in Medieval Times by Majorie Rowling. I grabbed it partially because I was curious, and partially to make myself feel better about my own life as it is right now.
The second book I grabbed is called: Put Your Best Foot Forward USA: A fearless guide to Understanding the United States of America by Mary Murray Bosrock. I couldn’t resist the dorky looking 90’s cartoon cover, and the urge to know how to better understand “basic” American Culture 20 years ago, written to inform people who may be visiting the USA.
I had no idea what I was going to do with these. I did the flip open and try to find a passage, but nothing really worked. I flipped through the table of contents to see where and if there were any similar subjects and ended up with … Women. How different was it to be an American Woman in the late 90’s vs. a Woman in Medieval Europe? Let’s see…
Chapter 4 in Life in Medieval Times is entitled “Women and Wives”. Here are a few excerpts I found especially fun:
In the 14th century Goodman of Paris told his wife to “ copy the behavior of a dog who always has his eye and his heart upon his master; even if his master whip him and throw stones at him, the dog follows, wagging his tail…” (Rowling, 1979, p.72).
Doesn’t beating a dog eventually make him mean? I’m not sure, but I’m pretty happy that we aren’t being equated to dogs anymore.
In customary law in the 13th century a clause in the statues of a town in Glascony states: “All inhabitants of Villefranche have the right to beat their wives, provided they do not kill them thereby” (Rowling, 1979, p.72)
So there’s that….
As the chapter goes on let’s just say it doesn’t get much better. There are some sources in poetry and other writings that seem sympathetic to the causes of women, but overall it’s safe to say that women were just basically tools used by the men for their own gain at their own discretion. Which seems pretty dismal when you think about it. Most marriages were for monetary purposes and were arranged, but there were many accounts of happy ones as well. Marriage in the US today (even though mainly NOT arranged) probably fares no better than most unhappy some happy, but hey at least we get to make our own mistakes.
I’ve always wished that there was some sort of historical theme park like Westworld, not where you go to bang robots, but where you can go and actually experience what life was like back then down to what everybody smelled like. I wonder if this could be a thing for VR one day, but I digress.
Let’s take a peek at that USA “guide” book and see what it has to say about women in Chapter 21 named “Especially for Women” . It talks about how women make up half the workforce, the suffrage movements and other important events in women’s history. What I find the most interesting are the “tips” for working with women.
“Never call a woman dear or sweetie, or any similar terms in a business situation”
Well, that seems fair.
“The terms broad, dame, bird and chick are inappropriate in any situation”
Especially since it’s not 1950-something.
“Do not misinterpret American friendliness as a sexual invitation”
How friendly do some people get?
“Women do not consider it a compliment to be whistled at” (Bosrock, 1999, p. 244-5)
Yes, yes this is all pretty sound today. So what IS OK for men to do to women? The next section is called “chivalry” and lists these things as OK: Holding the door open, allowing women to enter or exit before you, walking ahead of a woman down stairs, walk next to a woman on the curb side of the street, remove your hat in their presence, rise when she leaves the room or a table, follow behind when walking down an aisle. (Bosrock, 1999)
I had an experience here at the U where I held a door open for a 18ish year old student that had his head down and his eyes glued on his phone. As he walked through the door that I held open for him he didn’t so much as look up to acknowledge my presence, or say thanks or anything at all. I yelled sarcastically at him like the sourpuss old lady that I am: “You’re welcome” but it’s not like he heard me since his ears were stuffed with earbuds. This was a bit shocking to me, as I found it to be so very rude that as I lady I held the door open for HIM and he didn’t even say thanks??? Some males of the generation right below me just don’t think about things like holding the door open for ladies or walking next to a curb to block a woman from traffic, they just weren’t taught these things. I only know this from casual observation I don’t mean to generalize but I do notice it walking around campus. Actually, it was kind of a show of equality that he didn’t think anything of a woman holding the door for him (still rude not to say thanks whatever gender you are) and today it is in no way thought of as weird for a woman to hold a door open for a dude, so really this lack of “chivalry” could be interpreted as a good thing. Chivalry may seem dead, but I’m even happier to report, so is the age of being treated like a dog or being beat (almost) to death by your husband and having it be totally legal.
Bosrock, M. (1999). USA: A Fearless Guide to Understanding the United States of America. St. Paul, MN: IES.
Rowling, M. (1979). Life in Medieval Times. New York: Perigee Books.