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In a history class last year, I was made aware of a movement from some radical feminist groups that claimed the slaughter of innocent women in the 16 th and 17 th century witch trials as a parallel to the misogynistic persecution they perceive as an integral part of culture today. The use of the inquisition of witches as an analogy for the contemporary subjugation of women is a historical due to the evolution of the social dynamics that occurred between the 16 th and 20 th centuries. The political climate of the 16 th and 17 th centuries was one of great conflict, with many opposing forces struggling for control. As a patriarchal society, women were not allowed into the forefront of politics, therefore having no direct voice in judicial and societal matters. This made women prime candidates for persecution under a law system completely under the control of males. In early modern Europe, religion had a much more powerful influence upon the lives of the masses than it holds today.
Those in the position to receive an education were commonly limited in their endeavors to theological seminary. Those of the traditionally uneducated classes first and foremost women were saturated by the theological interpretations of the religiously educated few. The moral economy of early modern Europe was forged by the hands of those educated by the church and enforced through a fearful reverence of the wrath of God. Ordinary citizens, lacking basic literacy, were compelled to accept the clergy s version of Gospel as The Gospel. Today, with the advent of public education and higher literacy rates than ever before seen, the general public has the opportunity to examine liturgy and form individual theological structures. In addition to a more educated populous, the religious community has been forced by the modern idea of separation between church and state to vacate its position as ultimate moral arbiter.
Another facet of this distinction between religious and judicial authority is the transference of law enforcement to the secular realm. In order to prosecute a particular ideological or religious group the church would first be required to find evidence of legal wrongdoing. This makes any future, large-scale, religious persecution, be it based in economic scapegoating or social out casting, much more difficult if not improbable. Women s roles in society have broadened considerably in the last half millennium due to the separation of the church from the state and the relative acceptance of women as equal in secular society. Women of the 16 th and 17 th centuries were confined exclusively to the domestic quarter; their duties consisted chiefly of wife, mother and housekeeper. In the contemporary era, women have available a vast array of both domestic and non-domestic activities with which to contribute to their household and inspire personal satisfaction.
While it is true that inequality still exists between the sexes, the station of women in contemporary society has risen to a level that would cause an agitated, postmortem disturbance in Pope Urban VIII (reigning Pope during the early 17 th century). Women, since acquiring the right to vote in 1920, possess the ability to actively participate in legislative and judicial spheres; this grants women the potential to empower themselves within the democratic process. Arising from the relative acceptance of women s intellectual and professional competence, women are now elected and / or placed into prominent political and societal positions. In the 16 th and 17 th centuries, the only political positions to wield any significant power were those of king and clergy both inherently male due to the traditional assumption of female inferiority in governance. One of the greatest crusades of the modern feminist movement is the quest to shatter the Glass Ceiling. The Glass Ceiling is a modern term representing the unseen and powerful force limiting the upward mobility of women in a corporate setting.
Men in power oftentimes enforce this invisible menace, subconsciously feeling threatened by female competence and additional competition. Feminists liken this to the uniform denial of admittance of women by the guilds of early modern Europe. However, in the corporate world of today, the Glass Ceiling does not specifically deny passage, instead it applies a double standard to women; this often presents the women with a choice between career and family, allowing only one of the two options. No matter the facet of society in which you look, the indicators of change over time, especially the great expanse of time covered i. e. 500 years, are overwhelmingly evident. The political climate now allows women a direct, opinionated voice, as opposed to the silence and obedience expected of a 16 th century female.
Religion no longer plays the role it once did, becoming secondary to the government in the lives of American citizens. Differing from early modern Europe, women are now allowed to comment upon a situation in such cases that they do not find favorable. Women are now afforded the same rights as men, allowing them the freedom to do as they wish under the same legal constraints as men. For this reason, it is absurd and offensive to create an analogous relationship between the witch-hunts and the modern feminist movement.
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