Women and Work

Authored by: Janine M. Lanza

The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409418177
eBook ISBN: 9781315613765
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041054


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In early modern Europe, women worked in an enormous range of jobs and professions. From farmwives who helped plant and harvest crops, to fishmongers who sold their wares in markets, to guildswomen who engaged in skilled labour, as well as artists, scholars, midwives, doctors, prostitutes and servants, women participated in every corner of the economy. This wide participation was evident in all of Europe, east as well as west, despite many differences. But notwithstanding the presence of women in virtually all sectors of the economy, women’s work was not understood or valued in the same way as men’s work. In contrast to male workers, female workers saw their ability to practise certain trades curtailed and their capabilities were often seen as inferior to men’s. Women were paid less than men and their work was often more contingent, despite that fact that many families relied on the income or work of all their members. I will examine the broad sweep of female labour participation as well as the ways women were limited by patriarchal ideology in their efforts to earn a living or develop a career. Nonetheless, despite the patriarchal ideology that sought to limit or undervalue their working contributions, women forged ahead into virtually all sectors of the economy. They did so not only in order to support themselves and their families, but also as part of their self-conception as productive and contributing members of their communities.

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