Are Women Evil?
Do you believe all women are INHERENTLY evil? Some people still do despite the advancement of women in the 20th and 21st centuries. Although pervasive negative stereotyping of women began before the birth of Christ, it continues today. When did opinions toward women begin to change and why?
A brief history helps explain the answer beginning with the very creation of woman. The story of the serpent set the tone by pinning blame on Eve in the 4th or 5th century. She purportedly caused the fall of mankind by biting the apple offered to her. But could her ‘sin’ have been part of a diabolical plot to cover up the more sinister actions of a male serpent? After all, the serpent INTENDED to deceive or lure Eve into temptation. Aside from this well-known story, Biblical women were rarely referenced (less than 8% of Biblical content) and largely submissive. It would require a separate article to talk about women of the Bible, so we will focus on Renaissance women as causation for more current attitudes about the evil nature of women.
16th & 17th Centuries
Although two of the many works of Italian author, Christine de Pisan, defended women in the 1400's (The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies), it was not until the 1600's that an open controversy about the alleged misogynist nature of women created mainstream dialogue. While it is not hard to Imagine how bold de Pisan must’ve seemed to her readers in 1405, women of the Renaissance actually played a more effective role in creating lasting cultural changes.
Sixteenth and seventeenth century England was a controversial period for women since the morality, intellectual capability, and social status of women were heavily debated in Renaissance literature and drama. Women had for centuries, been viewed solely as domestic beings without any intellectual or political value. The law placed women in a position inferior to man and shockingly, it was even debated whether women had souls! As an example, Edward Gosynhill's The Schoolhouse, written in the 1500's described women as:
Been evil to please and worse to trust,Crabbed and cumbrous when themself lust.Have tongue at large, voice loud and shrill...With one bare word or little more, They flush and flame, as hot as fire,And swell as a toad for fervent ire
Gosynhill sounded more jaded than grounded, but even Shakespeare (1564-1616) could be classified as an early misogynist. In his sonnet The Dark Lady, the character Stella exemplifies evil. In the work Hamlet, Hamlet falsely accuses Ophelia of infidelity and ostracizes her use of cosmetics, eventually driving her mad. In The Winter’s Tale, the male character falsely accuses the female, Paulina.
Shakespeare’s works, however, began to advocate the plight of women to choose their own husbands. Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing examined a witty woman breaking ties associated with Renaissance stereotyping. Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well uses wit and cunning to win a husband. Portia in The Merchant of Venice had acclaimed wealth, all perhaps signifying the slow dawn of feminism.
The Council of Macon held that a Woman does not have a soul.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that a Female is a defective Male.
Aristotle said a Female is a deformed Male.
The Pamphlet Wars
Referred to as the "pamphlet wars", the first female responses to misogyny began in 1578 with the writings of Margaret Tyler. She argued that women were just as capable of translating texts as were men. During the later part of Queen Elizabeth’s rule, the most well known English defense of women occurred when Jane Anger wrote Protection for Women. Jane Anger didn't just defend women, she flipped the script accusing men of having wayward tongues, egos which control them and require flattery, and being full of false promises.
Notably, Rachel Speght wrote a response to Joseph Swetman's The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1617). He accused women of "leading a proud, lazy, and idle life," and further "crooked by nature," then he appeared to encourage women to defend themselves. Most classified Swetman's work as a patronization of women designed to entertain men. Speght responded in A Mouzell for Melastomus saying,
"This I allege as a paradigmatical pattern for all women, noble and ignoble, to follow, that they be not inflamed with choler against this our enraged adversary, but patiently consider of him according to the portraiture which he hath drawn of himself, his Writings being the very emblem of a monster".
As women continued to publicly defend themselves, they also continued to educate themselves. Elizabeth Tanfield Carey revolutionized women's education. She taught herself numerous languages, philosophy, history, and mathematics. She read "incessantly" and by the age of 17, she had written The Tragedy of Mariam (which advocated equal rights.) Mary Tattlewell Taylor raised the issue of equality in The Women’s Sharp Revenge when she argued that female exclusion from colleges was merely intended to perpetuate male dominance over females.
The Humanist Movement, which lasted decades, revealed a mixture of reluctance to change and advocation for women. Humanists argued for the importance of women getting an education during the 17th century; however, it was humanists themselves who tailored female curriculum to include social graces, chastity, obedience, singing, playing an instrument, and what we would refer to today as ‘home economics.’
18th & 19th Centuries
Mary Wollstonecraft is well known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792, wherein she argued for the moral equality of women. She died before she finished a novel named Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, but it sparred a public debate since it openly discussed women's sexual desires as something other than evil. Nonetheless, her contemporary and a philosopher William Godwin attempted to destroy her reputation.
In 1848, women were granted the right to own property despite marriage. Previously, marriage assigned all property claims to her husband. It is clear to see that the decades following the Renaissance, were like a tide ebbing in and out of women's oppression and rights. Susan B. Anthony voted in 1871, and consequently was arrested, tried, and convicted for it. But the overall outcome was a lasting test of women's rights to citizenship. In 1904, the expressionist drama Pandora's Box written by Greek poet Hesiod flouted women. Pandora, similar to the sin of Eve, opened the lid allowing treachery and pestilence on mankind. Yet over time, Renaissance writers slowly began to question the rank and merit given to women and the outcome was the ultimate intellectual and social emancipation of women.
The 18th and 19th century came to be known as First-wave Feminism, with many women (even some belonging to conservative Christian groups), boldly stepping forward in the fight for the right to work and to vote. In 1920, women were granted the right to vote in the U.S. The Equal Pay Act was passed in the 1960's, but in 1961 the controversial movie Something Wild debuted which portrayed a women raped and then locked in an apartment, that is, forced to submit to two different men. In 1975, the song "Evil Woman" by the band Electric Light Orchestra claimed,
"You destroyed all the virtues that the Lord gave you. It's so good that you're feelin' pain."
click this link to see:
- A Brief History of Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice
This is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to further explore the history of misogyny.
Fast Forward from the Renaissance to Today
Despite a lasting attempt to tarnish their reputations, the women of today are proving they are not inherently evil. They are managing to work full-time and simultaneously be good wives and good mothers to one or more children. Like Renaissance women, they continue to be authors, but now they are also lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers, and even presidential candidates. In 2016, Forbes magazine featured an article entitled, Why Women are Smarter Than Men. Fast forward to 2019, Forbes listed the CEO of Forbes companies like IBM, Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Best Buy, Oracle, and numerous others - they are females.
This is no way intended to demerit the women of today, but modern women and women of the feminist movement should tip their hats to some very courageous women of centuries past - a past which painted a lasting and evil portrait of women. Women have in large part, stepped out of the canvas of misogyny and instead, taken the brush by the hand. Much work remains to be done across the globe and this article is dedicated to that proposition.