Changing Women's Roles As A Result Of The Black Plague

1196 words - 5 pages

When Eve took that bite of the Forbidden Fruit, she had no idea what she had gotten women-kind into. Whether or not you believe in the story of creation, the perception of women as corrupting and sinful had shaped women's social roles in Western Society for thousands of years. Augustine was one of the first to write about the wickedness of women, and the acceptance of this doctrine is evident in the Letters of Abelard and Heloise through their disdain toward marriage. Along with mass death of the Black Plague, came an opportunity for women to change the ways in which society viewed them. The great number of deaths in Europe often resulted in the situation where no male heirs remained which led to the legal ability of women to inherit land and property. This new idea teamed with the increase of women's wages due to worker shortages, led to women being able to marry younger men who hadn't yet accumulated the necessities for supporting a family. The idea of true love and companionship in marriage also grew with this trend and is expressed in both The Canterbury Tales and Leon Battista Alberti's On the Family. Women were slowly becoming the equals to males in a relationship which paved the way for gender equality outside of marriage.

The views of women in the Pre-Black Death era were less than flattering. The writings of Augustine were greatly influential in shaping church doctrine and the perception of women during the middle ages. According to Augustine, women were the source of great misery and that lust for women led to the enslavement of men. The acceptance of this perception is expressed in The Letters of Abelard and Heloise by Heloise's initial rejection of their marriage on the grounds that it would damage Abelard's reputation. These views are reflected by the roles that women had in the Pre-Black Death era. Households were strictly patriarchal in which the man of the house made all the important decisions. Women's jobs at the time were mostly relegated to domestic service and occasional work at harvest time. The jobs were always of low pay, low status, and required little training. In addition to this females were not legally permitted to inherit land or property. This was the bleak life of a woman, with little hope or power, and always the subordinate of men.

Along with the sweeping death that came with the Black Plague came subtle changes in the lives of women in Western Europe. With so many left dead, the demand for workers skyrocketed after the plague. This caused the wages of workers to increase drastically and drew many women into the labor force. Another side effect of the plague was that there were less people to purchase goods and services which, according to the law of supply and demand, led to cheaper prices. For instance a tenement in Sussex, England previously rented for 12 pence was rented out for 6 pence. When you combine the wealth gained by higher wages and cheaper goods with the new...

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