Were women oppressed by men in the West in the past? Part 1

I believed they were. I never had any significant contact with feminists, but this seems to be mainstream knowledge. For a couple of months, I’ve been reading history books and trying to find out if it’s really true. I’ve also been reading the “feminist bible” – “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir.

I haven’t finished either, but feel ready to pass on some knowledge. The latter book says women were oppressed, and it is so because humans are always hostile to those different from them. If two different groups meet, they are hostile to each other until they either acknowledge each other as subjects of one of them wins and oppresses the other. Well, women are different from men, and men see them as “the Other” and are their oppressors, because women arouse men’s hostility. However, Simone de Beauvoir says these things[1]:

  1. Women, even in her time, aren’t eager to free themselves, and it’s too tempting to remain “an object” and be free of having to make your own decisions. Women often feel good in their role as the Other.
  2. Even when women get the same rights as men, it’s not enough to free them.
  3. A subject must have transcendence. Your life only has meaning when you make something bigger than yourself, something that differentiates you from animals. Human beings are different from animals when they have projects: conquer nature, invent, build. Having children is not a valid transcendent project, it’s just a biological function, any animal can do it.

Major digression:

If I was as uninformed and lacking in understanding of other women as Simone, I’d believe point 3 myself. I believe there are women who are more inclined to build, create and invent, rather than raise children. Those would feel like Simone and me and think that other women must be the same way, secretly. It might seem unbelievable to us that someone might actually feel fulfilled doing housework, backing up their man and raising the new generation of well-adjusted citizens. Well, there are people like that and what is transcendence to some, is immanence others. Different women value different things!

End of digression.

Now I will tell you what I found out from history books :). I’ve read mostly about Europe between 1500 and 1750 [2].

Was marriage expoilative and abusive for women?

Renaissance lawyers considered marriage to be more beneficial to women than to men. During the Reformation (when Protestantism appeared), marriage was given even more value than before. So was sexuality within the marriage (the idea was to serve your spouse with your body, not selfish desire). According to religion, marriages had to be approved by parents, but it wasn’t good to force kids to marry people they didn’t love either. Getting a divorce was messy, you had to give your case to special courts.

Husband’s duties were to provide for wife and kids, defend his home and lead his family and servants. The wife was not seen as a servant (in theory), she had a special role in the house. Also, there wasn’t a policeman at every corner, so when it came to crime, the husband controlled his family, the community controlled the family if the husband couldn’t, and if the community wasn’t enough, the case could be brought to the courts. It doesn’t mean women were never punished for anything by courts, but men were sometimes dragged in as accomplices. A fun example:

“In 1573 William Davy’s wife was accused of “using herself dishonorably”, meaning selling sex, and William was accused of being an accomplice. Without his cooperation, they said, she wouldn’t have been so nasty, because her actions were going on for such a long time”

If the spouses had a physical fight, the neighbors could take matters into their own hands and break their house. A woman spreading gossip would be publicly shamed. Interestingly enough, a man beat up by his wife could also be shamed, or if he was cuckolded by her.

There was a bigger punishment for a wife who hits her husband than for a husband that hit his wife. Each individual family wasn’t private, its condition was important to whole society. The idea was that if the husband’s authority was broken, the family, the marriage and even society wouldn’t survive. An ideal wife was chaste and obedient.

What about the sexual double standard?

Honor was a big deal, and if someone spread rumor about you, you and your neighbors could demand they prove the rumors, to restore your reputation. A man usually had to defend himself against accusations of being a drunkard, thief or a blasphemer. A woman usually defended herself against being called a whore, making her husband a cuckold or other such sexual accusations.

Sex outside of marriage was illegal. The worst was to get children with someone other than your spouse. Not being married and getting kids was also a crime. So was giving birth so quickly after the wedding that it’s obvious you had sex before marriage. In Scandinavia, to begin with, only men got punished for it. Later, it slowly switched over onto women.

Men were usually punished for having kids with others than their wife, impregnating unmarried women and rape with fines. Women were usually punished for prostitution, with physical punishment and chasing her out of town. Killing a baby to avoid single-mom shaming and jailtime lead to jailtime (or death if you repeated it).

A woman could kill her rapist and walk free, if she couldn’t defend herself or run away in the situation. However, killing your husband couldn’t be justified so easily.

Were women denied jobs?

Most people were farmers and made most of what they needed themselves. The man could have some profession and made money on it, but the wife was involved in it and they worked as a unit in both his profession and making food and other things. There was a lot to do every day, and both man and wife did a lot of house work and land work. The wife also made money, often by selling what she grew or made. Even kids had to contribute to economy.  If you ask me, I don’t think working in any other way other than as a unit would have sufficed.

However, there were times when women were barred from guilds. Guilds were companies of masters (goldsmiths, watchmakers, weavers, etc.). Guilds were created to protect buyers from crappy products. Women used to be in them, but after a while they got kicked out, especially when times were economically tough. Apprentices viewed women as competition and didn’t want their jobs stolen. Here is a possible interpretation of this:


But for a long time, master’s widows could continue their husband’s trade after his death. The book says they often did it out of necessity rather than desire.

England dealt with its poor by taking poor kids and letting them be taught some trade in a type of foster-family. Non-poor also used this arrangement (kids got taught a trade away from their family). Boys and girls had a wide spectrum of professions to choose from. Furniture-maker, stonemason, engraver, weaver, butcher, surgeon, coal miner, wig maker, shoemaker, dentist, textile jobs. 3-41% of apprentices within these were female. Towards the 19th century, the spectrum got smaller and smaller for girls though.

In 1841, England possessed 512 female blacksmiths and 2966 female coal miners.

Could women publish books?

Yes, as Justine Siegmund did in 1680. It was a textbook on midwifery, concentrating on abnormal births.

Could women get higher education?

No, universities were for men. But the first of them were founded by individuals anyway (professors and students, anyone interested in learning), and they conducted their own affairs like any company, free of outside control, meaning women weren’t entitled to being in them.

However, other schools were founded, often by religious groups of volunteers. Some for boys, some for girls.




1.            Beauvoir, S.d., The Second Sex. 1949: Editions Gallimard.

2.            Ida Blom, S.S., Bente Rosenbeck, Kvinner i den Vestlige Verden fra år 1500 til i dag. 2005: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag.


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12 Responses to Were women oppressed by men in the West in the past? Part 1

  1. YOHAMI says:

    Women were oppressed, but not by “men”. The population has been always oppressed, by the system, and you´ll find that whenever you had an oppressed women, you also had far more oppressed men in way worse conditions.

    Getting and education and having a job werent privileges = it was something you HAD to do if you wanted to have a chance of getting married. And then whatever you achieved you would pass the benefits to the woman / family.

    “If two different groups meet, they are hostile to each other until they either acknowledge each other as subjects of one of them wins and oppresses the other.”

    Sure, but men and women were of the same group, with women as the protected part of the group and men as the disposable part of the group. Which continues to this day.

    Men and women are different. And back then the social differences were more pronounced, in part because the world wasnt as safe as it is now. Feminism takes all these differences and portraits them as oppression, without ever taking into account that women were in a far more privileged position (less risks, more benefits, less responsibilities, more protection) than men.

    Or, in short, fuck feminism.

    • emmatheemo says:

      Oh, I realize all that, but I gotta be as precise and careful as possible when exploring history 🙂 Yes, people were always oppressed here and there, and no, I haven’t so far detected that women had it worse than men on average. I’m also skeptical to the claim that men feel hostility towards women because they are different from them. It’s not what I see.

      • Fnord says:

        Hi, interesting text. Would just like to point out that the level of female opression varied a lot between different states and in different economical groups. And that there is a strong tradition of rape during wars in Europe, running through it all. In stable societies, women and men had different channels of power. In crisis and war, not so much.

      • emmatheemo says:

        Thanks for the info, I’m still discovering new info as I go and planning to read more books on this. This is exactly what I hear about wars – women get raped, although the number of men who die is still usually bigger than the number of dead women.
        A bit weird the book doesn’t mention wartime astrocities, but others might.

  2. YOHAMI says:

    And no the evil oppressing system wasnt “patriarchy”, but Monarchy (which had women in there), or whatever capitalism or bullshit system, which always had women in there. There hasnt been a single system where all men rule from the top and all women are slaves from the bottom. Whenever there has been a man on the top, there are women with him. Up there. And far more men at the bottom, and men pushed so far at the bottom no woman can go with them.

    • emmatheemo says:

      Nope, no such system so far in the books. Gotta say, monarchy wasn’t always evil, but both it and capitalists would often force normal people into various things. Guilds could forbid other people from doing the same trade, since the guild members were also the town rulers (often). The worst I’ve detected so far is fights over religion, not gender violence.

  3. Clarence says:

    Rule by the father. In simplest form, father has more legal rights and is a real head of household. This condition has existed at times, but has varied from time to time. Nowadays, the west can, in no way, be called a “patriarchy”.
    Patriarchy is not as feminist use it. Feminists use it to mean “andrarchy” which would be rule of all men, all males given more rights /power than females , state policy dictated solely towards mens concerns.

    • emmatheemo says:

      Hmm, yes, he did often have more legal rights, although I’m not sure it was necessarily oppressive… (would have to read more to decide). Thanks for explaining the distinction, by the way.

    • YOHAMI says:

      andrarchy, interesting.

      Man how come all the interesting debate happens *outside* of the mainstream media? I dont mind if we have stupid ideas, as long as there are people questioning them and honest curiousty. Mainstram media doesnt even have any questions or debate. Just echo chamber and reassuring comfortable zones and agenda. wtf.

  4. Vikingquest says:

    Ema, have you read what girlwriteswhat and genderratic writes about patriarchy? Very analytical and good stuff.

    At various times there have been very different and extremely harsh legal systems and ways to organize society. Aristocrats more or less owning everyone living in their region, having the right to have sex with any virgin on her wedding night before the husband could have sex etc. Most legal matters being settled by the land lord and only in exceptional cases allowed to be taken to a higher court, meaning the landlord could mostly do as he wanted. But all this hit men just as hard.

    HAve you read Steven PInkers the better angels of our nature why violence has declined? It is highly interesting both in how it shows a very strong and consistent reduction in violence but also because it explains how the the high levels of violence and brutality and the type of governmental and legal structure at each stage go history can be explained as a necessity of the conditions at the time. For example, when the central government is weak and do not have capacity to control the population properly with police you always get lots of violence and an honor culture where men will take revenge for any insult to their honor because being perceived as weak and unwilling to protect yourself makes you the targeted victim of everyone up to no good. So you protect yourself by being perceived as guaranteed to maximize trouble for anyone stealing from you, fucking your wife or attacking you. Another function of weak central government is extreme punishments and often making them as public as possible. The reason is if the risk of getting caught is low the only way to deter is to make the punishment harsher. By making it public people would see and so leaner to fear the punishments more.

    The reason all of this is relevant is that it goes a long way in explaining why a lot of seemingly strange and brutal laws and practices were necessary at a time and in the same way a lot of the patriarchal structure can be explained. For example, as far as men often having authority over his wife and important point is that he was obligated to protect her with his life. If he is obligated to do that he should also have the right to deny her movement and behavior that would put him at risk of having to risk his life. Also remember that the sons would often be under the fathers “rule” until they got married.

    There are a bunch of good explanations for other aspects of patriarchy as well following similar types of logic. For example, since a man can survive alone with quite little work compared to how much he needed to work to support a wife and 12 kids which was quite normal, 13!!!!! people extra, it would take a lot to make him want to get married. If a wife could have divorced him for no reason and he would have been obligated to keep supporting her and the kids for life without getting any benefits in return he would in effect be a slave that worked 12+ hours a day doing very hard labour getting absolutely nothing in return other than possible sometimes seeing his kids. She could then marry another guy and double her living standard while he would never be able to remarry because he would not be able to afford it because he is supporting his ex. This combined with the need to make older men that had more money stay with their wives in stead of dumping her for a younger woman made it necessary to make marriage extremely difficult to get out of. None of that is about oppressing women. If anything it is about protecting her.

    At times society also used very harsh means to shame men into marriage such as defining a man as a being only a father. Unless you had a family you where never a real man. That shaming only needed to be there because otherwise you would have had too many MGTOWs working three hours a day and otherwise slacking and drinking a couple of beers and maybe fucking a prostitute every no and then or having gay sex as men in prisons often do for lack of sex with women. Now that I think about it a lot of the shaming of gay people probably comes from this. Society did not just want to loose gay men as marriageable and productive fathers, they also needed to avoid men with any sort of bisexual tendencies using that as an outlet that could compensate for sex with a woman in marriage.

  5. Historicalcorrect Politicaluncorrect says:

    I medieval times, women ruled their homes and the men guarded their familys honour. If a kid steal something, it was expected that his father would come down on him/her much harder than any police or man of law could.
    Back to the women; She was truly the ruler of her house and often controlled the households economics. As a proof on her position, she carried around a set of keys in her belt. The more keys, the more successful wife! You can find old drawings of bunads from the 18 th century, where the keys is still a part of a womans outfit.
    In addition came the regular household works like preparing food, clothes and raise the kids, which if a boy, a father would greatly participate, especially in the adolecence.
    I belive in those days a womans position was not looked down upon, but rather praised in way we don’t grasp today.

    Today, you have wasted your youth if you get a child before you are 25. Today, you are a looser if you want to stay home with the kids instead of pursuing a career. Today, no honour is tied up to your name. You can sleep around with anyone anytime and have 4 kids with 4 different fathers and noone would drag your name publicly through the mud. (And if they do, it means nothing, you still get a job and nooen could run you out of town with the law in their hands)
    No need to follow the codes of honour and no need to go through the thin times of a marriages have led to a society that in many ways are inferiour to medieval times. The really big loosers are our children. I strongly believe that they had a better life when the mother was always there, even though playstation did not exist and minor injuries could kill you.

    But then again my statements are not political correct and the act they are based upon will probably not find its way into a historical work, written by a woman.

  6. namae nanka says:

    1st wave is 2nd wave is 3rd wave


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