Do you believe in equal rights for women? During the sixteenth and seventh century, the rights of women were restricted when compared to the rights of men. Many of these rights were based upon the social and marital status of the woman, but regardless of her status, she had less rights than her husband. As I will argue in this paper, men controlled women and limited their rights with regard to guardianship, serving as a witness, and owning property. Women were viewed as inferior to men and often considered unable to make intellectual decisions. As Professor Byars stated in class, women at this time had illegitimate power rather than legitimate power. Anything they received, they received from someone or something else. Women only obtained wealth or power in a manner deemed appropriate by men. Women faced restrictions and lack of personal control their entire life and were under the authority of men.
Men didn’t believe women could manage their personal affairs. Once a woman’s husband passed away, she was considered unable to manage her own life and was assigned a guardian to oversee her various affairs by a council or court system. This acting guardian was also assigned to her children and would oversee the affairs of the children until they turned legal age. Since the woman lost control of her children, it was the guardian who made decisions based upon what he thought was best for her children. The father of her deceased husband often had more to say about the children’s future than the mother. The only time the mother had full control of her children were if the children were illegitimate (Weisner 231).
Guardianship was also another way for cities to control the inheritance of the widow. As Merry Weisner stated in her essay, many widows were turning to convents and their inheritance was going to the church. The cities felt they were losing too much money and wanted to be able to control the wealth of the widow. By assigning a guardian, the city had a better chance of preventing her from entering a convent. However, if she did enter the convent, she was only allowed to take in enough property to support her for the duration of her life and then only fifty pounds could be given to the convent upon her death (Weisner 230).
Women were allowed to challenge the appointment of her guardian only if she felt he was not looking out for her best interest or the interest of her children. The court had the jurisdiction to appoint a new guardian or force the current guardian to take better care of her and her children. However, she was unable to terminate guardianship all together and was required to have a male guardian at all times. The only time a male was assigned a guardian was if it was determined he was unable to handle his own inheritance (Weisner 231).
A woman was rarely called as a witness in a court of law and was not considered a credible witness. She was considered equivalent only to that of a criminal or minor children as a witness (Schneider...