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Alexander Dacy

December 13, 2016

AP World Pd. 2
Roles of Women in the Medieval Era DBQ

During the Medieval Era from 600-1400 c.e., interpretation of religious texts greatly

influenced the roles and status of women, specifically in Europe and Southwest Asia. Around

this time period, religion was becoming a dominant part of life, with the rapid spread of

Christianity and Judaism, and the development of Islam. Each of these religions had their own

guiding texts that outlined how the world should be according to their respective leaders. The

different principles outlined in these texts caused conflicts between members of the three

religious groups, particularly because contrasting perspectives and beliefs were existing in

similar geographic areas. Despite this dichotomy, the religious texts of the time all agreed on

demoting the role of women in their society. Religious doctrine and practices significantly

diminished the role of women in Europe and Southwest Asia between 600 and 1400 c.e. by

explicitly promoting male dominance and female submissiveness in religious texts.

Religious texts from the Medieval Era expressly delineated womens diminished roles in

society and the restrictive practices women were to follow. The Bible, a collection of scriptures

explaining Christian doctrine, described how women must be submissive in Timothy, 2:11-15.

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness, the passage reads. I permit no woman

to teach or to have authority over men. She is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then

Eve (Document 1). This passage emphasizes mens power over women, forbidding women

from using their knowledge and instructing them to remain quiet. According to the biblical text,

men are superior because they came before women. It explains that a womans primary role in

society is to bear children and follow the word of God with virtue and humility to repent for the

original sin. This document shows that women were not respected for the other gifts or

knowledge they could offer during the Medieval Era. The Virgin Mary is the exception to this
subservient view of women. Throughout this time period, Christians saw Mary as the most

powerful of all saints, as well as a strong model of purity and motherhood. The only alternative

to motherhood for medieval women was to become a nun, living a sequestered life of

contemplation, prayer, work and servitude, as depicted in the image of a French Medieval

Hospital in a convent where nuns are caring for the sick and preparing corpses for burial

(Document 7). Christians continued to hold women in a lower status during the Fourth Lateran

Council in Rome in 1215. At the Council, a meeting of Roman Catholic bishops, patriarchs and

other high-ranking leaders from around the world, they decreed that women should not interact

in public with men, and that relationships should only be among people of the same religion. The

Council supported the practice of Jews and Muslims wearing special clothes to distinguish them

from Christians, so that no Christian married them ignorant of who they were, stating it

sometimes happens that by mistake Christians have intercourse with Jewish or Saracen women

and Jews or Saracens with Christian women (Document 5). This declaration encapsulates

Christian neglect towards womens rights to choose and think independently in the Medieval Era

and supports the practice of women being isolated among ones own kind. The decree and

biblical text are useful and reliable documents because they come from primary sources of

authority that explain Christian doctrine and bylaws. The document containing the image of the

convent hospital is an artists interpretation of the role of women as nuns during this time period.

Though it may be accurate in its depiction, it is the artists personal perspective, and therefore,

less credible than the two other primary sources.

Jewish women in medieval society faced much of the same patriarchal hierarchy and

submission as Christian women of the time. Their position in Europe and Southwest Asia

between 600 and 1400 c.e. was secondary compared to that of men, and like their Christian
counterparts, they had little choice in the paths their lives would take. Comments made in

religious texts supported the view that men were superior to women in both character and duties.

The Torah and the Talmud, two of the most sacred Jewish doctrines, both contained passages

that were dismissive of women and their abilities. Jewish women were primarily expected to

become wives and mothers. Their fathers often married them off at young ages. Once married,

the focus for women was on having and caring for children and the household, while men

worked and studied religion outside of the home. Consequently, women often gave birth before

they felt ready and had their educations limited. In addition, according to the Torah, if a woman

was in a Levirate marriage, and her husband died before they had a child, she was obliged to

marry her deceased husbands brother and bear a child then named for the deceased brother

(Document 3). The Talmud, a collection of Jewish civil and ceremonial law from the fifth

century c.e., similarly placed women in submissive standing, discouraging them from furthering

their education or religious studies and describing them as lightheaded, weak, lazy, and easily

lured into immorality. Like Christian women, Jewish women had a limited role in traditional

worship. They were not expected to read religious texts, so many of them were not taught

Hebrew. Interpreting the Torah, Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon confirmed these

attitudes and practices towards women in the Medieval Era. Maimon claimed that a woman

who studies the Torah will be recompensed, but not in the same measure as a man, for the study

was not imposed on her as a duty (Document 6). Furthermore, Maimon expressed that the

majority of women have not a mind adequate for its study, indicating that women are not as

smart as men and therefore, lesser (Document 6). These depictions, expectations, and religious

obligations demonstrated the superiority of men and the lack of choice, independence and respect

women had at this time. While all three sources are useful, the Torah and Talmud are most
reliable because they are original texts of doctrine. Maimons comments are interpretations of

these primary sources, meaning their validity can be questioned by a different interpretation. In

addition, the comments were written by men giving their perspectives on women in medieval

Jewish society.

The patriarchal systems of medieval Christianity and Judaism also existed in the religion

of Islam. During this time period, Islam began to promote male dominance and became more

restrictive toward womens roles, particularly with respect to education, property rights and

economic contributions. Muslim women were perceived as subordinate and obedient to men. The

religious doctrine laying out Muslim guiding principles, the Quran, stipulated practices

degrading womens status and autonomy in society. According to the text, the most privileged

members of society were devout Muslim males. The Quran recognized lineage through males

family, strictly controlling the social and sexual lives of women to make sure they produced

legitimate heirs even though their husbands engaged in polygamy. Muslims also adopted the

custom of veiling women in the Medieval Era, as well as the practice of seclusion. Women were

only supposed to interact with men who were family. They were largely kept out of public,

venturing outside the house only in the company of chaperones and only to certain areas. In

Surah 24, Section 31, the Quran stated women should cast down their looks and guard their

private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear

their head coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to those directly

associated with them (Document 2). This exemplifies the practice that women should cover up,

be submissive, and not stand out in society, a notion also supported by comments from Ibn al

Hajj, an Egyptian scholar. In his remarks, Hajj is disgusted by Muslim women attitudes, claiming

they go out in the streets as if [they] were shining bride[s], walking in the middle of the road
and jostling men (Document 4). Both of these documents are useful because they offer

information about the negative and subservient attitudes toward Muslim women during the

Medieval Era, but only the Quran is definitive in its reliability because it is an original primary

text outlining religious doctrine, while the comments made by Hajj are biased, and therefore less


Throughout Europe and Southwest Asia between 600 and 1400 c.e., three religious

doctrines and practices dictated the place of women in society. The stereotypical image of

medieval women in religious texts was oppressed and subservient. Most women, even those in

privileged circumstances, had little control over the direction their lives took. Forced marriages,

mandated head coverings, and strict instructions confining women to certain duties were some of

the practices laid out in the Bible, Torah, and Quran that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women

needed to obey. These religious texts also promoted male dominance and power, further

diminishing a womans standing in medieval society. Religion was not the only system that

restricted women during this time period; the common patriarchal societal structure and cultural

attitudes also helped shape roles of women throughout history. Practices used to marginalize

women have been commonplace in other parts of the world. For example, in China, the now

defunct practice of foot-binding that tightly and uncomfortably tied young girls feet together in

order to stunt growth was used to assert male dominance in ancient China. Although the

documents provided from or about passages in the Bible, Torah, and Quran demonstrated that

Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women had submissive roles in medieval society, additional

commentary or evidence from comparable religious texts, such as the Talmud or the Hindu

Vedas, would be helpful in confirming that women were wholly demeaned and not treated as

equal. Since all of the given documents show women being disadvantaged, it would be good to
acquire documents showing ways in which women were held in higher standards to reveal

another perspective, particularly because females in the Bible, Torah and Quran are also known

to have had strong and important roles in their families and societies.