Rus-women-art - 12/12/95
Lecture notes on 16c. Russian women. By Augustina Be Arce.
NOTE: See also the files: Russia-msg, Rus-Handbook-art, fd-Russia-msg,
Kiev-Slavery-art, Poland-msg, kvass-msg, Mongols-msg.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
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Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
From: Brenda L Hunter-Andrews (11/1/95)
subj: Russian Women 16c
Enclosed please find the notes you requested. I would be interested in
knowing what you think of this information.
Augustina Be Arce
Her Husband's Crown: Women's Lives in Ivan the Terrible's Russia
A lecture by Carolyn Pouncy '74
Mount Holyoke College 10/18/95
Ms. Pouncy is the scholar and translator of "Domostroi: Rules for
Russian Households in the Time of Ivan The Terrible.
Notes from the lecture follows:
Economy was subsistent upon agriculture and war. They had a short
growing season and ignored innovation.
What was controlled? People's choice of career, marriage partners
(selected by parents). It would not make sense for a poor farmer to marry his
daughter off to a man of little means or influence. Religion and culture
were controlled, with the Russian Orthodox Church having the greatest
What was not controlled? Hygiene and advertising.
It was a patriachal society where your social status and marital
status were most important. It was by producing heirs and children to
help with the work that women found status. The infant mortality rate was
very high, above 50%, which meant one of every two pregnancies ended in
the death of the child before age 5. Over her lifetime a woman could
easily have been pregnant more than 20 times and produce only 7 or 8
children that grew to adulthood, not taking into account young sons
going to war. Medicine was basically non-existant, infant and maternal
mortality rates were high. Women died in childbirth due to poor conditions
and infection. Thus women tended to marry younger to give themselves a longer
time frame to produce children in, not realizing that the infant/maternal
death rate was even higher in women below 20 years of age. Women spent most
of their adult life either pregnant or nursing. Woman gained power from being
mothers. It established an area entirely within her control. Birth and
rearing of children was not supported by the presence of the husband. Famine
was problematic. One year out of every three was a famine year followed by an
epidemic. Families were often broken by death hence the Russian fairy tales
being fraught with images of step-mothers and orphans. Another curious
fact in regard to the infant mortality rate was the tradition of Russian
woman to start their babies on solid food at the tender age of 5 days.
They also used a piece of cloth as a pacifier for the baby, paying little
attention to the need for sterilization, it was often filthy and germ
laden. Remember, hygiene was not the focus. They weren't associating
cleanliness with health, nor unsanitary conditions with death and
disease. They were a backward culture that resisted change and innovation.
The Russian Orthodox Church was a patriachal dominant society
that had control and influence even to the throne. They were hostile to
women, and mysogynistic, following the Pauline doctrine set down by
Rome. All church documents were written by monks, men that had vowed to
celibacy and banded together in a brotherhood where women were viewed as
the downfall of man. Most monks came into the priest craft at an early
age, having had no experience with women and projecting the problems of
society on women. All women were viewed as weak and irrational and
needing constant supervision by men.
Women fell into four classes by the church. They were:
1. Ever-virgin: The most virtuous. Nuns, etc.
2. Widows: Formerly married and now celibate.
3. Married Women: Suffered a permanant fall from grace but
could be redeemed to win favor with God by bearing children.
4. Multiple Marriages: Sinful! Being disloyal to first husband.
In spite of the Church's low opinion of women they did provide some real
services for women:
1. Polygamy was outlawed.
2. They established convents for women. At this time they were
not used as learning centers but they did serve as sanctuary for women
where they could be free of male interference. A woman may go to one as
a woman's shelter of modern times.
3. The Church revered Virgin Mary, unlike it's European
counterparts. She held high esteem in the church. This Mary-worship is
the basis of the art of Courtly Love.
4. The Church insisted women not be forced into marriage.
5. They were opposed to rape, even by husbands. A woman could
be granted divorce based on this charge. Part of this view point is
found in the Church's opposition to sexuality even in marriage. Sex was
for procreation purposes only.
6. The Church was opposed to attacks that dishonored women.
They established that the penalty/punishment be two times higher for this
type of crime on women than on men.
*On the obverse side, wife-beating was encouraged by the church
in order to keep a woman in line. This was part of the Pauline philosophy
that men were the head of the house and women must always be subservient.
Women were expected to be pious, quiet, peaceful, chaste, and
sedate to win favor with the church. Women were inferior by nature to
men. They were less capable to avoid sin and needed to be kept confined
to the home to protect them (by men). A woman didn't wander freely to
the market like her European counterparts.
Ninety-eight percent of the population was the lower class. Only
2% were middle to upper class.
Women were subject to unremitting physical labor, did housework
A good woman was someone that managed her house well.
They lived in small nuclear families. But for socio-economic
reasons some families lived in extended households of 2 - 3 generations.
In peasant households animals often shared the living arrangements.
Women busied themselves with weaving, embroidery, children,
vegetable gardening, social gatherings and agricultural tasks. they
consulted their husbands daily for instructions.
@>-'--,-- Hope this is of help to you. Regards, Augustina --,--'-<@
East Kingdom, Barony of Bergental
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
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