21 February 2011
Riddy, Felicity. “Mother Knows Best: Reading Social Change in a Courtsey Text.” Speculum 71.1 (Jan 1996). Web. 18 February 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2865201>
In this article Felicity Riddy presents the life of women in the Middle Ages and the social pressures they experienced. Riddy explores the reasoning for social texts such as “What the Goodwife Taught Her Daughter” and the audience that it would be used for at the time. Riddy also points out the different collections that this poem is placed in and what the purpose of it being in religious books could be. She also argues if a mother would have actually been the one to write this text since it seems to have a great deal of male influence.
A. The socialization of women and the roles they played:
The purpose of context texts such as “What the Goodwife Taught her Daughter” and the roles of women at the time. “the poem shows something of the roles played by women and the meanings given to femininity in the formation of what, for want of a better term” (67). This is known as the “bourgeois ethos” which is a term she uses throughout the article.
Women’s role in the bourgeois ethos society was in a household, whether it her childhood home, working as a servant girl in another families home, or her husband’s home. ” a life-cycle phase, between leaving the parental home in midteens and marriage in the early twenties” (67).
Riddy points out how these roles are gendered “the meaning attached to the household by this ethos were gendered: as a workplace under the control of its male head it was part of the public economy, but it was also a domestic space controlled by his wife” (68). Women in the household is a representation of virtue (68).
B.Women in the Work Force:
The only socially accepted work for women at the time seems to be in the home and in the “later fourteenth century a fifth of a third of urban households contained servants, many of whom were adolescent girls” (67).
Women were present in society since these jobs in homes were usually short term contracts of a year. (68-69).
Having a young woman working under your care could put stress on women other than her mother to make sure she gains the values that every woman should have.
C. Religious Reasoning:
The first appearance of this poem occurred in a friar’s handbook (70). Thus what would a Friar have to “with the domestic training of young women?” (71). Maybe the push for keeping women in their roles was not only being made by men in the community but by the church as well.(73)
D. Women being raised by women other than their mothers:
Due to girls working as servants they were often raised by women other than their mothers. Thus a text like this might be needed. “The poem is not presumably, a literal address from a mother to a daughter, since a daughter living at home with her mother learns informally, by example and word of mouth; she does not need a text. It is when a relationship has been disrupted-when the daughter does not in fact live at home any longer- that a written text is required to meditate between them (71).
This is also mentioned pn page 72 where Riddy emphasizes just how cut off these young women could be from their mothers.
E. Men’s push for women in the home:
It was a particular interest of the bourgeois that women married (72-73). Many felt that if a woman was not in a home it left her on the “bad side of the law” (74). Thus it was particular interest of the men to keep women in the home. (74).
It also seems as if men wanted to take away the freedom of women being able to choose if they wanted to marry or not (74).
When women were “leaving home in early adolescence [it] must have encouraged independence and self-assertiveness in girls; the poem seems designed to socialize them into conforming to a model of femininity required by the bourgeois ethos and acceptable to those in charge of the smooth running of local society” (76). Men felt as if this was not appropriate and thus tried to push them in to a patriarchal construction. This source of freedom could have also been a source of unease for men at the time (77).
F. Social Reform:
This is Riddy’s final point that she in some sense presents to us and lets us wonder about. Could this text have been to ring girls back in that have been acting out in society and doing things that were not appropriate at the time? (86).
Riddy’s article gave us numerous possibilities as to why a text like this was written. After reading all of the different possibilities which do you see as the most probable?
Riddy’s final point left me with numerous questions since she did not give any evidence to back up her claim. Did women really run around in ale houses at the time? Was there really a need for the suppression of subculture at the time? Have you seen any evidence of this through our readings?
From what we have read thus far in class, do you really feel as if women were pushed in to such strict roles of society or is it simply just “What the Goodwife Taught her Daughter” that makes it seem this way?