Common Idea Of Feminism
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Feminism only recently became an accepted idea, but it even still faces criticism. However, in the Elizabethan time period, feminism was unheard of; the idea that women were equal to men would be nothing more than a joke. Women were treated as lesser and even objects compared to men, and even worse when they were not in a relationship with a man. However, almost everyone in that time period was sexist, men and women alike. When Queen Elizabeth I took the throne, one would hope that she would change these views, but this was not the case. Elizabethan sexism stagnated during to Queen Elizabeth I’s rule since she was viewed as an exception, however, her femininity was also attacked. Sexism in the Elizabethan era was a normal part of everyday life, and the patriarchal views of the era caused women to be viewed as inferior to men. The hyper-sexist views on women likely stemmed from the state that women were mostly seen at: pregnant or recovering from pregnancy.
During the Elizabethan era, the infant mortality rate was incredibly high, while the child mortality rate was not far off. This meant that women were constantly carrying babies, for the survival of the children was unknown to the families. However, none of their belonging or even their children truly belonged to them, and if the couple would divorce, she would only be left with the clothes on her back. If a woman was single, she was expected to be supervised by a man, while her status made her “suspicious,” and untrustworthy. Because of the oppression women faced, their status turned into the property of men. However, the main emperor of England at the time was, in fact, a woman, and a single one at that. She did not have any desire to marry, and therefore did not have kids, and this terrified parliament. No son meant that Elizabeth’s relatives were in line as her heir, and they too were all women. But most terrifying for parliament was that the potential heirs were not just women, but some were Catholic too, which threatened the Protestant state of England.
The hypocrisy in the statement is almost comical; the men believe that women are not fit to rule as they are too weak in body and spirit, but can change the entire religion and therefore the way of life of their country. Though Queen Elizabeth I should have been looked up to and admired, she was still heavily criticized for being a woman. King Phillip wrote that “‘it would be better for herself and her kingdom if she would take a consort who might relieve her of those labors which are only fit for men’”. His blatant statement claimed that the only reason Elizabeth needed a husband was so that he can do that tasks that she was not “fit” for, but has been doing for years. He obviously only believed these claims because of the sexism disciplined into his morals, and not by Elizabeth’s work as queen. Another example of this behavior came from the Earl of Essex, who claimed that Queen Elizabeth was his “natural inferior” despite her queenly status. Lastly, her own advisors blamed, not Elizabeth, but her “feminine irresolution, female fickleness and womanly compassion towards papists and traitors” for her poor choices during her reign. By putting the blame on her unchangeable trait, the people around her seemed to use misogyny to both justify or criticize her actions.
While there were many stereotypes put upon the queen, many just did not apply to her. Herself and others seemed to simply exempt her from common womanly assumptions when she proved them wrong. Her childhood tutor wrote that she is “‘exempt from female weakness and she is endued with a masculine power of application’” . Instead of her strength and power defying the social assumptions about women, he viewed her as essentially transcending females to become a “greater” being: a male. His “unselfconscious sexism” (Morrill) is prevalent in almost everyone, especially when referring to the queen. A Protestant leader in Scotland, John Knox, thought of women in power as “monstrous and against God’s Laws,” but when Elizabeth heard this, he exempted her from this claim. Again, the hypocrisy towards women, and especially towards Queen Elizabeth is demonstrated by Knox, who though believes women as lesser beings, cowers in front of the queen. Her exemption of the sexism only proved that women were indeed capable and strong.
As others excused Queen Elizabeth from many sexist ideals, she may have been the biggest offender. Her famous quote where she claimed to “have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king if England too,” but “the body of a weak and feeble woman” is only the beginning of her saga of self-proclaimed manliness. She used masculine terms to describe herself so that people understood she was an exception to the general female population (Sanders). She never hid her sexism and narcissism but showed it off to her subjects. However, it had some positive effects. As she fed into the sexism, by acting like everyone else, she was able to become even stronger and more resilient to the comments meant to hurt her. Elizabeth even held her single status before potential enemies which kept war away (Doran). She also used the sexism of the time to strategically criticize herself. She used the stereotypes that others used against her to justify her actions, thus not needing to explain her real reasons for her actions to pretentions the males in her cabinet (Sanders). Overall, her use of the sexist ideas of her time to better her rule while feeding into what the men want in their queen.
When Queen Elizabeth did not agree with the conditions she was given, she fought back, and she fought like a woman. As queens of England go, she is one of the most popular, and especially popular for being the “virgin queen.” She did not want to marry, and even if she did, Elizabeth promised that she would only marry a man “who would not prejudice her realm” if and when God saw fit (Warnicke 3). She did not care that being a single woman, and especially a single queen is not socially acceptable in her time period, and instead strived for happiness and success with herself. When Parliment tried to make her marry, she said that marriage would only be an “‘inconsiderate folly’ that would only distract her from her work” and that “whether she married was her own business” and not for Parliment not to worry. Her slight jab at Parliment’s obsession with her marriage proves that she really did not care about what others thought of her and that she only used stereotypes in her favor.
Though Queen Elizabeth is known to have had an impact on how people view women in power, her true influence is questionable. Elizabeth’s reign did little to change the attitude towards women during her time because she was viewed as an exception to the stereotypes. Because she fed into these views, she maybe even worsened the sexism for a while. Instead, her religion seemed to have more of an immediate impact on her reign than her gender. Since she was a Protestant, the Catholic people did not want a Protestant state after her sister’s Catholic reign. However, Queen Elizabeth I’s reign has educated future leaders and others on the importance of women in power as well as inspired many people to be confident. Her reign was fair and stood out against the other reigns, putting herself, and thus women, in a positive light (Sanders). Though this was not her intent, she did teach others about feminism and self-confidence which was featured in her reign.
Her speech at the Tilbury was so inspiring that the government quoted it during WWII to inspire the English people. Elizabeth’s success changed her image as a lowly woman to “the greatest ruling queen in European history.” Her single status had a major role in her success. If she had married, her rule could have been as corrupted as Bloody Mary’s. Queen Elizabeth I was not a feminist. She was a strong woman who did not fit the societies norms but believed in the sexist and degrading ideas against women. By both proving her strong masculinity while playing into the weak female role, she was able to stagnate the growth of women empowerment in the sixteenth century.