Posts Tagged ‘ladies and gentlemen…Puritans!’

Beauty and the…Bestiality

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Just kidding! I will not actually be addressing bestiality much in this post at all, since that seems to be the theme most people have run with thus far, and I would like to add something a little different to the discussion. But I just really wanted to use that title, so there you have it!

What I actually wish to address for this week, however, is the ultimate “Catch-22” in Puritan Massachusetts (and, let’s be real, for much of history in many place globally): to be a woman. Oh, all right, we can nit-pick and excuse the “bawds” and official prostitutes from this category, although their lives were hard enough as it was. But for the most part, girls “were taught to please, to smile and fetch and carry, to stand on the table and sing” (95).

From this description, it seems as though females were regarded kind of like useful dogs: able to be of service to men when necessary, and be pleasant while doing so, and that they were indeed considered property, and therefore less than autonomous. The rules should have been clear if they [females in the community] were actually considered in this reductive of a manner, and there would be no question of whether one were committing a moral sin if she were only to behave in a way that is like that of a servant, pet, or child, and nothing more.

But of course, things are not that easy; on the contrary, the following paragraph struck me as confounding at best, downright befuddling (and harboring great punishment as a result) at worst:

“…A respectable woman did not undress before her male servants, nor did she lie under the covers with a man not her husband, but she might sleep in the same room as either. She did not sing or drink with strangers in the tavern, though out of hospitality she would certainly smoke at her own hearth or doorstep with any of her husband’s friends. She did not sit on her neighbor’s lap or kiss him in the barn, but with good conscience she could share his horse” (95).

As in our current age, the role of females here is a complex one– if a woman is capable of sharing a man’s horse, but culpable of adultery if she hugs him from behind in any other circumstances, where is it appropriate to draw the line?

I will probably do a follow-up blog post after tomorrow’s class, because there is a lot more that needs to be said regarding this topic, but I want to hear other people’s reactions first before I proceed any further with my tirades!