Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A view on social and gender differences during the plague or, I Just Really Like the Plague, Okay?

I want you to know, before I begin, that I am not fact-checking this as I type it. I am recalling things I have been reading about and learning about since the fifth grade.  A lot of the information I am about to speculate about I learned last semester, in a Black Plague course at school. It's a very interesting thing to me, and I am basically writing this as a research paper for fun because I am a nerd.  And I Do Not Care.
*Forewarning - this might not be interesting for you, but it will be immensely interesting to me.*
Part One: Social Change (but not really)

The Plague (capital-P Plague, the first big plague) killed many thousands of people.  First-hand accounts of Plague times say it was hundreds of thousands, millions, perhaps, of people that died.  The thing about first-hand accounts, though, is that they like to exaggerate. Hundreds of thousands is probably a closer-to-accurate answer.  Thing is, a lot of those people were peasants and the like. The people that the Lords depended on to take care of their fields and lands.

As more and more workers died, the living peasants could demand higher wages, something that no one of their station in the world had been able to do before.  The workers could also leave their life of indentured servitude to find new, higher-paying jobs.  This led to a slight power shift in favor of the workers and peasants, much to the dismay of the higher castes, but there was little they could do about it.  The only options of the land-owners was to pay what their servants wanted or let them abandon the property, letting it go to waste and becoming poorer themselves.

At this point, a lot (perhaps the majority) of peacekeepers were struck down by the plague, meaning there was nothing the Lords could do legally anyway, even if the rest of the 'law enforcement' wasn't trying to cope with the humongous amount of deaths occurring all across the continent.

Moral of the story: it was better to be a healthy peasant during the Plague...but no, not really. The Plague was horrible.
Part Two: The Rights of Women During the Plague

I'm just going to jump right into this one - there weren't many before the plague, and there were less afterward.

Women, historically (and, to some point, still today) were meant to be seen and not heard.  Because of Eve, in the Garden of Eden, women were viewed as basic sinners and unworthy of any power.  They held no jobs, got very little education, and were meant to have no opinions.

After the plague, however, these things became worse.  No one at the time (no one until around 1900) knew what caused the plague.  Religious officials and other authority figures, desperate to place blame on someone, pretty much simultaneously blamed foreigners and women.  The original sins that the women were harboring with them was seen as the wellspring of the Plague.  Women were regulated even more harshly than before, the officials going so far as to enforce a kind of dress code for females, making them wear longer and less revealing clothing.  They were seen as progenitors of the plague by the rest of the Medieval community, making The Moral of the Story this: It was never really a good thing to be female and from the middle ages.
If any of this is wrong, tell me please, and I'll try my best to fix it!

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