The Myth of the Golden Age
In the essay “The Myth of the Golden Age” by Mary Beth Norton, Mary did not agree with historians that is was a “Golden Age” for women during the colonial period. She feels that women’s lives outside the home were severely limited. Mary felt women never achieved a status later to be lost. The colonial period, even comparatively speaking, was not a golden age for women.
During the colonial period most white women were expected to devote their chief energies to housekeeping and to the care of the children. As husbands where expected to support them by raising crops or working for wages. Women also did some outside chores such as gathering fruits and vegetables. They also made clothes for their family. Only the wealthiest women who had servants escaped some of these labors. Native American women had similar work roles. They did not do the spinning of wool or weaving but they did make clothes by tanning and processing the hides of the animals their husbands killed. Like their white counterparts the Native American also drew a division between the domestic labors of women to the public realm of men.
Contact with persons outside their immediate family for both white and black females was rare. So many women would take advantage of social interaction by attending church. Important information was passes on by person to person mostly at the local taverns of the county courthouse, both of which were male bastions.
Urban women where not so isolated. Their housing where closer then those in the farm and plantation area. They could visit friends and family. They also had the opportunity to attend school. Plus their household tasks was less demanding they had time to take up some of the amenities of the urban setting. Faced with a paucity of alternatives, colonial women made the best of their situation.
Historians of American women have regarded the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a “Golden Age” in which women were better off that their English female contemporaries of the succeeding Victorian era. But as Mary Beth Norton states, “Evaluation of women’s position depends on what aspects of their experience are relevant ton an understanding of their social and economic position, for no one would claim that colonial females exerted much political power.” Many historians’ felt that the sex ratio gave the women power through choice of spouse. They also felt that without women to do the domestic jobs such as processing food and making clothes that men would have been lost. “They have correctly noted that it was practically impossible for a man to run a colonial household properly without a wife, for a woman’s labor was essential to survival for the family.” Third and finally, historians argue that sex roles in early America were more fluid and less defined than they were in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Mary Beth Thorton takes a closer look to the common contentions made by historians and shows that it is suspected that women really did have a golden age. The first argument by historians asserts that a scarcity of women worked to their advantage. Most seventieth century brides where often teenagers. “one wonders just how much power they could have wielded.” Women might have had a choice to pick their spouse but who would know what they want and need in a spouse when they are only in their teens. Many might not find the sex ratio to be beneficial. “After all, a scarce resource can be easily exploited as it is cherished.”
Next is the assertion that women’s economic role gave them a powerful position in the household. It is shown that women did not have much powerful position in this area. Yes, they could do the cooking, cleaning and other duties in that matter but they could not give their voice in matters family and holdings or financial affairs. “a woman’s economic contribution to the household is significant is not sufficient to give her a voice in matters that might otherwise by deemed to fall within the masculine sphere”.
The third contention was that colonial sex roles were fluid. “Men did not talk about finances with their wives and women did not meddle with politics or economics”. Some women did engage in business activities, but that number was small. They did not do a mens job, as men did not do womens jobs. A mans job in society was looked at with more importance then what women did for their country and society.
Do historians really think that without women we would not be were we are today? Yes, women had many important jobs to do but who says a man can not do some of these jobs or some of the jobs men did women could not do. We have come along way in this matter. Now in the 21st century it is not uncommon to see the man stay home with the childen while the women goes to work each day.
It seems that in Mary Beths Norton essay we can see that it is a myth that there really was a golden age, at least not for women. The conception of the “Golden Age” was dissected by the author so clearly that it can be seen why so many people falsely labeled this time period. Women will always be stereotyped as the lady of the house. Women then like now will never get treated equal to men. We are not well respected like men. Women where seen as the one who took care of all the domestic needs. Back then women did not have all the modern technologies and luxuries that we have now. Back then just to make a meal might take all morning. They also had to make clothing for their children and their husbands. This would be a very tedious and time-consuming job. Women were also left out of the cultural and social world during these years. The only what they found out anything was through their husbands. Women had to use churches to make contact with friends and family and just to have a break from their daily chores. It should not be considered the Golden Age for women because they out numbered men 6 to 1. Women may have had a chance to pick and choose their spouse but who knows if the man they choose the right one.
Women also did not have the opportunity to get the same education as men. They needed to stay home to care for their children. Many women of the 1700’s could not read or write. Women were treated different then just like they are treated different now in society, at work and in their home.
The myth states that the golden age was for women. But it forgets about the black women during this time. In published studies of the colonial women they only center wholly on whites. Even though during the Revolution blacks constituted almost 20% of the American population. “No one could seriously argue that enslavement was preferable to freedom ” What kind of golden year was it for black women who where slaves and worked out in the fields along with there husbands. They were used as child bearers. “Since under the law any child of a slave woman was also a slave” masters would increase their slaves by encouraging their slaves with fertility. Who knows how this was encouraged. They could have been threatened or beaten to give the masters what they wanted. Was this also considered part of the “Golden age”? Yes, they may have had special privileges by carrying their masters’ baby such as “lighter work loads and separate houses”. But they would go through most of their teen’s life getting pregnant and giving birth to the masters babies. Women would experience many preganacies up to 11 in their teen years with a small percentage ending up in live births. This would be physically and emotionally hard on any women either black or white.
It might not have been the worst of times for women, but it was definitely not the best of times to be called the “Golden Age”.