The Domain of Lordly Women in France, ca. 1050-1250
LoPrete, Kimberly A.
Medieval Feminist Forum, 44, no. 1 (2008)
“A woman’s place is in the home.” Like all axioms, this one masks as much historical reality as it reveals. It certainly encapsulates normative views that have been widely held and underscores near ubiquitous identification of women with a domestic sphere, but it does little to describe women’s actual and changing activities or their impact on society as a whole. The very positing of a distinctive place for women presupposes another one, a place construed, perhaps, as the primary domain of men.
For feminists concerned about assessing women’s diverse and changing roles in, and contributions to, their societies, both the problems and the importance of a concept like “separate spheres” lie at the heuristic and descriptive levels alike. As explanatory or analytical categories, a “private sphere” distinct from, but co-relatively linked to, a “public sphere”—as the spheres could be named at their most generic level—has come to be construed in so many different ways that they increasingly cause misunderstanding among scholars.