When European colonists arrived on American soil, it is obvious that they brought with them the same patriarchal society that was in Europe. The role of women in Colonial America composed of a consistent general pattern. Women were mothers and wives anything other than that was inferior in a patriarchal system reinforced through religion, law, and social norms. Gender has many definitions, but the main definition of gender in this century involves the meaning that there is particular sexual difference within the amongst the lives of men and women everyday.
In Colonial America, men and women served very different gender roles. As children, boys learned how to be men from their father and girls learned how to be women from their mother. In Anne Bradstreet’s poem, being a woman is “A worthy Matron of unspotted life, A loving Mother and obedient wife,” (Bradstreet). The gender system upheld strict standards for women, “A true Instructor of her Family, The which she ordered with dexterity.
”(Bradstreet). In my opinion, women were judged primarily by their interactions with men. With this, women were accounted for as a part of a man’s “household”(Mullins). Women’s role in the 17th century was to raise kids and be subordinate to the men in their lives. It was mainly women who were restricted by the high moral standards established by the social expectation of that time, “And in her Closet constant hours she spent; Religious in all her words and ways,” (Bradstreet). In this quote, Bradstreet describes women to be dressed perfectly and strictly religious as how a “good wife”(Mullins) should be.
Family roles were such an influential part of society in colonial America. Many people during that time period were dependent upon the structure of the household and their role in it to go about their everyday lives. “European women kept at home as housekeepers Goodwives” (Mullins). Boys were “taught to be the master of a household. Girls were taught to obey, take care of children, prepare food and maintain the home.”(Mullins). In the colonial America, as mothers, women were trusted with preserving society through their children and families. “A friendly Neighbor, pitiful to poor, Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;”(Bradstreet). T. Hall combined both the genders in terms of the activities which T carried day to day. Mary Beth Norton brings up the role gender” plays in seventeenth-century America concerning the case of T. Hall, a intersexed individual.” “Christened and raised as a girl, Thomasine had a clear identity as a female” and adopted that gender role in society during childhood. Upon reaching adulthood, Thomasine shed the gender role of a woman and adopted the gender role of Thomas.
Due to confusions about T. Hall’s sexuality, T was brought to court in order to determine what role his gender played in society. His sexuality had no importance to the court other than it confused the beliefs of gender the colonists held so it became an issue. The colonists wanted a clear definition of T’s gender, so T could be placed in the “proper category” and become liable for his behaviors under whichever laws applied to his to be determined gender. This is unlawful in any standards due to the fact that his body became a community discussion. T’s situation sheds light on the idea that gender can diverge into two possible categories; physical and cultural. Physical was determined by nature of one’s genitalia, penis or vagina. Cultural was the characteristics and mannerisms of that person. For example, T was male due to his genitals but female according to his “skills.” Gender was one of the two most basic determinants of roles given for one’s gender in the early modern world.
Men and women each had their own role, complete with rules and expectations for their gender in the community. Bradstreet explains this for her mother’s feminity by stating “And in her Closet constant hours she spent;”(Bradstreet). T. Hall acted like a woman and physically resembled a man, “bit for my cat” . Confusion rose among the community as to what gender he was, and what role he played out in society based on the clash of the two ideals concerning gender. After several examinations of which is a clear violation of T’s privacy both physically and mentally, the court still couldn’t come to amends regarding T’s physical gender. To men, Thomasine was not a male due to the fact that her male organs didn’t have the ability to function properly and female due to the sight of a “vulva” . During this time, women were significantly viewed as inferior to men, and their sexual organs were regarded as internal versions of male genitalia, “Of all her Children, Children lived to see” (Bradstreet). Female genitalia was viewed as a object on a woman to carry children rather than her own body. For the women, “the anatomy of T. Hall was more important than the feminine qualities presented.”(Mullins). The biological aspect of the idea of more than two genders drove a rift between the community.
In the 17th century, family structure was a primary factor in conforming to gender roles. These ideas based on gender shaped relationships, affected the law and created definite but ever changing roles for men and women. The structure of the community life defined human beings as either a “male or a female so that each and every one can know the responsibility” that one is expected to do and various ways they need to portray themselves within the community. In a belief system that hypothesized that women “ with Honor,” were pure and honest and “Women without honor” (Mullins) were inferior to men. Identity of individuals in a community relied heavily on gender roles. The only reason Hall was brought to court was to determine Hall’s gender and his rights as a member of the male or female gender. The court case shows the powerful role that gender and the colonial community could play in individuals’ lives. Gender can be integrated in legal, economic, and social interactions. The term gender is socially created and it therefore categorizes men from women. Society has learned that gender is a social construction; the issue are not just personal identities of individuals but the larger social order.