He Said - She Said: Women’s Words in Defence of Women in Early Modern Europe
“Do you really believe … that everything historians tell us about men – or about women – is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by men, who never tell the truth except by accident.” – The Worth of Women (1600)
Writing about women in the late medieval and early modern period focused on ideals of female behaviour. In the 16th and 17th centuries the discussion became a public debate over not just how women should act, but also whether or not they were even capable of the prescribed behaviours: what was the nature of womankind? The “controversy” reached its height in the sixteenth century, with attacks and defences flying off the printing presses.
Not content to leave their defence to men, writers such as Moderata Fonte (quoted above) produced works that provided a counterpoint to traditional narratives that cast women as incapable and morally weak. From Christine de Pizan’s 'La cite des dames' (1405) to Archangela Tarabotti’s 'Tirana Paterna' (1654), women have sought to directly confront misogynist views on the purported nature of women and their appropriate roles and behaviours in society.