Women’s Rights in France and China Essay Example
Women’s Rights in France and China Essay Example

Women’s Rights in France and China Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (985 words)
  • Published: November 15, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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Despite their stark differences, the cultures of France and China are similar in the way they treat women- both expected women to be subordinate to men. Women were confined to the roles of wives, mothers, and child-bearers even if they lived centuries apart when men held superior position in a hierarchical society.

The restrictions on women were significant, especially in relation to divorce, legal action, and property ownership and inheritance. Jonathan D. Spence and Natalie Zemon Davis explore the cultures of China and France respectively in their works, The Death of Woman Wang and The Return of Martin Guerre, highlighting the various ways in which women were marginalized. Divorce was often at the discretion of men, leaving women with little agency. Additionally, women were treated as mere possessions with little value compared to men



In The Return of Martin Guerre, Bertrande de Roles is left without a husband when he goes off to war, leaving her in a difficult position. Due to societal expectations, she cannot search for a new husband without being labeled an adulterer. Moreover, as a woman without a husband, she lacks social status and control over her land and possessions. When an imposter claiming to be Martin Guerre appears, Bertrande takes advantage of the situation and plays along with his schemes.

This significant moment in the tale demonstrates the lack of power held by women. Bertrande de Rols was forced to utilize all of the cunning and abilities of "the weaker sex" to reclaim the status that had been lost when her spouse vanished. Despite the revelation that Martin Guerre was actually Arnaud du Tilh, a fraudster, Bertrande had to employ every tactic

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available to her in order to attain any semblance of authority.

a. The Pansette incident did not hold Bertrande accountable for her involvement, as women were seen as less observant than men. This highlights the powerlessness and low status of women during that era. Similarly, in 17th century China depicted in The Death of Woman Wang, patriarchal dominance severely restricted women's freedoms. Peasants in China endured a tough life, with disease, natural disasters, and sporadic bandit attacks perpetuating a cycle of misfortune.

Adding to the challenges faced by Chinese farmers, the government imposed high taxes on them and showed little compassion towards their struggles. This made daily life difficult for even an average farmer like Woman Wang, who also had to contend with additional obstacles due to her gender. Her marriage with Jen was unhappy, and she faced tension with her father-in-law because of her family's extreme poverty. Consequently, she sought comfort in another man's embrace and dreamed of escaping with him.

Following abandonment by her lover, Wang faced a grim fate at the hands of her enraged spouse. Tragically, she perished in the snow without any justification for her demise. Despite the lack of public outrage, Huang liu-hung's thorough inquiry exposed the heinous crime committed against Wang and brought it to attention. Consequently, thanks to Huang liu-hung's actions, justice was served and Wang did not die in vain; her killer was punished with a beating and compelled to wear a cangue as a reminder of his wrongdoing.

Spence and Natalie Zemon Davis showcased the similarities between the plights of two women who had to make choices that went against their culture's norms. Despite being viewed as inferior to

men in both Chinese and French societies, women could deviate from societal expectations. While both Bertrande de Rols and Woman Wang were expected to adhere to the virtuous values of being a dutiful wife, Woman Wang's outcome was far more severe. Although brides in China were primarily responsible for continuing their husband's lineage and surname rather than receiving a dowry like in France, the life of Bertrande de Rols was comparatively easier.

China during the 17th century had strict expectations for women as potential brides, requiring not only promotion of the family's surname but also meeting certain physical beauty standards. This extreme example of Chinese culture often relegated women to mere concubines. Conversely, France held a more progressive view towards divorce than China, granting women the legal right to separate from their husbands if they were deemed unfit as a spouse and provider for their family.

Although the man was impotent, the woman's family frequently pushed her to leave him and find another partner who could satisfy her. Cultural values and honor held great importance in China, causing divorce to carry a unique significance. Wives were anticipated to remain devoted and submissive to their spouses and families, until the very end.

The societal expectation was for women to remain in marriages despite experiencing severe marital suffering, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, or mutilation by their husbands. Leaving one's husband and never remarrying would bring dishonor not only to the husband but also to the family. In both societies discussed, women had no control over how they inherited possessions after their husbands' death. It was customary for land inheritance to go to the first male family member regardless

of whether a woman received any portion of her deceased husband's land. While there were cultural variations between these societies on this matter, women were never given the opportunity to own land independently.

Despite notable cultural differences between France and China, an ironic similarity emerges in their treatment of women. The Return of Martin Guerre and The Death of Woman Wang effectively demonstrate this point. In societies where the wealthy exploit the poor, a hierarchy is established that allows those at the bottom to look down on others. Women were reduced to mere objects in these harsh societies, always coming in second to men who viewed them as nothing more than trophies regardless of status, be it serf or emperor.

The societal standing and perception of a female peasant in 16th-century France and 17th-century China are examined in this text.

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