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Colonial European women maintained "feminine" roles consistent
with the 16th century. They continuously provided for their families by
performing manual labor in terms of agricultural production, once
entering the New World. After arriving in the New World, many
European women were surprised at the fact that indigenous women
had been performing tasks such as making clothes, teaching the
children, and working in the fields. They were flabbergasted by the
amount of freedom indigenous women had in comparison to their
colonial counterparts.
Although European women did not normally work in the farms
and did not consistently participate in the labor force, more individuals
were necessary to manage the crops necessary for survival. Native
American women of this time were associated with the characteristics
of strength and courage; they often could be found helping the men
hunt down animals for food and were largely participatory in acquiring
provisions for the community. Aside from the traditional roles that
women had, they also had many similar jobs as the men. Their
presence was necessary for the survival of the community. Without
the women of this time, there would not have been anyone to educate
and care for children, as well as provide medicine and other necessities
for the society. In the limited free time that they had, European women
loved to sew, and had a considerable role in the creation of fabrics
today. Due to the lack of essential labor during the 1640s, female slaves


were brought in an effort to lower labor costs and reinforce the

economy. Slaves were forced to work not only on farms, but also in the
house, with the distinction of "house slaves" and "field slaves", originally
the Europeans did not believe in slavery, they adopted more a
acceptable form of indentured servitude. (primarily the Puritan
inhabitants) . Overall, women had relatively similar roles as the men,
but each gender had special skills and implied rules.
Social hierarchy in early European colonialism dictated that
women were the "weaker vessel", morally, mentally and physically
deficient in comparison to men. The prevailing theory of the age was
that in order for society to function, society had to abide to patriarchal
norms. Men were the "head" of the household and acted as the
"governing body" for all decisions. Women were subject to domestic
constraints and communal censure if they did not "know their place",
not dependent on their race or class. No matter what race or class
women could not own property, control property, obtain guardianship
over their children and maintained no legal rights in court. Consistent
with the ideals of the 16th century many women believed that their
purpose in life was to bear children despite the risk of disease and
complications that were prevalent due to sanitation issues with
childbirth. While woman did consistently provide food and were a large
part of labor in early European colonialism their role as providers was
never fully appreciated or acknowledged. A division of labor and
authority dependent on gender existed in Native American society but






power than their colonial

counterparts as told by Mary Jemison's narrative of her life among the

Inca people.
Although as a general assumption women were subordinate to
men there were a complex set of social rules in terms of classism. Elite
white women shared some of the same privileges as men while
indentured servants and African-born slaves and mulattos, remained
at the bottom of the food chain because of the already established
oppression. African-born slaves, mulattos and indentured servants
were also extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation and
unwanted advances from men in positions of power. Although their
contribution to economic survival was vital, womens social status
remained secondary and supplemental to that of men. Moreover,
because women were believed to be destined at birth for maternal and
domestic roles, education was perceived to be unnecessary. Although
some colonial women were literate, an educational gender gap favored
men. Male control of religious institutions and instruction fortified the
restrictions that constricted womens lives. Christian teachings stressed
womanly virtue, humility, submission, modesty, and public silence.
Although this perception would change, seventeenth-century women
were still linked with Eve as bearing the primary responsibility for the
expulsion from the Garden of Eden.


Marriage, motherhood, frequent pregnancies, caring for large

families etc. was part of a woman's daily life. Women were expected to
have many children. Pain suffering and dying of childbirth was all
considered to be part of female destiny. In a society full of frequent
births, midwives played a critical role. Colonial women participated in
the production of foods and goods for the family, also they sustained
their families by spinning cloth churning butter, making soaps and
candles and tending to livestock.. Some women even helped their
husbands with shoemaking, inn keeping, and flour production, some
even opened their own little businesses. They were to have the physical
strength and the ability to do multiple skills efficiently. Even though the
women were what kept the society going, and were vital for economic
survival, their social status stayed secondary to that of men. More so
because from birth a girl was destined to hold more "maternal" and
"domestic" roles which did not include education, they were often taught
to read so they could read the bible but few were taught to write,
because it was considered unnecessary. Even though some women
were literate an educational gender gap favored men.
Women were expected to be subservient to their fathers until
marriage and then to their husbands. The husband was the "ruler" and
higher and mightier than women. Ministers often said women were
inferior to men and were inclined to sin and error. Women were the
building blocks of society. They kept their people in check and provided


their families with necessities. They were the key to the survival of
society but were not given the same freedoms as that of men. They
were not allowed to vote or have any control over their property(if they
had any). They were not allowed to divorce, or make contracts, sue
anyone or be sued until the late 18th century.