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9 - Parish Politics, Urban Spaces and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Norwich

from Part III - Women's Voices and Women's Spaces

Fiona Williamson
Affiliation:
National University of Malaysia
Bronach Kane
Affiliation:
Bath Spa University
Fiona Williamson
Affiliation:
National University of Malaysia
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Summary

Introduction

In recent years, gender historians have investigated defamatory speech as a way into the lives, mentalities and identities of ordinary women. By exploring words used by women, or about women, these scholars have argued that female identities were shaped by culturally specific preconceptions about morality and personal honour, in addition to, and linked with, individual circumstances such as credit, marriage and status. What these studies have also shown is how women's words could be potent weapons, illustrating the irony that by defaming other women – attacking their reputation and sexual morality in particular – those women hurling the insults reinforced female stereotypes whilst stepping outside the role of ‘meek and subservient’ themselves. Words equalled power. Injurious words had the ability to affect a person's place and credit in the local community, although not without risk to the defamer. However, women's words were not always defamatory. Their testimonies as witnesses and compurgators were crucial to the outcome of many court cases and their participation in networks of information was vital. Thus women emerge as central players in early modern parish politics: influencing, guiding, reporting and criticizing the actions of others.

Most recently, close readings of women's words and the places in which those words were spoken, have shown how women's lived experiences challenge our contemporary views of early modern cultural stereotypes.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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