The Role and Status of Women in Swetnam & Speght Joseph Swetnam’s The Arraignment immediately begs the question of what role women actually played when the work was published in the early 1600s. However, as his discussion develops Swetnam’s motive for the piece becomes quite clear. He talks about bearbaiting, which in medieval England was a sport in which a bear was chained to a post and attacked by several dogs, except in this case Swetnam was referring to the bearbaiting of women.
This picture along with other references made throughout the work depicts his cynical view of women and shows his personality as an individual. Swetnam seems as if he thinks he is funny in he idea of women. People who read The Arraignment at the time it was written might have been entertained, but they could have also simply thought Swetnam was crazy. He does not have much credibility and his work is more similar to a rant than a piece of literature. His ignorant interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve makes me ponder the cultural context in which the piece was written.
As he talks about the inferiority of women Swetnam says “that they were made of the rib of a man, and that their froward nature shows: for a rib is a crooked thing, good for nothing else, and women are crooked by nature, for small occasion will cause them to be angry. ” Proclaiming that women are crooked by nature is a ridiculous statement but I’m sure could have garnered support from single and lonely men. The attitude of the author is simply to bash women as much as possible at any expense, even utilizing inaccurate and speculative statements from the Bible.
The exaggerations throughout the work are actually humorous in nature (from my modern perspective) but they are not actual arguments, they are more like complaints and ridiculous claims. The author certainly set himself up for women to respond to his attack on the female race; although it seems peculiar at that point in history that a 19 year old girl could put together such a well thought out rebuttal. Rachel Speght was quite clever in delivering her response to Swetnam. I doubt that it was very common for women to be reading and writing so well, and even less likely that a women would challenge a man.
Still, I would say Speght got the best of Swetnam in terms of credibility. I think Speght was quite clever when she combats the fact that women sinned first with the idea that there is “no mention of spiritual nakedness till man had sinned,” which suggests that only when man sinned did nature become corrupt. Her use of the satire at the end of A Muzzle is useful in the extremely useful in the context of the what Swetnam wrote. Swetnam has accused women of being basically useless and evil beings so Speght ends her educated response by poking fun at Swetnam’s absurd insults and poor grammar.
I could see the role and status of women somewhat rising around this time, from what I have learned from these two pieces. Speght believes Swetnam underestimates the status of women in society. “Although I am young in years and more defective in knowledge,” Speght wrote, “that little smattering in learning which I have obtained being only the fruit of such vacant hours as I could spare from affairs befitting my sex (1549). ” I don’t think her intellect would be necessarily common for the her time period, but could have given women hope that they should be equal with men and should not accept the inferior ways in which they are treated.