What Life Was Like For Women During The Renaissance

Wouldn't it have been great to be a woman in the Renaissance? All those fancy dresses, and the ... fancy dresses. Nope, life pretty much sucked for women in the Renaissance, fancy dresses aside. And guess what? You didn't even get a fancy dress if you weren't in the upper class, so that wasn't even a perk for the majority of women living in that era.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, most upper class women in Renaissance-day Italy had two career choices: marriage, or the nunnery. And your family had to come up with a fat dowry in order to get you properly married off, so typically only one girl in the family could become married while the rest of them were sent off to the cloister. Incidentally, you had to pay dowries for your nunnified daughters, too, they were just smaller than the one you had to pay for your soon-to-be-married daughter. 

Married women in the upper-classes got the fancy dresses, but they couldn't have jobs. So there was no career, no autonomy, no ability to support yourself in the absences of male family members, and no recognition for anything you did. An upper class woman's primary responsibilities were running the household, looking prudish and respectable, giving birth to children, and sending the children off to boarding school.

It was much worse for lower class women

Middle-class women sometimes took on jobs, especially in Northern Europe where they might work in their families' shops to help make ends meet. Poor women had it worst of all — they might toil in the fields all day while also caring for children and running the household. Some would work as servants in the cities, or they might even work as servants in convents. Worse, a woman without a husband or another male family member willing to provide for her might have to become a prostitute in order to survive. So it was kind of a sliding scale of suckiness, from the suckiness of being an overworked farmer and housewife to the suckiness of being a prostitute, and nowhere on that sliding scale was a fancy dress. 

So the next time you think, "It would be cool to live in the Renaissance," you might want to rethink that. And also, there was no central heat or air, so those fancy dresses could get pretty danged stifling at times. You're way better off in the good old 21st century.