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Tutor profile: Sean Heather M.

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Sean Heather M.
Historian/University Adjunct Lecturer
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Questions

Subject: Gender Studies

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Question:

Are all societies composed of patriarchies, where men are in control of the social or governmental aspects, as well as inheritance rules, religious hierarchies and so forth? Are their true matriarchal societies?

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Sean Heather M.
Answer:

This depends on what you include as matriarchal- purely matrilineal (descent through women), political/governmental control, religious control? The terms patriarchal and matriarchal always need to be investigated more closely when applying them to actual peoples. are societies like the Miao in China, who have been touted as being matriarchal. Women traditionally never had their feet bound and were always working in the fields. Women exercise more rights in choosing their husband, and can work publicly in jobs of their choosing. But youngest sons inherit more of the property and stay with the parents, while elder sons leave the house, but not the village. Daughters build their wealth from silver jewelry that they make and that is passed down to them.

Subject: US History

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Question:

Why did English colonists consider native Americans not civilized?

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Sean Heather M.
Answer:

English colonists, encountering the generally semi-nomadic and patriarchal Algonquin-speaking tribes of Eastern North America, believed that without established patterns of privately owned land-holding, and the accompanied permanent buildings on site, that there was no civilization there. Having no cities, and seemingly no planned agriculture, especially no pastoral (sheep or cow) herding, defied their understanding. They could not see that the Native Americans had actually extensively changed their landscape through slash and burn processes, domestication of crops (like corn, beans, squash), and tending of orchards. Having no domestic animals, meant that the Native Americans were unable to develop the kinds of pastoral dependence that Europeans developed. In addition, the English noted that only the women worked the land, which they saw as an inversion of women's natural roles of housewifery, men should tend to the major crops- planting, harvesting, and women should tend the house or relegate themselves to small herbal and vegetable gardens. They thus saw men as effeminate and abusive to make women tend the crops. They did not realize that in most of these tribes, (including non-Algonquin speaking tribes like the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois) women owned the land, and distributed the goods thereof, while men went hunting and took care of war. Men's importance as military and social chiefs rested on their relationships to powerful women landowners and councils of women, even in tribes which were patrilineal (descent counted through fathers). In addition, the English viewed the Natives with fear and misunderstanding as they regarded non-Christians in general, particularly non-Christians were not even descendants of Abraham (Religions of the Book, Jews and Muslims, were at least considered metaphorical or literal descendants of Abraham). Native religion, without cathedrals and a vast hierarchy of priests were surprising for them. Native religion, in general also used such techniques as dancing and the calumet (peace-pipe), tobacco was previously unknown to Europeans and therefore startling and dancing was generally viewed as a secular, non-religious activity, not a religious activity, so Europeans had lower opinions of native religion.

Subject: European History

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Question:

How did Hildegard von Bingen defy the gender norms for women for her time and why was she praised rather than accused of being a witch or heretic?

Inactive
Sean Heather M.
Answer:

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), was a medieval nun, composer, visionary, philosopher, polymath. She wrote the earliest known morality play (Ordo Virtutem), composed primarily for women's voices. She also wrote philosophical works, scientific works about plants, psychology and medicine, as well as books describing her visions. She became a nun at Disibodenberg, Germany and eventually she was well-respected as the leader of her abbey. She also founded Rupertsberg (1150) and Eibingen (1165) and presided over a company of women both aristocratic and common. She had experienced visions since she was seven years old and was famous throughout Europe for her visions and her religious and practical advice; her letters to important princes, scholars, kings and popes are evidence of the respect afforded her. She even went on several preaching tours, which was extraordinary for her time as she was not a priest (only men could be priests) and as a rule, the Popes tended to authorize only certain people as preachers. Women were generally forbidden from speaking publicly about religious matters or giving sermons. Women also Even during her lifetime, people informally regarded her as a saint. She was not without her detractors, however, and some people did not believe her visions came from God. Overall, however, most people believed her and respected her which allowed her to transcend women's restrictions on their display of knowledge orally and written. She was never declared a heretic or considered to be seriously overstepping her bounds as a woman, partially because the age of serious witchcraft accusations and trials actually began in the late 15th century. While inquisitions into heretics and infidels (Muslim and Jewish behavior) did of course occur at this time, Hildegard managed to get powerful supporters among her local bishops and archbishops and this helped her to maintain her status, once several popes came to rely on her, she was considered credible. In addition, Hildegard's visions never seriously contested the doctrines of the church, and in fact her writings condemned practices, like simony, which were already undergoing a vociferous condemnation and reform. She also framed her visions and advice as if she were a weak woman, of the weaker sex, which therefore disarmed detractors, as she fit herself in the social and religious hierarchy of man over women. Though she had some unique theological interpretations such as the nature of the female body/sexuality, overall, her teachings supported the main doctrines and therefore she was not seen as heretical.

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