Patriarchy, Tradition, and the Government, 1600s

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In American during the 1600s, the government served as an extension of the traditional family structure. How, you might ask? As an unfortunate side effect of patriarchy, nontraditional sexual acts threatened the traditional family unit by challenging patriarchy itself. A resulting flurry of community activity surrounded those who broke tradition to determine how far these sexual acts deviated from traditional norms. Finally, nontraditional sexual acts also extended from the community into the government because they threatened the legitimacy of patriarchy as the source of governmental authority. This paper will depict through a midwives book and a divorce case the presence of patriarchal values and the importance of maintaining patriarchy for tradition in early America. Court cases and testimony on bestiality and ambiguous genitalia further reveal how deviations from traditional gender and sexual roles developed as a threat to the patriarchal structure of the family and extended as a threat to the legitimization of patriarchy in the community and the government. As a result, traditional families legitimized patriarchy through trust in the government’s enforcement against nontraditional sexual roles and the government maintained patriarchy through this enforcement. I call this the circle of patriarchy.

Patriarchy: It’s a Man’s World, if He is Man Enough An examination of The Midwives Book, written in 1671 by Jane Sharp, reveals the important role patriarchy played defining early American sexual interactions and it’s prevalence. Let’s start with a discussion of patriarchy. Patriarchy, unfortunately one of the founding social constructs of America society, basically states that men are the dominating power. Not just any men ran the show, however. White European men actually dominated all spheres of American society, including other men. As a result, men essentially constructed the way sexuality was perceived and acted upon in early America by all people. The prevalence of patriarchy is shown through a discussion of the clitoris in Sharp’s book. First, Sharp refers to the clitoris as a “counterfeit Yard.” Referring to the clitoris as the counterfeit yard places the discussion in a patriarchal realm through the use of penis metaphors. ‘Yard’ denotes penis and ‘counterfeit’ denotes fake. Instead of allowing the clitoris to indeed remain a powerful sex organ belonging primarily to biological women, she evaluated the clitoris in comparison to the widely perceived powerful penis. Sharp’s rhetoric regarding the clitoris denotes ‘fake penis,’ putting women’s sexual organs in it’s own less valued category. Also, Sharp discusses how “lewd,” women in the Indies and Egypt used their clitoris “as men do theirs.” Besides continuing to draw comparisons between the inferior clitoris and the penis, her rhetoric insinuates a proper, socially constructed use for the clitoris in the 1600s. Women could use their clitoris to penetrate others only at the risk of the not so proverbial public shaming seen in early American society. This places the role of the penis as The Penetrator, and the women as The Penetrated. In their proper place, using the clitoris as a man would use a penis would rock the foundation of early American society by the shocking suggestion the women could penetrate others just as men do.

While not an explicit ‘how to’ manual on patriarchy, Sharp reveals through her discussion of female genitalia the prevalent patriarchal rhetoric of the 1600s, helping set the foundation for understanding the far reaching implications of the patriarchal view of men as penetrators and women as penetrated. Traditional family structures in early America centered on a patriarch who embodied the economic and sexual power in the household. Sharp’s rhetoric shows that while women’s pleasure signified the ability to get pregnant, connoting the importance of orgasm for women, men still remained the penetrators while women accepted penetration. Penetration serves as a symbol of patriarchal power. David Halperin’s discussion of the penetrator-penetrated model of Ancient Greece closely parallels the gender and sexual roles of early America, showing that patriarchy represents the dominance and power of men over the ‘lower classes’ of people. However, patriarchy moved beyond the family into the government. Men dominated and continue to dominate governmental positions. By adopting patriarchy within the government, the power remained in the same class of people and propagated the same interests. As a powerful majority, white men dictated the acceptable and unacceptable, the natural versus the unnatural, and right versus wrong. Consequently, men continued to use their penises as the legitimizing weapon of their dominating power over the lesser masses in early America. All together, Sharp’s discussion shows the gender marginalization of women founded in a patriarchal system that highly values the penis while also showing the prevalent patriarchal mindset of the time. Furthermore, setting the patriarchal stage, so to speak, also sets the foundation for understanding traditional family structures and its infusion into the early American government.

Dorathy and Nathaniel’s court case demonstrates the importance in early America of maintaining the ever-prevalent patriarchal attitudes. Dorathy Clarke petitioned the courts in June 1686 for divorce from her husband Nathaniel in Massachussetts. Dorathy told the courts that Nathaniel “hath not performed the duty of a husband to me,” and that he was “always unable to perform the act of generation,” with her. Dorathy also told the court that this made their lives “very uncomfortable in the sight of God.” One month after the court announced three doctors would examine Nathaniel’s body; the court denied the petition for divorce.

An examination of Dorathy’s grounds for divorce illustrates the importance of maintaining a fully functional traditional patriarch in early American families. Dorathy petitioned for divorce on the grounds that Nathaniel’s could not procreate with her. First, this suggests that procreation played a significant role in maintaining the traditional family structure. Dorathy’s ability to file divorce and usurp her husband’s patriarchal authority indicates this. It also connotes that the role of the patriarch, in part, dictated the ability to penetrate and eventually procreate with a wife. Penetration in the family demonstrates men’s authority over their wives. Without penetration, Nathaniel’s once unchecked patriarchal authority diminished in the eyes of his wife and society, further minimizing his traditional male role in his family. Procreation also serves as a means of extending the family structure into future by preserving specific families and also preserving ‘the family unit.’ Therefore, Dorathy’s ability to divorce, instead of an avenue of autonomy for women, would actually help to maintain the traditional patriarchal family structures by allowing her to find a more penetrate-ready husband.

The government’s ability to grant divorce in cases of sexual deficiency demonstrates the extension of the importance of maintaining patriarchal tradition into the legal system. First, it gives the government the power to remove a patriarch from the family unit due to sexual dysfunction. The ability of the government to grant divorce suggests that the government viewed sexual dysfunctions as significant enough to break apart the traditional family structure. It also implies the importance of extending the family unit by removing the standing husband. Dorathy’s ability to file for divorce and the government’s authority to grant divorce shows that the government adopted values based on upholding and propagating the traditional family structure. Importantly, both demonstrate the progression of traditional values of sexual roles from within the family sphere into the government for enforcement.

Bestiality: A Lust Story Bestiality represented a deviation from the traditional sexual acts expected from a male in patriarchal America. On February 14, 1641, John Wakeman reported the birth of a piglet with “no hair on the whole body, the skin was very tender, and of a reddish white collour like a childs,” with “butt one eye in the middle of the face,” and “a thing of flesh grew forth and hung down… like a mans instrumt of genration.” Wakeman and the community saw a strong resemblance between the one eyed piglet and a one eyed servant who took care of the pigs, George Spencer. The court case documents that previously, Spencer “had beene formerly notorious in the plantation for a prophane, lying, scoffing and lewd speritt.” The courts accused Spencer of the “abominable filthynes wth the sow.” Changing his statements several times, Spencer eventually confessed to the magistrate his crimes of bestiality. The courts found Spencer guilty. Laws governing Spencer’s guilty verdict include “the judiciall law of God give by Moses and expounded in other parts of scripture… should be the rule of their proceedings. They judged the crime cappitall and that the prisoner and the sow, according to Levit. 20 and 15, should be put to death…”

An examination of George Spencer’s bestial lust demonstrates the foundation for traditional patriarchal sexual roles in the family and the progression these patriarchal values into a government enforcement. The use of Leviticus to interpret and punish Spencer’s bestial crimes shows the foundation for the traditional sexual roles of a husband and a wife. Also, by using Leviticus 20 and 15, the courts demonstrated how family law developed into governmental law from specific religious scriptures. Leviticus 20 dictates several punishable sins such as whoring, the spilling of seed, adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality. To start, these rules regarding sexual acts reveal the foundation for allowable sexual acts between a man and a woman. As a sort of manual for traditional sex dummies, Leviticus 20 really outlines the acceptable sexual acts for a man and a woman. Implicitly stated within these rules is the idea that a man may indeed have sex with a woman within a certain confine that is not adultery, wasting sperm, or through whores. Though a rather boring array of allowable sexual acts, these laws lay the foundation for traditional values regarding sexual acts. Bestiality unfortunately was not one of them. Now, Spencer deviated from this model. Furthermore, documentation of Spencer’s several other sins during the investigation reveals his previous religious ‘moral failings’. Unable to catch a break, Spencer faced hearty accusations as a profane, lying, and lewd spirit. Fueling the inflexible and inconveniently traditional patriarchal values and when and where an erection is appropriate, the court authorities suggested these deviations played a role in his crime of bestiality, almost suggesting an affliction of the spirit. Religion significantly factored into the way the family governed itself sexually, and extended into how the government administered punishment to people who broke traditional sexual rules.

Wakeman’s actions further show the transformation of patriarchal traditional sexual rules regulated within the family into a governmental matter. Beginning within the family, Wakeman recognized his own pig as a player in Spencer’s carnal sins. These familial resemblances between the piglet and Spencer led the good patriarch Wakeman to take his accusations to the governmental authorities within Connecticut. Besides the fact that humans and pigs cannot conceive children together, Wakeman’s actions demonstrate two aspects of early American tradition embedded in patriarchy. First, his actions connote the progression of values originally founded in the family sphere into government hands. By doing this, Wakeman validated and legitimized the governmental authority to act in accord with his own traditional values. This legitimization implies that the government fit into Wakeman’s vision of power and punishment. As a result, it can be implied that government modeled the patriarchy found in sexual rules adopted by families from the bible. Therefore, his actions also reveal the perpetuation of traditional sexual acts and roles through the legitimization of patriarchal authority within the government.

Ambiguous Genitalia: Only One Gender Allowed, Otherwise, Who Will Be Penetrated? Thomas/Thomasine Hall’s court case in 1629 presents an example of how nontraditional sex and gender roles in early America triggered the need for community intervention to assert the importance of traditional gender and sex roles. One male community member, Roger Rodes, stated to Hall after rumors of his ambiguous genitalia, “thou haft beene reported to be’ a woman and now thou art … to be a man, I will fee what though carrieft,” and found “that hee was a [perfect] man.” Furthermore, a woman from the community, Dorothy Rodes, felt compelled that Hall had women’s genitalia. Both accounts show not only the ambiguity of Hall’s genitalia, but also the community involvement in first determining Hall’s sex. Only after a community investigation did legal authorities involve themselves in determining Hall’s crimes. When questioned by Capt. Baffe on his/her sex, Hall answered that he/she consistently changed from men and women’s attire throughout his/her life. As a result of community and official investigative efforts, the courts determined that Hall “fhall goe Clothed in mans apparel, only his head to bee attired in a Coyfe and Crofcloth wth an Apron before him,” as punishment.

Hall’s story demonstrates the progression of heavy community involvement into legal proceedings based on nontraditional genitalia, shown through an examination of the significance of patriarchy and the actions of community members against Hall. To start, strict gender roles dictated social and sexual interactions during this time in American history. Founded in patriarchy, traditional sexual and gender roles dominated the family unit, legitimized sexually through male penetration of their wife. In the community, the importance of maintaining these sex and gender roles manifested through community action against Hall to define his/her gender, and by extension, sexual role in society. As a result, Hall’s divergence from the traditional penetrator-penetrated model through his/her ambiguous genitalia and cross-dressing fueled the need for increased community involvement to mold Hall to one of the sex categories. Both Roger and Dorothy Rodes, among several other community members, initiated the search of Hall’s body to determine his/her genitalia, based upon a societal anxiety due to Hall’s deviation from the strict traditional sexual and gender roles. Roger’s declaration “I will fee what though carrieft,” exhibits the level of community involvement to establish Hall’s sex. By molesting his/her body, the community acted upon a script for traditional sexual and gender roles seen in traditional family structures. Admittedly not the best example of verbal foreplay, this deep level of community involvement suggests the intrinsic value placed on traditional gender and sex roles. When searches of Hall’s body presented conflicting results, the legal authorities took over through Capt. Baffe. Though the document does not explicitly state Baffe’s status, it implies that he served as a government official by questioning Hall and gathering evidence from the anxious community. Baffe’s involvement reveals the development from community action to governmental involvement in placing Hall into a male/female category, signifying the importance of maintaining the traditional sex and gender roles. Furthermore, the government’s punishment of Hall solidified its power to legally enact strict sex and gender roles taken from the traditional family structure. Though the government demonstrated that it could enact authority over the expression of sex and gender, Hall’s voice as a feisty, nontraditional, cross-dressing, intersex person emerges clearly as “both man and woeman.”

Conclusion: Though Not For Patriarchy An examination of gender, divorce, and bestiality reveals the importance of the foundation of the family structure, of propagating the traditional family, and the role the government took as model and enforcer of the traditional family structure. While good for the white man, the whore-like, zoophilic, seed spilling, homosexual people in early America probably released a collective ‘damn’ as poor George Spencer died watching his Mrs. Pig die and watching Hall’s subjection to the communities tradition-oriented paws. Patriarchy did not serve to benefit the masses, but to maintain the power of men over those without an aggressive looking penis to back them up. Divorce reveals the importance of the patriarch’s ability to penetrate and procreate while legitimizing the government’s power to propagate the traditional family structure. Bestiality demonstrates how nontraditional sexual acts constituted deviations from traditional sexual roles and resulted in the government’s ability to punish those that deviated from them. Sex and gender in early America also exhibited the importance of traditional gender roles in early American communities. Together, they paint a picture of early America as patriarch-centered family units that legitimized the government as a model to uphold these traditions. And the white men had a field day.