Last Updated 27 May 2020

Aztec Women Roles and Society

Category Women
Essay type Process
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The roles of women are useful to historians because they provide an insight into the life experiences, cultures, thoughts, and every day life of a historical period. Similarly this essay will examine the roles of women, which provide insight into the Aztec civilization’s many strengths. The Aztec child bearer/warrior, priestess and sexual being will be analyzed to display that gender relations were complementary that produced equality. The midwife and weaver reveal that the Aztec’s specialization proved successful through fields like medicine and the market.

Finally the Aztec daughter and mother will be examined to show that the Aztec’s had a strong socialization system established through education and the family. For these reasons women’s roles allow historians to look at the greater picture and see that Aztec society was advanced ad possessed three particular strengths being that its gender complementarity structure, a successful specialization of labour, as well as a highly efficiency in socialization that allowed Aztec culture to retransmit itself. Gender relations in Aztec culture were based on a gender complementarity structure.

This structure, “Defines males and females as distinctive but equal and interdependent parts of a larger productive whole. ” The Aztec society was fairly gender divided however women’s tasks were usually “in the heart of the home,” taking care of the family and bearing children, whilst men’s domain was outside and involved hunting, fishing, fighting etc. A clear illustration of how roles were interdependent is seen through food production where men hunted and women cooked the catch. Each role accompanied the other because without one another there would be no sustenance.

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This cultural ideology could have developed because both sexes may have understood that each had a specific labour/role to fulfill ultimately for God which is supported through an admonition in the Codex of Mendoza, “This is the wish of our master and his decision that we shall obtain all that is needed for life only through sweat, only through work. ” Furthermore within Aztec religion there were two dual-sexed creator deities Ometechuhtli – Lord of Durality – and Omecihuatl – Lady of Durality – amongst many other male and female deity couples who were equally responsible for a variety of things.

This evidence may indicate that gender complementarity relations could have also originated from religion. Nonetheless gender relations in Aztec society were based on gender complementarity. The child bearer/warrior exemplifies how the Aztec’s gender complementarity tproduced gender equality because she gained the same title and honour as male warriors. The child bearing role made women distinct from males however she was still equal, “As the man gained honour by going valiantly into battle, so the woman gained honour and respect by bearing children because her battle was comparable. The pregnant mother was seen as a warrior entering battle – child labour – because she had to capture her baby. The midwife reinforced this concept because she would emit a war cry during labour. This evidence shows how child bearing was perceived valuably and made women equal to warriors who were highly respected in Aztec society. If a women died during labour she received the same honour as a warrior fallen in battle and was labeled mocihuacquetzque. Similarly to male warriors this name and honour meant that she would travel to a western solar realm where she accompanied the sun.

This respect for childbirth may have developed in Aztec culture because they recognizes that, “They too had made a sacrifice of their own lives so that a new life could come into the world. ” Nonetheless the child bearer/warrior role shows historians that she was different but also equal to male warriors through the title and honour she received. The priestess carried out certain tasks and responsibilities because of the gender complimentarity structure however her level of importance was fairly equal to male priests.

When they were old enough daughters became female priests or cihuatlmacazqui. In “Aztec temples priests guarded the temple fires, made offerings, prayed and cleaned whilst female priests accompanied male tasks by spinning, weaving clothing and sweeping the temple. ”Although these tasks may be considered trivial in a modern/ western perspective, her responsibilities were equally important because cloth was used as currency/tribute in markets and sweeping was highly valued since the Aztec’s believed this was purifying the world.

Furthermore, whilst head male priests performed many sacrificial rituals, priestesses were also essential to many rites because only they could perform certain rituals/feasts such as the Ochpanizli – Important feast – dedicated to the mother goddess known as Toci. This may be because this was a female deity however priestesses’ had certain responsibilities that made them different than male priests but equal because these were highly valued. These ideas on gender complementarity or equality may have developed from religion.

For example, male and female deities were two distinctive parts as Goddesses were responsible for sustaining life however both equally created human life. Regardless the Aztec priestess shows historians that her responsibilities were different because she was a distinct part of the gender complementarity structure, however her roles and responsibilities were as equally valuable as male priests. The female sexual being embodies gender complementarity because like a male she was equally responsible to uphold sexual norms.

This role is being analyzed because Colonial Spanish historians often examine labeled roles such as mother and warrior but sometimes ignore women just as sexual beings. In this role women were expected to be sexually abstinent until marriage, “Nothing it, it is still untouched nowhere twisted, still virgin, pure undefiled. ” Similarly men were told not to “lust for vice for filth (illicit sex) that which is deadly” or else “though wert a dog. ” Thus both women and men were expected to be sexually abstinent.

This focus on sexual abstinence developed because it ensured fertile potency when sex in marriage occurred and allowed ont ao achieve a “good heart. ” Both men and women were similarly punished through sacrifice, decapitation, placed into slavery for being promiscuous or committing extra marital affairs as the Codex of Mendoza supports with images of couples being executed. Therefore although women were different than men, they were equally responsible to uphold sexual abstinence for the greater moral good.

The midwife reveals that the Aztec’s specialization of labour was successful because this allowed one to have extensive knowledge in one field that advanced certain sectors like medicine. The Aztec thought was that each person had a distinctive specialized role to perform in the greater scheme. The Aztec field of medicine like other societal sectors was specialized and gendered so that males were predominantly “doctors” and healers whilst women were midwives. The midwife – ciuatl temixiuitli – treated disease, aided with childbirth, provided herbal medicines, message therapy as well as sweat baths.

She would concoct a drink from the cuahalahuac tree ground up in water with a red stone called ezetl – jasper – and the tail of an opossum to hasten delivery. Midwives knew that the cuauhalahuac – slippery tree – helped by lubricating the delivery and the jasper helped to prevent hemorrhaging. Similarly modern studies show that this oxytocic medicine assisted by causing strong uterine contractions and cervical dilation. This concoction required extensive knowledge because the midwife had to know what natural ingredients were useful as well as the dosage and measurements needed per patient.

According to Bernardino de Sahagun – Franciscan Friar who lived amongst the Aztecs – just before delivery, “The midwife washed and massaged the mother in the steam bath and performed an external version (turning the fetus by external manipulation) if the fetus was in a breech position. ” She would then place the mother in a squatting position for delivery rather than a lithotomic – lying down – position because midwives knew that this deprived the baby of oxygen. This evidence shows that the midwife’s medical knowledge was comprehensive because she had a detailed understanding of Obstetrics.

This specialization of may have developed because the Aztec’s recognized that having distinct roles like the complementarity system ensured every duty or in this case field was filled or because women better understood pregnancy. However this was efficient because it allowed individuals in a certain task or field – Obstetrics – to collect extensive knowledge and advance the field unlike the possibility of a family doctor who is highly skilled but has a general knowledge in various fields.

In fact this specialized system was successful because, “Sixty percent of Aztec medicine would be considered effective treatments today according to Western biomedical standards. ” Therefore the Aztec midwife shows historians that the Aztec’s specialization proved successful because this made one highly knowledgeable and advanced fields like medicine. Aztec weavers provide a lens into the highly organized and developed market that was made successful because of the specialization of labour.

Men’s productive responsibilities were outside the household and consisted of farming, fishing and long-distance trading, where as woman’s productive duties were gendered/specialized into cooking, weaving and artisan work. Although women produced various things that were sold in the market, “Cloth production was a fundamental part of the female gender. ” This is evident because all women from commoner to noble spent hours upon hours weaving, spinning, and manipulating cotton.

Not only did weavers produce intricate/detailed designs with rich dyes and beads, Archaeologists have reported to have found 240,000 pieces of tribute cloth that were 6. 7 yards each! This evidence shows historians that specializing in one form of production was effective because it perfected and generated vast amounts. Cortes supports this in his letter to Charles V – where he had visited the market – and wrote, “I could wish that I had finished telling of all the things which are sold here, but they are so numerous and of such different quality. The specialization of women’s labour as weavers can be looked at on a macro scale perspective which shows that market roles were also specialized with carpenters, feather workers, stonecutters, tailors, weavers, cooks, pottery workers etc.

Within the market the weaver was subject to administrators who ensured that goods were sold at fair prices that marketing laws were followed and assigned tribute to the ruler. Furthermore weavers like other merchants had to ensure their, “Goods and crafts were arranged by type. Cortes supports, “Each kind of merchandise was kept by itself and had its fixed place market out. ” The specialization of ones labour into a certain task can restrict merchants to one product however this information reveals that the micro-level specialization of labour proved efficient on a macro-level because markets were highly organized and specialized with sections for each type of product. Specialization and organization in the market allowed for greater profit that many historians have claimed assisted in stabilizing and making the Aztec economy successful in refueling itself.

This specialization of labour may have developed from the same idea as the gender complementarity structure, which was that every person had a specific productive role that ultimately benefited the market and ultimately financed government activities through tribute. Ultimately specialized labour like the weaver show historians that on a greater scale this allowed the perfection of skill, making of vast amounts, and the highly developed and organized and successful market.

The mother provides insight into the Aztec’s strong socialization system because it embedded gender roles at an early age with strict enforcement that prepared children for education. Mothers like fathers were responsible to teach their children tasks as well as cultural norms and values. From birth children were perceived as raw social materials, “My precious necklace, my precious quetzal plume” or “fruitless tree. ” This metaphor reveals that the Aztec’s possibly knew that children were raw products that could be constructed into the final product being adulthood.

Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagun – who lived amongst the Aztecs – supports that the Aztec’s valued children highly. Mothers initiated Aztec socialization as early as four years old by teaching daughters how to weave, spin, sit, use their hands, grind maize and make tortilla bread whilst fathers taught their sons how to hunt, fish, artisan work, and how to fight. The Codex of Mendoza supports this with numerous images of mothers instructing their young daughters over a spindle loom.

Day after day children had the same routine of work so that they perfected their old tasks and eventually learned new skills. This may have left little time to play so that Aztec children from an early age were instilled with the cultural value of hard work. Routines were strictly enforced because disobedience or laziness – spinning or sweeping poorly – resulted in physical punishments such as sticking maguey thorns into the shoulder or inhaling chili smoke.

Amongst physical punishments, mothers like fathers enforced cultural expectations through verbal instructions on a regular basis that included rules on dressing properly, being obedient and diligent when summoned, speaking slowly and deliberately and walking quickly to avoid laziness. One mothers speech shows historians that the Aztec’s were actively aware of what they were doing, “Pay attention and from here you will take what will be your life, what will be your doing. ” This shows that the Aztec’s were developed because it appears that they actively knew they were socializing and preparing children for adulthood.

Furthermore this informal socialization was efficient, as it would recycle itself when daughters would become mothers and teach their children in the same fashion that she only learned from her mother or family. Therefore the Aztec mother shows how the Aztec socialization system was strong because it began at an early age and maintained a regimented routine through strict enforcement that future generations repeated as they became parents. The Aztec daughter or student displays how the socialization process was strong because it continued from the family to a regimented formal education that embedded culture.

Similar to sons, daughters were expected to be obedient, respectful, honest, study driven and sexually abstinent. Unlike Western societies, rituals and tasks including formal education made one become an adult. The first type of school daughters attended was the cuicacalli “house of song” where an, “Emphasis was placed on basic moral and religious training, knowledge of history, ritual dancing, and singing. ” This was a powerful cohesive social experience for Aztec children because they essentially learned everything about Aztec culture.

The calmecac was the next school stage which trained noble boys and girls for leadership in religious, military, political life. Discipline was strict because students were required to wake up at dawn, undergo rigorous abstinence with penance, prayers and ritual baths. A main piece of evidence that shows historians that Aztec education was an efficient socializing agent is through the Aztec daughter’s extensive memory of cultural phrases, metaphors, stories and symbolic words that she learned and utilized in oral speeches.

The art of speaking was taught in schools because daughters like sons were required to recite admonitions later on in life whether as a mother, midwife or representative of the family because it meant one was educated. Oral proficiency shows that Aztec socialization was efficient because daughters hand an extensive on hand knowledge of Aztec culture that was embedded within them. Therefore Aztec daughter/student or oral speaker shows historians how powerful Aztec socialization was because regimented education embedded culture in the minds and of children.

Women’s roles allows historians to look at the greater picture and depict three particular strengths of the Aztec society being gender complementarity, a successful specialization of labour as well as a high efficiency in socialization. Aztec society was based on a gender complementarity structure which produced gender equality for child bearers who were honoured as warriors, priestess’s maintained the same value as male priests and the female sexual being because men and women were equally expected to maintain sexual norms.

The Aztec’s specialization of labour through roles like the midwife and weaver allow historians to look at the greater picture see that the Aztec’s were highly knowledgeable and skilled in their subsequent labour/field which led to the increased knowledge in the field of medicine and the successful organization of the market. Finally the Aztec’s possessed a strong socialization system shown through the mother and daughter who prove that the Aztec’s were able to embed culture at a young young age through daily routine and strict regiment.

Women had various roles in Aztec society which allow historians to look at the greater scheme and form ideas of the people or historical period of study. On a micro-level women may not have been completely equal however on a macro-level Aztec society had many strengths and was well advanced because of its gender relations structure, its ability to logically divide tasks and create a sustaining economy as well as ensure the continuation of its culture through social transmission at home and in school.

David Carrasco, Scott Sessions, Daily life of the Aztecs, (London, 1998), p. 129-133. [ 2 ]. Ferdinand Aton, Woman in Pre-Columbian America, (New York, 1983), p. 19 [ 3 ]. Ibid, p. 88 [ 4 ]. Berdan, p. 81 [ 5 ]. Anton, p. 18 [ 6 ]. Anton, p. 18 [ 7 ]. Carrasco, p. 145-157 [ 8 ]. Anton, p. 19 [ 9 ]. Carrasco, p. 125 [ 10 ]. Carrasco, p. 125 [ 11 ]. Carrasco, p. 115 [ 12 ]. Brumfield, p. 98 [ 13 ]. Brumfield, p. 98 [ 14 ]. Carrasco, p. 115 [ 15 ]. Brumfield, p. 94 [ 16 ]. Carrasco, p. 107 [ 17 ]. Carrasco, p. 108 [ 18 ]. Carrasco, p. 108 [ 19 ].

Muriel Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya and Their Predecessors, (New York, 1981), p. 446 [ 20 ]. Carrasco, p. 134-139 [ 21 ]. Anton, p. 19 [ 22 ]. Joyce, p. 146 [ 23 ]. Brumfield, p. 92 [ 24 ]. Brumfield, p. 21 [ 25 ]. Ortiz de Montellano, Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition, (1990), p. 186 [ 26 ]. Ibid, p. 185 [ 27 ]. Ibid, p. 185 [ 28 ]. Montellano, p. 180-189 [ 29 ]. Brumfield, p. 92 [ 30 ]. Brumfield, p. 90 [ 31 ]. Carrasco, p. 92 [ 32 ]. Carrasco, p. 92 [ 33 ]. Brumfield, p. 94 [ 34 ]. Townsend, p. 175 [ 35 ].

Brumfield, p. 105 [ 36 ]. Brumfield, p. 91 [ 37 ]. Brumfield, p. 113 [ 38 ]. Townsend, p. 174 39 ]. Smith, p. 130-133 [ 40 ]. Smith, p. 132 [ 41 ]. Anton, p. 23-36 [ 42 ]. Leon-Portilla, p. 190 [ 43 ]. Frances Karttunen, James Lockhart, The Art of Nahuatl speech (Los Angeles, 1987), p. 35-53 [ 44 ]. Carrasco, p. 97 [ 45 ]. Carrasco, p. 102, p. 136 [ 46 ]. Smith, p. 136 [ 47 ]. Carrasco, p. 102 [ 48 ]. Carrasco, p. 103 [ 49 ]. Leon-Portilla, p. 194 [ 50 ]. Carrasco, p. 102-110 [ 51 ]. Carrasco, p. 102-108 [ 52 ]. Smith, p. 134-140 [ 53 ]. Richard Townsend, The Aztecs, (London, 1992), p. 158 [ 54 ]. Carrasco, p. 109 [ 55 ]. Townsend, p. 158 [ 56 ]. Townsend, p. 158 [ 57 ]. Townsend, p. 160

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