I guess, like everything else, enlightenment is only relative.
Best comment on the debate here I think. :)
Yeah, looking at the past from our current perspective is iffy… We can look back and go: “Ooo ah, how wonderful and rosy and perfect!”
Or we can look back and go: “how cruel, inhuman, and awful!”
But in between both has to be a happy mean. I think relativity is the problem, times were not really better or worse for much of the past, things weren't cheaper or more expensive, things were simply so holistically different that we at this point in time are completely unable to correctly relate to them. We bring up specifics without the perspective of proper context of the whole. All we can ever do is speculate.
The condition of women in the past is a case in point. The common way of seeing it these days is to look at them as being marginalised and treated like children/slave/mentally retarded for all of history until the 20thC. But I would contend that this is incorrect. It based on a viewing of a mainly male account of history that celebrates and focuses on the male role, as if that was the only important thing to focus on. So obviously, if WE
try and use that perspective we will have a skewed idea of the role of women. And most female accounts are those of a wealthy elite who are cosseted, and largely isolated from the contemporary social reality of their day… I mean, read some of the Bronte fiction or whatever and tell me that's how normal people lived? HA!
You have to read between the lines though. There is a lot of history out there that gives you a better picture of how things were. Throughout the past both men and women worked at much the same jobs, this was common as far as I've been able to see. Where social segregation of roles became more prominent was in the upper middle classes and upper classes. During the 18th and 19th centuries this social segregation actually seems to have spread a bit more and the position of women actually made worse by this: less opportunities for work for women. Until that situation came to a head in the early 20thC with the advent of universal suffrage for women. -interestingly in most countries universal suffrage for men had only happened a few decades earlier. In some cases, only a few years.
History is more cyclical than linear. Things don't really get better and better, it's more that they get worse and then go through a period of correction, and then get worse and so on. An example is the 1960's and “sexual liberation”, but this was mostly a reaction to the conformity of the 1950's, which in its turn was in reaction to the permissiveness and social upheaval of the 1940's. -I'm being simplistic with the characterisations of decades here, but it's a common standard.
The 1930's had seen a return of conformity in reaction to the wildness of the 1920's which in turn had been largely bought about by the war in the 1910's… VERY
simplistic, but it just goes to show how circular trends, the folly of being too linear in our views (the idea that things get better or things get worse over time), and the folly of taking cases in history out of the contexts in which they belong.