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How did Queen Elizabeth I respond to gender ideas during her reign?

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Queen Elizabeth I received many insults from her own countrymen during her rule as a result of her gender. One danger she faced as a powerful woman was being labeled a "fornicator." She responded to this by branding herself a virgin with love only for her native England. She achieved...

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this through several methods of clever propaganda. As a virgin mother of England, Elizabeth found ways to liken herself to the Virgin Mary. She commissioned numerous portraits to show her in a motherly role, nurturing the nation of England. In public, she had to look faultless and pure. She never appeared publicly without her wig and pale powdered skin. In her portraits, she was often shown dressed in black and white, a symbol of chastity. She had to show herself as ageless and faultless. This made her a larger-than-life figure and more than "just a woman" in the eyes of her people.

Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth used clever symbolism to show her strength and power as a ruler. Images of kings typically just portray them in regal dress, with the normal trappings of power, such as a scepter or crown, with them. Queen Elizabeth had to take this even further. For instance, her Rainbow Portrait depicts her wearing a dress covered in eyes and ears. This was a message to her critics that she sees and hears everything in her kingdom.

All this propaganda and more helped reinforce the idea that Queen Elizabeth was more than the restraints placed on her by misogyny. She masterfully branded her image in the minds of her people, creating the perception she was beyond the imagined limits of her gender. This helped her make the case that she was actually divinely ordained to lead England as its monarch.

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Elizabeth's approach to gender was complicated. Women were assumed to be less fit to rule, since they were considered intellectually inferior to men as well as overly emotional. If a queen were to take the throne, then, it was believed, she must marry and have her husband help her make sound decisions. However, Elizabeth did not want to be dominated by a male sovereign. Her older sister, Mary, wed a Spanish king, whom the kingdom perceived as a foreign threat due to his Catholicism and his being Mary's husband (and therefore her superior). Wishing to avoid this pitfall and remain in charge of England without appearing "unnatural," Elizabeth fashioned herself as the Virgin Queen, emphasizing her purity and devotion to her people in a feminine way. She made an image for herself as the mother of the English nation. In art such as the "Pelican" portrait, Elizabeth likens herself to the mother pelican, which was believed to pierce its breast and feed blood to its own young in a gesture of pure maternal sacrifice.

Elizabeth did not always play up her femininity, though. Sometimes, she presented herself as being of masculine courage and bearing, an exceptional woman God designed with the proper masculine attributes that make a great ruler in the eyes of society. For example, in the famous Tilbury speech, Elizabeth claims, "I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too." While she admits she is a woman, she claims God made her qualified for a role often relegated to men.

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Queen Elizabeth I ruled England from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Although for sheer longevity of reign, she does not quite match Queen Victoria (63 years) or Queen Elizabeth II (over 65 years), her reign is still widely regarded as among the longest and most successful in English history.

During her period, women had far fewer rights than now and were not regarded as equally capable of leadership. Until a landmark ruling in 2011, the only way for a woman to gain the British throne would be if the reigning monarch had no surviving male heirs, something that was the case for Elizabeth I.

The main way that Elizabeth I negotiated gender was by remaining a virgin and emphasizing her virginity in many of her speeches. Initially, this was a political and diplomatic tactic, which allowed her to dangle in front of other countries the possibility of a marriage to cement a diplomatic alliance. This made her position as a single woman uniquely valuable to England. It also meant that she could continue to rule independently rather than be supplanted by a husband. Rhetorically, she used her virginity to emphasize her devotion to the people of England; because she had no children, she could be mother to all England. Her virginal purity also allowed her to function as Supreme Governor of the Church of England at a time when women could not be priests.

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Queen Elizabeth had a difficult task when it comes to sex roles.  She had to (and wanted to) keep power for herself at a time and place where women were seen as much weaker than men even in terms of emotions and intellect.  She was not really challenged in terms of her right to the throne, but it was assumed that she would need a man to help her rule.

Elizabeth both accepted and fought against these ideas about sex roles.  For example, she accepted them by using the possibility of marrying as a political device.  She did not deny her womanhood but, at the same time, she did not completely accept that it limited her.  She is famous for having said (we cannot be sure that she said exactly these words, but it was something like this) "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king."

That pretty well sums up Elizabeth's attitudes towards sex roles.  She had to live with stereotypes about women and she used them to help her when she could.  At the same time, though, she asserted that the stereotypes did not completely apply to her and that she was perfectly capable of ruling.

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