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The women in Netherlands have for so many years suffered as a result of prostitution. This was caused by the immense poverty that was prevailing as a result of the world wars. Prostitution was legalized hence allowing women to openly become immoral. With time, women having gotten tired of the immoral lifestyle, became educated and started looking for alternative sources of income.
The painting by Vermeer is used to represent the changing process that women underwent. The girl writing a letter is referred to as a lady to show that women had reverted to more respectable jobs deserving the title. Moreover, the writing is used to show that women were now literate and could read and write. Moreover, it also symbolizes the woman using the power of words to express her feelings something women were not allowed to do before. Finally, the light in the painting is used to symbolize hope; a dawn at the beginning of the day. This shows that for women in Netherlands, there was hope. Moreover, it symbolizes a new beginning for them from a dark past to a new and bright future.
The Dutch people are a small group of people who trace their national identity all the way back to the territory of Netherlands. Netherlands is an alluvial plain that is located in the north western part of Europe. It is bordered by both Belgium and Germany. In the early days, the Dutch individuals lived as a community where they subjugated themselves to live in accordance to Local Law of the Dutch people. Thus, they gave up their individual interests to be part of a community. The Dutch do not have a uniform national culture; this is because the Dutch culture is very diverse and therefore cannot be limited to one uniform culture. The Dutch have always been open minded about the place of their women in society and the men did not limit their wives as was the case in other cultures. Dutch women could go to schools and conduct business transactions so long as her social class allowed her to.
In the earlier centuries, Dutch women were headstrong and they were active participants in the social life of the community. However, women were segregated into social classes based on their economic prosperity and the woman's goodwill. However, for a woman to be allowed to participate in Dutch events at any level, she had to posses not only a good reputation, but also has a good name. This could only be achieved by establishing the decency of the husband. Women from middle classes were accepted as citizens as well, however, their work was limited to domestic chores due to their lower status. Women who were of high birth on the other hand, were accorded more privileges such as being allowed to partake in trades and other guilds. Therefore, the position of a woman in a Dutch society was entirely based on the social class a woman held.
Overall, in Dutch, women have less responsibilities and opportunities than men. Up to this date, majority of Dutch women work only part time, leaving their spouses behind in the offices to work full time. This research was conducted by de Bruin and he discovered that sixty- eight percent (68%) of Dutch women work part time, and the majority do not desire to have full time jobs. This low rate of female participation in Dutch's labor force could be traced back to Dutch's history. The Dutch did not participate in the First World War and therefore there was no need for women to replace men in the market as was the case in other countries, hence, the late entry of women in the market. Therefore, the Dutch women basically handled the domestic affairs and it is only recently, just after the collapse of pillarization of the society, that women started engaging in the labor force. However, due to this, women are mostly taking low paying service jobs for example, nursing, catering and as cleaners. However, the traditional role of the woman remains that of a home maker while that of a man is the bread winner. Full-time working mothers "are stigmatized more in the Netherlands than in countries around us," de Bruin said.
According to the Dutch legal system in the 17th century, a woman had the right to sue anyone who wronged her including her own husband or guardian. Moreover, if a woman was to get married before attaining the age of 25, a guardian had to be assigned to her by law. This was to ensure that the woman was well treated and taken care of by her husband and his family. Nevertheless, if a Dutch woman conceived while not yet married, according to the Dutch legal system, the woman had the right and power to persecute the alleged father and force him to either marry her if he I unmarried. If he refuses, she could demand dowry, allowance for her unborn child, childbirth costs and allowance to educate and feed the child. The fact that the Dutch women had a legal system that favored them made them more confident and stronger. The fact that she could have support to raise her child also contributed to her being independent. Moreover, it discouraged men from being promiscuous as they had to take responsibility of their actions always as well as take care of the children they seared.
A woman's nationality was determined by the nationality of her husband. Therefore, a Dutch woman would lose her nationality if she got married to a foreigner or as soon as she moved to reside in another country however this was not always the case. Dutch women seem to be happier and more independent compared to women from other countries. This is because; everyone including women in Dutch is accorded personal freedom. This means that women are also free to choose their spouses, their sexuality, religion and also the career they want to. This is because, the social organization of Netherlands allow women to take control of their lives.
Moreover, the Dutch are reasonable people who exercise gender equality in every sector of their lives. For example, women are allowed to inherit property alongside their male counterparts. Therefore this discouraged young girls from getting married early in order to acquire property. Moreover, it was the historical custom of the Dutch that all women were to select their own spouses. This was greatly encouraged by the Pope Gregory the ninth. He encouraged people to marry out of their own consent rather than out of coercion from parents.
The burgeoning capitalist economy that existed in Netherlands Golden age led to the establishment of the first Stock exchange. This was followed later non by the development of retirement funds. This greatly lifted a big burden from women since they were the ones charged with taking care of the elderly in rural societies. This retirement benefit programs still exists to this very day.
Netherlands is also famous for its sexual freedom. In some cities, prostitutes display themselves on counters fearlessly waiting to be picked. This is because, according to the constitution of Netherlands, prostitution is legal in Netherlands so long as it is regulated. Establishing brothels is allowed by the state and is legal. For example, De Wallen located in Red -light district in Amsterdam, is a famous destination for international sex tourism. This has led t a generation f sexually independent women who is not afraid to express their needs. However, once these get married, they had to focus less on sex and concentrate on their domestic affairs. This is because, some men considered such sex as distasteful and sinful. "For some early Calvinists even sex within marriage was sinful", de Bruin says.
During the middle ages, the prostitution was still legal in the Netherlands. This was because it was believed that by allowing it, the chaste women in society would be safe from rape and other sex related crimes. Although prostitution was considered a profession that was dishonorable, it was allowed on condition that the prostitutes were not to get married. Moreover, married men and Jews were not allowed to consult with prostitutes. Although prostitution was legal, prostitutes were not protected by the Dutch laws and therefore they were not expected to conform to the sexual rules set up by the government. The government tried to separate the prostitutes from the honorable crowd by segregating cities, streets and alleys that prostitutes used. As a result, the following decree was put up in the city of Amsterdam. "Because whores are vital in big cities and particularly in cities of commerce such as ours - indeed it is far better to have these women than not to have them - and also because the holy church tolerates whores on good grounds, for these reasons the court and sheriff of Amsterdam shall not entirely forbid the keeping of brothels." by allowing prostitution, the government seemed to promote promiscuity in its women and men and this move therefore mirrored negatively on the government.
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With the sixteenth century, people started changing their view about sexuality. This was as a result of the occupation of Netherlands by the Spanish people. Moreover, the rising Protestantism sexual activities those were only accepted in marriage. This led to the prohibition of prostitution. Prostitutes were arrested and jailed while their clients were heavily fined. The police and the bailiff were the only people who were allowed to operate brothels in Netherlands. In 1578, Netherlands separated from the Spanish leading to its conversion from Catholicism to Calvinism. The government as a result stopped trying to regulate sex in Netherlands. Therefore, the lucrative business of prostitution came back to being in the cities.
In the seventeenth century, prostitution became outlawed alongside other titillating activities. This was because; prostitution mirrored negatively on the government policies. Moreover, prostitutes were portrayed as lazy women whom did not want to work in fields like others rather they opted to follow the simpler way. The clients who paid the prostitutes were on the other hand portrayed as being fools. This was because; they allowed themselves to be fooled by the beauty of these women. In early paintings and portraits, the prostitutes were depicted as not only beautiful but also evil profiteers.
In the 18th century, the working conditions of the prostitutes worsened. They had no access to contraceptives and condoms. Therefore, majority of them suffered from venereal diseases while other became pregnant. Thus, they eventually either succumbed to death from the ailments or became infertile. Prostitutes were prohibited to have any anal sex, to kiss their clients, and oral sex. The only allowed thing was the missionary style. Therefore, as a result, in the beginning of the n19th century, it became mandatory for prostitutes to undergo thorough medical checkups. This was in 1810 and it was because the government wanted to protect its soldiers who frequented the prostitutes. Upon, medical examination, the prostitutes were registered. Registered prostitutes were given a red card which symbolized a work permit. When ill, the red card was to be withdrawn and a white one given instead. This was to prevent the spread of diseases. Once the prostitute was declared fit to resume work by a qualified doctor, she was given back her red card. When the French invaded, the government stopped regulating prostitution for while. This was because; many scientists and medical practitioners believed that it was unhealthy for a man to live without sex. Therefore, prostitution had been allowed. The prostitutes were supposed to come from a lower class as they were seen as disgusting people. Therefore, prostitutes were always outsiders in the community and they belonged to no class.
The abolitionist movement came to being as a result of increased prostitution in Netherlands and it aimed at abolishing the trade. This was in the mid 19th century. The movement consisted of orthodox Protestants Christians, Catholics, socialists, feminists and progressive liberals. The abolition movement in Netherlands was linked to the international abolition movement. The movement quickly gained popularity and with time, the city governments began to abolish prostitution. In 1911, owning a brothel was against the law however, this did not mean that prostitution was prohibited.
By the twentieth century, prostitution in the Netherlands was exclusively predominant among the white low class women from Netherlands, Germany, France, and Northern Germany. In the 1970s, prostitutes from Thailand, and the Philistines joined the prostitution market while in the 1980s women from Latin America and Africa joined the trade. In the nineties, after the world war, the Soviet Union collapsed and women from Eastern Europe joined the trade.
By the second half of the twentieth century, prostitution and brothels were accepted local governments. The police on the other hand only interfered when public was at a risk. The trade became so profitable that human trafficking came to being. Women were being captured and sold into prostitution. After the world wars ceased, prostitution came to an end. This marked the beginning of a new era for women in Netherlands.
As in the painting, 'A Lady Writing', it shows a woman writing a love letter to her lover. The imagery of a woman writing a letter is used symbolically to represent women empowerment. This means that women were no longer mere objects to use as maids, housekeepers or mistresses rather women had gained power of the expressing themselves through words. With reference to the painting, the painter, Vermeer, uses the idea of light to represent women's literacy. Women were educated and can now stand on their own two feet in society. The painting was done at a time when women were becoming enlightened and literate. This put an end to a dark era in the life of women in Netherlands.
The painting is used symbolically to show the new era women in Netherlands were facing. Women in Netherland are today practicing virtues that are aimed at empowering them. They no longer have to stoop as low as becoming prostitutes in order to earn a living. So many opportunities and organizations have been established to ensure women do not go back to the dark age of prostitution and being misused by men.
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch baroque painter who focused on delicate, domestic interior scenes of middle class life. Vermeer was an averagely successful unsophisticated genre painter in his lifetime, though his works were truly recognized after his death in 1675. This essay mainly focuses on one of Johannes works, A Lady in Writing, and compares it to several of his other works.
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