In her discourse, "The Treasure of the City of Ladies," De Pizan contemplated how human society had developed the psyche and perception that females are inherently inferior to males. This issue was borne out of the author's observation how literary and scholarly works portray a common stereotype of women as subversive to men, depicted as uneducated and not able to create decisions for themselves. In the words of Pizan, "learned men" tend depict women through 'wicked insults" about their behavior. This drove her to investigate and know the origin of this perception and wrong portrayal of women in Western societies.
Through the help of the different "Ladies" in her discourse, Pizan was able to trace the wrongful creation and institutionalization of women as less incapable of creating and expressing sensible thoughts about relevant and significant issues and concerns in their society. One of the early arguments presented in her analysis was discussed by Lady Reason, whose explanation of women's submissiveness as rooted in their religious, particularly, good moral upbringing:
..if she finds out that some words have been said against her...she will nevertheless not be perturbed about it nor will she regard it as a great crime....Nor will she ever for her high rank bear a grudge against anyone who has done her a great injury... The excellent lady will suspect that in some way she may have deserved it, and so virtue will provide her with the teaching of Seneca, who says, speaking of princes and princesses or powerful persons, that it is a very great merit in God's eyes...For whoever does not bear patiently the wrongdoing of another is impatient and proves that he is far from the fullness of virtues.
Basing her arguments about women submissiveness on religion, Pizan had shown how, because of their morality and virtue of humility and selflessness, females were considered inferior to males. Her arguments were characteristic of the religious belief that there lies a greater gift or reward for those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for God's will.
Though Pizan's arguments were not as strongly rational in its analysis since it utilized religious principles and teachings to explain and justify her assertions about women submissiveness, her observations were realistic and indeed, true descriptions of the life of women during her time. For the women sector, religion plays a significant role in their lives because it is through it that they receive understanding and strength to make sense of their reality -- that is, being treated derogatively by the males in their society. Pizan's political discourse also disclosed her belief that having morality and virtue is more important than social status alone.
Machiavelli and De Pizan on Gender Role Differences
Machiavelli, as was reflected in his writings in "The Prince," subscribed to the belief that the Prince must always have control over his sovereigns. This means that he must have knowledge about the concerns of the people he governs, and come up with decisions that will ensure the safety of his position as a leader, which means he must also ensure that his people are satisfied with his leadership.
By assigning the male as the most fitting candidate for the ideal leader of the Prince, Machiavelli had already demonstrated how he considered males fit for governance and other roles that involve decision-making. Machiavelli believed that males are more suitable for leadership roles because they do not have the responsibility of taking care of children, a role that has always been assigned to females. In "The Prince," he disclosed that males, particularly the individual who will become the Prince, would have no other concerns but "war and its rules and discipline."
Inevitably, Machiavelli's choice of a man as the ideal leader of Western society was based on stereotypes of males being the members of the society who will protect women and children in times of war. The 'male as the protector' stereotype had obviously influenced the author's choice of a male leader, an individual who knows the art of the war, and, through learning and experience, 'earns the respect of other soldiers' (i.e., males in the society).
Pizan had also depicted women through their stereotypical role, which was to act submissively and somewhat consider themselves as inferior to their husbands and other males in their society. While Machiavelli portrayed the Prince as a decision-maker and an authoritarian, Pizan's depiction of women was mainly submissive and given the role of taking care of the family institution and maintaining society's domestic life. In sum, Pizan had illustrated women as being more service-oriented, choosing to assume roles that do not involve decision-making, but activities that require cooperation.
In her discussion in "Ladies," Pizan justified her perceived character of the ideal woman and her role in the society. For the author, women are most happy when they serve other people, a decision that they consciously make, knowing that power and authority on earth must not be accorded to one individual or individuals, but to God alone:
They lived justly, but not because they did not appreciate the glory or rejected the honours that they were given. They considered that honour belonged not to their own persons, but to the status of their power and wealth, of which they were vicars of God on earth.
In conclusion, Machiavelli's and Pizan's depiction of male and female social roles during their time reflect their subsistence to the status quo, despite the emergence of liberal thinking that was gradually developing in their society: males were given decision-making and authoritarian roles, while women were assigned to service tasks that require cooperation and hard work than authority.