Renaissance ideas of women were strongly shaped by the writers of the time and by the conceptions of femininity that had existed since the Middle Ages. No one more strongly affected the early Renaissance idea of what a woman was than Petrarch, he idealized women and heterosexual love in such a way that its power would resonate into love as we see it now.
Love for Petrarch was something that was ideal and perfect, held firmly above man in the heavens, yet at the same time it meant anguish and the lack of connection with any real human emotion. He portrayed women as ideals, with stars in their eyes and their feet treading on golden ground. His ideal woman was so far removed from a real person that it was no wonder Shakespeare was to mock it in one of his most famous sonnet's.
However more important criticism of the Petrarchan ideal of femininity came from the women writers of the Renaissance because they fully addressed not only the absurdity of the Petrarchan woman but also the desperation of the true Renaissance woman. Writers like Mary Sidney refuted the ideal of Petrarch and retold it to reflect the true suffering that the real woman of the Renaissance was faced with, a life that was weighted down with the chains of an abusive patriarchal society.
The difficulty that female writers faced cannot be understated. As Wendy Wall states, "When women wrote, privately or publicly, they had to confront forms and figures that alienated them from the position of speaking subject." This difficulty was perhaps the most profound in terms of their ability to set up a counter idea to the Petrarchan ideal woman. Silencing them ensured that males could define what it meant to be a woman, and Petrarch ensured...