This was a time when more and more monasteries were being founded, for both women and men. The ideology surrounding these new women’s communities was changing though. A concern with the protection and care of nuns dominated, resulting in an emphasis on enclosure and isolation from the outside world. Rather than being partnered communities, the new double monasteries that were founded maintained that the monks or canons were there to ensure that the nuns could remain fully enclosed. The religious care of nuns was becoming a burden.
This meant as well that there were fewer powerful abbesses like Hilda of Whitby or St. Leoba involving themselves in politics. There were still a few, especially among those who vocally supported reform, most prominently Hildegard von Bingen. It is worth noting though, that rather than relying on political power and family influence* as her predecessors had, Hildegard emphasized her visionary status.
The other group of women to get significant attention from the reformers were priests’ wives. Reformers focused, however, far more on the actions of priests in marrying rather than on their wives in marrying priests. Here it was the priests’ agency and actions that were important. Their wives were almost incidental except by their very existence and status. Attempts to ban clerical marriage did not go over well. Bishops who attempted to impose celibacy on their priests faced riots. When the reformers officially banned clerical marriage, many local priests simply ignored the ban and lived as though they were married.
Gregorian reform drew a strong connection between women and sexuality. Its aim was to keep both its nuns and its priests celibate, by isolating nuns more firmly from the outside world and by denying priests and their wives what had before been a legitimate relationship. The reformers were not always successful, but they irrevocably changed the relationship between women and the institution of the Church.
*Not just male influence either. Mothers and sisters in particular, but also nieces and cousins gave and received political help from their abbess and nun family members.
Barber, Malcolm. The Two Cities: Medieval Europe 1050-1320. London: Routledge, 1993.
Nichols, John A. and Lillian Thomas Shank, eds., Distant Echoes: Medieval Religious Women, Volume One. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984.
Weisner, Merry E. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
The Role of Benedictine Women before Gregorian Reform - Deborahvess.com