With Maureen Quilligan and Nancy Vickers, Margaret Ferguson edited Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe (1986), which brought into view the on-going revision of traditional views of this era by feminist scholars. In this essay, Ferguson employs a materialist feminist perspective in her analysis of the social constructions of gender which restricted female speech and writing. Ferguson considers the economic origins of the ideal of chastity, as well as the larger systems of meaning which equated female speech with sexual promiscuity. She finds significant differences in the reactions to this ideology by upper-class as opposed to non-upper-class women writers. In its cultural materialist approach, the essay assumes that individuals, including women, are deeply influenced by social institutions, here the church and the family, and yet that some women did contest, in a significant way, the dominant cultural teaching about them. The end of the essay considers how the emergence of ‘a lyric “I” capable of articulating female passion’ challenged a Petrarchan tradition based on the silence of women.