In societies in which the husband was typically the sole provider, his death could plunge his family into poverty. This problem can be aggravated in that women generally live longer than men, and because men in many societies traditionally marry women younger than themselves. However, even in some patriarchal societies, widows could maintain economic independence. A widow could carry on her late husband's business and consequently be accorded certain rights, such as the right to enter guilds. More recently, widows of elected officials have been among the first women elected to office in many countries (Corazón Aquino, for example).
In 1800s Britain, widows had more opportunity for social mobility than in many other societies throughout history. Also, along with the ability to ascend socio-economically, women who were "presumably celibate" were much more able (and likely) to challenge conventional sexual behavior than married women in their society.
In some parts of Europe, including Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, and Spain, widows used to wear black for the rest of their lives to signify their mourning. This mourning ritual does not remain in practice today as before. Many immigrants from these cultures to the United States as recently as the 1970s have loosened this strict standard of dress to only two years of black garments. However, Orthodox immigrants may wear lifelong black in the U.S. to signify their widow status and their devotion to their deceased husband.
In other cultures, however, widowhood is much stricter and unarguably more demeaning to women's rights. Often, women are required to remarry within the family of their late husband after a period of mourning. With the rise of HIV/AIDS levels of infection across the globe, rituals to which women are subjected in order to be "cleansed" or accepted into her new husband's home make her susceptible to the psychological...