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Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages

Sharon Farmer
Carol Braun Pasternack
Volume: 32
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 390
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  • Book Info
    Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    This volume demonstrates how the idea of gender-in the Middle Ages no less than now-intersected in subtle and complex ways with other categories of difference. Contributors: Daniel Boyarin, Ruth Mazo Karras, Mathew Kuefler, Martha Newman, Kathryn M. Ringrose, Elizabeth Robertson, Everett Rowson, Michael Uebel, Ulrike Wiethaus. Medieval Cultures Series, volume 32

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9337-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxviii)
    Sharon Farmer

    The essays in this volume take seriously the variety of recent theoretical stances that have compelled feminists to consider not only the fluidity and multiplicity of gendered identities but also the ways in which gendered constructs interact with other categories of difference. Most salient to our project are the insights of multiracial and postcolonial feminists, who have pointed out that genders are constructed in historically specific and changing ways within a range of interlocking inequalities—a “matrix of domination,” as Patricia Hills Collins has called it. In the twentieth-century United States, prominent components of that matrix include class, race, sexual...

  5. Part I. Differing Cultures, Differing Possibilities

    • 1 On the History of the Early Phallus
      (pp. 3-44)
      Daniel Boyarin

      The Phallus-that-is-not-the-penis owes its historical origins to an extremely powerful and extraordinary move that much western thought makes at its origins: the inscription of the body as female.¹ As Judith Butler has remarked of the very founding text of a certain strain of modern feminism:

      Although Beauvoir is often understood to be calling for the right of women, in effect, to become existential subjects and hence, for inclusion within the terms of an abstract universality, her position also implies a fundamental critique of the very disembodiment of the abstract masculine epistemological subject. That subject is abstract to the extent that...

    • 2 Gender Irregularity as Entertainment: Institutionalized Transvestism at the Caliphal Court in Medieval Baghdad
      (pp. 45-72)
      Everett K. Rowson

      One of the salient characteristics of medieval Islamic societies, especially in contrast to those of Europe, was their insistence—at least among the urban elite—on strict segregation of the sexes, through the institutions of the harem and the veil. Such societies might be expected to evince a correspondingly sharp, and simple, dichotomy between male and female sexual and gender roles, with little tolerance for those who broke the rules. In fact, however, our sources suggest a far more complex situation, at the level of both norms and realities. The recognized categories of sexual desire and behavior can by no...

    • 3 Reconfiguring the Prophet Daniel: Gender, Sanctity, and Castration in Byzantium
      (pp. 73-106)
      Kathryn M. Ringrose

      In the twelfth century the Byzantine bishop, theologian, and essayist Theophylaktos of Ohrid wrote a fascinating essay in which he not only assumed that the prophet Daniel was a eunuch but also took the assumption so for granted that he used it to buttress the case he was building in favor of eunuchs as a group. The passage is found in an essay entitledIn Defence of Eunuchs,¹ and prompts a complex and subtle examination of both gender constructs in Byzantium and the changing nature of those constructs over time. Written for his brother, a eunuch on the staff at...

    • 4 Negotiating Gender in Anglo-Saxon England
      (pp. 107-142)
      Carol Braun Pasternack

      It is the argument of this book that even in the Middle Ages, which has in the modern imaginary often represented a period of harmonious Christian ideology, there was no single, fixed idea of the masculine and the feminine as essential qualities. Rather, gender was inflected by other systems of difference, including social status, religion, and sexuality. This essay contributes to the book’s thesis by focusing on conflicting aristocratic and Christian constructions of gender in early Anglo-Saxon England. It does so by reading two documents from the early period of Christianization, the laws of Æthelberht (d. 616) and the Penitential...

  6. Part II. Discourses of Domination

    • 5 Male Friendship and the Suspicion of Sodomy in Twelfth-Century France
      (pp. 145-181)
      Mathew S. Kuefler

      Scholars have long recognized the attention paid in the literature of the twelfth century to intimate bonds between men. There are numerous instances, on the one hand, of the favorable depiction of men whose loyalty and devotion to each other overcomes all obstacles. There is, on the other hand, a concerted effort to condemn men whose intimacy involved a sexual component. Attempts to historicize this double reaction have not been successful, however, mostly because literary scholars tend to focus on the narrative role played by depictions of male friendships and their implied homoeroticism, while religious scholars tend to emphasize the...

    • 6 Crucified by the Virtues: Monks, Lay Brothers, and Women in Thirteenth-Century Cistercian Saints’ Lives
      (pp. 182-209)
      Martha G. Newman

      In the eighth book of hisDialogue on Miracles, Caesarius of Heisterbach explained to a Cistercian novice why he reported more visions of Jesus’ passion than his resurrection. “There is no sacrament which is so powerful an incentive for divine love as the reproaches of the passion,” he wrote;

      Christ is the book of life . . . which the apostles, with the great glory of miracles, carried like a crown through the whole world. When first they offered it to the literate, that is to the Jews, and they rejected it as if sealed, they next offered it to...

    • 7 “Because the Other Is a Poor Woman She Shall Be Called His Wench”: Gender, Sexuality, and Social Status in Late Medieval England
      (pp. 210-229)
      Ruth Mazo Karras

      In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale, the teller questions the linguistic distinction between different types of sexually deviant women:

      Ther nys no difference, trewely,

      Betwixe a wyf that is of heigh degree,

      If of hir body dishonest she bee,

      And a povre wenche, oother than this—

      If so be they werke bothe amys—

      But that the gentle, in estaat above,

      She shal be cleped his lady, as in love;

      And, for that oother is a povre womman,

      She shal be cleped his wenche or his lemman.

      And, God it woot, myn owene deere brother,

      Men leyn that oon as lowe as...

    • 8 Re-Orienting Desire: Writing on Gender Trouble in Fourteenth-Century Egypt
      (pp. 230-258)
      Michael Uebel

      When, over ten years ago now, the AIDS crisis was labeled “an epidemic of signification,”¹ critical attention was drawn to the fantasy spectacle of disease as the absolute borderline between health and unhealth, subjectivity and nonsubjectivity. Queer lifestyles were so blatantly put on display for the scrutiny of straight spectators that, as one commentator remarked, “when they come to write the history of AIDS, socio-ethnologists will have to decide whether the ‘practitioners’ of homosexuality or its heterosexual ‘onlookers’ have been more spectacular in their extravagance.”² For at stake in this decision concerning how to handle history is the spectacular way...

  7. Part III. Individual Choices, Strategies of Resistance

    • 9 Manual Labor, Begging, and Conflicting Gender Expectations in Thirteenth-Century Paris
      (pp. 261-287)
      Sharon Farmer

      One of the paradigms that influenced the ways in which thirteenth-century clerics viewed men’s and women’s roles was the description in Genesis 3:16–19 of the punishments that God imposed on Adam and Eve:

      To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your hardship and your pregnancies: in pain you shall bring forth children, and you shall be under the control of your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “. . . cursed is the ground that you work: in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns...

    • 10 Female Homoerotic Discourse and Religion in Medieval Germanic Culture
      (pp. 288-321)
      Ulrike Wiethaus

      As the editors ofGender and Difference in the Middle Agespoint out, medieval constructions of gender were more complex, contradictory, and unstable than has been assumed in much of traditional scholarship. The current surge of interest in medieval homosexuality adds a much-needed depth dimension; unfortunately, however, it still suffers from a certain lopsidedness: scholarship on homoerotic discourse and behavior in medieval western Europe has produced significantly fewer studies of women than of men. This discrepancy is usually explained as being due to (1) a scarcity of available sources, (2) the absence of a satisfactory conceptual framework to interpret existing...

    • 11 Nonviolent Christianity and the Strangeness of Female Power in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale
      (pp. 322-352)
      Elizabeth Robertson

      The work of the fourteenth-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer has long been viewed as a rich compendium of late medieval English culture. Because Chaucer’s work is more inclusive (although clearly not all-inclusive) of many societal elements than that of his contemporaries, it, not surprisingly, calls attention to a variety of categories of difference. Given the multiplicity of character types and social conditions in Chaucer’s work, a study of difference in its several Chaucerian manifestations can have implications for a larger investigation (as this present volume embraces) regarding difference in the whole of late medieval culture.

      Recent Chaucer criticism amply demonstrates...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 353-354)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 355-357)