From: "A. Young" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am not trying to pick nits, but I take exception to my posting (or part of my posting, being decribed as an attack. The remarks which you excerpted were part of a serious attempt to describe the uneasiness and confusion which the discussion has caused me to feel. Obviously I disagree with some of the positions expressed (insofar as I could understand them), but I assure you that my posting was not intended to be hostile to anyone. As far as the discussion is concerned, I can't get over the feeling that, if it all strikes me either as obvious or impenetrable, I must somehow be missing the point: that has kept me quiet for some time. I am not exactly sure what you mean by calling my discussion of Rupert's account of his vision as 'positivist,' except, of course, that it is clearly uncomplimentary to the position taken!
Dr Abigail Ann Young, Records of Early English Drama| young@epas.|
Victoria College, University of Toronto | utoronto.ca|
One of my goals as moderator has been to make this discussion as accessible as possible to all of the subscribers. If anyone has had difficulty with terms or methods, now is the time to speak up: perhaps the process of clarification will assist us in moving "Medieval Masculinities" to a successful close.
From: Ruth Karras <email@example.com>
To: Jeffrey Cohen <jjcohen@husc>
I too have been a lurker in this discussion, because my work in the area of sexuality has seemed tangential to the aspects of masculinity that have come under discussion. I've learned a lot though. I'm posting now because I too was troubled by Abigail Young's posting. It represents a point of view that I run across often in reactions to my own work. That is, to us post-Freudians everything is sexual; to medieval people it wasn't, and we shouldn't read our own obsessions into their work. Now, I realize that AAY's comments on Rupert were more nuanced than that, but I think that's a fair summary of the point of view.
Now, I don't know the first thing about Rupert of Deutz, so I'm not addressing the particular case. However, I have thought a fair amount about the general issue involved. It seems to me that just because the writer involved wouldn't have labeled the language as erotic or was not aware of any sexual desire for the object of the language, doesn't mean it's not erotic (homo- or hetero- ). A large part of what we all do is to read texts in ways the authors didn't intend them to be read--certainly that's true for me as a social historian, the bulk of whose sources were written for purposes of daily court business rather than analysis of attitudes towards sexuality. Certainly that implies a presentist agenda--that is, we're talking about the issues that are of concern to us.
We all do this; if we didn't we'd all be writing in Latin, for starters, even discussing medieval issues in a modern vernacular means that we're automatically imposing our cultural categories.
There are several bases for arguing that language is erotic even if it does not express conscious sexual desire. First of all, we could compare it to language that did express conscious desire and see whether images are shared. Second, we could invoke psychoanalytic theories and assumptions about the importance of sexuality to the subconscious, as a human universal. That's not the road I'd take myself but it's a possibility. Third, we could expand our notion of what constitutes the "erotic" and the "sexual" beyond the desire for genital contact. This is something Bruce Holsinger has stressed to me in a response to a posting to another newsgroup (where I was, however, concerned with the sex act rather than with sexuality in the more general sense), and perhaps he would care to speak more to this especially in light of his recent article on Hildegard in _Signs_, which it seems to me will probably encounter the same sort of objections AAY brings forward. I'm sure there are other approaches as well.
The test is, what does all this tell us about medieval culture? An argument of the type "X uses erotic language to write about Jesus, therefore he is a homosexual" is not only logically flawed, it is also not very helpful. But an analysis of the very fact AAY cites as an objection to calling this language "homoerotic," [as I recall; I don't have the post in front of me as I don't have a printer handy]--the fact that medieval culture allowed much more passionate expression of love for each other than does modern culture--tells us a lot about masculinity. Nobody is suggesting that all (or most) men who wrote this way to or about each other were having physical sexual relations, or wished to do so.
But to the extent that language mediates social relations, it's quite clear that homosocial relations were conceived of very differently then than now.
Ruth Karras firstname.lastname@example.org
From: James W Earl <JWEARL@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>
I think it is important for those in "gender studies" to remember, as they develop a language and a methodology among themselves, that they are part of a large intellectual marketplace, and they are not free from trenchant criticism from other standpoints. When Jeffrey asks for lurkers to speak up, he's got to expect a few people to say things he doesn't want to hear. Abigail Young's posting was not "hostile" emotionally--I thought it wonderfully restrained-even if it questions some of the pieties of gender studies.
I too have been a lurker in this discussion, because I am uncomfortable with some of those same pieties. Two aspects of gender studies are especially disquieting. First, the assumption that sex is nearly irrelevant to gender. I was cheered by Clare Lees's poignant question at the end of her posting a few weeks ago: (paraphrasing) "How long can we go on pretending that sexual difference is not central to the construction of gender?"
Second, it has become a distinguishing feature between my generation of scholars and the one coming up, that whereas I want to seek in historical evidence the answers to literary questions, many now want to use literature to seek answers to historical questions. So, it seems to me, gender studies does not ask how societies past and present have constructed the concepts male and female in order that we might better be able to interpret our texts; rather, we turn to our texts to find evidence of how societies past and present have constructed gender. In the process, the literary texts are often roughly handled.
How did it ever come about that English professors assigned themselves the problem of how societies past and present have constructed gender? Is it because so much of the evidence for this question is literary?
I suspect rather that the motives are political and not literary. Which is fine by me, except that there can hardly be a more volatile topic, or a topic where psychological projection and ideological distortion are more likely to intrude into historical judgment.
Now Jeffrey, this is not "hostile" to any particular posting, or to the project of "Masculinities" in general. The marketplace of ideas is an open market. Though ideas are sometimes dangerous, I don't think ideas held by English professors ever qualify as dangerous, and so they do not merit hostility. So when a temperate, wellwritten and well-reasoned note like Abigail Young's appears, no need for prickly defensiveness. And when an intemperate, hastilycomposed and cranky note like this one appears, take it in stride, please.
This brief posting picks up the thread of historicized heroism and then sketches a heroic sub-type, the Norse warrior-poet, theoretically in a position to manage not only his life but his posthumous glory.
It has been observed in the course of our discussion that there is a real but not insurmountable distance between what we assume was the traditional (oral, literary) heroic and real life. Accounts of the Crusades illustrate that epic and chronicle reflect a shared ethos and similar individual martial activity. But the prince literature of the Middle Ages gives a very different picture of the qualities and behavior expected of the leader; self-preservation was central to his objectives. The epic hero has the attraction of fundamentalism, moving in a world where all decisions are actionable. Heroic dilemmas, the conflict of interest between pride and prudence, family and lord, different strands in the skein of honor, always permit the hero a certain gain, no matter which his choice. It is in the nature of a no-loss game, providing he can avoid simple battlefield defeat and can ensure a lasting reputation. The dilemma is always sweetened with the reward of glory. The hero of later romance, for whom guilt has replaced shame, seems more often than not in a no-win game. Even the time spent on the ethical dilemma can count against him--the moment's hesitation before mounting the cart.
The Icelanders I had in mind are the skalds Egill, Gunnlaugr, Kormakr and Hallfredr, and they illustrate the difficulty of reconciling the ideal and stylized (in heroism or art) with the day-to-day. Each has a saga devoted to him in which preserved verse is incorporated, although the story-line may often derive from interpretations of the verses made at considerable temporal remove. All four poets could be characterized as moody but all have the necessary heroic attributes of skill with weapons and courage. Egill, whose story may be due to Snorri Sturluson, is greedier for material gain than the others, and is a more successful manipulator of other men and the legal system. But all four are described as having flaws in their physical appearance, and G, K and H are expressly described as temperamental, by turns precipitous or indecisive, having uneasy relations with other men and with the supernatural. They indulge in erotic poetry which lay on the legal margin because of its threat to the reputation of women supposedly under male management, but they are unwilling to contract marriage. Similarly marginalized is their defamatory verse which could also carry legal consequences. To adapt Dan Melia's phrase, these are "heroes of self-memorialization". But however well they meet the rigorous metrical requirements of skaldic verse, their lived lives are considerably less tidy, as if there were a trade-off. Thus, the fictional careers of these poets, who were professional eulogists and men of letters (avant la lettre and before literacy), prefigure the romantic notion of the artist as heroic outsider. But in much of their personal dealings and doings, these cantankerous poets escape the label of 'wimp' only to face that of 'klutz'.
Will Sayers email@example.com
I'd like to respond briefly to a few points that Jim has raised in his recent post. I will try not to be hostile (!)
1. The sex/gender distinction that Jim invokes is in itself problematic, and that is why I have not been overly concerned with distinguishing between the two (I'd be interested to hear what Clare has to say on the topic). I'll quote Judith Butler on the subject, to give one possibility:
"[W]hat is "sex" anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosonal, or hormonal, and how is the feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such "facts" for us?...Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary operations as a variable construction? Are the ostensibly natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests? If the immutable chracter of sex is contested, perhaps this it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all." (_Gender Trouble_, pp.6-7)That indistinguishability is at least one possibility that complicates debate.
2. I don't think that the line between "history" and "literature" is quite as clear cut as Jim makes it out to be. I teach in a "department" at Harvard callled "History and Literature," so I am faced with the problem of how (and whether) to distinguish between the two on a daily basis. My best students I encourage to be not interdisciplinary but ANTIdisciplinary: the walls that compartmentalize knowledge are rather thin, and could stand some reconfiguration. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to topics like "masculinities"; perhaps also that's why cultural studies is becoming increasingly a part of English departments. This current Interscripta topic would be impossible to explore if we didn't admit that "history" and "literature" (problematic categories themselves) didn't slip into each other.
3. I hope that no one really thinks I'm being hostile to some of the ideas expressed. (I have already apologized, publicly and privately, to Abigail). Everyone has a right to voice an opinion here; I took full advantage of that right during Jim's discussion on "Medieval Subjectivity" (whether he wanted me to or not!) And so now Jim's own voice has been heard as part of the "Masculinities" debate. I am only surprised that he waited so long.
The social history of shaving, and why we bother, is not something I've done more than wonder about: do we shave because women want men to look less fierce in pacific societies than it was appropriate for grim warriors in heroic societies to do, or simply because we have the technology? Certainly in many early texts beards are signs of virility, so that an attack on a beard is metonymic for bravery, or, from the victim's point of view, represents either an insult or a dangerous act of aggression.
In _Sir Ferumbras_, a Charlemagne romance translated from French, half in rhymed quatrains and half in tail rhyme, the 15-foot Saracen Ferumbras challenges the douzeperes by addressing "Charlis, with the berde" (94), and he's several times referred to as "Charlys with the hore berde": a sign of status, not contempt. Terry also has a long hoary beard (1876) and it makes him look so grim he actually frightens the Emir Balan when on an embassy to him. Cornyfer tries to kill Roland, "Ac Roland kepede hym fram ys berd" (3000): Roland used his shield to protect his beard from Cornyfer's sword. When attacking Saracens, the all-conquering French "with swerd, axe and launce they mette hem in the berde" (3066).
In his duel with Oliver, Ferumbras has half his beard shorn away, and angrily observes that he was never shaved like that since he was born (619). When the Emir's undutiful daughter Florippe is befriending the douzeperes in her chamber, Lucafer, the Saracen her father wants her to marry, kicks the door in and finding Naymes has his arm round his intended, seizes and shakes him by the beard. He won't let go till he's told him about the sports Charlemagne and his men enjoy. Lucafer thinks he knows a better game: two contestants alternately blow a firebrand at each other. He first burns Naymes's mouth, and then Naymes blows so well he burns half Lucafer's beard off (2204; 2243). He tries to stab Naymes, who kills him with the equivalent of a karate chop, so that he falls into the fire, and Florippe remarks he must like it there, as he's not getting up.
The shaving as humiliation which Jeffrey referred to in _Morte A_ 2335 has a more lurid counterpart in _Siege of Jerusalem_ 358-64, where the Jews send Waspasian's envoys back shorn, blackened, naked as needles, and with a cheese tied round their necks. The literary origin of such incidents I take it is II Samuel 10:4-5, where the Ammonites send David's envoys home with half their beards shaven and their nether garments missing: David tells the ashamed ambassadors to wait at Jericho till their beards are grown. As an act of penitence, Guy advises Balan in _Sir Ferumbras_ 1940-44 to walk barefooted and bareheaded with a rope round his neck to Charlemagne: he specifies that he go without hose and shoes, and "open-her", with uncovered hair. (Insults in heroic society become voluntary acts of penance in Christian society.) In this instance the proposal is an insult Balan won't accept.
The giant's cloak trimmed with the beards of subjugated kings in _MA_ reappears, of course, in Malory's version (5.5., ed. Vinaver I, 201), but has a counterpart in the mantle of King Royns of North Wales (Malory, I, 54); when Royns demands Arthur's beard, Arthur calls it "the moste orgulus and lewdiste message that evir man had isente unto a kynge", and a little later "the moste shamefullyste message that ever y herde speke off" (I, 55).
In _Faerie Qveene_ VI i the story reappears, but here it's less to do with political dominance than with good breeding, and so it's a lady about to lose her locks who is rescued by Calidore the knight of courtesy. Crudor won't marry the lady who loves him till she supplies a cloak made of knights' beards and ladies' locks, so she employs a discouteous steward to get them. Calidore kills the steward, defeats Crudor, and makes both him and his lady happy by forcing them to marry without fulfilling their uncivil custom.
The precise sexual significance of the beardlessness of Chaucer's Pardoner is, like much else in Chaucer, still causing controversy (see _SAC_ 1993, pp. 144-5), but I believe it's meant to contrast with the frightening masculinity of the hairy Summoner, whose "piled" beard I think must be bushy rather than scanty. The Pardoner, who wants a wench in every town, possibly thinks his smooth cheeks attractive to women. Januarie in the Merchant's Tale specially shaves for his wedding night, with horrifying results.
In _I Henry IV_ the warlike Hotspur is disgusted by the King's popinjay ambassador who comes mincingly to the battlefield demanding prisoners, "Fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin, new-reaped, / Showed like a stubble-land at harvest-home." (I.3.33-4) This marvellous indication of the inefficiency of 16th cent. razors reminds me of a statement I heard, I don't know on what authority, that in virile circles then it was considered effeminate to _have_ a beard, on the grounds that only the manliest would undergo the agonies of shaving!****************** BSLEE@Beattie.uct.ac.za ****************** Brian S. Lee Department of English University of Cape Town Rondebosch, 7700 South Africa
From: Wendy Pfeffer <WEPFEF01@ULKYVM.LOUISVILLE.EDU>
Let me open with a disclaimer of sorts-- The term "lurker" has somewhat sinister connotations that really don't apply to me (nor to many others listening to this discussion). I have been reading postings with some devotion, printing them all with intent to read at my leisure and when I have time to digest all the material that has appeared under the header "Medieval Masculinities." I enter the discussion now only because I do not think these texts have been mentioned, and they should be.
I think, for instance, that the _Roman de Silence_ by Heldris de Cornua"lles should definitely be mentioned. Let me add at the outset that the ideas expressed here represent the work of my student, Melissa Hicks (details to follow at Kalamazoo 1994). In the _Roman de Silence_, for reasons of inheritance, a girl named Silence is raised as a boy. In men's dress, (s)he becomes one of the most worthy knights of the time. (S)he runs away from home with a group of jongleurs, learning from them the art of poetry. Arriving at court, the knight rebuffs the advances of the queen, Eufeme. Using the "Potiphar's wife defense," Eufeme seeks the knight's death. King Ebain gives the knight the penitential task of bringing Merlin to court, something only a woman can do. It is no surprise to readers that Silence succeeds in capturing Merlin and bringing him to court, where Merlin reveals Silence's gender and Eufeme's numerous deceits. Eufeme is executed, and Silence marries Ebain.
The narrator of this tale chooses his pronouns and adjectives carefully--at birth Silence is described with female pronouns and adjectives (ele iert rich, l. 2060). When she leaves home to become a knight, a gender shift occurs in the narration ("il meismes se doctrine," l. 2385) and in direct discourse; Silence's father addresses his offspring as "bials fils" (l. 2445).
Where gender becomes significant, the narrator reminds his audience of the facts. For example, when the queen attempts to seduce Silence, Heldris reminds us that the queen is seducing "li valles mesine" (=the boy-girl, l. 3763), "li valles qui est mescine" (lines 3785 and 3871).
Early in the story, one character suggests that Silence's sexuality can be changed at will:
Il iert nomes Scilenscius; Et s'il avient par aventure Al descovrir de sa nature Nos muerons cest -us en -a S'avra a non Scilencia (ll. 2074-2078) (He will be named Silentius, and if it happens by chance that his true nature is discovered, we will change the -us to -a, and she will be named Silentia.)Where do we put Silence in a discussion of medieval masculinity?
There are other medieval French stories that involve cross-dressing of one sort of another, though none that I know of that take the theme of male/female as far as the _Roman de Silence_. First, there is _Aucassin et Nicolette_, where Nicolette puts on men's costume to find her love. In this story, Nicolette is the hero from the beginning; Aucassin is the most do-nothing of heroes. Nicolette, on the other hand, is enterprising and resourceful.
Then there is _Roi Flore et la belle Jeanne_. The chastity of Jeanne is the subject of a bet between her husband Robert and Raoul. Because of trickery on Raoul's part, Robert loses the bet and his lands. He leaves and Jeanne follows him, dressed as and acting as a squire. After many separate tribulations, the couple find each other. This tale of devotion (and cross-dressing) is inserted into the story of King Flore, who marries twice but has no children. An advisor tells him the story of Jeanne, now a widow, to show Flore her value. The king marries Jeanne who gives him two sons.
I mention these works mostly to observe that these examples of women acting (and dressing) as men raise the question of masculinity very clearly and very much from a medieval perspective. Maybe the proverb is right which says "l'habit ne fait pas le moine"? Certainly Silence is very much defined by her attire, insofar as her colleagues in the romance are concerned. No one questions Nicolette about her wearing jongleur's dress, though it is true that it is a very brief scene in a fairly short work. I do not know _Roi Flore et la belle Jeanne_ well enough to comment specifically on reactions to Jeanne's attire in that work.
Wendy Pfeffer University of Louisville
Hicks, Melissa A. "_Le Roman de Silence_: L'histoire d'une femme qui se de'finit dans le silence." Term Paper, University of Louisville, December 1993.
Thorpe, L., ed. _Le Roman de Silence. A Thirteenth-Century Arthurian Verse-Romance by Heldris de Cornualles_. Cambridge: Heffer, 1972.
Wolfzettel, F. _Franzo"siche Schicksalsnovellen des 13. Jahrhunderts_. Klassische Texte des romanischen Mittelalters in zweisprachigen Ausgaben 20. Mu"nchen, 1986.
From: Claire Waters <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Another lurker here. I tuned in a little late, so someone may also have mentioned these, but since Wendy Pfeffer brings up cross-dressing in Old French I thought I'd put in my two cents. I know someone has mentioned the fabliau, "La dame escoillee", but I haven't yet seen mention of other fabliaux on cross-gendering, which are surprisingly numerous. There is "La Saineresse", where a man dresses as a doctor to get access to his mistress under the nose of her husband; this is perhaps especially interesting for its (not uncommon) moral that you can't trust a woman. Who exactly is the woman you can't trust?
There is also "Frere Denise", about a young woman who dresses as a man to enter a monastery--this also happens in female saints' lives (see Allen Frantzen's article on Old English, in Speculum April 1993)--but here the consequences are somewhat less sanctified.
Another interesting fabliau is "Sire Hain et Dame Anieuse", where two warring spouses, henpecked husband and recalcitrant wife, fight over the "braies"--trousers--of the husband, with the winner to be in charge of the household. The husband wins. Obviously, the question of who wears the pants has been at issue for some time.
Finally, of course, I must mention "Berengier au lonc cul", where a lady dresses up as a knight to teach her cowardly husband a lesson; when he is too craven to fight her (he doesn't recognize her), she makes him kiss her behind (hence the title), then goes home and calls her lover. When the husband returns, he is at first furious to find them in bed, but she threatens him with Berengier and rules the roost from then on.
I'm sure there are more, but these should be enough to suggest the extent to which the fabliaux play on gender (as on everything else). If someone's already mentioned them, sorry. Like everyone else, I've been enjoying this discussion a lot, though I can hardly keep up with the numerous postings!
Claire Waters Northwestern University email@example.com
Another example of close physical contact between men that would today be viewed as homoerotic but would not, apparently, have been viewed as such at the time is in the process whereby a vassal would renew an oath of fealty to his lord. They would kiss on the lips to seal the oath. This signified the submission of the vassal to the lord but did not, as far as I can tell, imply any sexual feelings or desire between lord and vassal, any more than a handshake between an employer and an employee does today.
Now, if one assumes with Freud that deep, repressed sexual desires underly everything we do, say, and think, then you're bound to find reams of material in the above example. Isn't that circular reasoning, though? You assume sex is everywhere, and so you find it everywhere.
--Gregory S. Aist firstname.lastname@example.org
Now that two recent posts have brought up the topic of cross-dressing (and the cross-gendering that a switch in clothing often implies), I'd like to say a few words about a rather strange episode in _Laxdaela saga_.
Discussing masculinity (or gender more generally) in this saga is a particularly vexing project: it's difficult to say of what "manhood" is composed in the narrative (certainly not of "heroism" - these are farmers, merchants, landholders). Here, as Daniel Pigg pointed out early in the discussion, Carol Clover's recent _Speculum_ article on the inadequacy of the terms "masculine" and "feminine" to describe the Icelandic conceptualization of the gendered body is useful; something like "active / passive" or "strong / weak" makes more sense, if we have to use a binarism at all - for in _Laxdaela saga_ women can do anything a man can do, including found powerful families (Unn the Deep-minded), establish farmsteads (Melkorka the concubine owns Melkorkustead), bestow matronymics ("Thord Ingunnarson"), wield weapons, exact vengeance, divorce by decree.
Transvestism legally enables the last of these actions: Gudrun, angered by her first husband's slapping her, weaves him a shirt with a wide neck opening and, when he wears it, divorces him on the grounds that he dresses in effeminate (decollete) clothing. She then urges Thord to divorce his wife Aud on the grounds that she wears men's breeches; he does so and marries Gudrun. Later Aud comes riding to Thord's house ("she was certainly wearing breeches then"), enters the bedroom, and gashes him with a short sword "across both nipples" (the part of the anatomy that men's clothing was not supposed to exhibit). Remarkably, Thord insists that Aud is not to be punished, "saying that she had only done what she had to."
Several questions arise from these episodes. Why the anxiety over clothing as a marker of identity? Could it be because it is an inaccurate or transmutable signifier - like the body itself? Why does Thord believe that he deserves what he gets? Could it be that he realizes that by pushing Aud into the masculine/strong category, he's entered the weak/passive/femininized role? Is this, as Carol Clover suggests, an example of "no [predetermined] sex, no [essentialized] gender"?
[Bibliographical note: the most important recent work on transvestism is Marjorie Garber's _Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety_. The transvestite, she argues, is a kind of third term that problematizes a clash of extremes - it's "that which questions binary thinking and introduces a crisis." More true of RuPaul and Jaye Davidson, I would think, than of Aud and Thord, or of the transvestite who lives among the nuns in Gregory of Tours _History of the Franks_.]
I came across this excerpt from Michael Kimmel's piece in _Society_ (Sept/Oct 1993) in this week's _Chronicle of Higher Education_. I thought it worth passing along in this forum.
"So how is it that men have no history? until the intervention of women's studies, it was women who had no history, who were invisible, who were 'other.' Still today, virtually every history book is a history of men. If a book does not have the word 'woman' in the title, it is a good bet that it is a book about men. But these books feel strangely empty at their centers, where the discussion of men should be. Books about men are not about men as men. These books do not explore how the experience of being a man structured men's lives, or the organizations and institutions they created, the vents in which they participated...Comments?
This is not to say that simply looking at the idea of manhood, or injecting gender into the standard historical approach, will suddenly, magically, illuminate the American historical pageant. We cannot understand [American] manhood without understanding American history that is, without locating the changing definitions of manhood within the larger context of the economic, political, and social events that characterize American history. By the same token, American history cannot fully be understood without an understanding of American men's ceaseless quest for manhood in the evolution of those economic, political, social, and cultural experiences and events."
This reply comes in two sections.
First - I had almost given up on there being any education in the various "Educated" news groups until this discussion on Masculinity in the Middle Ages began. Too often I had read the writtings of people that, although interesting in concept, were far from educated and ventured more toword the inept writting on topics they knew nothing (or little) about.
It is heartening to stand correct. This has been a fascinating, well thought through discussion. My compliments to Jeffery Cohen and the rest for allowing me a change to share in this discussion.
I took the liberty of copying almost all of the discussion to hard copy for future reference and later study.
In the attempt to avoid current sexual stereotypes, perhaps a changing of what words are used to describe linguistic gender need to be more asexual. As Masculinity has been discussed it has often been related to gender with a bent of equating Masculinity with a sense of "Maleness". But, perhaps the terms masculinity implys too much gender and a more correct term should be "Heroic".
In German and Spanish, words are gender specific, but I am suggesting this gender may be better discribed in the asexual terms of Heroic and Affectionate. In several writtings discussed earlier in this forum, it has often been mentioned that Heroic females are spoken of in the masculine form. Would it be more accurate in modern thought to speak of these references as Heroic rather than Masculine?
The terms masculine and feminine were created in a time (or more accurately, evolved) when gender was less the Freudian sexual context and more in the attitude of Heroic and Affectionate. This is evidenced by examples of some men being feminine (or affectionate) in nature, and some women being masculine (or heroic).
Changing terms is always difficult as it is moving against the grains of where the language has evolved from, but it is the modern thoughts in relation to masculinity and gender specific male that urge this change. When we begin to use different terms in relation to a past world under examination, we begin to approach their mode of thought differently and will begin to see how and what they think in a much different light.
Another woman who passes for a long time as a man is Ide, the granddaughter of Huon of Bordeaux (in one of the prose continuations to _Huon de Bordeaux_ included in Berners' translation). At fifteen years old the fairest maiden of them all, and bearing a striking resemblance to her equally beautiful, though regrettably deceased mother, she flees her besotted father (who is determined to replace mother with daughter as his wife) clad and armed as a squire. In this guise she performs many feats of arms and high prowess, some with explicit divine aid, and mostly on behalf of the emperor of Rome, who knights and advances her/him, and whose daughter, Olive, falls in love with her/him (the English version uses mostly the feminine pronouns, though the masculine ones show up occasionally when (as in this sentence) the masculine interpretation is called for). Most of this is the hackneyed stuff of many a story, of course. _Huon_ is a little unusual, however, in its conclusion....
They marry. Ide, after some stalling, confides her secret to Olive, who nobly conceals her disappointment:
She was right sorrowful; howbeit, she comforted Ide, and said, "my right sweet lover, discomfort not yourself, for ye shall not be bewrayed for me nother to no man nor woman living. We are wedded together, I wil be good and true to you since ye have kept yourself so truly; with you I shall...pass my destiny, for I see well it is the pleasure of our Lord God."This offer comes to nought (of course), since the whole conversation has been overheard. Required by the emperor, on pain of death, to strip and bathe before him and thus prove his accuser, an eavesdropping page, a liar, Ide prays to the Virgin to receive her soul. Instead, an angelic voice (accompanied by a bright light and sweet odor) is heard declaring that Ide should not be touched, that God has miraculously transformed Ide into a man, and that (lest the page be punished as a liar), he had indeed told the truth: she was a woman, but now he's a man.
He doth...will by his divine puissance that she be changed in nature, and become a perfect man as all others be with out any difference.If this needs confirmation, within a year Olive gives birth to Ide's son Croissant, the subject of the rest of the book.
The author seems to have no hesitation in ascribing to the same person both conventional maidenly acts and attitudes (growing pale and faint when informed of her father's designs on her) and attributes (beauty, modesty)--when in her native female role--, and conventional male militaryheroic acts (mass slaughter of Spaniards), attitudes (killing out of a desire for praise or fear of shame), and attributes (prowess, liberality)--when she is in her assumed male role. And when the actions demanded by the male role become physically impossible (fathering a child), the author is willing to have God, though the intercession of (of all people) the Virgin, change the physical circumstances, with nary a squeak from Ide her/himself. One is left with the rather unsettling impression that such distinctions, not only of masculine and feminine, but also of male and female, are more or less arbitrary and, indeed, trivial to the author. It is not that sexual identity is uncertain or unstable, but that "male" and "masculine" are matters of convenience or convention only, at least in comparison to the more important categories "true," "virtuous," "devout," "noble," and "gentle." Ide remains very much the same person throughout, especially with regard to these categories. Nevertheless, there remains something faintly comic about her abrupt transformation, reminiscent of the last line of "Some Like it Hot," or that poem about oysters.
If those analogies are not found offensive, or insufficiently scholarly to belong on INTERSCRIPTA, perhaps this will be: I am reminded of the children's picture book by Amy Schwarz called "Bea and Mr. Jones," in which a middle-aged advertising executive and his kindergarten-attending daughter exchange places. In most such stories, the exchange is temporary and the restoration (accompanied by moral lessons about liking oneself as one is, knowing one's place, etc.) obligatory. In "Bea," Mr. Jones turns out to be a very capable kindergartener, and Bea a wizard advertising-writer, so thus they are allowed to remain. Leaving aside Ovidian metamorphic stories, how common are medieval stories in which such temporary, unnatural transformations become permanent?
Paul Schaffner usergfnk@umichum (BITNET)
In response to Chip's posting, I would have to agree that there are problems with current sexual stereotyping. But I am not convinced that the term "heroic" offers the asexuality that he suggests. It depends, I suppose on the source under discussion. When it comes to _Laxdaela Saga_, for instance, and the episode referred to in the criticism as "Breeches-Aud," the issue may be complicated by translation. In Magnus Magnusson's and Hermann Palsson's translation, Thord Gunnarson, on the prompting of Gudrun Osvif's-daughter, declares himself divorced from Aud, on the basis "that she wore gored breeches like _masculine_ women do" (126; emphasis added; 1981 edition).
What are we to make of the phrase "masculine women"? Can it be assumed that this phrase alludes to the heroic code of action? For the heroic code, it seems to me, is similarly freighted with associations of "maleness." As I recall the original question, the issue involved why Thord Gunnarson resisted the retaliation he was told was due him for Aud's attack on him. Aud's own brothers weasled out of their brotherly duties to defend Aud's honor, more or less. They were "greatly annoyed, but there the matter rested." When Aud makes her trip to avenge the divorce, the narrator notes that "she was certainly wearing breeches then" (127). The narrator also notes that on reporting her deed to her brothers, "they were pleased, but said she had probably not done enough" (128). When Osvif suggests that Aud be punished, the narrator states: "Thord would not hear of it on any account, saying that she had done only what she had to do" (128).
Thord's sense of the justice of Aud's action and the avoidance of a potential blood feud over this divorce, the grounds for it, and the consequences of it, I would suggest, may shed considerable light on the subsequent actions of Gudrun and the feud that develops between her and Kjartan. This episode may call into question the entire scaffold that has been built on the socalled "blood-feud ethic" in the sagas. As such, "masculine women" probably have little to do with the "heroic" ethic.
How do we avoid sexual stereotyping, given our language, and is it even desirable to try to do so?
Karen Foster, email@example.com.
Previously I posted on Liudprand of Cremona (my teaching partner Bruce Venarde now has me saying "Liudprand of *Cremora*"!) and the ways in which one category of difference (national identity) is written as another (gender identity), so that "masculinity" becomes a mask for a whole array of differences. I'd like to illustrate this collapsing of one kind of alterity into another further with a quotation from Giraldus Cambrensis' _Topography of Ireland_ :
"[The Irish are] indeed a most filthy race, a race sunk in vice, a race more ignorant than all other nations of the first principles of faith... This people, then, is truly barbarous, being not only barbarous in their dress, but suffering their hair and beards (*barbis*) to grow enormously in an uncouth manner...Here again we see the slippage of the category "foreign" into the "sexually other": cultural deviance becomes gender trouble. The markers that separate man from woman blur among the Irish (in Giraldus' representation) so that the signs that mark Irish culture as inferior will stand out in contrast. Political ideology constructs masculinity.
"Moreover, these people, who have customs so very different from others, and so opposite to them, on making signs either with the hands or the head, beckon when they mean you should go away, and nod backwards as often as they wish to be rid of you. Likewise, in this nation, the men pass their water sitting, the women standing... The women, also, as well as the men, ride astride, with their legs on each side of the horse."
As a clarification on Karen's posting on Breeches-Aud in the _Laxdaela Saga_: The word translated "masculine women" is "karlkonur" which combines the word for ordinary man "karl" (cf. churl, housecarls) with the word for woman. There is some controversy over the word and the Vigfusson-Cleasby dictionary labels it (for this passage) as a misreading for "karlmenn," a word that would mean ordinary as opposed to high-standing men. The word is apparently a hapax logomenon and it makes one wonder if there was a group of women within Icelandic society who were outcast under this term.
In an earlier posting I raised the question of female figures in heroic literature who had either a judgmental function or were representatives of the forceful Other, both the threat to and means of self-realization for the hero. Our discussion has also addressed other aspects of the construction of male gender. We would all recognize the limitations of our sources if we were to attempt to assemble evidence, let alone draw conclusions, on the degree to which either in real life situations or in literary fabrications women played a role, on their own initiative or as co-opted constructors, in defining the male _personae_ specific to individual times and cultural circumstances.
Before pursuing a small bit of the evidence in this regard, I would like as well to raise the matter of didactic literature, in its broadest sense, as participating in this construction. My immediate concern is not conventional homiletic, exemplary or instructive works, e.g, maxims, mirrors for princes, but rather eulogy. As we know, the praise poem (like the blame poem) has deep historical roots (even without invoking the elusive Indo-Europeans!). Eulogy must have some basis in reality, although human tolerance for flattery is high. Its tendency is to move historical figures toward archetypal status by making them complete embodiments of specific, in our case, manly virtues, while at the same time providing, through topical references, some anchoring in the ruler and patron's immediate history (battles won, thrones secured, enemies punished). The eulogist constructs an ideal male ruler in his descriptions and publicly states that the fit with his patron is a good one.
The examples that I have presently in mind are the large number of verses preserved from Norwegian and Icelandic skalds, mostly in the context of prose histories of their patrons, in some six instances in biographical sagas devoted to the poets themselves. The objects of the poets' attentions are various Scandinavian rulers, but also English Athelstan and rulers at culturally hybrid courts in Orkney, Dublin and York.
To bring my two topics together, one may ask to what extent women participated in this elaboration of Norse male gender as exemplified in the ruler and military leader. First we must recognize that some continuing interest must be served in the preservation of occasional verse of this kind, so that eulogy may enter the dynastic heritage but censure tends to be ephemeral. Thus the preserved body of evidence is a skewed one. The possible shaping effects of women's reception of such verse in the court context is also undocumented and largely hidden to us. The starkest question that can be asked is whether there were any female eulogists in the medieval North Sea world, any active female participants in the construction or deconstruction of male gender.
Surprisingly for such an apparently viricentric world, there were a few, just as the idealizing family sagas give us examples of women better meeting the ethical criteria of masculinity and heroism than many males. In the corpus attributed to the over 200 skalds active from the 9th through 12th centuries (not the full period of the skaldic vogue but including all pre-Christian verse) we find some few stanzas attributed to seven women. Given the conditions of preservation, it perhaps comes as no surprise that this verse is fully conventional--it could have been written by a man, and some perhaps was. But lest this posting just run out in the sand, I offer the original and a literal translation, based on Finnur Jonsson's disarticulation of the stanza, of one example, an intervention made before a Norwegian ruler around the year 900 by Hildr on behalf of her father Hrolfr, nicknamed _nef_ 'nose, snout'. Transcription conventions are length marks after vowels, o comma for hooked o, d- for eth, th for thorn.
Hafnid- Nefju nafna, nu' rekid- gand o'r landi; horskan ho,ld-a barma hvi' bellid- thvi', stillir? ilt 's vid- ulf at ylfask, Yggr valbri'kar, sli'kan; munat vid- hilmis hjard-ir hoegr, ef rinnr til sko'gar. You reject Nef's name; now you chase the wolf from the land; why do you treat men's wise brother so, o moderator? It is bad to show wolfishness to such a wolf, o warrior (Yggr of the bench of the slain)! He will not be gentle towards the prince's flock, if he runs to the woods (is outlawed).And, in conclusion and appreciation of those who have contributed to and followed our discussion, a freer, Xmas stocking version:
King's might muzzles faithful Snout, muscles grey-side from fireside. Why kinsman's counsel scorned coldly, wrathful ruler? Ill-howled at harried whelp, hall's high seat's pall-riders fiercer fangs in king's flocks follow this wolf woodward.
Will Sayers firstname.lastname@example.org
From: Kathleen Garay <email@example.com>
As a hitherto non participant in interscripta dialogue which has recently been exceptionally interesting, I wish that the onerous demands of the end of term permitted a more considered response to the men's history item by Michael Kimmel. In a word - rubbish! As a medievalist who now often teaches history for McMaster's Women's Studies programme, I have become keenly aware of the gendered nature of the traditional discipline. The study of "high politics", diplomacy, militarism, political thought, constitutional law - the list is endless - involves the investigation of fields defined by men _as men_. These were/are their preoccupations and spheres of operation and influence. These areas are empty, not only at their centres but right out to their circumferences, of any women's presence. "American men's ceaseless quest for manhood" has made traditional history its ally and accomplice. It is therefore patently unnecessary to even consider "injecting [male] gender into the standard historical approach."
Kathy Garay History and Women's Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Despite the fact that this time of year is a notoriously tiring one in academia, the sixth week of the "Medieval Masculinities" discussion has brought a large number of posts, many of them from first-time participants. My gratitude to all who took the time to share their work with us.
The week got off to a vigorous start as we sorted out the implications of Abigail Young's post on the difficulties of this discussion. Jim Earl added his voice to Abigail's, and expressed his discomfort with some of the "pieties" of gender studies - including a tendency to conflate sex with gender, and history with literature. Ruth Karras, on the other hand, insisted that "A large part of what we do is to read texts in ways the authors didn't intend them to be read" - a presentist agenda, perhaps, but a necessary one if these texts are to hold importance for the here and now; and the question being asked remains "What does all this tell us about medieval culture?" (Gregrory Aist wondered about this *modus legendi* later in the week and suggested "You assume sex is everywhere, and so you find it everywhere"). I answered Jim's "cranky" post with a cranky reply of my own (shades of "Medieval Subjectivity" - just like old times...), and wondered why it should be necessary to distinguish so sharply and artificially between imbricated categories: sex and gender are perhaps both "discursive effects" (Judith Butler); history and literature are modern disciplines that, on closer observation, tend to collapse into each other.
With his usual directness and erudition, Will Sayers brought us back to the texts of the Middle Ages by wondering about heroic imperfections: dichotomies between the professional and the public among the Norse warrior-poets, proto-romantic "heroic outsiders." Brian Lee added significantly to our consideration of hair as a marker of masculinity, exploring the beard as a sign of virility, "so that an attack on a beard is metonymic for bravery, or, from the victim's point of view, represents either an insult or a dangerous act of aggression." To advance our inquiry into the overlap between gender and nationalism, I posted on the representation of cultural alterity as gender blurring in Giraldus Cambrensis.
Wendy Pfeffer discussed cross-dressing, pronoun choice, and gender in the _Roman de Silence_, where what one wears becomes (semantically) what one is. This mutability of the sexed body was explored further by Claire Waters, who supplied fabliaux illustrations of transvestism that play on what it is to be a man or a woman. I posted on the relation between clothing, gender, and power in _Laxdaela saga_, a text which resists the simple binarisms "masculine / feminine" in its constructions of gender. (Chip Clark wondered about the efficacy of these terms across the board, and asked if they might not be replaced by something like "heroic / affectionate"; Karen Foster objected that "heroic" is not a sufficiently asexual term; Ed Haymes pointed out the difficulty of a term for "masculine woman" in the saga itself). Will brought this consideration of women and the construction of masculinity into the world of skaldic verse with a consideration of eulogy (praise constructs and promulgates a certain vision of gender behavior) and authorship (some of the eulogists were women). Paul Schaffner supplied an example of the power of transvestism to influence the determination of gender taken to an extreme:
in _Huon de Bordeaux_, Ide dresses like a man, marries, and, through God's intercession, becomes anatomically male; in proof of a full virility s/he - pronoun trouble is what these stories seem to be about! even engenders a son, the deliciously named Croissant.
Our work in exploring "Medieval Masculinities" is drawing to a close, but is far from over. In the weeks ahead I will reworking our wide-ranging discussion into an article that we can all comment upon and, ultimately, save as a reference for ourselves and other scholars. Before the discussion ends on Wednesday, however, I would like to request one final round of posts and interchange. It would be extremely useful to me (and, I think, all the participants in "Masculinities") to have a series of closing statements, both from those who have given their work to the discussion and those who have been listening to it. I am interested in hearing what impressed people most about the discussion: what salient points were made, what cautions must be raised, what topics need elaboration (or were especially useful in being explored), what needs to be done next.
Now is the time to reflect back upon the copious, generous discussion that has preceded, and to start to think about how to give it shape, how to give it both closure and a future. I look forward to hearing from you all. ---Jeffrey