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Gender Notes

History Notes > History of the British Isles II: 1042-1330 Notes

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Introduction to Gender and Sexualities Dr Moss Intersectionality - the different ways in which different systems of oppression overlap
~ e.g. aristocratic woman - privileged because of her birth but oppressed by her legal status e.g. possession of husband Ideas of different privileges - affect the experience of oppressive power Men can also be subject to intersectional privileges and oppressions Patriarchy - literally means rule by the father
~ Domination of women by men
~ Also domination of some men by other men Importance of primogeniture - beginning to crystallise
~ Rights of the male householder as the ultimate leader Leaders are seen as the fathers of their people - both spiritual and secular Must also look at gender identity of men A man's gender can be almost invisible to him in a way that it it not to women
~ Maleness is taken for granted - simultaneously privileges men and makes their identity invisible Aquinas - father is greater than the mother Vibrant level of discourse of male and female biology Influx of Greek and Arabic texts during the 12th century Renaissance invigorated discussions of gender Also influenced by the growth of universities
~ Enjoyed talking about these controversial topics Major debate of the relative importance of the male and female in conception
~ Seed or receptor of male seed?
~ More active or passive role
~ Question of whether the woman contributed anything more than the physical and material
~ How does an embryo become male or female?
Female may be an imperfect male - too cold Doesn't create the obvious gender duality that we would think it would Idea of women as a flawed inversion of men Stories in the Middle Ages of women who can be transformed into men Need hot and dry humours for a male baby
~ Also believed to produce superior masculine characteristics Cool and damp humours associated with women made them weak, passive and more lustful Women of the Middle Ages were seen as more prone to desire sex - constant yearning to warm themselves up

Most writers assume that pleasure is necessary for conception
~ Yet inescapable fact that it was not necessarily linked to conception Do women need pleasure for conception?
Medieval double standard - young men can go out whereas women should not have their base urges tolerated If women are more passionate in love than men, then men with too much of a desire for sex may lead them to be perceived as effeminate Lovesickness is probably seen as an illness Medieval people didn't write about sexual identities Not people doing things together - sexuality is done or done to Norm of medieval sexuality was heterosexual sex within marriage for reproduction St Paul had said it was better to marry than to burn in hell - better still to stay chaste Patriarchal society needed reproduction within a framework Rape is not considered possible within marriage Idea that pregnancy is always the result of pleasure A woman was not legally responsible for her own decisions, her husband was Yet in canon law there is a distinction made - obedience should only be rendered in so far as it is moral Yet court records show the expectation that a woman would obey her husband A husband was only meant to chastise his wife within reason Marital affection is seen as good and valuable Yet legal and cultural norms supported medieval affection and a good marriage yet not between equals Chastity is not just for virgins
~ Possible for widows and also can be a married couple and be chaste is the sex that they are having is licit with the purpose of having children Chastity more commonly refers to abstinence than continence Virginity is a medieval ideal, particularly for women The body can be a source of defilement but also of sanctity Women find it so difficult to be physically virtuous that when they do it is doubly holy Cathar heresies - flesh was inherently sinful and therefore God could never have been incarnate as Christ
~ Inherent tension of making the body a danger yet also not having the body as sinful - it is the human mind which is at fault Virgin male martyrs - not considered to be a key characteristic Female virgin saints triumph over men
~ A weak woman can be holy and powerful St Katherine was probably the most popular medieval virgin martyr
~ Mystical marriage with Christ
~ Refused to marry the Emperor and to repudiate her beliefs
~ Can be seen to be radical and problematic - says that she does not need a husband to rule

Katherine's decision to be a virgin is situated in the language of courtly romance yet is also political
~ Rejects all other suitors apart from Christ - this kind of idea and her intellectual strength made her popular with medieval women
~ Surprisingly rebellious role model for familial relationships Her life was meant to have occurred centuries before
~ Had a spiritual victory but she had been martyred - did not succeed on earth Heaven is the best place for this transgressive woman Gender roles seem to have some fluidity to them

Women in Medieval England Typical view of good qualities e.g. John Calvin
~ Chaste
~ Interested in husband's health and wellbeing
~ Economical
~ Patient St Paul - women should be silent and submissive Aristotle - women were weaker versions of men Medicine linked with theology - women were weaker than men Men were dominant - Theology, Law and Medicine careers Eve caused Adam's fall from Paradise - women had weak minds and could not reason as they were 'creatures of emotion' Witches - perverse attitudes shown through ugly appearance and age Actually used by society against any perceived threats Although women were seen as weak, their life and actions contradicted this Professions - construction work, farm labourer, goldsmith, physician Were allowed to enter some guilds Lower classes - women involved in husband's trade Upper classes - women could not find employment suited to their status If unmarried had to enter a convent - no other refuge Seemed to be weaker - actually were rulers, prioresses, abbesses, commanded servants and children Religion was a key influence on society at this time The Fall - Eve was seen as responsible for Adam's disobedience of God. Women
are therefore seen to have weaker minds and are more emotional than men. Men used this story and teachings of St Paul to prove that women were inferior Stereotypes - family structure enforced values such as these, condemning women to stay at home and not have the freedom of men Work - women could be involved in some work and were allowed to join some guilds. The number of jobs they could have, however, limited their freedom as men could choose from a much greater range of jobs Science - This was becoming an important influence in medieval times. Used in conjunction with religion it reinforced the idea that women were the weaker sex. The fact that women bore children was also used by men to subdue them

Witchcraft - accused the old and ugly, particularly those without protection. Another way of controlling women as men used terror against anyone who was argumentative or troublesome. This means of social control was another way in which men enforced their domination upon women Class - women could work alone but this was usually just for widows. Many more, however, were involved in their husband's trade meaning that they could
take some responsibility for the family profession. In the upper classes, however, many could not find suitable employment if they were widowed and were forced to take refuge in a convent. This shows how little true freedom women had and how the medieval class structure restricted them Conclusion:

Women had some freedom in their choice of work, their participation in guilds and in some cases they could choose their own marriage

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