La Querelle des Femmes

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The 800 year old Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we today refer to as the gender-war. In its narrow sense, this term refers to a genre of Latin and French writing in which the superiority of one or the other sex has been proposed with the primary aim of determining the status of women.

In the broader sense, the Querelle encompasses all writing in which the relative merits of the sexes are discussed with a gynocentric focus (ie. femmes), sometimes using arguments and material drawn from the more narrowly defined debate. The centuries-long quarrel often revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women. If we consider the longevity of this revolution we might be inclined to agree with Barbarosa’s claim that today’s feminism is the tail end of “a perpetual advocacy machine for women”.

The timeframe of the querelle begins in the twelfth century, and after 800 years of debate finds itself perpetuated in the feminist-driven reiterations of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the larger querelle came to an end in the 1700s).

For more about the history of La Querelle des Femmes, the following paper by historian Joan Kelly is instructive. The paper was written with a feminist focus thus leaving out all but the most superficial characterization of the male experience of gender relations. Nevertheless it provides much important history and for that I have no hesitation in recommending it:

Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Femmes
By Joan Kelly
(1982)

We generally think of feminism, and certainly of feminist theory, as taking rise in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most histories of the Anglo-American women’s movement acknowledge feminist “forerunners” in individual figures such as Anne Hutchinson, and in women inspired by the English and French revolutions, but only with the women’s rights conference at Seneca Falls in 1848 do they recognize the beginnings of a continuously developing body of feminist thought. Histories of French feminism claim a longer past. They tend to identify Christine de Pisan (1364-1430?) as the first to hold modern feminist views and then to survey other early figures who followed her in expressing prowoman ideas up until the time of the French Revolution. New work is now appearing that will give us a fuller sense of the richness, coherence, and continuity of early feminist thought, and I hope this paper contributes to that end. What I hope to demonstrate is that there was a 400-year-old tradition of women thinking about women and sexual politics in European society before the French Revolution. Feminist theorizing arose in the fifteenth century, in intimate association with and in reaction to the new secular culture of the modern European state. It emerged as the voice of literate women who felt themselves and all women maligned and newly oppressed by that culture, but who were empowered by it at the same time to speak out in their defense. Christine de Pisan was the first such feminist thinker, and the four-century-long debate that she sparked, known as the querelle des femmes, became the vehicle through which most early feminist thinking evolved. The early feminists did not use the term “feminist,” of course. If they had applied any name to themselves, it would have been something like defenders or advocates of women, but it is fair to call this long line of prowomen writers that runs from Christine de Pisan to Mary Wollstonecraft by the name we use for their nineteenth- and twentieth-century descendants. Latter-day feminism, for all its additional richness, still incorporates the basic positions the feminists of the querelle were the first to take.

pdficon_largeTo read the rest of Joan Kelly’s essay online click here

Modesta Pozzo: gynocentrism in 1590

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Modesta Pozzo, a protofeminist living in the 1500s in Venice wrote a gynocentric work entitled The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men. The work purportedly records a conversation among seven Venetian Noblewomen that explores nearly every aspect of women’s experience in both theoretical and practical terms. The following excerpts begin with comments by one of the women, Corinna:
 
Line breakCorinna said: “Helena has not managed to prove anything except that men do have some merits when they are married — which is to say, when they are united with a wife. Now that I don’t deny, but without that help from their wives, men are just like unlit lamps: in themselves, they are no good for anything, but, when lit, they can be handy to have around the house. In other words, if a man has some virtues, it is because he has picked them up from the woman he lives with, whether mother, nurse, sister, or wife — for over time, inevitably, some of her good qualities will rub off on him. Indeed, quite apart from the good examples women provide for them, all men’s finest and most virtuous achievements derive from their love for women, because, feeling themselves unworthy of their lady’s grace, they try by any means they can to make themselves pleasing to her in some way. That men study at all, that they cultivate the virtues, that they groom themselves and become well-bred men of the world –in short, that they finish up equipped with countless pleasing qualities– is all due to women.”

Virginia said: “If it is true what you say, and men are as imperfect as you say they are, then why are they our superiors on every count?”

Corinna replied: “This pre-eminence is something they have unjustly arrogated to themselves. And when it’s said that women must be subject to men, the phrase should be understood in the same sense as we are subject to natural disasters, diseases, and all the other accidents of life: it’s not a case of being subject in the sense of obeying, but rather of suffering an imposition; not a case of serving them, but rather of tolerating them in a spirit of Christian charity, since they have been given to us by God as a spiritual trial. But they take the phrase in the contrary sense and set themselves up as tyrants over us, arrogantly usurping that domination over women that they claim is their right, but which is more properly ours. For don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”

Leonora said: “A woman, when she is segregated from male contact, has something divine about her and can achieve miracles, as long as she retains her natural virginity. That certainly isn’t the case with men, because it is only when a man has taken a wife that he is considered a real man and that he reaches the peak of happiness, honor, and greatness. The Romans in their day did not confer any important responsibilities on any man who did not have a wife; they did not allow him to take up a public office or to perform any serious duties relating to the Republic. Homer used to say that men without wives were scarcely alive. And if you want further proof of women’s superior dignity and authority, just think about the fact that if a man is married to a wise, modest, and virtuous woman, even if he is the most ignorant, shameless, and corrupt creature who has ever lived, he will never, for all his wickedness, be able to tarnish his wife’s reputation in the least. But if, through some mischance, a woman is lured by some persistent and unscrupulous admirer into losing her honor, then her husband is instantly and utterly shamed and dishonored by her act, however good, wise, and respectable he may be himself — as if he depended on her, rather than she on him. And indeed, just as a pain in the head causes the whole body to languish, so when women (who are superior by nature and thus legitimately the head and superior of their husbands) suffer some affront, so their husbands , as appendages and dependents, are also subject to the same misfortune and come to share in the ills of their wives as well as in their good fortune.”

Leonora said: “Do you not really believe that men do not recognize our worth? In fact they are quite aware of it, and, even though envy makes them reluctant to confess this in words, they cannot help revealing in their behavior a part of what they feel in their hearts. For anyone can see that when a man meets a woman in the street, or when he has some cause to talk to a woman, some hidden compulsion immediately urges him to pay homage to her and bow, humbling himself as her inferior. And similarly at church, or at banquets, women are always given the best places, and men behave with deference and respect toward women even of a much lower social status. And where love is concerned, what can I say? Which woman, however low-born, is below men’s notice? Which do they shrink from approaching? Is a man of the highest birth ashamed to consort with a peasant girl or a plebian — with his own servant, even? It is because he senses that these women’s natural superiority compensates for the low status fortune has conferred on them. It’s very different in the case of women: except in some completely exceptional freak cases, you never find a noblewoman falling in love with a man of low estate, and, moreover, it’s rare even to find a woman loving someone (apart from her husband) of the same social status. And that’s why everyone is so amazed when they hear of some transgression on the part of a woman: it’s felt to be a strange and exceptional piece of news (I’m obviously excepting courtesans here), while in the case of men, no one takes any notice, because sin for them is a matter of course and an everyday occurrence that it doesn’t seem remarkable any more. In fact, men’s corruption has reached such a point that when there is a man who is rather better than the others and does not share their bad habits, it is seen as a sign of unmanliness on his part and he is regarded as a fool. Indeed, many men would behave better if it were not for the pressure of custom, but, as things stand, they feel it would be shameful not to be as bad as or worse than their fellows.”

Corinna said: “We’ve already proven that on all counts –ability, dignity, goodness, and a thousand other things– we are their superiors and they our inferiors. So I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t love us, except for the fact that, as I said before, men are by nature so cold and ungrateful that they cannot even be swayed by the influences of the heavens. Though another factor, as we were saying earlier, is their great envy of our merits: they are fully aware of our worth and they know themselves to be full of flaws that are absent in women. For when men have flaws, women have virtues; and if you need proof, it’s quite obvious that in women you find prudence and gentleness where men have anger; temperance where men have greed; humility in place of pride; continence in place of self-indulgence; peace in place of discord; and love in place of hatred. In fact, to sum up , any given virtue of the soul and mind can be found to a greater degree in women than in men.”

Cornelia exclaimed: “What poor wretches men are not to respect us as they should. We look after their households for them, their goods, their children, their lives — they’re hopeless without us and incapable of getting anything right. Take away that small matter of their earning money and what use are they at all? What would they be like without women to look after them? (And with such devotion) I suppose they’d rely on servants to run their households — and steal their money and reduce them to misery, as so often happens.”

 
Source: The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men

Gynarchy by proxy

 

“Gynarchy refers to government by women, or women-centered government.”
Cassandra Langer

Obama-signs-order-creating-White-House-Council-on-Women-and-Girls-via-Wikimedia

In his groundbreaking work The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell explains how men have traditionally striven to institute women-centered government by acting as women’s proxy agents in the political sphere. This behaviour, explains Farrell, is based on the chivalrous tradition of male servicing of women’s needs. The following are passages from Farrell’s book explaining how gynarchy by proxy works:

“Doesn’t the fact that almost all legislators are men prove that men are in charge and can choose when to and when not to look out for women’s interests? Theoretically, yes. But practically speaking the American legal system cannot be separated from the voter. And in the 1992 Presidential election , 54 percent of the voters were female, 46 percent were male. (Women’s votes outnumber men’s by more than 7 million). Overall, a legislator is to a voter what a chauffeur is to the employer – both look like they’re in charge but both can be fired if they don’t go where they’re told. When legislators do not appear to be protecting women, it is almost always because women differ on what constitutes protection. (For example, women voted almost equally for Republicans and Democrats during the combination of the four presidential elections prior to Clinton).

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“The Government as Substitute Husband did for women what labor unions still have not accomplished for men. And men pay dues for labor unions; the taxpayer pays the dues for feminism. Feminism and government soon become taxpayer-supported women’s unions. The political parties have become like two parents in a custody battle, each vying for their daughter’s love by promising to do the most for her. How destructive to women is this? We have restricted humans from giving “free” food to bears and dolphins because we know that such feeding would make them dependent and lead to their extinction. But when it comes to our own species, we have difficulty seeing the connection between short-term kindness and long-term cruelty: we give women money to have more children, making them more dependent with each child and discouraging them from developing the tools to fend for themselves. The real discrimination against women, then, is “free feeding.”

Ironically, when political parties or parents compete for females’ love by competing to give it, the result is not gratitude but entitlement. And the result should not be gratitude, because the political party, like the needy parent, becomes unconsciously dependent on keeping the female dependent. Which turns the female into “the other” — the person given to, not the equal participant. In the process, it fails to do what is every parent’s and every political party’s job — to raise an adult, not maintain a child.
Superobama_main
But here’s the rub. When the entitled child has the majority of the votes, the issue is no longer whether we have a patriarchy or a matriarchy — we get a victimarchy. And the female-as-child genuinely feels like a victim because she never learns how to obtain for herself everything she learns to expect. Well, she learns how to obtain it for herself by saying “it’s a woman’s right” — but she doesn’t feel the mastery that comes with a lifetime of doing it for herself. And even when a quota includes her in the decision-making process, she still feels angry at the “male dominated government” because she feels both the condescension of being given “equality” and the contradiction of being given equality. She is still “the other.” So, with the majority of the votes, she is both controlling the system and angry at the system.”

Gynarchy in the home and family:

“When we say we lived in a patriarchy, we think of living under a male dominated government or power structure. We forget that the family had at least as much power as the government in people’s everyday life, and that the family was female dominated. We forget that it too was a power structure. As we have seen, though, almost every woman had a primary role in the female-dominated family structure; only a small percentage of men had a primary role in the male-dominated governmental and religious structures. Although a man’s home was more likely to be his mortgage than his castle, it has always been a characteristic of men that they give lip service to their dominance even as another part of them is aware of their subservience… Male dominated house
Source: The Myth of Male Power, by Warren Farrell

See also:
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Petticoat government (1702)

1702_cover“Examine the nature of Petticoat Government and you’ll find small difference or, if any, the Woman excells the man. For the Woman is justly called ‘The Crown of the Creation,’ for if we look into Genesis we shall find that Woman was the last work in the creation and therefore the most perfect and absolute; as we see when artisans make an excellent piece they keep polishing till the last, as being the perfection and crown of it all. But reader, I have only here given some few glances and shadows of the glory and magesty that attends Pettycoats; to know it better you must view our Gracious Queen in Her person and conduct; Her heart is entirely English; she was made purposely for our crown and scepter; Her very looks and countenance would command our allegiance; the very cast of Her eye would sufficiently persuade us that Her authority is just and deserved, that it is a suitable power that is in the mind and meaning of providence and, in a word, is nothing more than God or Nature intended: that women should govern as well as the men… But virtue and greatness are of the perfection and essence of Pettycoat Government, and complete Her Magisties character.

“I am of the opinion that men can boast of no endowments of the mind which Women possess not in as great, if not greater eminency. There has been no age or nation that has not produced some females renown’d for their wisdom and virtue. Which makes me conclude that the conversation of Women is no less useful than pleasant; and that when they govern the men are extremely happy.

“Now it may be necessary that governors should be of good entertainment, affable, open of countenance, and such as seem to harbour no crooked or dark design; thus no men can be so fit for government as Women are. For besides their natural sweetness and innocency, their talk is commonly directed to such things, as it may be easily inferr’d, that their heads are not troubled about making of wars, enlarging of empires, or founding of tyrannies. How few men-prophets do histories afford us in comparison to prophetesses? And, even at this day, who are such absolute followers of priests as women are? If you wish them merciful, these are the tenderest things on earth; they have tears at command, and if tears be the effect of pity and compassion, ans pity and compassion be the mother of virtue, must we not think that mercy rules most in them, and is the soonest obtain’d from them? If you wish affection to the country, where can you better have it? For have not Women many times cut off their hairs to make ropes for engines, and strings for bows?

Thus, were this noble sex restored to that right which nature hath bestowed on it, we have all quiet and serenity in the commonwealths, and courts would not taken up with factions and underminings, but all flow into pleasure and liberty. Withal, we know how necessary it is in every statesman to be master of all the artifices and sleights that may be, to gain upon them he deals with. Now, if any can be fitter for this than Women, I am much deceiv’d: for what by their importunities, glances, trains, sleights, ambushes, and little infidelities, it is as impossible to escape them as it is to go into the fire and not get burnt. For my own part, were I to marry, a good wife should govern both my person and purse, my time and everything; and for this reason a rich Milanois was wont to say that the strings of his purse were never so hard tied that his Betty had no chance tio loose’ em.

We must therefore conclude that as women bring forth children into the world, as they multiply themselves into these visible and corpereal souls, and after they have brought them forth, and most tender and careful to bring them up; so it is most fitting, having such pre-eminencies and indulgences of Nature, that when they are brought up, they should also have a government of them: For a potter would think it hard measure if, after the pitcher were made, it should fly in his face. And (which is no small honour to Petticoat Government) the Woman excelleth the man in respect of the matter of which she was made, which was not dead and vile clay, as man’s was, but a purified substance enliven’d and endu’d with soul, participating in the Divine Mind.

“Thus have I fairly prov’d there is no creature so perfect, no wonder so to be admired as WOMAN: And Ladies, God hath heaped all these graces on your beautiful sex to the end that every creature might stand amazed at you, love and obey you; as we see by experience that incorporeal spirits doat upon Women with most ardent affections – which is such an approved truth that none, I think, would deny it. And if Women were such angels both in body and mind, and Petticoat Government such a particular and extraordinary blessing, (as all must own that we are govern’d by a Queen whose royal virtues exceeds all I have said in praise of her sex) I wonder at the unnatural fancy of such people as would wish we might procreate like trees, as if they were ashamed of the act, without which they had never been capable of such an extravagant thought. Certainly, he that created us, has riveted the Love of Women in the very center of our natures.

“So that ’tis clear from what I’ve said (of the excellency and pre-eminence of Ruling Women) that government is the rudder which steers the great vessel of the State; and that Petticoat Government is the most dextrous handling of that rudder; and for that reason ’tis only WOMEN that are now pray’d for in our churches and chapels viz. Her Perfect Majesty the Queen Dowager and the Princess Sophia.

But i shan’t only confine my essay to Petticoat Government as in respects of the public; for I design a more general essay upon Petticoat Government however dignify’d or distinguished:

1. Then, by Petticoat Government I mean when good women ascend the throne and rule according to law, as is the case of the perfect Queen.
2. Again by Petticoat Government, I mean the descreet and housewifely Ruling of house and family.
3. And lastly, by Petticoat Government, I mean when bad women usurp all authority over their husbands, as is the case with shrews, and such as command, and (perhaps) Beat their husbands, for which there is often a riding, as I shall shew in a variety of instances

“But now, Ladies (except in your own houses) where shall I find any Women so regular as to follow these rules of government? A She-governor thus accomplish’d is like a star with five rays; devotion, modesty, chastity, siscretion, and charity; such women whose whole composition is made up of these, seem to have moulded upon the celestian globes by the hands of cherubims; so excellent are their virtues and so sweet their deportments. They are in their houses as the sun in its proper sphere. Should I attempt to represent their worth, i might sooner find poverty in the center of all the rich ore and precious-stones of the earth, than want of merit in them; but more especially in that Gracious Princess who now governs: And as in former times the tyranny of the Danes was suppress’d by the wisdom and courage of our English Women, so ’tis not doubted but the matchless conduct of our Gracious Queen, will humble the pride of France.

“But to return again to our Private Governess, it must be confess’d that there are many who every day (instead of discreet and housewifely Ruling of their house and family) must be dres’d up like idols as if they intended to be worshipp’d, or at least to govern (as Maintenon does -the tyrant of France) with a look or nod. Their fill de chambre, have more to do in attending their beauties than some have in fitting and rigging out the Navy! Their glass with studied advantages takes up the whole morning, and the afternoon is spent in visits. It was therefore a true saying of one very applicable to this purpose; I know not what may be reserved for the eyes of the chaste husband, when almost thro’ all the matkets where they go, the secret parts of his wife’s body are expos’d, as if they were ready to be delivered to the best bidder.

Ladies, having treated of Petticoat Government as it relates to women in public capacity; and in a private capacity as it relates to the hosewifely ruling of the house and family: I should next treat of Petticoat Government as it relates to bad women who usurp an authority over their husbands (as is the case of shrews, such as command and (perhaps) Beat ’em) but this is intended for a second Pert of Petticoat Government. Thus (Ladies) have I set Petticoat Government in a true light, that the men might see what reason they have to LOVE and OBEY you. ‘Tis true, I have not us’d any gay or painted language, but plain and simple… I have therefore study’d to treat your sex, without the dressing of any artificial handsomeness or auxiliary beauty. If you like it, smile upon it; if not, draw the curtain of your charity over it, and let it lie till some abler pen-man shall take pencil in hand. Or if (Ladies) you’ll condescend too far, as to inrich my poor performance with your Noble Patronage ’tis the greatest preferment I dare expect; for, Court Ladies are incarnate angels, and move in a sphere above me: Yet when I consider that no present, of what value soever, can be suitable to one of your illustrious character, it gives me encouragement to hope this trifle may not be less acceptable to your matchless goodness. But twere profaneness in me any longer to divert with my rude pen, your divine thoughts and precious moments, that are still employed in imploring blessings for your Royal Mistress, and the whole nation. Then seeing the chief thing in greatness, is the power it gives to oblige, I shall presume so far as to subscribe my self:

 

Ladies,

Your Ever Obedient, and

Most Humble Servant,

Post-Angel

God Save the Queen.

Source: Petticoat-Government in a Letter to the Court Lords by the Author of the Post-Angel (1702)

The spirit of chivalry (1818)

Chivalry cover

 

The following excerpts describing gynocentric-chivalry
are taken from Sir Walter Scott’s 1818 essay in the
volume Essays on Chivalry, Romance, and the Drama

 

 

 

The main ingredient in the spirit of Chivalry, second in force only to the religious zeal of its professors, and frequently predominating over it, was a devotion to the female sex, and particularly to her whom each knight selected as the chief object of his affection, of a nature so extravagant and unbounded as to approach to a sort of idolatry. The original source of this sentiment is to be found, like that of Chivalry itself, in the Customs and habits of the northern tribes who possessed, even in their rudest state, so many honourable and manly distinctions, over all the other nations in the same stage of society. The chaste and temperate habits of these youth, and the opinion that it was dishonourable to hold sexual intercourse until the twentieth year was attained, was in the highest degree favourable not only to the morals and health of the ancient Germans, but must have contributed greatly to place their females in that dignified and respectable rank which they held in society.
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Amid the various duties of knighthood, that of protecting the female sex, respecting their persons, and redressing their wrongs, becoming the champion of their cause, and the chastiser of those by whom they were injured, was represented as one of the principal objects of the institution. Their oath bound the new-made knights to defend the cause of all women without exception ; and the most pressing way of conjuring them to grant a boon was to implore it in the name of God and the ladies. The cause of a distressed lady was, in many instances, preferable to that even of the country to which the knight belonged. Thus, the Captal de Buche, though an English subject, did not hesitate to unite his troops with those of the Comte de Foix, to relieve the ladies in a French town, where they were besieged and threatened with violence by the insurgent peasantry. The looks, the words, the sign of a lady, were accounted to- make knights at time of need perform double their usual deeds of strength and valour. At tournaments and in combats, the voices of the ladies were heard like those of the German females in former battles, calling on the knights to remember their fame, and exert themselves to the uttermost. “Think, gentle knights,” was their cry, “upon the wool of your breasts, the nerve of your arms, the love you cherish in your hearts, and do valiantly for ladies behold you.” The corresponding shouts of the combatants were, “Love of ladies! Death of warriors! On, valiant knights, for you fight under fair eyes? Where the honour or love of a lady was at stake, the fairest prize was held out to the victorious knight, and champion from every quarter were sure to hasten to combat in a cause so popular. Chaucer, when he describes the assembly of the knights who came with Arcite and Palemon to fight for the love of the fair Emilie, describes the manners of his age in the following lines;
 
Codex_Manesse_Heinrich_von_Breslau“For every knight that loved chivalry,
And would his thankes have a passant name,
Hath pray’d that he might ben of that game,
And well was him that thereto chusen was.
For if there fell to-morrow such a case,
Ye knowen well that every lusty knight
That loveth par amour, and hath his might,
Were it in Engellande, or elleswhere,
They wold hir thanked willen to be there.
To fight for a lady! Ah! Benedicite,
It were a lusty sight for to see.”

 

It is needless to multiply quotations on a subject so trite and well known. The defence of the female sex in general, the regard due to their honour, the subservience paid to their commands, the reverent awe and courtesy, which, in their presence, forbear all unseemly words and actions, were so blended with the institution of Chivalry as to form its very essence. But it was not enough that the “very perfect, gentle knight,” should reverence the fair sex in general. It was essential to his character that he should select, as his proper choice, “a lady and a love,” to be the polar star of his thoughts, the mistress of his affections, and the directress of his actions. In her service, he was to observe the duties of loyalty, faith, secrecy, and reverence. Without such an empress of his heart, a knight, in the phrase of the times, was a ship without a rudder, a horse without a bridle, a sword without a hilt ; a being, in short, devoid of that ruling guidance and intelligence, which ought to inspire his bravery, and direct his actions. The least dishonest thought or action was, according to her doctrine, sufficient to forfeit the chivalrous lover the favour of his lady. It seems, however, that the greater part of her charge concerning incontinence is levelled against such as haunted the receptacles of open vice ; and that she reserved an exception (of which, in the course of the history, she made liberal use) in favour of the intercourse which, in all love, honour, and secrecy, might take place, when the favoured and faithful knight had obtained, by long service, the boon of amorous mercy from the lady whom he loved par amours.

In these extracts are painted the actual manners of the age of Chivalry. The necessity of the perfect knight having a mistress, whom he loved par amours, the duty of dedicating his time to obey her commands, however capricious, and his strength to execute extravagant feats of valour, which might redound to her praise, –for all that was done for her sake, and under her auspices, was counted her merit, as the victories of their generals were ascribed to the Roman Emperors— was not a whit less necessary to complete the character of a good knight.
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Fotor091415394On such occasions, the favoured knight, as he wore the colours and badge of the lady of his affections, usually exerted his ingenuity in inventing some device or cognisance which might express their love, either openly, as boasting of it in the eye of the world, or in such mysterious mode of indication as should only be understood by the beloved person if circumstances did not permit an avowal of his passion. The ladies, bound as they were in honour to requite the passion of their knights, were wont, on such occasions, to dignify them by the present of a scarf, ribbon, or glove, which was to be worn in the press of battle and tournament. These marks of favour they displayed on their helmets, and they were accounted the best incentives to deeds of valour. The custom appears to have prevailed in France to a late period, though polluted with the grossness so often mixed with the affected refinement and gallantry of that nation. Sometimes the ladies, in conferring these tokens of their favour, saddled the knights with the most extravagant and severe conditions. But the lover had his advantage in such cases, that if he ventured to vencounter the hazard imposed, and chanced to survive it, he had, according to the fashion of the age, the right of exacting, from the lady, favours corresponding in importance. The annals of Chivalry abound with stories of cruel and cold fair ones, who subjected their lovers to extremes of danger, in hopes that they might get rid of their addresses, but were, upon their unexpected success, caught in their own snare, and, as ladies who would not have their name made the theme of reproach by every minstrel, were compelled to recompense the deeds which their champion had achieved in their name. Lady's shiftThere are instances in which the lover used his right of reprisals with some rigour, as in the well-known fabliau of the three knights and the shift; in which a lady proposes to her three lovers, successively, the task of entering, unarmed, into the mêlée of a tournament, arrayed only in one of her shift. The perilous proposal is declined by two of the knights and accepted by the third, who thrusts himself, in the unprotected state required, into all the hazards of the tournament, sustains many wounds, and carries off the prize of the day. On the next day the husband of the lady (for she was married) was to give a superb banquet to the knights and nobles who had attended the tourney. The wounded victor sends the shift back to its owner, with his request, that she would wear it over her rich dress on this solemn occasion, soiled and torn as it was, and stained all over with the blood of its late wearer. The lady did not hesitate to comply, declaring, that she regarded this shift, stained with the blood of her “fair friend, as more precious than if it were of the most costly materials.” Jaques de Basin, the minstrel who relates this curious tale, is at a loss to say whether the palm of true love should be given to the knight or to the lady on this remarkable occasion. The husband, he assures us, had the good sense to seem to perceive nothing uncommon in the singular vestment with which his lady was attired, and the rest of the good company highly admired her courageous requital of the knight’s gallantry.

It was the especial pride of each distinguished champion, to maintain, against all others, the superior worth, beauty, and accomplishments of his lady; to bear her picture from court to court, and support, with lance and sword, her superiority to all other dames, abroad or at home. To break a spear for the love of their ladies, was a challenge courteously given, and gently accepted, among all true followers of Chivalry, and history and romance are alike filled with the tilts and tournaments which took place upon this argument, which was ever ready and ever acceptable. Indeed, whatever the subject of the tournament had been, the lists were never closed until a solemn course had been made in honour of the ladies. There were knights yet more adventurous, who sought to distinguish themselves by singular and uncommon feats of arms in honour of their mistresses; and such was usually the cause of the whimsical and extravagant vows of arms which we have subsequently to notice. To combat against extravagant odds, to fight amid the press of armed knights without some essential part of their armour, to do some deed of audacious valour in face of friend and foe, were the services by which the knights strove to recommend themselves, or which their mistresses (very justly so called) imposed on them as proofs of their affection.
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Sometimes the patience of the lover was worn out by the cold-hearted vanity which thrust him on such perilous enterprises. At the court of one of the German emperors, while some ladies and gallants of the court were looking into a den where two lions were confined, one of them purposely let her glove fall within the palisade which enclosed the animals, and commanded her lover, as a true knight, to fetch it out to her. He did not hesitate to obey, jumped over the enclosure ; threw his mantle towards the animals as they sprung at him; snatched up the glove, and regained the outside of the palisade. But when in safety, he proclaimed aloud, that what he had achieved was done for the sake of his own reputation, and not for that of a false lady, who could, for her sport and cold-blooded vanity, force a brave man on a duel so desperate. And, with the applause of all that were present, renounced her love for ever. This, however, was an uncommon circumstance. In general, the lady was supposed to have her lover’s character as much at heart as her own, and to mean by pushing him upon enterprises of hazard give him an opportunity of meriting her good graces, which she could not with honour confer upon one undistinguished by deeds of chivalry.

 
Source: Essays on Chivalry, Romance, and the Drama, by Sir Walter Scott

Gynotopia

Gynotopia: Love, Peace and Kill All The Men

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Often all-female worlds are imagined as Utopias. The details of the Utopia vary, but the idea that a world without men would be a Utopia recurs again and again in literature throughout the centuries. Neither is the idea entirely fiction, as we see from modern examples where feminists literally call for the extermination of part or all of the male population; a fantasy that does not occur in the reverse.[1][2]

In the decades before World War II, gynotopias tended towards the Utopian. In the 50’s, the “Love-Starved Amazons In Outer Space” genre was created. The 60’s and 70’s spawned two new, closely related gynotopian genres. One was a feminist utopian school, different from the older utopian novels in its bitterness towards men. The other might be termed “backlash fiction”; written by men, these novels featured monstrous Amazons ruthlessly murdering men by the bushel. In many of these stories of both camps, a plague or war lowers the number of males and a handful of highly intelligent, strong-willed women decide to seize power for themselves, and they know they have to make sure there are few or no males if they want to hold on to it.

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The Book of The City of Ladies
by Christine de Pizan.

Aside from classical myths describing tribes of Amazons, the first serious attempt at dreaming up a gynotopic society comes from protofeminist Christine de Pizan in the Middle Ages (c.1405). The storyline proposes that a city be constructed entirely by women – one that will be ruled entirely by women, every one of whom is virtuous, chaste and pure. Christine inserts herself into the story as its most suitable ruler, as she is the wisest, and most chaste and pure of all women. Christine’s city presents and shelters women as goddesses. Like Pygmalion, who was uninterested in real women, she sculpts the perfect female so that men can worship the illusion. In this sense Christine was very much a traditionalist attempting to uphold and entrench all the privileges enjoyed by her gender since chivalric love had been introduced. For a longer essay discussing this author and her book see Christine de Pizan: the first gender warrior.

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►Mizora: a World of Women
by Mary E. Bradley Lane

Mizora, published in 1880 is an all-female Utopian novel full of murderous ideologies hauntingly remniscent of Nazism. In this Utopia a disinterest in sex is maintained, but the women wear beautiful and elaborate clothes. Instead of agrarian subsistence, Mizora is technologically highly advanced; they synthesize most of their food from minerals, have cured most diseases, have flying machines, and their parthenogenesis takes place in a laboratory. Their planned economy, unlike every planned economy in real life, has created great prosperity for all. Everybody is blonde and blue-eyed. The Nazis did not invent their “master race” theory all by themselves; in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not only did many people take the pseudoscience of eugenics seriously, but there was a widely held theory that blue-eyed blonds were the highest type of human. The theory is discussed in depth in Joanna Pitman’s fascinating book On Blondes.

Bees in Paradise by Marriott Edgar

In this early (1944) and more lighthearted example of this genre Arthur Tucker and a few other men are shipwrecked on an island whose sole visible population is beautiful young women. (Like Wonder Woman’s home, it is called Paradise Island.) Men apparently exist, though we never see any of them; all the important work is done by women, who rule this society completely. However, their birth rate is dangerously low, and to their bafflement they are unable to induce men to marry them – which, since the movie was made in 1944, is the only way they can get pregnant. It does not occur to them that their policy of executing all husbands two months after the wedding might have something to do with it.
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The Day of the Women by Pamela Kettle

The back cover of this British pulp novel really says it better than I possibly could:

A female Prime Minister… human stud farms run by women… mass rallies at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the day of the dominating women… all this and more in a take-over bid of the Seventies that turns to high-heeled fascism, a dictatorship of unbridled power lust. A female elite has taken over England. Led by their ‘mother’, the sleek Diana Druce, they perform an economic miracle – and put the jackboot through the idea that women are the weaker sex. Author Pamela Kettle paints, in mercilessly naked detail, a picture of the near future that is not only possible, but probable…

sexwar
The Sex War by Sam Merwin, Jr.; also available via Kindle as The White Widows

Merlin’s1953 science fiction novel in which a chemist researching hemophilia becomes a pawn for ‘The White Widows, ‘ a group of women who intend to take over the world — and eliminate all men!

This one is about a conspiracy of genetically superior women who want to take over the world and, once they have the technology to reproduce without them, do away with men entirely. Notice the blood on the lower abdomen of the man in the background. I don’t recall any castration in the novel, but the cover’s implication is pretty darn clear.

Elseworlds: Created Equal

World without men
In this graphic novel, all the men in the DC universe die of a plague… except for Superman and Lex Luthor. The author apparently couldn’t figure out whether to be male chauvinist or female chauvinist. This is a sterling example of how many interesting psychological complexes bubble up as soon as people start writing about gynotopias. Futuristic all-female world in which one male is made as an experiment. This falls into the category of satire against radical feminism. Without men, the world becomes a stagnant dictatorship, although in this novel, the dictatorship functions reasonably even if it is dull, unlike in real life, where dictatorships are full of unrest and don’t tend to last long.

“Well, who wants men, anyway?” she said with an attempt at nonchalance that didn’t quite come off. Crinila smiled in the darkness. “Why, nobody, Lycia darling. Not even the men themselves will want men. All they will ever want is women.”

The Holdfast Chronicles by Suzy McKee Charnas

The gynotopian “female planet” has also been shown up as everything from well-meant nonsense to hateful rage, and Miss Charnas’s series is no exception. She claims not to hate men, but when you read her fictional history of how those nasty men destroyed the earth, killed off most of our species in massive wars, and then enslaved all women, even contemplating raising women for food, it’s kind of hard to believe her. (Incidentally, Miss Charnas vehemently opposes the current wars in the Middle East that have unseated dictatorships which treat women almost this badly, and of course similarly opposes Western civilization, in which women have been better treated than in any other society in history.)!B8lD!YwBGk~$(KGrHqF,!hsEzMS6Kl1GBM3bsrfbdw~~0_12

Facing dwindling reproduction, the men devised a procedure by which genetically altered women could be fertilized by horse sperm. Aside from the scientific improbability, I found this rather interesting, since according to Greek legend, horses were extremely important to Amazons – many Amazon names incorporate the Greek word for “horse” – and there were predictable jokes and speculation that their horses took the place of men in, ah, various ways. I don’t know if the parallel is deliberate. In any case, able to reproduce without men (because of technological advances made by men), these women escaped and became roving Amazons. This leads to the most worthwhile book in the series, The Furies, which Miss Charnas says upset many readers who were hoping for a more conventional feminist fantasy about how everything turns into fluffy bunnies without any of those big bad men around. Instead these Riding Women become just as brutal to men as men had been to them. This makes The Furies the most realistic novel out of the series; an hour of reading child abuse case histories will eradicate any notion that women are not capable of being violent or cruel.
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The final novel, The Conqueror’s Child, centers on the daughter of a hero of the Riding Women – a daughter who she abandoned as soon as she was born, following the model of real-life feminists. The story is about how the matriarchy finally wipes out the patriarchy for good, and how some women were magnanimous enough to allow some men to live. Miss Charnas claims to envision a society where the sexes are genuinely equal and both have all human options open to them, but her own story belies this: “The sponsorship of men and boys is a way of providing them with what amounts to a family of sharemothers, who show them how decent people behave and require that they themselves do so,” Miss Charnas burbles happily, describing this as “an alternative to enslaving the men or keeping them permanently on the stick”. We are asked to believe, in defiance of all of human history, that the men submit to this. I do not have the space here to dispute Miss Charnas’s definition of “decent behavior”, but I will point out that apparently killing or enslaving men is not excluded from it. But we can hardly expect the author to have a realistic view of human nature when we see in what denial she is about animals: “Any fool can see what makes a reasonable society by looking at who rules a band of horses or a flock of goats.” Please pause for a moment to digest that sentence. She is asking us to take four-legged grass-eating animals as a model for government. I think “fool” is the right word here. She continues, “Despite noisy male pantomime of mastery, the chief invariably turns out to be the queen doe or the lead mare, not the randy, hysterical buck or the stallion with the arched neck and rolling eyes.” Gracious, she does hate the menfolk, doesn’t she? Well, I have never studied horses, goats or deer, but I have invested considerable time into studying our close relatives the apes, and male dominance is universal among them.stormquest_567

Stormquest is a 1987 sword-and-sandals B movie. The nations of Kimbia, which has no men, and Ishtan, which keeps men as slaves, are at war. Add to the mix Ishtan men who are rebelling to demand equality with women and Kimbian women who were condemned for liking the men they bred with. The treatment of men by Ishtans is quite appalling, though to be fair the Ishtan queen is almost as cruel to her female subjects as her male slaves. In a female-ruled society where men are kept solely for breeding, two women come to believe that their society’s treatment of men is wrong, and lead them in a revolt against the system.

Whoever made this movie seems to have had some pretty big Issues. Not on DVD, but the entire movie can be viewed in segments on a certain free video site.

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In City of Women by David Ireland, men have been banished from Sydney, Australia, but still run amok outside the city.
Dustjacket synopsis:

“The city of women is love, Billie Shockley says.
“But in the city of women that is her world, love takes strange forms.
“The city is Sydney, from its familiar streets and gardens men have been banished. Their existence still threatens its precincts and Old Man Death moves rapaciously and relentlessly among its citizens.
“Billie observes them – their hedonism, rivalry, passions, cruelty, power, fragility. Reflecting her own anguish at the loss of love and youth, they suffer brutality and decay.
“But, she tells her gentle leopard, she will never admit it’s all over.

“City of Women is David Ireland’s most recent novel. It follows his highly acclaimed A Woman of the Future, which in 1979 won for him, for the third time, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award, shared the Age Book of the Year Award for 1980, and has become a best-seller.

gendergenocide“Gender Genocide” also published as Who Needs Men? by Edmund Cooper

A masterpiece of sexism. Fascist Lesbian Amazons have wiped out almost all of the men on earth and are working on the few remaining. The Amazons reproduce by cloning. The heroine, Rura Alexandra, is a First-Class Exterminator of men… until she meets one, is raped by him, falls deeply in love with him, gets pregnant and follows her man to the ends of the earth.

“Rura spent her days learning to forget that she had ever been an exterminator, learning to become a woman. It was an exciting process. It was as if she were peeling away a superficial persona and discovering something quite different underneath…. She learned to sing the old songs that Diarmid loved, to do the things that would please him; she learned when to be passive and when to take the initiative, and how to respond to excite him. She began to feel proud of her swollen breasts and swollen belly. These were the outward and visible signs of the true nature of womanhood.”

You know, I’m all in favor of heterosexuality (when it’s practiced by heterosexuals, that is), but the above inspires me to date myself by reviving a phrase of my adolescence: “Gag me with a spoon.”ammonite

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith

“In Ammonite… the attempts to colonize the planet Jeep have uncovered a selective virus that kills all men and all but a few women. The remaining women undergo changes that enable them to communicate with one another and the planet itself, and give to birth to healthy, genetically diverse children.”

Retreat: As It Was by Donna J. Young

This novel is set in the distant past when there were no men, just women who lived in peace and harmony. They all fly around in spaceships being sisterly (and occasionally more) and understanding of each other, mystically in tune with nature and growing spiritually and all that stuff. Then a radiation mutation causes: “You and all the women on the Eulalia suffered a slight change in one chromosome. One tiny leg of an X was chopped off. The effect on Jarre and all their offspring…” well, you get the idea. They mutated into men, and that was when all the trouble began. If you believe that the world would become a paradise if there were no Y chromosomes in it, this book is for you.

Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearheart

You know it’s going to be a bad book when you flip through it and find made-up words like “earthtouch”. These women live in “the Hills”, that is, out in the wilderness, where they talk to trees, live in perfect peace with each other and are far more in touch with their feelings than anybody ought to be. Not far away a normal (that is, with men and women) society lives in a place called “the City”. Naturally the City is a horrible place full of technology and competition where nobody talks to trees. In the very first chapter the author tells us that men are just too full of hate and violence to be fit to live and just need to die out, which these compassionate, in-touch-with-nature kindly and compassionately watch them do. Female man

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

The virulent hatred of men exhibited by feminists who boast endlessly about how compassionate and nurturing they are is the most tiresome thing about feminist-Utopian gynotopias. This badly written and ideologically asinine novel has for some mysterious reason garnered wide acclaim. Among the author’s embittered potshots at the male gender are a scene in which a man (a Marine, of course) consults a book called WHAT TO DO IN EVERY SITUATION when a woman rejects his advances and follows its instructions: insult her and “Girl backs down – cries – manhood vindicated.” Gee, real subtle there.

When It Changed by Joanna Russ

Science fiction story. Centuries ago, a plague killed all the male members of a space colony. Since then, women have carried on, living in Lesbian relationships and reproducing by egg fusion. They’re doing fine until an Earth ship full of males lands. Naturally the nasty males have caused Earth to have nuclear war and all those other bad things that Whileaway doesn’t have, and the patronizing men compulsively assure the women that “sexual equality has been re-established on Earth”. Written by a Lesbian-feminist, it’s male chauvinist in a kind of backhanded way; though the women of Whileaway hunt big game and fight duels and are generally quite capable of looking out for themselves, all the tall, strong, confident men have to do is swagger in and the women of Whileaway instantly feel themselves intimidated and outclassed.104344

The Gate To Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper

This is a space colony that has lost contact with Earth in which men and women live separately. The women have cooperation and harmony and nurturing while the men are mean old Warriors, though there’s not actually anyone else to fight with. Little boys are sent to live with the warriors at the age of five, where the men corrupt them into being horrible violent monsters, which would never happen if they stayed with their mothers. The main characters also spend some time with another society which practices a religion which is an obvious cypher for Christianity. It’s equally obvious that the author hates Christianity; the occupants of Holyland, who worship the All-Father, are ignorant and dirty and constantly beat their women and are terrified of the thought of anybody enjoying sex. Oddly enough, no matter how often the enemies of Christianity promote this image of them, real-life Christians stubbornly refuse to start acting the way they are assured they do.

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Consider Her Ways by John Wyndham, a famous science fiction story. Was made into a Night Gallery episode.

A young woman wakes up in a future three generations after the men have been wiped out by a plague. There are four classes of women: Mothers, who bear children, Servitors who do menial work, Workers for hard labor, and the ruling class, the Doctorate, so called because it is dominated by the doctors, without whom reproduction is impossible. Men have been forgotten except by a few scholars. A historian tells the protagonist, “It was quite a dreadful state of affairs because although there were a great many women, and they had outnumbered the men, in fact, they had only really been important as consumers and spenders of money. So when the crisis came it turned out that scarcely any of them knew how to do any of the important things because they had nearly all been owned by men, and had to lead their lives as pets and parasites.” She continues with standard feminist rhetoric, very prescient for a story written in 1956, despite the protagonist’s desperate attempts to explain the joys of the man-woman relationship. In essence, this story is the feminist fantasy: the intellectual career-oriented women are able to seize power, do away with men, and relegate more traditional women to a subordinate role without its doing men any good because there aren’t any.
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►A late addition to this genre is The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice. The first vampire, Akasha, decides to end war and crime once and for all by eliminating the source: men. After she inspires women and other vampires to kill all the world’s males, except for a few for procreation, she is confident that the world will become Eden. Nor is the genre dead today. In 1982, Sally Miller Gearhart wrote an essay titled “The Future – If There Is One – Is Female” in which she demanded that in future, men be limited to ten percent of the population. In 1999, Mary Daly envisioned a utopian future of parthenogenetically reproducing women and no men in Quintessence. In 2004, Bryan Sykes wrote Adam’s Curse: A Future Without Men, he suggested that in the not too distant future, men may be biologically superfluous, and that this will be just as well given how awful men are. In 2008 A. N. Wilson speculated that we could not only do away with men, but change our species entirely in the next half century: What would the world be like without men?

 
This 1971 novel doesn’t quite belong in this category, but I included it because it’s such an
excellent example of backlash against a disturbingly realistic gynotopian worldview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
Editors note: the above content is mirrored with a few minor changes (eg. title and intoductory paragraph, content removed/added) from the website ‘Gynotopias.’ – PW

Chivalry for love (1774)

The following excerpts are from chapter one of ‘On The Origin of Romantic Fiction in Europe‘ (1774). – PW

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Chivalry tornament joust

“At the ideal coronation of king Arthur, just mentioned, a tournament is described as exhibited in its highest splendor.

‘Many knights, says our Armoric fabler, famous for feats of chivalry, were present, with apparel and arms of the same colour and fashion. They formed a species of diversion, in imitation of a fight on horseback, and the ladies being placed on the walls of the castles, darted amorous glances on the combatants. None of these ladies esteemed any knight worthy of her love unless he had given proof of his gallantry in three fevered encounters. Thus the valour of the men encouraged chastity in the women, and the attention of the women proved an incentive to the soldier’s bravery’

Here is the practice of chivalry under the combined ideas of love and military prowess, as they seem to have subsisted after the feudal constitution had acquired greater degrees not only of stability but of splendor and refinement.

“And hence, even in time of peace, they had no conception of any diversions or public ceremonies, except of the military kind. Yet, as the courts of these petty princes were thronged with ladies of the most eminent distinction and quality, the ruling passion for war was tempered with courtesy.

The prize of contending champions was adjudged by the ladies; who did not think it inconsistent to be present or to preside at the bloody spectacles of the times ; and who, themselves, seem to have contracted an unnatural and unbecoming ferocity, while they softened the manners of those valorous knights who fought for their approbation.

The high notions of a noble descent, which arose from the condition of the feudal constitution, and the ambition of forming an alliance with powerful and opulent families, cherished this romantic system. It was hard to obtain the fair feudatary, who was the object of universal adoration. Not only the splendor of birth, but the magnificent castle surrounded with embattled walls, guarded with massive towers, and crowned with lofty pinnacles, served to inflame the imagination, and to create an attachment to some illustrious heiress, whose point of honour it was to be chaste and inaccessible.

And the difficulty of success on these occasions, seems in great measure to have given rife to that sentimental love of romance, which acquiesced in a distant respectful admiration, and did not aspire to possession… Chivalry by degrees was consecrated by religion, whose authority tinctured every passion, and was engrafted into every institution, of the superstitious ages ; and at length composed that familiar picture of manners, in which the love of a god and of the ladies were reconciled, the saint and the hero were blended, and charity and revenge, zeal and gallantry, devotion and valour, were united.

“But the principal subject of the poems, dictated in great measure by the spirit of chivalry, was love: especially among the troubadours of rank and distinction, whose castles being crowded with ladies, presented perpetual scenes of the most splendid gallantry. This passion they spiritualifed into various metaphysical refinements, and filled it with abstracted notions of visionary perfection and felicity.