Frau Minne: Originator of Today’s Gender Roles

Gendered customs come in a variety of different models, and tend to have variance from culture to culture, and era to era. Each mythological representation of a god or goddess, for example, shows a different slant on gendered behavior; there’s no ‘one gendered model fits all.’

In the context of mythology I like to cite the example of Frau Minne, a medieval personification or ‘goddess’ as she has been called, who offers a template for gender roles in the context of romantic love – with romantic love being our most popular trope for organizing sexual relationships today.

Frau Minne likes men to look up to women as pure and transcendent creatures, encouraging men to serve them from a more humble position. In the words of Irving Singer,

Courtly love is often said to have placed women on a pedestal and to have made men into knights whose heroic lives would henceforth belong to elevated ladies. The idea arises from the fact that men frequently used the language of chivalry to express their servile relationship to whatever woman they loved, and sometimes they described her as a divinity toward which they might aspire but could never hope to equal… that he must prove himself worthy of her and so advance upward, step by step, toward a culminating union at her level; that everything noble and virtuous, everything that makes life worth living, proceeds from women, who are even described as the source of goodness itself. But though the lady now discourses with her lover, the men frequently cast themselves into the typical posture of fin’amors. On their knees, hands clasped, they beg the beloved to accept their love, their life, their service, and to do with them as she pleases.1

What sociologists like to refer to as “respectful relationships” can be seen a euphemism for Frau Minnie’s call to establish a gender hierarchy where women are cast as ‘nobles of love’ in relation to chivalric males – with women being spoken of with classist characterizations such as “esteem,” “respect,” “dignity,” “worth,” “praise” and “status.”

It would be a brave person who would attempt to count how many Offices for the Status of Women exist throughout the Western world today.

A man’s role, according to Frau Minne, is to “place a Lady on a pedestal” and to offer himself to her in a position of sacrifice and service. Minne’s archetypal formula constitutes the heart of romantic love, all three waves of feminism, and the Jungian infatuation with the notion of “the feminine” (which is the Jungian counterpart of feminism). These systems of devotion to women’s esteem each point back to the vision of Frau Minne whose religion, according to Joseph Campbell, triumphed over Christianity during the late Middle Ages to become our dominant worldview — which is why today the romantic love literary genre outsells all of the world’s holy books *combined*.

In summary, Frau Minne provides an example of how gender concepts are a result, to some extent, of the archetypal imagination.

[1] Irving Singer, The Nature of Love: The Modern World, University of Chicago Press, 1984

For a longer exploration of this theme, see: ‘Frau Minne’ the Goddess who steals men’s hearts: a pictorial excursion