The Masochism of Sir Lancelot

Knight Of The Hangman’s Cart

On a surface level, Knight of the Cart centers around the exploits of a knight (Sir Lancelot) and his endeavors to rescue his queen (Guinevere) from kidnappers. On a deeper level, however, Knight of the Cart tells the story of a masochist, who willingly suffers at his dominatrix’s behest. With every step Lancelot takes, the line between pain and pleasure is blurred. In one particular instance, the knight braves a hazardous bridge of sharpened steel. He is wounded, but this pain soon becomes a source of gratification:

Love, which led and guided him,
Comforted and healed him at once
And made his suffering a pleasure

In this passage, pain and pleasure appear conflated. This conflation is one of the central themes of Chrétien’s narrative, and it perfectly encapsulates Lancelot’s relationship with Guinevere. She exists simultaneously as a source of pain and pleasure. In fact, she is the very impetus of their coalescence. Lancelot’s affection for Guinevere and his status as a courtly lover act as driving forces that urge him ever onward, skewing his perception of pain and bringing him into a world of masochistic pleasure. Love is his guide, and she is a cruel and sadistic mistress.

The implications of this passage do not stop here, however. The association between pain and pleasure and the dichotomy of male subordination/female domination are as relevant to Knight of the Cart as they are to courtly culture at large. In Chrétien’s writing, we see not only the passionate submission of one knight to one lady. We see one of the first, fully realized instances of sadomasochistic erotica. We see how Venus got her furs. Scholars and historians have recognized the pervading masochism of this text but have yet to attribute this masochism to a larger tradition of textual eroticism. In the following pages, we will explore the relationship between Lancelot and sadomasochistic erotica, the role of humiliation in Lancelot’s masochism, and Knight of the Cart’s connection to modern BDSM.

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Terms like sadomasochism were coined hundreds of years after the medieval period, yet they are strewn throughout these pages [Knight Of The Cart]. The plain and simple truth is that Europe was ill-equipped to address sadistic and masochistic practices as a collective during the Middle Ages. It lacked the terminology necessary to express mass, public recognition. That is not to say that sadomasochism was not deeply embedded in the public consciousness, because it was. It was so ingrained that it began seeping into the realm of popular culture and media. Elements of sadomasochistic practices are found all throughout Europe during the medieval period, most notably during the 12th century, when courtly culture was still in its naissance.

During the 1100’s, this cultural phenomena gave birth to what would come to be known as courtly romance. The courtly romance genre is perhaps the most abundant source of evidence that sadomasochism was not a foreign concept at the time. It was certainly no foreign concept to Chrétien de Troyes. As a troubadour, Chrétien committed several works to the courtly romance genre. One of his romances, Knight of the Cart, is laden with sadomasochistic subtext. But before one can explore the elements of sadomasochism that appear in this narrative, it is imperative to delve first into the preexisting scholarly responses to Chrétien’s writing.

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The Beheading

After Lancelot defeats a dishonorable knight, a maiden requests the fallen knight’s head. She essentially puts Lancelot to the task of decapitating the knight he has just defeated. He is then torn between his desire to appease the lady, and his desire to satisfy his own, personal sense of justice (Lancelot’s personal sense of justice entails having mercy for his fallen foe). Feinstein recognizes this inner turmoil when she alludes to “Lancelot’s struggle as to how to keep both his promise to give the lady the head of the defeated knight and grant the defeated knight mercy, as is his custom.” In the end, Lancelot submits to the lady’s wishes, and this submission is central to the subordination/domination that defines male/female relations in this text.

This courtly dichotomy of submissiveness and dominance is integral to Feinstein’s interpretation and overall understanding of courtly romance, and beheading is one of the linchpins holding this dichotomy together. On the surface, the act of a man beheading another man (whether at the behest of a woman or not) would seem to be an immediate expression of masculine power, but this is not how beheading functions in Chrétien’s narrative. Rather, it functions as an example of the lengths to which Lancelot will go to appease a lady.

According to Feinstein, “Chrétien’s use of beheading as closure becomes identified with issues of control or authority not as they refer to male rule, but as they relate specifically to women. . .In Chrétien’s romance, love is defined and controlled by women.” In Knight of the Cart, Lancelot is ultimately submissive to the wishes of every lady he comes across, and this is especially true of Guinevere. Their courtly love, and courtly love in general for that matter, is defined by this fundamental relationship of subordination and domination. Again, this notion of female dominion is not limited to the text. Male to female subordination saturates the courtly romance genre on both sides, appearing both on and off the page.

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In courtly culture we see men (be them courtly poets, lovers, or fictional characters) transition from the dominant role to the submissive role. We also see women transition from the submissive role to the dominant role. The understanding of courtly love as a masochistic contract is also noteworthy in this instance, as it constitutes a social space with very specific rules. These rules are very much an inversion of the norms of medieval gender relations. In short, because courtly love emulates the crucial elements of the sadomasochistic ritual, it is essential to regard courtly romance literature as part of the cultural history of sadomasochism.

So we return to the text, to that bridge of sharpened steel where pain and pleasure become one:

Love, which led and guided him,
Comforted and healed him at once
And made his suffering a pleasure

As previously stated, there is a masochistic association between love, pain, and pleasure throughout this text. Because the suffering Lancelot endures is facilitated by Guinevere, and the two are bound by the masochistic contract, she is situated as his dominatrix. According to Cohen, this is “the role of the woman of cold pleasure who enjoys the negation of her lover rather than of her self. . .the role of domna/dominatrix whose distant delectation Lancelot’s own suffering is predicated upon.” However, Lancelot’s excursion on the sword bridge is not the only instance in Knight of the Cart where suffering and satisfaction are conflated.

Another precedent of pleasurable pain is set early on in the narrative. As with Lancelot’s experience on the sword ridge, this scene also establishes a direct connection between love and wounding:

Love frequently reopened
The wound it had dealt him;
Yet he never wrapped it
To let it heal or recover,
For he had no desire or thought
To find a doctor or to bandage it,
Unless the wound grew deeper.
But willingly would he seek that certain one

This passage is especially noteworthy, as it illustrates how Guinevere (Lancelot’s “certain one”) is viewed as the disseminator of both pain and remedies. Lancelot does not want to consult a doctor: the only remedy he desires lies with his queen. Yet it is at her behest that Lancelot has received his wounds in the first place. Thus, love is responsible for injuring Lancelot while simultaneously holding the key to his recovery. This discrepancy between hurting and healing plays a big role in sadomasochism, wherein the application of aftercare is often overseen by the same dominant party that subjects the submissive party to physical pain. It is also important to note that Lancelot intentionally leaves his wounds unbandaged; he has no desire for them to heal. In other words, he is content enduring the pain of his injuries. It is as if Lancelot enjoys the pain and would only consult a medical professional if absolutely necessary.

Along with the masochistic association between love, pain, and pleasure, Lancelot’s quest is fraught with elements of sadomasochistic ritualism. According to Peter Tupper, sadomasochistic erotica often appears with an air of spiritual resonance: “Sacher-Masoch [Venus in Furs] explicitly drew connections between. . .desires, Catholicism, and paganism, which give his novel suggestion of a personal religious rite.”  Chrétien’s writing establishes the same connections. For example, as Lancelot pursues the missing queen, “Mundane objects acquire great symbolic value” while he wades deeper and deeper into the sadomasochistic ritual.  One example of this can be seen when Lancelot discovers a piece of Guinevere’s hair. What follows is nothing short of worship:

Never will the eye of man see
Anything so highly honored
As those strands, which he began to adore,
Touching them a hundred thousand times
To his eyes, his mouth,
His forehead, and his cheeks.
He showed his joy in every way
And felt himself most happy and rewarded.
He placed them on his breast near his heart,
Between his chemise and his skin.
He would not trade them for a cart loaded
With emeralds and carbuncles;
Nor did he fear that ulcers
Or any other disease would afflict him;
He had no use for magic potions mixed with pearls,
For drugs to combat pleurisy, for theriaca…
No use for prayers to St. Martin and St. James!
He placed so much faith in these strands of hair
That he had no need of any other aid.

Not only does this passage illustrate Lancelot’s association between mundane objects (strands of hair) and a greater allusory value, but it also elucidates Lancelot’s worship of Guinevere as a quasi-divine figure. The strands of hair are cherished as a relic that eclipses all other remedies (both spiritual and secular). In tandem with this worship, Lancelot seems to take an erotic pleasure in rubbing Guinevere’s hair all over his body. This pleasure plays out in such vivid detail that it resembles a scene of sexual gratification. Guinevere’s hair acts as a stand-in for the queen herself, and when Lancelot comes across these strands, he projects his sexual desires onto them. It is a scene ripe with the potential for titillation, one that foreshadows Lancelot’s subsequent sexual union with the queen.

Romantic Gyneolatry In The Bedroom

Lancelot’s worship of Guinevere is fully realized when the two consummate their physical relationship. The scene plays out as a religious rite turned sexual romp:

He came next to that [bed] of the Queen;

Lancelot bowed and worshiped before her,
For he did not have that much faith in any saint.
The Queen stretched out
Her arms toward him, embraced him,
Hugged him to her breast
And drew him into the bed beside her.

In this passage, Lancelot’s adoration of Guinevere is actualized in religious, albeit sexual, terms. He literally bows before her in worship. In this moment, Lancelot’s submission to Guinevere is at its most overt. The use of the word “worship” is especially noteworthy to this end, as it expresses in literal terms the subordination Lancelot willingly endures for his dominatrix. In this scene, Lancelot’s masochistic desires play out as a religious rite: this is supported by Cohen, who argues that “Lancelot’s reverence [of Guinevere] translates the sexual into the spiritual.” The spiritual resonance of this scene along with the titillation implicit in their sexually charged embrace help cement this work as a piece of sadomasochistic erotica.

This religious connection also thrusts Lancelot into the role of the masochistic martyr. When Lancelot makes his way to Guinevere’s chambers, he receives yet another injury:

Lancelot prepared and readied himself
To loosen the window.
He grasped the bars, strained, and pulled,
Until he bent them all
And was able to free them from their fittings.
But the iron was so sharp
That he cut the end
Of his little finger to the quick
And severed the whole
First joint of the next finger

Once again, this scene suggests a connection between pain and pleasure, as Lancelot receives these injuries as he makes his way to Guinevere’s bed: as he makes his way to sexual gratification. He must enter a world of pain to enter a world of pleasure. For Lancelot, pleasure always entails pain, and vice versa. In this particular instance, however, Lancelot becomes a martyr for love. More specifically, he “suffers and bleeds, his martyrdom for love.” This notion of martyrdom provides yet another connection between love, pain, and pleasure. It also supports the notion that Lancelot’s masochism plays out in spiritual terms.

When it comes to sadomasochistic erotica, it can be said that Chrétien’s Knight of the Cart bears striking similarities to other works in this literary tradition. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, for example, the sadomasochistic ritual is “performed with contracts, disguises, whippings, masks, cuckolding, and role play.” Similarly, Lancelot is bound to Guinevere through the masochistic contract, through the rules of courtly love. Also, disguise plays a major role in Lancelot’s quest; he bares the moniker of knight of the cart for a lengthy period, his true name left unknown until Guinevere restores his identity:

she [Guinevere] rushed forward and called to him,
Shouting for all to hear
In a very loud voice: ‘Lancelot !
Turn around and behold
Who is watching you

The connections between Lancelot and the sadomasochistic ritual do not stop here, however. The imagery Chrétien employs also lends itself to the literary tradition of sadomasochistic erotica. The most iconic and enduring among these images is that of a powerful woman holding a whip. This image is not foreign to Knight of the Cart:

There came a girl riding
Across the heath
On a tawny mule,
With her mantle unpinned and hair disheveled.
She had a whip

As previously stated, whips and whippings are very crucial to sadomasochistic ritualism. They are symbolic of the dominatrix’s power over her subordinate masochist. Likewise, this whip-wielding woman demands satisfaction from Lancelot, and like a good masochist, he submits to her wishes. Specifically, she demands the head of an individual Lancelot has just defeated in combat. As Feinstein suggests, Lancelot endures a “struggle as to how to keep both his promise to give the lady the head of the defeated knight and grant the defeated knight mercy, as is his custom.”

In the end, Lancelot submits to the lady’s wishes, and this submission is central to the submission/domination that defines male/female relations in this text.
Cuckolding and role play are also central to Knight of the Cart’s status as a work of sadomasochistic erotica. In one particular instance, a lady puts Lancelot in a situation where he has the potential to be made a cuckold:

Help! Help!
Sir knight – you who are my guest —
If you do not pull this other knight from off me,
I’ll not find anyone to pull him away;
And if you do not help me at once
He will shame me before your eyes!
You are the one to share my bed,
As you have sworn to me!
Will this man forcibly have his will
With me before your eyes?

In this moment, the lady is not in any real danger. She is role playing with her personal guards to create the illusion that she is being assaulted. This illusion places Lancelot in a position where he believes he will be made a cuckold if he does not intervene. The role play and cuckolding may not disseminate from Guinevere, Lancelot’s primary dominatrix, but it is still a widely relevant narrative device that helps situate Chrétien’s writing as sadomasochistic erotica.

Another important thing to consider is the role that public humiliation plays in Lancelot’s quest. Throughout the narrative, the knight endures a thorough social stigmatization. The stigma itself stems from his status as the eponymous knight of the cart. According to Cohen, “The cart is described as a space wholly outside of chivalric identity. To enter its ignoble confines is to become a mere subject of the law rather than its agent.”68 Therefore, Lancelot’s decision to enter the cart is understood as a willing act of self-emasculation that effectively strips him of his social clout and renders him a pariah in the public eye. No longer is he regarded with renown as an executor of the King’s laws; he is regarded as a common criminal. In fact, Lancelot remains symbolically branded throughout a bulk of the narrative and is subject to mass ridicule on several occasions. In one instance, a group of revelers actively avoid him:

Look at that knight, look!
It’s the one who was driven in the cart.
Let no one dare continue
His play while he is among us.

In another instance, he is directly admonished: “The one who was watching him reproached him / Bitterly for having ridden in the cart.” Both cases illustrate the ramifications of Lancelot’s decision to ride in the cart. His quest to rescue Guinevere leaves him marked, and the lasting effect of this mark is ridicule in the public sphere.

Lancelot’s ridicule is essential to understanding him as a masochist. In the world of sadomasochism, the dominant party (the dominatrix, master, etc.) often takes great pleasure in leaving marks on the submissive party (the masochist, slave, etc.). These marks are widely superficial (bruises, hickeys, etc.), but they can also be of symbolic nature. In any case, they are meant to denote the dominant party’s complete and total ownership over the submissive party. Lancelot’s experience with the cart allows Guinevere to leave a lasting, albeit indirect, mark on her subordinate rescuer. To secure her favor and affection, Lancelot must receive this mark willingly and endure every modicum of humiliation that comes with it.

As previously stated, along with pain, humiliation is a condition of the masochistic contract. It may be delivered, overseen, or set in motion by the dominatrix, but it must always entail some degree of shame or emasculation. Similarly, Guinevere subjects Lancelot to public humiliation on several occasions. In one particular instance, she chides him during his engagement with Maleagant: “Ah, Lancelot! What could it be / That makes you act so foolishly?” This question has a profound effect on Lancelot. It leaves him retreating inward, into the realm of introspection. Lancelot’s self-reflection is made evident in the following passage: “Lancelot was most ashamed / And vexed and hated himself.” Even after he endures the pain and humiliation of his quest, successfully rescuing Guinevere from her imprisonment, she chastises him.

When Lancelot is victorious in his battle against Maleagant, Guinevere denies any and all gratitude towards him. She publicly and intentionally embarrasses him at the very moment when he believes his suffering is at an end: “to pain and embarrass him further / She refused to answer him a single word / And passed into another room instead.” This process of denying satisfaction is another crucial element of sadomasochism. It involves the dominatrix withholding pleasure from her submissive partner until she believes they have suffered to an appropriate degree or for an appropriate amount of time. This brings us to the subject of titillation.

To assess how titillation functions within Chrétien’s larger poetic design, one must take a closer look at the imagery of Knight of the Cart. Not only do we find images of dominatrices with whips, but we also find images of cuckoldry and sexual union. Let us return to that moment where Guinevere embraces Lancelot, and accepts him as her lover:

The Queen stretched out
Her arms toward him, embraced him,
Hugged him to her breast
And drew him into the bed beside her.

This is a viscerally sensual moment for Guinevere and Lancelot, and Chrétien spares no linguistic expense in playing up the provocative nature of his subject matter. The titillation here is multifaceted: Not only does Guinevere press her breast against Lancelot, but she is also the one to initiate the movement from one social space to another. The contextual parameters of Guinevere’s bed constitute a sexual space, and when she brings Lancelot into this space, their status as lovers is solidified. As such, the imagery of Guinevere drawing Lancelot into bed with her could be construed as sexually stimulating because of the potential sexual energy implicit in the act. It is also erotic because of the power Guinevere holds over Lancelot. She is in control, and when she pulls Lancelot into bed with her there is an anticipation that she will retain this control throughout the sexual engagement.

[ Above passages from How Venus Got Her Furs: Courtly Romance as Sadomasochistic Erotica ]

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Lancelot’s Gyneolatry 

The submission which Lancelot shows in his actions is accompanied, on the subjective side, by a feeling that deliberately apes religious devotion. Although his love is by no means supersensual and is indeed carnally rewarded in this very poem, he is represented as treating Guinevere with saintly, if not divine, honours. When he comes before the bed where she lies he kneels and adores her : as Chretien explicitly tells us, there is no corseynt in whom he has greater faith. When he leaves her chamber he makes a genuflexion as if he were before a shrine.

The irreligion of the religion of love could hardly go further. Yet Chretien—whether he is completely unconscious of the paradox, or whether he wishes, clumsily enough, to make some amends for these revolting passages—represents his Lancelot as a pious man and goes out of his way to show him dismounting when he passes a church, and entering to make his prayer; by which, according to Chretien, he proves both his courtesy and wisdom.

[From C.S. Lewis – Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition]

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‘La Querelle Des Femmes’: The Birth of The Feminist Movement

Not long after romantic chivalry was invented and popularised a millennium ago, some medieval authors began to make jokes about the outlandish male sycophancy and pedestalisation of women that the new tradition entailed.  Christine de Pizan (1364-1431), a woman whom French feminists characterise as the “first feminist,” took public offense the attack on romantic chivalry and on female purity, which she considered a degradation of women’s dignity which feminists today would label misogyny.

Christine’s response launched a movement called La querelle des femmes (the quarrel about women’s rights), which continues today under the name ‘feminism.’ The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus the querelle des femmes serves as the originating title for the modern feminist movement.

Feminist historian Joan Kelly characterizes this early history of feminism as follows:

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 pro-woman ideas up until the time of the French Revolution…

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.1

When we consider the longevity of this movement, along with its aim to increase the power of women through the exploitation of gynocentric chivalry,2 we might be forgiven for believing its time for romantic chivalry and the associated gender wars it has sparked to be finally put to rest.

A short summary:




[1] Kelly, J. (1982). Early feminist theory and the” querelle des femmes”, 1400-1789. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 8(1), 4-28. See also: Bock, G., & Zimmermann, M. (2002). The European Querelle des femmes. Donavín G., Poster, C. Utz, R.(coords) Medieval Forms of Argument Disputation and Debate, Or: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 127-156.

[2] Wright, P. (2018). Bastardized Chivalry: From Concern for Weakness to Sexual Exploitation. New Male Studies7(2).

The Psychology of Guilt and Shame

Accusations of wrongdoing, and the saddling of males with a sense of guilt and shame, is used as a means to increase male labor and productivity – a result that works extremely well to the benefit of women, companies, and the State.

That formula can be stated simply as – Aggression, Guilt, Repair.

It refers to a psychological process that happens when someone commits a slightly destructive or aggressive act, and they notice the damage they have caused, or otherwise are made to notice the damage by others. This triggers a guilt reaction for feeling that one has damaged people they may care about and, after feeling guilty, they will typically move to repair the damage with benevolent gestures.

It doesn’t matter whether the claims of destructiveness are accurate, somewhat trumped up, or completely fabricated; it has the same effect of generating concern in the minds of the accused, who will react with various attempts to fix the problem and smooth it over.

This formula is laid out by pediatric psychiatrist Donald Winnicott1 who described the process already at work in earliest childhood, in infants who already show a concern over the results of their own destructiveness. Thus, when an infant bites his mother’s nipple, or screams and kicks, the mother typically gets frustrated, verbally upset and proceeds to walk away from the infant. At that moment the baby descends into what is described as a guilt state (becoming listless, crying, fearful), then when mother returns the baby goes all out trying to repair the damage – reaching out to hug mother, smiling, offering mother a rattle, etc. This is the process of aggression – guilt – repair,and it’s a cycle repeated thousands of times during everyone’s infancy.

It goes without saying that the repair effort is absolutely vital to any infant who is dependent on his mother for existence, and therefore we all carry that primal fear of loss when momma walks out of the room…… will she return? As a social and pair-bonding species the concern is real, and it probably goes a long way to explaining the popular cliché “If momma aint happy, aint nobody happy!” This sentiment is likely a hangover from childhood experience, one that can be exploited in adult relationships via acts of coldness; in the proverbial “silent treatment” or other forms of threat to a stable bond.

Winnicott contends that the aggression–guilt–repair cycle underlies all productivity in the wider social space; ie. that people wish to contribute into society to atone for supposed past destructiveness, no matter how insignificant, or to contribute as an atonement for future destructiveness that has not yet happened (and may never happen!). People want to feel good with the world, thus by contributing to people and the society around them they store up capital in their reparative bank accounts – often in the form of labor and sharing of finances, or otherwise via the currency of thoughtful gestures, deference, verbal compliments and the like.

When we consider that the reparative gestures more often take the form of labor – especially men’s labor – we could perhaps equally render Winnicott’s formula as Aggression – Guilt – Labor, and lose nothing of its meaning.

Here we note that the phrase ’emotional labor’ takes on a whole new, and very male sense.

On a more tangible level I’ve talked with a lot of men who admitted that when they feel they’ve done something bad, no matter how minor, or that they’ve done something destructive in the eyes of their wife or partner, they go all-out trying to repair the damage.  They may give her a bunch of flowers, or they might labor around the yard or paint the interior of the house or some other manual task, and via these constant reparative gestures they tend to provide far more labor than would normally be the case. This unfortunately can become a sick game between couples; if a man (or woman) can be made to feel bad enough, and frequently enough, they become pathologically productive.

To that end, many men feel that their wives have become daughters of B. F. Skinner, regularly hearing the nagging din of “You’ve been very insensitive to me recently, and you haven’t even painted the house yet!” or “You never show me any love gestures!”

The myth of Greek hero Heracles is paradigmatic of this cycle, showing the same pattern described by Winnicott in an endless loop; Heracles commits destructive deeds, feels guilt, and then attempts to repair the damage through hard labors. His desire to repair things often comes via contributing to society, by helpful assertions of strength to rid the world of monsters and lawless creatures, or performing useful engineering feats, while at the same time vigorously denying any weakness that would slow him down.  As Philip Slater observes;

The Heraclean myths also include the self-abasing strategy. This is inferred, not from his appearance as a buffoon in Attic drama, but from his role as a servant of the gods and a slave to women. He consistently performs “dirty work” for others, killing pests, cleaning the Augeian stables, herding cattle, reaping grain, and so on. Indeed, his entire life is one of suffering, servitude, and degradation, relieved only by his achievements and final apotheosis. From the slave of the cowardly Eurystheus he becomes the slave of Omphale, and is constantly being cheated of his wages (e.g., by Eurystheus, Augeias, Eurytus, and Laomedon).3 (p.375)

Heracles, along with every man who labors compulsively, is motivated to repair what he unconsciously feels are the results of his own destructiveness — even his potential destructiveness that may never manifest in real behavior. The mere potential of destructiveness is enough to set the compulsive work cycle in motion, especially if under the watchful direction of a scold.

Might this provide the esoteric rationale for why all men are labelled toxic? 

We can only imagine what the world would look like if men were not operating under pressure of guilt; it would probably look more like a series of relaxed traditional villages instead of the outlandish marvels of civilization we see today. When it comes to measuring national productivity, the benchmark GDP could perhaps be partly interpreted as men’s Guilty Domestic Product.4

Misandry as a fomenter of productivity

Misandry is not a simple scapegoating reflex, although that is a part of it. Misandric blaming is also an assist for increasing the power and enrichment of the State, of corporations, and of course women, because it increases men’s productivity.

That payoff is why misandry has remained normalized, but it doesn’t have to remain that way for conscious men.

Some of the phrases directed at men are proof of the desire to increase men’s labor; phrasings like “You need to man up!” which often means a man needs to work harder. Men are called deadbeats (not producing enough money), ‘man-babies’ (for not wanting to overdo things nor put their health at risk), or Peter Pans (too busy enjoying life instead of working), or they may be characterized sarcastically as a ‘failure to launch’ (for younger men failing to rush headlong into a career and a job by which he can contribute his labor to society).

Or, in the recent past, what about the negative disparaging of a man as “gay” (whether he was or not), which implied such a man was failing to indenture himself in service to women and family with some kind of productive contribution (gay men were busying themselves doing non-gynocentric things). We’ve even heard that some men assaulted homosexual men, on rare occasions, as if they were a reminder of their own beaten up, freedom-yearning soul. As ugly as this is, it provides an example of men’s internalized misandry that attempts to ‘put a man in his place,’ by violence if necessary.

In conclusion we can say that misandry is not only a vehicle for cathartic blame, but is more geared to ‘keep men in their place’ – and that place is to be a guilt-driven provider. Women in the long-ago past were similarly subjected to these ‘in your place’ roles, but those days for women are long gone in most developed nations.

It is now men’s turn to break the cycle and say no to imputed guilt, or at least refuse to make genuine guilt available for others to exploit. If you fail to protect yourself in this regard, you are on a fast track to slavery and, in all likelihood, are already there.


[1]. Donald Winnicott, The Development Of A Capacity For Concern (1963), Chapter 6 in The Maturational Process And The Facilitating Environment, International universities Press, (1965).

[2]. Donald Winnicott, Aggression, Guilt and Reparation (1960), Chapter 16 in  Deprivation And Delinquency, Tavistock Publications, (1984)

[3]. Philip Slater, The Glory Of Hera: Greek Mythology and The Greek Family, Beacon Press, (1968)

[4]. Note: for those who are inclined to take comments literally, rest assured this comment about traditional villages (and GDP) is intended hyperbole.


For a longer study on the psychology of guilt, from which this article is a quote, see Heracles: A Slave To Guilt And Shame

Madame Bovary Syndrome (English Translation from the original French paper – 1892)

Madame Bovary Syndrome (bovarysme/bovarism) represents women’s delusional fixation on the ideals of romantic love.  The term was coined by French writer J. de Gaultier in his 1892 essay Le bovarysme, la psychologie dans l’oeuvre de Flaubert, with the following two excerpts translated (and paraphrased) from the original French essay. – PW

Mr. Montégut noted that the appearance of Madame Bovary “was a reaction to certain long-sovereign influences.” She stood in all reality for the false ideal made fashionable by the school of romantic love and for the dangerous sentimentality that has as its counterpart the male figure of Don Quixote who was a consequence for the too long-prolonged chivalric mania of Spain.

Mr. Montégut continues; “As Cervantes dealt the death blow to the chivalrous mania with the very weapons of chivalry, it is with the very same processes that G. Flaubert has destroyed the false ideal promoted by the romantic love school; it is with the very resources of the romantic imagination that he has painted the vices and errors of that imagination in the figure of Madame Bovary.”  [Page 11]

* * *

If all of Flaubert’s characters reveal in their feelings and in their ideas the morbid principle that governs them, there is one who manifests a more complete, singularly evil set of symptoms: Madame Bovary. Equipped with a strongly accentuated temperament and an active will, she creates within herself, in contradiction to her real nature, a being of imagination, made of the substance of her reveries and  enthusiasms.

In complete good faith she incarnates in this ghost, and lends it passions and desires, putting in it all the tension of her nerves, and putting all the energy of her soul at its service to satisfy them.  Her true instincts however, always ready to emerge, protest with their violence against this usurpation and try to reconquer the place that has been taken from them; she strives to stifle their calls, and with incredible determination she persists in turning her eyes away from herself, seeing herself only under the appearance of her dream.

Her entire life is torn apart by this poignant struggle between her little-known real self and the chimerical monster she has installed in her brain. Thus torn between these two equal powers, abused by the false romantic ideal that she has formed of herself, the poor woman becomes this hybrid being dedicated to the necessary lie and leading ultimately to suicide, which alone puts an end to her terrible duality.

By the obstinate blindness by which she carried out her incessant evolution, and by her tragic end, she personified in herself this original disease of the human soul for which her name can serve as a label: we can understand that “Bovarysm” is the faculty given to man to conceive of himself otherwise than he is, without taking into account the various motives and external circumstances which determine this intimate transformation in each individual. [Page 26]


SEE ALSO: What is Madame Bovary Syndrome?

“Humans are a gynocentric species” is pure myth

Don’t let the phony simp-science con you any longer. Here’s a debunking of the “humans are a gynocentric-species” foundations that gynocentrists don’t want you to consider:

  • Gynocentric hypothesis: Women’s hypergamous behaviour indicates that human sexuality is driven by gynocentric imperatives, with societies historically prioritized around women’s desire for status.
    Fact: Women’s exaggerated hypergamy can be explained by the more recent rise of cultural narcissism which involves behaviors of self-enhancement and status-seeking. Moreover, narcissism is maladaptive in the sense that it contributes to a decrease in marriage, increasing divorce, and is implicated in plummeting birth rates.
  • Gynocentric hypothesis: Women’s neotenous facial features prove that they evolved to be prioritized and pampered more than males.
    Fact: Today women’s neoteny can be explained in larger part by the use of cosmetics, practiced childlike gestures, and increasingly, plastic surgery. In comparison to other primates, human males also display a degree of neoteny, though not usually enhanced by cosmetic artifice as we see practiced by women.
  • Gynocentric hypothesis: Women fall pregnant, give birth and care for offspring, which means that very few males are necessary for the perpetuation of the species.
    Fact: Women’s pregnancies are not more precious than male investment in child care and the provision of protective infrastructure for infant survival, without which a large percentage of infants would perish. Therefore men and women are equally important for reproductive success.
  • Gynocentric hypothesis: Women are the gatekeepers of sex who decide which males get to have sex, and males generally comply with this exclusive female choice.
    Fact:  Women are not “the gatekeepers” of sex. An overwhelming majority of men are approached by females attempting to initiate sex with them, and at other times men approach women. In these situations men have the full capacity to say “yes” or “no” to sexual opportunities, thus men are also gatekeepers of sex.  Humans are a Mutual Mate Choice (MMC) species and males invest in parenting of offspring, leading them to also be choosy about the qualities of their sexual and reproductive partners.
  • Gynocentric hypothesis: More females than males reproduced during human evolutionary history which suggests that women controlled which males had sex.
    Fact: this can be explained by the choices of powerful males sequestering women as wives and property, and by arranged marriages – this is not a result of female choice.
  • Gynocentric hypothesis: Men go to die in wars for the single purpose of prioritizing and protecting women, thus indicating that women are more valuable to the human species.
    Fact:  Men dying in wars is historically for the sake of defending broader affiliations like religion, king, country, democracy, or entire family networks, and not simply for the sake of women’s survival.

The list could go on. There’s no evidence that humans are a “gynocentric species” whose relationships must, by evolutionary nature, be gynocentric. At most we can say men engage in a limited number of gynocentric acts that are matched by commensurate androcentric acts and gestures by women. Eclipsing both of these motives is a wider family centrism, and genecentrism.

Why does it matter?

It matters because if men and women imagine gynocentrism to be the natural default for human relationships, and for the human species, they tend to resign themselves to unbalanced relationships based entirely on deference to women’s needs and wants. Retaining the belief that we are a gynocentric species works as a mental constraint which stymies our mental ability to override it, whereas clearing out such ideological garbage allows the mind to act more efficiently and to make wiser life decisions for the purposes of pair-bonding, families, society and for oneself.

Vulnerable Narcissism And The Tendency For Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV)

In 2020 researchers identified a personality construct they refer to as the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV) (Gabay, et al., 2020). The construct involves four dimensions:

  1.  A sense of moral elitism,
  2.  A lack of empathy,
  3.  The need for recognition (need to have one’s sense of victimhood acknowledged and empathised with),
  4.  Rumination over interpersonal offenses which includes aggressive reactivity and a desire for vengeance.

The TIV is centred in a personality type characterised by an ongoing feeling that the self is a victim, which they define as an enduring feeling of being a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships. Comparing the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood with features of grandiose narcissism, and not with vulnerable narcissism, the authors drew the following conclusion:

“We also posit that both narcissism and TIV are characterized by vulnerability to threats to the self, but that the content of these threats would be different. Narcissists present themselves to the world as strong, capable, and talented (and relatedly, differently from TIV, narcissism was found to be associated with extraversion; Stronge et al., 2016). Therefore, threats are related to anything undermining their grandiosity and superiority, such as extraordinary abilities, achievements or positive qualities. In contrast, the self-presentation of high-TIV individuals is that of a weak victim, who has been hurt and is therefore in need of protection; a considerate and conscientious person who must face a cruel and abusive world. Threats to high-TIV individuals are related to anything that can undermine their self-image of moral superiority; or elicit doubts from their environment as to whether the offense occurred, the intensity of the offense, or their exclusivity as victims. These, and additional hypotheses should be examined in future research.” (Gabay, et al., 2020)

The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood appears to have much more in common with vulnerable narcissism, although the authors of the paper do not address this obvious point—instead they compared features of TIV with grandiose narcissism alone. The authors’ conclusion that narcissism and TIV are distinct constructs is therefore not entirely convincing due to the omission of the vulnerable type. The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood and vulnerable narcissism appear to be highly overlapping constructs as both report a sense of moral elitism, a need to have one’s sense of victimhood acknowledged and empathised with, and associated feelings of persecution, resentment and rumination.

In popular culture the exaggerated tendency to present oneself as victim is referred to as “damseling” (short for ‘damsel in distress’), which tends to occur when a woman is not receiving attention, conformity or admiration in line with her self-image. Janice Fiamengo (2021) has identified the narcissistic grandstanding of damseling as a kind of ‘irresistible lure’ for those who would employ it, while also underlining the trepidation and resentment this tendency generates in many men:

“Women’s claims of victimhood take a great deal of time and energy away from many pressing issues, and create an uneven political playing field in which every man knows he can be wrong-footed, and every woman knows she can power trip if she wants to. The damsel option disinclines some women from whole-heartedly pursuing competence because they know they can deflect criticism or gain advancement by sorrowing eloquently, creating bad faith in many women, suspicion and resentment in many men.” (Fiamengo, 2021)

Fiamengo’s essay highlights the considerable social and interpersonal attention that can be garnered from a projection of victimhood. Whether the presenting damsel’s distress be real, exaggerated or wholly fabricated, it represents a kind of soft power that forces the surrounding environment to stop and take notice.


Fiamengo, J. (2021, April 1). The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from Gynocentrism And Its Cultural Origins blog.

Gabay, R., Hameiri, B., Rubel-Lifschitz, T., & Nadler, A. (2020, May 20). The tendency for interpersonal victimhood: The personality construct and its consequences. Personality and Individual Differences, 165, 110134.



Source: This excerpt first published in the New Male Studies article Gynocentrism as A Narcissistic Pathology – Part 2.


Foundations Of Feminism – by Avrom Barnett (1921)

The following is an excerpt from a 1921 book Foundations Of Feminism which pairs early feminism with the belief that women are biologically superior to males, and thus more important to the human species. This, as previously mentioned, is a forerunner to contemporary appeals to evolutionary psychology making similar conclusions about women’s biological superiority.

Robert Briffault insisted his ‘law’ doesn’t apply to humans

We’ve all heard it before – the claim that we must accept gynocentrism as the default setting for the human species, and for human relationships, because Robert Briffault said it was true a century ago. The only problem is that he didn’t say that at all; its a fabrication by people who have attempted to con us into thinking gynocentrism is the incontrovertible basis of human existence.

Briffault’s law, as stated in his book The Mothers, is this:

“The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.”1

Many have embraced Briffault’s Law and applied it to human relationships in a way that Briffault didn’t intend. Briffault applied his law strictly and explicitly to non-human animals in a chapter titled “The Herd And The Family Amongst Animals.”

In the section describing his ‘animal’ law he qualifies that, quote “There is, in fact, no analogy between the animal family and the patriarchal human family. The former is entirely the product of the female’s instincts, and she, not the male, is the head.”

The chapter is five pages long. In it he mentions tigers, elks, lions, zebras, gazelles, buffaloes, deer, monkeys, beavers, lions, birds and other animals, and only references humans briefly in order to contrast human behavioural patterns from those of animals. Briffault says:

“There is in fact no analogy between that [animal] group and the patriarchal human family; to equate the two is a proceeding for which there is no justification. The patriarchal family in the form in which it exists today is a juridic institution. Whatever external and superficial similarities there may be in the constitution of the human and of the animal family, there is one profound and fundamental difference. The patriarchal family is founded upon the supremacy of the male as ‘pater familias,’ as head of the family. This is not the case in the animal family. it is, on the contrary, entirely the product and manifestation of the female’s instincts; she, and not the male, is its head. We may occasionally find the male employed in foraging for the brood and for the mother, while the latter is lying quiescent in charge of her eggs or brood; but there is nothing in those appearances to justify us in regarding the animal family as patriarchal; on the contrary, the conduct of the group is entirely determined not by the male but by the female.”1

Most of what Robert Briffault says is factually incorrect by today’s standard of knowledge. But what we can say without any doubt is that he never applied his “law” to humans. Therefore, let us apply Occam’s razor to this monumental con-job that has been disseminated in the manosphere and beyond.

While we are at it, why not apply the razor to all the other bogus arguments for natural gynocentrism; the people disseminating such unscientific rubbish are not genuinely interested in men’s liberation from the current status quo.

* * *


[1]  Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study Of The Origins Of Sentiments And Institutions, Volume 1 of 3  (April, 1927)

Men tend to regulate emotions through actions rather than words

*This article first published at The Centre For Male Psychology.

At fifteen years of age I left school to start a blacksmithing trade. It was a physically demanding job but at the same time it was immensely creative and satisfying to learn about the physical properties of metals and their various states of malleability. When metal is in a red hot state it’s similar in consistency to potter’s clay which can be easily pushed, pulled, stretched, twisted, flattened, or poured – pretty much whatever you wanted to do with it. The only limitation was knowledge of how to use the hundreds of different grabbing tools, pincers, tongs, clamps, and hammers, but like any skill this would all come in time, with practice and with quality male mentorship.

While on the path of learning these skills I noticed a subsidiary layer of activity that was always accompanying the work, a psychological layer of emotional processes that seemed to mysteriously mingle with each task.  If I was enjoying life, I tended to marvel more at the rainbow colours that would appear in the metal when grinding or heating it to varying degrees, or if I was experiencing frustration, anxiety or anger about something, I noticed that I was hammering a hot blade more aggressively than usual, generating a strange kind of relief and, I discovered, even further relief if I deliberately hit the object harder and with extra blows. Yet again I learned that if my hammering was getting too feverish I could at any moment choose to “quench” the hot blade in cold water, bringing an altogether different kind of relief.

“In fact not only the tasks of blacksmithing, but any physical activity soon revealed itself as a project I would ‘use’ for a canvas to regulate emotions”

Even at this young age I was consciously aware of how I was regulating my emotions via these acts, and of how this strange synchronicity of tasks formed a compliment. I also learned to make good use of physical work to regulate my emotions when I needed to establish any kind of baseline equilibrium. This wasn’t a result of some special genius or education, nor from doing sessions with a psychologist or counsellor – it was my male nature understanding how to regulate itself.

In fact not only the tasks of blacksmithing, but any physical activity soon revealed itself as a project I would ‘use’ for a canvas to regulate emotions, and I could equally choose which physical activity to engage in based on what my desired outcome was – release of anger or frustration, to generate comfort, or perhaps to affirm or increase my enjoyment of life. All of this happened in a natural way as I engaged in work, various sports, and recreational activities (as it does for most men) without need to say a single word about my feelings to anyone. Furthermore, not only was I able to regulate my own emotions in this way, but I found I could equally use these techniques to help regulate the emotions of friends and family; if a friend was struggling in some way I would invite them on a mountain hike, camping, fishing, or to the cinema where they could quietly undergo the secret alchemy that I had found so helpful. Helping friends made me feel good too… was there anything I could not do with this wisdom?

As for most young men this made intuitive sense, though I would later add a layer of sophistication to that understanding when I studied the psychology of emotional processing. There I learned that while people can express emotions via physical acts and gestures, or alternatively by conversing about emotional issues, men tend to specialise more in action-based regulation of emotion than do women who tend to specialise more in verbal regulation of emotions.

With this acquired knowledge about men’s emotional awareness, imagine my surprise when I opened a study booklet written by one-time APA president Ronald Levant, published in 1997, claiming most men cannot understand their own nor other people’s feelings: “One striking and far-reaching consequence of the male socialization ordeal is the inability to differentiate and identify their emotions… In its most basic sense, to live detached from one’s emotions is to live isolated from oneself as well as from others – a condition that precludes true intimacy.”1

This claim forms the basis of the theory that most men are severely lacking in emotional intelligence, and that even were they to discover some fragments of emotional awareness they would not know how to express it in words, such is the depth of male handicap. Levant refers to this condition as a normative male form of ‘alexithymia’ (a term meaning low emotional intelligence) which results in men being unable to read their emotions,2 and he adds: “Lacking this emotional awareness, when asked to identify their feelings, they tend to rely on cognition and try to logically deduce how they should feel. They cannot do what is automatic for most women – simply sense inwardly, feel the feeling, and let the verbal description come to mind.”

“…a woman might talk with her melancholic friend about what is worrying her in order to cheer her up; the man may invite the same melancholic friend to the movies”.

According to this theory, men’s lives are guided by action empathy, which are said to be an inadequate substitute for genuine emotional empathy, a skill typically displayed by most women. Action empathy is defined as the ability to see physical motivations from another person’s point of view, and to focus on which concrete actions those people might perform, but that men otherwise do not understand emotional empathy in the way women do – women who are able to take another person’s perspective and know how they feel. Levant states, Action empathy also differs from emotional empathy in terms of its aim. Emotional empathy is usually employed to help another person and is thus prosocial, whereas action empathy is usually employed in the service of the self.”1

As a result of men’s claimed low emotional intelligence, they are said become strangers to their own emotional life, unconsciously transmuting their vulnerable emotions into anger and aggression, while also tending to extrude their caring emotions through the narrow channel of sexuality.3

Far from being evidence of low emotional intelligence, however, men’s tendency to use action can be better understood as a form of emotional acumen. Some studies of emotional processing indicate that men and boys are able to identify the specifics of emotional arousal in themselves and others as well as do women – emotions like jealousy, love, anger, sadness, anxiety, and so on. For example, one study of 1285 men and women found that while women were more proficient at verbalizing feelings, men and women were equally proficient at identifying feelings,4 and another study by Fischer et al.5 of more than 5000 participants’ ability to perceive facial emotions found “no gender differences in the perception of target emotions”Fischer et al. comment that this finding “diverges from various earlier reviews and meta-analyses on gender differences in emotion accuracy”.5 They speculate that this difference might be because earlier research tended to use student samples, whereas the participants in their study were from a range of ages and backgrounds.

The second observation, as outlined above, is that men and boys may choose to regulate emotions not by verbalising them so much (women’s preferred method) but by taking intelligent action. By way of example a woman might talk with her melancholic friend about what is worrying her in order to cheer her up; the man may invite the same melancholic friend to the movies; both responses – talking, or acting – serve to intelligently modulate emotions.

“The two ways of regulating emotions have implications for the field of mental health, which relies predominately on talking therapy – in particular talking about feelings.”

It is an error to conflate these two separate features of emotional processing as if they were one and the same: 1. recognising emotions, or 2. verbalising feelings. Men, like women, can usually recognise the full range of emotional phenomena but they may choose to respond to that knowledge in a very different manner than does the average woman. Men often choose to respond to such awareness by doing something pragmatic instead of verbalising feelings.

Talking about doings
The two ways of regulating emotions have implications for the field of mental health, which relies predominately on talking therapy – in particular talking about feelings. Does this not suggest that there could be, and perhaps needs to be, more emphasis on discussing the therapeutic value of action? It may not be practical to conduct therapy while engaged in physical activity such as a gym workout or while out walking in the streets, but the therapeutic discussion can at least focus more on the “doing” aspects of a man’s life. For example a therapist might ask how did problem XYZ make a man act out, along with exploring which physical activities or responses might help a him to modulate such emotions more optimally in future. Does riding a Jet Ski, or going for a jog, or building some wooden furniture make him feel better or worse? What about creating art or playing music? Does that difficult manoeuvre in the video game remind of difficulties in his relationship with his girlfriend? Does the same video game provide some optimism that if he can get past the difficult manoeuvre within the game then perhaps he can find a way around the impasse with his girlfriend? Activities like these provide a symbolic canvas on which men project, and then work through various scenarios of real life, with potential to shift affective resonances in the process.

When a man talks about how he operated a lathe, did some welding, restored a bit of discarded and broken furniture, might he be sharing a strategy of how he successfully redirected suicidal feelings? Perhaps we should not be so quick to shut down these conversations with accusations of being work obsessed, effectively stymieing natural male expressions with injunctions to talk less about activities and to communicate more effusively with feelings words. For many men, activities are the preferred canvases on which they can process feelings and carve out some genuine psychological equilibrium.

This is probably a reason why men talk so much about work, sports, building things, computer games, recreational activities – it may be their preferred way of communicating the ways they wrestle with psychological issues. Sadly, the therapeutic industry is quick to chastise men’s preference for intelligent actions, conflating them with pathological reflexes such as unconscious acts of aggression, dependence on drugs and booze, and other destructive versions of “acting-out” as they are so often branded.

Therapies centred in discussion of physical activities, or conversely centred in sharing strings of feeling-words, can both serve as forms of communication. With this in mind it’s perhaps time for therapy to free itself from looking exclusively into the mirror of feelings so it can look out of the window at the range of concrete activities that also serve psyche. The reaction of men to this approach might surprise us all.



 [1] Ronald F. Levant, Carl Sherman, Men And Emotions: a Psychoeducational Approach (Assessment and Treatment of Psychological Disorders) , pp. 9-10, Newbridge Publications (1997 )
[2] Pleck, J. H., Levant, R. F., & Pollack, W. S. A New Psychology of Men. pp.238-239, New York : Basic Books (1995)
[3] Levant, R. F. (1996b). The new psychology of men. Professional psychology: Research and practice , 27(3), 259 .
[4] Salminen, J.K. ‘Prevalence of alexithymia and its association with sociodemographic variables in the general population of Finland,’ Journal of psychosomatic research, vol. 46, no1, pp. 75-82, 1999
[5] Fischer, A. H., Kret, M. E., & Broekens, J. (2018). Gender differences in emotion perception and self-reported emotional intelligence: A test of the emotion sensitivity hypothesis. PloS one, 13(1), e0190712.