Category Archives: Courtly love

Sadomasochism and courtly love

The following excerpt, translated from the French title The Meaning of desire – sado-masochism and Courtly Love by Emmanuel-Juste Duits, explores the considerable overlap between sadomasochism and courtly love. If anyone has a better translation please feel free to submit it.

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Sadomasochistic dominatrix and courtly dominatrix

Wearing leathers, her long black hair tied by a braid, her legs sheathed, hard and inquisitive glance, surrounded by the colors of the night, this image is represented by the dominatrix.

What common features would she have with the ‘courtly lady,’ of a gentle and wise appearance, with a high hat surmounted by a veil, hidden by her long robe embroidered with pink and turquoise hues?

Imageries opposed, or similar realities?

In courtly love and SM it is easy to see the similarity of the terms used, symbolic gestures, and even certain practices. The dominatrix officiates in a “dungeon,” a space furnished with the often Gothic character where arched windows open, with walls of stone, impressive chains, iron doors. She receives servants and, just as in courtly love, the classical sexual act is just out of reach. Inaccessibility and distance are law.

But let us begin with the trait which gives its title to these two queens: domina /dominatrix. Why ? By their haughty character and magical power (mana), they dominate man who readily recognizes himself as a vassal. The first troubadour, Guillaume IX, one of the most powerful lords of the kingdom, called himself a vassal of his lady. The domnei (the chivalrous male lover) is admitted during a kneeling ceremony where he receives a ring as a pledge of fidelity and absolute obedience.

It thus becomes a genuine act of serving (in the medieval sense), ironically reversing the older chivalrous act of force and instituting a new male submission by the Middle Ages! But what does female domination sung by the minstrels consist of? What does this word hide, far beyond a capricious will and the arbitrariness of desires?  It is evident that the courtly lady develops moral and intellectual qualities which are far from evoking sadism and the violence unleashed by tyrannical instincts. She is supposed to be cheerful, welcoming, and witty. This may also be appropriate, in some respects, to the real dominatrix who demonstrates self-control and respect for her subjects.

What is the fascinating virtue that invests the feudal overlord (suzerain)?

Patriarchal societies advocate a so-called “natural” order which contains a set of coherent values, which are linked together and enslave us to the family, to a warrior and vengeful God, to the father, to the country, and to the enterprise. And also a supposedly natural place is there attributed to woman. According to this perspective woman is passive in essence, which is expressed in her sexual posture but also in her “intuitive and receptive” mind and in her social role which consists of the conservation of society and the exclusive breeding of children in the tradition. How all this goes together!

But the domina, however, has enough inner strength to overthrow this aesthetic prescription. Only against the inertia of a medieval society imbued with manly values – ​​or against a modern society that insidiously demeans it – does it come to the fore and assert itself as sexually and mentally active. Whether it is the “black” domina of SM or the “white” domina of the courtly love, it escapes the function devoted to women “by nature and by God”. Neither mother, nor good wife, nor receptacle of penetration. Neither soft nor fragile, nor manipulative, demanding, and tyrannical.

Today’s society spreads the image of such free, strong and unleashed women, as if a new femininity was dreaming on the fringes of our collective consciousness. In the teenage version, these are the Spice Girls and the Amazons in Hard Rock Leather, or Catwoman and other practitioners of the martial arts. Ideal for millions of girls who, for now, do not seem to assume this girl’s power. Moreover, what should such a slogan hide to be truly revolutionary? The modern woman risks confusing liberation, especially a positive but limited external one, with psychological, erotic and spiritual liberation.

[……..]

[It] has the merit of showing the radical difference between the purely material independence of the wonder-woman serving a social function, and dominating it, which rejects most norms of productive and sexual “utility.” The true dominatrix fascinates not by her brutality nor by her sadism, but by her intellectual, erotic and aesthetic autonomy. She sculpts and invents her own norms, and attributes to herself the decision and the action – without necessarily denying them to men, even if a fundamentally amorphous character would characterize it, according to the founder of Scum.

This interior and mental power constitutes the focal point of our two figures of dominas. They are also cruel. When Lancelot returns from a thousand sufferings, his body broken and his wounds exposed, Guinevere pretends to reject him because he hesitated for a few moments before one of his most mortal trials. At their reunion, these adulterous lovers of the Arthurian cycle finally spend a night of love and their sheets are covered with the blood of the knight who cut a finger by forcing open the grid that separated him from his mistress … Thus, the courtly eroticism has sometimes taken a cruel turn. Guillaume IX, the first troubadour, tells a very edifying story. Disguised as an innocent clerk, the hero of the song crosses two noble ladies, married moreover, who find him to their taste and collect him in their lodgings. He pretends to be mute. Here is what Agnes says to Ermessen:

“We have found what we are seeking. My sister, for the sake of God let us lodge him, for he is truly mute and never by our plan will be known. So the hero finds himself in the ladies company, fed capons near the stove, thinking “When we had drunk and eaten, I stole myself as they pleased. Behind my back they brought me the wicked cat and felon; One pulled him along my side to the heel dragged by the tail without waiting. She pulled the cat and he clawed at me: they made me more than one hundred wounds.” Agnes to Ermessen, “Sister, he is mute, it is veryclear; let us prepare for the bath and take advantage of his presence.” “Eight days and more I remained in this furnace. I took them as many times as you will hear: One hundred and eighty-eight times (…) I cannot tell you my pain at all.”

We shall not count all the courtly songs in which the lady finds herself cruel, pitiless, capricious, mocking, and in which the poet seems to delight in suffering inflicted by the woman whom he adores. Lancelot, the best of knights, will have to suffer public humiliation: to obey his queen Guenièvre, he will behave cowardly in the biggest tournament of the country for a whole day, wiping away the least gossip and taunts of the least grooms, and weak riders. Like Sacher-Masoch, loving implies accepting suffering, which is the pledge of true love.

Courtly love – a precursor of SM?

If the dominatrix inflicts suffering, the courtly lady also submits her servant to various trials: show her valor in the tournament if it is a knight, restrain your primary sexual desires, sing, make beautiful verses, respect the Secret, take many risks to stealthily observe her when she strips herself and goes to the bath, traveling alone and undergoing severe deprivations to increase its valor

In SM as in courtly love, one recognizes the classical scheme of the work in the dark, the ego being worked over by the confrontation with his fears, the tests involving a physical or moral danger. According to Jung, this phase is to be found in any evolutionary process, whether it be therapy or alchemy, the “matter” of the soul is to be tarnished and then melted with some violence.

To learn to be silent, to wait and to hold one’s desires, to wander, to feel alone, to suffer in one’s flesh, to enjoy only a few caresses and many blows, all this seems necessary to those who wish to acquire a little individuality! But to fulfill this individualizing function, the tests must have a profound meaning: they correspond in particular to the meeting of elements (tests linked to water, fire, earth, air – suspension, vertigo …), (Black, silence, abandonment, dismemberment, suffocation …), the overthrow of social values ​​and the image of oneself (one finds in this class of the transvestite, the inversion of roles, the boss playing the slave … ).

Once encountered, trials need to be understood in order to integrate into one’s person: hence the role of the possible therapist and verbalization, and the need to know symbolism. By his poetic asceticism, the knight-troubadour will attain, as the initiate, a modified state of consciousness. Is this not what many songs testify to? Raimbaut d’Orange (1147-1173) has no suspicion of being taken for mad when he evokes this internal metamorphosis:

“Here is the opposite flower on the rocks among the mounds.
Flower of snow, ice and jellies,

Who bites, who tightens and slings. (…)
For in me all is reversed,

And the plains seem to me mound,
The flower springs from the frost,

The hot in the flesh of the cold slice,
The storm becomes singing and whistles

And the leaves cover the stems.
So glad I am that I do not seem to be baseless in any place. ”

Within the middle classes of our society, the possible dangers are fortunately more limited than in the twelfth century. The brigands swarm less than in the medieval forests, and the suburbs do not compete with the court of miracles, in spite of our “savages.” The voyages are made in the warmth of the TGV, and do not allow us to appreciate either the dark night of the great forests, nor the disturbing howling of the animals, the bite of the cold, or the warmth of the horse. We are impoverished in “real” feelings, far from a formative confrontation with reality.

Apart from a few medical examinations and the pitiless irruption of the illness, which reminds us of the essential realities, we float in a rather abstract universe of social appearances. Some prefer to tear the veil and seek the meeting of elements by practicing sports, mountaineering, hang-gliding, diving … others find the ardor and ethics of combat by the martial arts. Finally, the sadomasochist makes it possible to taste somewhat forgotten sensations, and to return to reports that are both more refined and rough, perhaps more true and symbolic than what we experience under our social masks.

Thus the trials demanded by courtly love presented themselves in a less bloody light than in SM because medieval society itself had enough risks and dangers. Obviously, the excretory aspect that can be associated with SM – uro and scatophily – remains totally foreign to the courtly universe. The courtly love demands lose in intensity what they gain in extent. They involve a global character: the aim is to seek constant improvement and to modify one’s behavior on a daily basis.

The sadomasochistic game, for good reason, tends to unfold in a delimited field, with its instruments, its world, its well-defined witnesses . Once the session is over, the adept risks becoming a citizen again, sometimes an excellent cog in the company, an efficient executive or a faithful husband. SM is generally compatible with

Standards of liberalism; Once again, it resembles a therapy, with similar advantages and disadvantages: falling from anxiety and better adaptation to the business or family!

If it is true that the DM allows for some improvement of self, it does not push to fight for political justice. On the other hand, courtly love is in conflict with social integration. Many poems of troubadours could be discovered chanting a dispute of the religious or political order, especially from the Albigensian crusade. Bernart de Rovenac (1242-1261) accuses the lords (“I have a great desire to make a sirventès, powerful and cowardly men … although it seems madness to you, I am more pleased to blame you by telling you the truth –  that is to say, pleasant things while lying … “); Guilhem Figuera (1215-1240) attacks the Church (“(…) Deceitful Rome, who are from all evil the guide, top and root, so that the good king of England was betrayed by you … Rome Rome, to weak men, you eat away the flesh and the bones and guide the blind with you into the pit … “). As for Peire Cardenal, he addresses a very insolent petition to the creator:

“A new sirventes I want to begin
that I will recite on the Day of Judgment to him
who created me and formed of nothing
If he thinks I am reproaching myself for something …
and I will make a good proposal
that you bring me back from where I left on the first day
or that you forgive my sins
because I would not have committed them if I was not born (…) ”

Courtesy requires politeness, generosity, hence refusal of injustice. The appearance is beautiful only if the inner life strives towards the ideal. As an alchemist can succeed in the Great Work only if, in addition to his technical competence, he possesses moral qualities, so a troubadour is worthy of love only if, in addition to beautiful verses, he succeeds a few great gestures. The knight must correct the wrongs and fight against errors, false pretenses, both in and around the world. Here we find the socially subversive aspect of courtly love.

The difference is therefore essential between sadomasochism and courtly love. The domnei pursued a high, almost superhuman ideal, symbolized by the Grail and the Crusade, or by a state of poetic and mystical creation. The pain was on the way an inevitable companion, but it was not a goal, and was not inflicted “for pleasure.” The artist who has to struggle to perfect his creation and the knight who crosses distant lands

necessarily confront a thousand sufferings. They aim at a result and a work that transcends their individuality and can be offered to others. Their project is both personal and altruistic.

The courtly scene assumed its full meaning when it was accompanied by an effective verification of the acts and creations of its various protagonists. Despite the physical distance, it involved a mutual “surveillance”, by interposed reputation. A noble knight, a renowned lady or a well-liked troubadour were supposed to perform actions and works of brilliance, worthy of being reverberated from castles in progress. It was a question of the two lovers fighting against social and psychological baseness, of integrating the elements and the many facets of the human soul (masculine-feminine, hardness-softness, dependence-independence …), and finally to dis-identify from the social comedy.

In some respects, one might compare the gradual initiation of courtliness with that of master-disciple in the secret schools of the East. In courtly love as in esoteric schools, the meaning of these various tests, in addition to the magical integration of the elements, will be to find one’s true being. It is only after this work of inner self-esteem that authentic encounter with love is possible. There is no other way to isolate the essential love – that which is addressed to the whole person of the beloved, to her soul, if you will – to eliminate all that is addressed to what this person is not, that is to say, synonymous with his physical details.

And there can be no lovers of joy absolutely purified other than this desire which is exalted and satisfied with the mere presence of the beloved, the only feeling of the spiritual communion existing between her and him and whose embrace of looks is indeed the sign. Courtly love, like evolutionary SM, a complete loving path, with its own rituals and a form of pleasure, is quite different from the so-called “normal” sexual games.

These approaches prove that love and the couple can give themselves an end in addition (or beside) to procreation. They draw attention to one aspect of love relations, particularly revolutionary for the current mentality: the incandescence of pleasure achieved without recourse to the sexual act.

Today, when the classical aspect of sexuality is over-emphasized in relation to sensuality and erotic play, this will surprise. It would no doubt be necessary to recall in our “liberated” period a reality: relationships other than penetration are possible and satisfying, even for straight men! Courteous love like the SM invites us to question the distinction between the sensual and the sexual, and the new forms of relationships open to us. But what precisely was the love of courtly love, and where did it come from? We shall see that it remains a historical enigma.

Damseling, chivalry and courtly love (part two)

The following article is the second of a two-part series. Part one looked at the roots of damseling, chivalry and courtly love in the gynocentric tradition. In part two we look at damseling, chivalry and courtly love as it appears in the feminist tradition. – PW

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FEMINISM

Before being given the name feminism, the obsession with women’s status was referred to as the Querelle des Femmes or quarrel about women. The querelle consisted of a perpetual social movement that used damseling to call for more chivalry and more courtly love, which ultimately afforded women more power.

The three elements of gynocentrism first born in medieval Europe – damseling, chivalry and courtly love – continue to act as the basis of modern feminism. Indeed feminism today is little more, and little less, than a perpetuation of this medieval triad, giving feminism its internal drive even as feminists disavow these essentials with rhetorical obfuscations.

With this charge in mind let’s revisit the holy trinity above with a focus on behaviors central to modern feminism.

Damseling as “victim feminism”

Most observers today, including feminist observers like Christina Hoff-Sommers, Camille Paglia, Rene Denfeld, Katie Roiphe and others agree that feminism comes close, if not all the way, to being a cult of victimhood.

The phenomenon has variously been referred to as grievance feminism, victim feminism, safe space feminism, and even fainting-couch feminism – with Christina Hoff-Sommers portraying its mythos as “a battle between fragile maidens and evil predators.” 1

Feminist icon Naomi Wolf tells that victim feminism evolved out of “old habits of ladylike behavior that were cloaked in the guise of radicalism,” 2 and laments that a substantial segment of modern feminism is devoted to its cause.

Denfeld writes that current feminists “promote a new status for women: that of the victim,” and adds:

“This is victim mythology. From rape redefinitions to feminist theory on the “patriarchy,” victimization has become the subtext of the movement, the moral to be found in every feminist story. Together these stories form a feminist mythology in which a singular female subject is created: woman as a helpless, violated, and oppressed victim. Victim mythology says that men will always be predators and women will always be their prey. It is a small place to live, a place that tells women that there is really no way out.

“Like other mythologies, victim mythology reduces the complexity of human interaction to grossly oversimplified mythical tales, a one-note song, where the message of the story becomes so important that fiction not only triumphs over fact but the realities of women’s experiences are dismissed and derided when they conflict with the accepted female image.3

While Denfeld does a good job of describing feminism’s victim mentality, she labors under a myth of her own by characterizing it as a “new” fetish among feminists. Anyone reading through the history of feminist literature can see it appealed to by literally every feminist writer. Even a century ago Ernest Belfort Bax was able to say that feminists “do their best to bluff their dupes by posing as the victims of a non-existent male oppression.”4

Feminists well know that the most grotesquely far-fetched cry about the injustice of man to woman will meet with a ready ear. They well know that they get here fond and foolish man on his soft side. Looking at the matter impartially, it is quite evident that man’s treatment of woman is the least vulnerable point in his moral record. Woman, as such, he has always treated with comparative generosity. But it is, of course, to the interests of the abettors of female domination to pretend the contrary. Accordingly everything has been done to excite prejudice in favour of woman as the innocent and guileless victim of man’s tyranny, and the maudlin Feminist sentiment of the “brute” man has been carefully exploited to this end.5

In all of these accounts the behavior being described is damseling, a practice feminists have been at the forefront of preserving from the medieval canon. Evoked in conjunction with claims of male brutality, rapiness, depravity and insensitivity, the ultimate purpose of damseling is to draw chivalric responses from men, a routine Wolf makes clear in her remark that “victim feminism casts women as sexually pure and mystically nurturing, and stresses the evil done to these ‘good’ women as a way to petition for their rights.” 6

A famous example of feminist damseling, both literal and figurative, is Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian is known for raising concerns that video-games are misogynistic – like most everything else found in the feminist worldview. Her primary concern was that female game characters are often portrayed as damsels-in-distress saved by male heroes, which promotes, she says, sexual objectification and a range of other problems. To address that issue in video games she moved to launch a study project to raise awareness.

Sarkeesian established a fundraiser for $6,000.00 for her project, but after receiving some initial trolling by trolls on social media she damseled herself to potential donors by saying she was under grave threat, swooning with such finesse that she was showered with 158K in donations from fellow feminists and white knights. Over a thousand people donated after hearing of her “plight.”

With that financial success, Sarkeesian subsequently replayed the scenario over and again particularly in the context of further fundraising efforts and public speaking; swooning about online attacks directed against her or over female gamers enduring abject sexism, female video-game characters being cast in degrading and/or humiliating roles, and about young impressionable girls being robbed of agency after being subjected to the damsel trope in games.

Sarkeesian’s case is particularly poignant because, from the many subjects she could have highlighted to damsel herself for attention, she chose to damsel herself over the very existence of damsels. This demonstrates that even when disavowing the medieval pageant of damsels in distress, feminists continue to enact it even while obfuscating their complicity in the tradition.

Feminism would have died out long ago if it were not for the power of this ancient ruse, and while damseling continues to draw rewards from a public primed to cater to it, the planet will increasingly come to resemble a tower full of imprisoned, vulnerable Disney Princesses.

Chivalry – from husband Sam to Uncle Sam

Equity feminist Christina Hoff-Sommers states that men need to be civilized with chivalric manners, a belief outlined in an interview with Emily Esfahani Smith, where she said, “Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes,” and adding a warning, “If women give up on chivalry, it will be gone.” 7

While feminists like Hoff-Sommers admit their reliance on a sexist version of chivalry, others are less candid about it, going even so far as pretending they don’t need chivalry despite their demonstrable appeal to it in most of their activism. Many observers however can see through the anti-chivalry posturing.

Feminism draws its power from chivalric support, but instead of soliciting it from men in the traditional, interpersonal manner it has learned how to get it solely from the government – holding the government to ransom ever since the suffragettes damsaled the vote for women. Since that time politicians have only been too willing to furnish demands by feminists in exchange for voting the candidate into power and allowing him to retain office – and conversely politicians who fail to uphold the chivalric contract are promptly voted out.

The results of this compact are obvious to anyone who looks at political decisions with impartiality.

Instead of men giving up seats in buses, government now provides seats in legislative assemblies and boardrooms via quotas. Instead of men opening car doors for women, government opens doors into universities and workforces via affirmative action. Instead of men being the sole protectors of women from violence, government now protects them with an army of police specially trained to service women’s accusations (over and above more serious crimes). Instead of men providing living expenses, governments now provide it as social welfare and compensation for the wage-gap. Government as substitute husband.

The appeal to chivalry is not confined to government institutions alone. The appeal also goes out to sporting clubs, business owners, CEOs and private institutions who respond to the damsel’s call with women-only busses, women-only safe spaces, pink car parking spaces with extra lighting and security with male escorts and chaperones, or with feminist adverts at sports venues, sportsmen wearing pink to raise money for all manner of feminist projects, and that on top of monies already heaped at their feet by politicians eager to please.

This is not a recent development; it can be witnessed in mirror image as far back as a century ago. Back then, Bax was able to tie feminism so definitively with the act of chivalry-seeking that he actually labeled the women’s liberation movement “chivalry feminism.” Moreover, Bax saw through the superficial disavowals;

“The justification for the whole movement of Modern Feminism in one of its main practical aspects – namely, the placing of the female sex in the position of privilege, advantage and immunity – is concentrated in the current conception of “chivalry.”

It is plain then that chivalry as understood in the present day really spells sex privilege and sex favouritism pure and simple, and that any attempts to define the term on a larger basis, or to give it a colourable rationality founded on fact, are simply subterfuges, conscious or unconscious, on the part of those who put them forward…

Such is “chivalry” as understood to-day – the deprivation, the robbery from men of the most elementary personal rights in order to endow women with privileges at the expense of men.8

Chivalry feminism today, same as it ever was, relying on men’s generosity to perpetuate its creed of power.

Courtly love as ‘Respectful Relationships’

The phrase ‘Respectful Relationships’ is shorthand for a range of conventions promoted by feminists to govern interactions between men and women, particularly in the context of romantic interactions. The conventions detail acceptable speech and actions in the contexts of socializing, friendship, flirting and sex, emphasizing a man’s duty to respect women’s emotional comfort, self-esteem, and dignity.

Portrayed overtly as a method of reducing men’s abusiveness, the program maintains that even men and boys who do not display abusive behaviors should be enculturated in its protocols as a prophylactic, and concomitantly to afford dignity and self-esteem to women. This is where the respectful relationships program moves past the overt goal of reducing violence and into the covert goal of maintaining and increasing the power of women.

As we begin to look at the detail of Respectful Relationship we could almost mistake it for Andreas Capellanus’ work The Art of Courtly Love where the medieval rules of romance were codified in meticulous prescriptions for male deference, homage, and courtesy toward women. Considering this parallel, the feminist movement appears to have provided a new language for a very old set of sexual customs, essentially reiterating that which has been with us all along.

As mentioned in Part one, central to the art of courtly love was the expectation that men practice love service toward women based on a model of vassals or serfs in relation to a feudal lord. That relationship model of serf-to-Lord was adopted wholesale to regulate love relationships whereby women were literally approached as the lord (midons) in each male-female encounter. As Medievalist Sandra Alfonsi explains;

Scholars soon saw striking parallels between feudalistic practices and certain tenets of Courtly Love. The comparisons lie in certain resemblances shared by vassalage and the courtly “love service.” Fundamental to both was the concept of obedience. As a vassal, the liegeman swore obedience to his lord. As a courtly lover, the poet chose a lady to whom he was required to swear obedience. Humility and obedience were two concepts familiar to medieval man, active components of his Weltanschauung…

The entire concept of love-service was patterned after the vassal’s oath to serve his lord with loyalty, tenacity, and courage. These same virtues were demanded of the poet. Like the liegeman vis-a-vis his sovereign, the poet approached his lady with fear and respect. Submitted to her, obedient to her will, he awaited a fief or honor as did the vassal. His compensation took many forms: the pleasure of his lady’s company in her chamber or in the garden; an avowal of her love; a secret meeting; a kiss or even le surplus, complete unity. Like the lord, the woman who was venerated and served was expected to reward her faithful and humble servant.9

The idea behind love service was that men should demonstrate the quality of their commitment to women; was it merely lust or obedient and sacrificial love? If the woman decided it was “love” then she might decide to engage more intimately with him, as Joseph Campbell explains:

“The woman is looking for authenticity in a relationship, so she delays merci until she is guaranteed that this man who is proposing himself to her is one of a gentle heart… And, the women were in control, that’s all there is to it. The man is the one who is advancing, the one performing the acts of guarding bridges, or whatever bit of foolishness she puts on him, but, she’s in control. And her problem is to live in a relationship that is authentic of love, and the only way she can do it is by testing the one who offers himself. She isn’t offering herself, he’s offering himself. But, she’s in control of what happens then with step two.10

“The technical term for a woman’s granting of herself was merci; the woman grants her merci. Now, that might consist in her permission for the man to kiss her on the back of the neck once every Whitsuntide, you know, something like that – or it may be a full giving in love. That would depend upon her estimation of the character of the candidate. The essential idea was to test this man to make sure that he would suffer things for love, and that this was not just lust.

The tests that were given then by women involved, for example, sending a chap out to guard a bridge. The traffic in the Middle Ages was somewhat encumbered by these youths guarding bridges. But also the tests included going into battle. A woman who was too ruthless in asking her lover to risk a real death before she would acquiesce in anything was considered sauvage or “savage”. Also, the woman who gave herself without the testing was “savage”. There was a very nice psychological estimation game going on here.11

Today that psychological estimation game (as Campbell puts it) might involve asking consent to sit with a woman, appealing politely for a date, waiting patiently for her to call or sweep right, keeping his knees together to avoid manspreading, or asking for permission to speak in order to prove he is not talking over her or mansplaining. Such demonstrations show the feminist woman that he has a gentle heart, and that he is willing to suffer things for love.

That psychological testing also encompasses public activities which demonstrate a man’s commitment to serving womankind as a whole. Examples would be a man walking a mile in her shoes, or joining White Ribbon Campaigns that require men, as was required of the medieval knights, to pledge oaths to “Never to condone, or remain silent about violence towards women and girls” and especially to intervene when learning of any male behaving offensively toward a woman.

Today’s White Ribbon “oath” bears a striking resemblance to the 14th century enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady (Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche) in which men committed themselves for the duration of five years to serving women. Inspired by the ideal of courtly love, the stated purpose of the order was to guard and defend the honor, estate, goods, reputation, fame and praise of all ladies. It was an undertaking that earned the praise of protofeminist Christine de Pizan. The continuity of chivalry and courtly love from the medieval knightly oath to the modern feminist-inspired oath is remarkable in its consistency.

In line with most women who expect men to follow medieval rules of love concerning male courtesy, the feminist movement is geared toward enforcing the same goal. Feminism however postures itself as disavowing that goal even while they are at the forefront of institutionalizing it in our families, our schools, our political structures and laws.

Each of the psychological tests mentioned above are evidence of a love service called for by feminist activists. Or worded differently, they are sanctified methods by which men are called to demonstrate obedience and a ‘gentle heart’ in contrast to the brutality, rapiness and exploitativeness of the savage heart; the default feminist conception of men.

I will close here with the words of an academic feminist, one not so coy about identifying courtly love with the project of feminism. Elizabeth Reid Boyd of the School of Psychology and Social Science at Edith Cowan University, and Director of the Centre for Research for Women in Western Australia with more than a decade as a feminist researcher and teacher of women’s studies tells:

In this article I muse upon arguments that romance is a form of feminism. Going back to its history in the Middle Ages and its invention by noblewomen who created the notion of courtly love, examining its contemporary popular explosion and the concurrent rise of popular romance studies in the academy that has emerged in the wake of women’s studies, and positing an empowering female future for the genre, I propose that reading and writing romantic fiction is not only personal escapism, but also political activism.

Romance has a feminist past that belies its ostensible frivolity. Romance, as most true romantics know, began in medieval times. The word originally referred to the language romanz, linked to the French, Italian and Spanish languages in which love stories, songs and ballads were written. Stories, poems and songs written in this language were called romances to separate them from more serious literature – a distinction we still have today. Romances were popular and fashionable. Love songs and stories, like those of Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, were soon on the lips of troubadours and minstrels all over Europe. Romance spread rapidly. It has been called the first form of feminism (Putnam 1970).12

Reid Boyd finishes her paper by waxing poetic about the many joys of romantic love, and of its increasing popularity in academe.

Same as it ever was, the project of modern feminism can be summarized as championing victimhood (damseling), soliciting favors from men and governments (chivalry), and promoting “respectful” relationships by men-toward-women (courtly love).

References:

[1] Christina Hoff-Sommers, How fainting couch feminism threatens freedom, American Enterprise Institute 2015
[2] Naomi Wolf, Fire With Fire: New Female Power, 1993
[3] Rene Denfeld, The New Victorians: A Young Woman’s Challenge to the Old Feminist Order, 1995
[4] Ernest B. Bax, Feminism and Female Suffrage, 1910
[5] Ernest B. Bax, Mr. Belfort Bax Replies to his Feminist Critics, 1908
[6] Naomi Wolf, Fire With Fire: New Female Power, 1993
[7] Emily Esfahani Smith, Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance, The Atlantic, Dec 10 2012
[8] Ernest B. Bax, Chapter-5 ‘The Chivalry Fake’ in The Fraud of Feminism, 1913
[9] Sandra Alfonsi, Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric, 1986
[10] Joseph Campbell, Parzival, the Graal, and Grail Legends, talk at the Ojai Foundation, 1987
[11] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, interview with Bill Moyers, 1988
[12] Elizabeth Reid Boyd, Romancing Feminism: From Women’s Studies to Women’s Fiction, 2014

A comment on TFM’s ‘traditionalism cycle theory’

The following is a brief comment on Turd Flinging Monkey’s theory referred to as the ‘traditionalism cycle’ appearing in major civilizations. The cycle goes something like this:

Patriarchal traditionalism → gynocentric traditionalism → progressive gynocentrism → collapse.

The theory is a reasonable one; societies start out as patriarchally controlled, then move through traditional and progressive forms of gynocentrism before collapsing under their own weight. The theory says that gynocentrism escalates with the advent of abundance (if and when abundance exists in a given culture).

What I appreciate about TFM’s theory is that he did some actual historical research to back it up – something sorely lacking in the discussion of the roots of gynocentrism. Instead of actual research we frequently see a pull-it-out-of-your-ass histories, or alternatively dismissive appeals to biology – “it’s all in the genes.”

The pull-it-out-of-your-ass kind of history is based on half-guesses and assumptions with little to no evidence – except perhaps references to items like Lysistrata, a play; Helen of Troy, a myth, religious tales, fairy tales, and other fantasy sources – ie. it’s a huge error to assume myths and fables mirror real life. Have you ever seen a centaur… surely the classical depictions of centaurs must have mirrored real creatures and behaviors or they wouldn’t have mentioned it?! Any thinking person will recognize the problem; relying on ancient mythologies is akin to having future zoologists base the history of equine evolution on episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Same goes for reductive biological explanations. Aside from the laziness of such approaches, the error in over-emphasizing biology is that biology does not exist, or rather doesn’t exist as a thing-in-itself. Where you see biology you will always see a facilitating environment shaping it.

Fortunately, TFM breaks with the catalogue of errors and is trying to keep it fact based and real.

With that said there are some major, unspoken nuances that I’d like to add to the conversation. The first is that there are degrees of gynocentric culture in both its traditional and progressive forms. Gynocentric societies are not cookie-cutter one size for all. Like hurricane categories with wind strengths of one to five, gynocentric culture can be imagined in a similar way – as differing in reach and packing winds anywhere from destructive to catastrophic.

Like hurricanes, which become more intense depending on a confluence of atmospheric pressure, humidity, and wind direction, likewise the intensity of a given gynocentric culture rests on multiple factors. TFM has named one of them in the video below: abundance. This is a good start, one that, in isolation from other factors, can definitely lead to a (lets call it) ‘category one’ gynocentric culture. But as we add more contributing factors the gynocentrism gets more pervasive and more destructive – factors like male to female population ratio; aristocratic conventions influencing the masses; the presence of military campaigns; and the strength and structure of cultural narratives perpetuating the sentiment (etc.). As these and many other factors converge the strength of gynocentric culture grows potentially up to a ‘category five’ such as was born in the Middle Ages with the mother of all gynocentric cultures that has spanned over 800 yrs and been imported from Europe to the rest of the world.

I don’t intend to give an exhaustive reply here but will end with a general comment about our present culture. At this point I’m still assuming the gynocentric culture birthed in medieval Europe is unprecedented in the long path of history – it was only there, and then that the combination of romantic chivalry and courtly love were born, along with a bunch of other contributing factors that made this gynocentric revolution the mother of them all. But there’s no doubt there have occurred smaller, less intense manifestations of gynocentric culture throughout history along the lines TFM suggests.

[Study] Courtly Love Today: Romance and Socialization in Interpersonal Scripts

Despite attempts to dismiss courtly love as something that has never existed outside of pathological male fantasies and literature, excepts from the following academic study shows that indeed it was, and still is, supported by real persons of both sexes. – PW

Abstract:

Summary.-This pilot study measured current acceptance of medieval rules of love operationalized in two scales adapted from an important 12th-century Latin treatise about courtly love. One item about a doctrine in the treatise was added to measure “perfect” love. Subjects were Hispanic and Caucasian students at a south-western Catholic university (45% men, 55% women). Scores on the scales of 11 Male Courtesy Norms did not significantly correlate with those for Rubin’s romantic love scale, but scores for 31 Action Norms did. There was general acceptance that women expect men to follow medieval rules of love concerning Male Courtesy. Some significant sex and ethnic differences were found, especially in regard to Action Norms. Results were interpreted to modify current understanding of courtly love by identifying men’s courtesy as a prerequisite for love. Demographic variables were interpreted as evidence of cultural scripts that program romantic experience to give women social and personal control of men.


Questions: Norms for Male Courtesy and Male-Female Action (Answered with agree/disagree)

1. As you would flee the plague, avoid being a scrooge (a mean-spirited man who amasses wealth); instead, embrace generosity.
2. To intensify the feelings of romantic tenderness, never go all the way.
3. Break up other lovers who follow the rules of love.
4. Be careful not to choose a lover you would be ashamed to marry.
5. Remember that lies spoil everything.
6. Let any number of associates help arrange your trysts (meetings between lovers).
7. To become a skilled lover in the world of romance, strive to obey all the commands of sophisticated women, who have mastered the social graces.
8. Don’t worry about social taboos when you give and receive love’s sweetnesses.
9. Don’t run others down.
10. Encourage others to leak information about love affairs.’
11. Be polite and courteous in all matters.
12. In practising the delightful exchanges of love, do not exceed your lover’s desires
13. Marriage is a good reason not to love someone else.
14. If you are nor madly devoted to someone, you aren’t able to love.
15. No one can really love two persons at the same time.
16. Love can sometimes remain on a plateau, neither increasing nor decreasing.
17. What a lover takes from a reluctant partner is enjoyable.
18. A male cannot love romantically unless he is at least a teenager.
19. After a lover’s death, some people may be able to develop a new close love relation within two years.
20. As long as they don’t do anything rash, no one -married or single- should be deprived of a tender relationship.
21. A person can love even though not valuing romantic love.
22. You can romantically love someone just to get money or prestige.
23. It is not appropriate for a man to love a woman he would be ashamed to marry.
24. A true lover desires to embrace tenderly others besides his (her) lover.
25. When made public, romantic love rarely endures.
26. Easy courtship is viewed as of little value: difficulty makes love prized.
27 As a rule, lover feel butterflies when their eyes meet.
28 A lover’s heart need not beat faster when the love partner shows up unexpectedly.
29. A new love need not put to flight an old one.
30. Good character alone does not make a man worthy of love.
31. If love diminishes, it quickly falters and rarely revives.
32. A real lover is continually solicitous toward his (her) lover.
33. The ability to love stems from ardent devotion to the other lover.
34. The desire to love increases from merely suspecting the partner of cheating.
35. A person tormented by love fantasies, sleeps and eats very little.
36. Every act of one lover need not end up in fantasizing about the other.
37. A true lover imagines nothing to be good except what will please the partner.
38. There’s no vacation from love.
39. A lover can never have enough tender exchanges.
40. The slightest premonition that something has gone wrong causes the lover to imagine the worst.
41. Someone who lives for sexual pleasure rather than romance has not yet learned how to love.
42. A true lover is not constantly, and without intermission, obsessed with fantasies focussed on the other.
43. Nothing forbids one woman from being loved by two men or one man by two women.

Today’s expectations

The current study shows that men and women agreed that women accept the norms for Male Courtesy… As Lafitte-Houssat (1966) and Kelly (1968) wrote, courtly love taught social and personal propriety to medieval men in erotic relationships. The current acceptance of a number of the norms for Male Courtesy indicates that today’s expectations of a potential male lover resemble these norms found in Marie of Champagne’s 1185 CE program as reported by Andreas Capellanus.

Courtly Love as a Vehicle For Feminine Control

By developing ways to handle the excess of men to women (Moller, 1958-59; Guttentag & Secord, 1983), medieval courtly love provided alternative behaviors besides violence to resolve conflict (Brody, 1969; Koenigsberg, 1967). By including norms that also can be related to courtesy, courtly love taught men a way to express tenderness rather than just erotic passion (Kelly, 1968), and legitimated a level of control for women in heterosexual relationships analogous to their increased domestic power in the 12th century (Lafitte-Houssat, 1966).

Although recognizing this new power, Lafitte-Houssat (1966) claimed 12th-century men only fictionalized women “as a feudal sovereign” (p. 22). Similarly, Duby (1983) considered courtly love an escapist male fantasy. Boone (1987) argued that the image of courtly love “maintained a hierarchy of male dominance” (p. 42). However, medieval courtly love also provided women a structure to contest for personal control. This empowerment gave society a way to structure the darker side of passionate love identified by Peele (1988) as addictive love. Without knowing how or in what context the norms developed, most men and women today agree with the courteous love proposed by Andreas Capellanus in 1185 CE.

Nevertheless, as the low acceptance of Item 7 by only 31% of men and 30% of women about obedience to women shows, the overt control of men which was a part of courtly love is generally not identified as part of the modern scenario. According to Koenigsberg (1967), Item 7 (male obedience to women) showed psychological growth in Western culture. Koenigsberg also pointed out that, despite the potential of psychological growth that could come from obedience to women, such courtly obedience was also a parody of submission, for the man’s “deference involves the maintenance of emotional distance” (p. 38). Rejection by modern youth of this obedience may be a refusal to accept either this emotional distancing or the passive role required in such distance.

The instrument needs refinement. For instance, the diction should be simplified and the negatives removed. Furthermore, Andrew’s original second commandment should be restored (as in “Respect for my lover should keep me from sleeping around”). Nevertheless, responses to the 43 items have raised intriguing questions.

Research is necessary to determine the possibility that women determine men’s cultivated behavior by establishing an image of themselves as sovereigns to control male fantasies, rather than being enthroned by male patriarchy. Incorporating the operative Courtesy Norms into current love scales could expand our view of the scripts which direct erotic fantasies and judgements about relationships. Finally, responses of other ethnic and Hispanic groups to selected items, especially about courtesy and obsessiveness, could be analyzed.

 

References:

BHODY, J. (1969) La princesse de Cleves and the myth of courtly love. University of Toronto Quarterly, 38, 105-135.
BOONE, J. A. (1987) Tradition counter tradition: love and the form of fiction. Chicago, IL:
Univer. of Chicago Press.
GUTENTAG, M., & SECORD, P. F. (1983) Too many women? The sex ratio question. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
KELLY, D. (1968) Courtly love in perspective: the hierarchy of love in Andreas Capellanus. Traditio, 24, 119-147
KOENIGSBERGR,. A. (1967) Culture and unconscious fantasy observations on courtly love.
Psychoanolytic Review, 54, 36-50.
LAFITTE-HOUSSAT, J. (1966) Troubadours et cours d’amours. [Troubadours and courts of love.] (3rd ed.) Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
MOLLER, H. (1958-59) The social causation of the courtly love complex. Comparative Studies in Socieo and History, 1, 137-163.

_________________________________________
STUDY SOURCE : CONTRIBUTIONS TO PSYCHOHISTORY: XIII. COURTLY LOVE TODAY: ROMANCE AND SOCIALIZATION IN INTERPERSONAL SCRIPTS

Romantic Love, by Lester F. Ward (1903)

The Proposal. John Pettie, R.A. (1839-1893). Oil On Canvas, 1869.

The following essay is from the book Pure Sociology by Lester F. Ward 1903 [pp. 390-403] – PW

Romantic Love

It is the psycho-physiological progress going on in all races that have undergone repeated and compound social assimilation, that has laid the foundation for the appearance (in the most advanced races) of a derivative form of natural love which is known as romantic love.

It is a comparatively modern product, and is not universal among highly assimilated races. In fact, I am convinced that it is practically confined to what is generally understood as the Aryan race, or, at most, to the so-called Europeans, whether actually in Europe or whether in Australia, America, India, or any other part of the globe. Further, it did not appear in a perceptible form even in that ethnic stock until some time during the Middle Ages.

Although I have held this opinion much longer, I first expressed it in 1896.1 It is curious that since that time two books have appeared devoted in whole or in part to sustaining this view.2 There is certainly no sign of the derivative sentiment among savages. Monteiro, speaking of the polygamous peoples of Western Africa, says: –

The negro knows not love, affection, or jealousy. … In all the long years I have been in Africa I have never seen a negro manifest the least tenderness for or to a negress. … I have never seen a negro put his arm round a woman’s waist, or give or receive any caress whatever that would indicate the slightest loving regard or affection on either side. They have no words or expressions in their language indicative of affection or love.3

Lichtenstein4 says of the Koossas: “To the feeling of a chaste tender passion, founded on reciprocal esteem, and an union of heart and sentiment, they seem entire strangers.“ Eyre reports the same general condition of things among the natives of Australia,5 and it would not be difficult to find statements to the same effect relative to savage and barbaric races in all countries where they have been made the subject of critical study.

Certainly all the romances of such races that have been written do but reflect the sentiments of their writers, and are worthless from any scientific point of view. This is probably also the case for stories whose plot is laid in Asia, even in India, and the Chinese and Japanese seem to have none of the romantic ideas of the West; otherwise female virtue would not be a relative term, as it is in those countries. This much will probably be admitted by all who understand what I mean by romantic love.

The point of dispute is therefore apparently narrowed down to the question whether the Ancient Greeks and Romans had developed this sentiment. I would maintain the negative of this question. If I have read my Homer, Æschylus, Virgil, and Horace to any purpose they do not reveal the existence in Ancient Greece and Rome of the sentiment of romantic love.

If it be said that they contain the rudiments of it and foreshadow it to some extent I shall not dispute this, but natural love everywhere does this, and that is therefore not the question. The only place where one finds clear indications of the sentiment is in such books as “Quo Vadis,” which cannot free themselves from such anachronisms.

I would therefore adhere to the statement made in 1896, when I said, “Brilliant as were the intellectual achievements of the Greeks and Romans, and refined as were many of their moral and esthetic perceptions, nothing in their literature conclusively proves that love with them meant more than the natural demands of the sexual instinct under the control of strong character and high intelligence. The romantic element of man’s nature had not yet been developed.”

The Greeks, of course, distinguished several kinds of love, and by different words (έρως, άγάπη, Φιλία), but only one of these is sexual at all. For έρως they often used ‘AΦροδίτη. They also expressed certain degrees and qualities in these by adjectives, e.g., πάνδημος. Some modern writers place the adjective ούράνιος over against πάνδημος, as indicating that they recognized a sublimated, heavenly, or spiritual form of sexual love, but I have not found this in classic Greek.

Neither do I find any other to the Latin Venus vulgivaga. But whether such softened expressions are really to be found in classic Greek and Latin authors or not, the fact that they are so rare sufficiently indicates that the conceptions they convey could not have been current in the Greek and Roman mind, and must have been confined to a few rare natures.

Romantic love is therefore not only confined to the historic races, those mentioned in Chapter III as representing the accumulated energies of all the past and the highest human achievement, but it is limited to the last nine or ten centuries of the history of those races.

It began to manifest itself some time in the eleventh century of the Christian era, and was closely connected with the origin of chivalry under the feudal system. Guizot has given us perhaps the best presentation of that institution,6 and from this it is easy to see how the conditions favored its development.

 

 

REFERENCES

[1] International Journal of Ethics, Vol. VI, July, 1896, p. 453. [click thumbnail]
WARD
[2] “Antimachus of Colophon and the Position of Women in Greek Poetry,” by E. F. M. Benecke, London, 1896. “Primitive Love and Love Stories,” by Henry T. Finck, New York, 1899.
[3] “Angola and the River Congo,” by Joachim John Monteiro. In two volumes. London, 1875, Vol. I, pp. 242-243.
[4] “Travels in Southern Africa,” in the years 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806, by Henry Lichtenstein, English translation, Dublin, 1812, p. 261.
[5] Journals, etc., Vol. II, p. 321.
[6] “Histoire de la Civilisation en France depuis la chute de I’Empire Romain,” par M. Guizot, 3e éd., Vol. III, Paris, 1840, Sixième Leçon, pp. 351-382.

‘Love service’

The following account of ‘love service’ toward women during the Middle Ages is from the book Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric by Sandra R Alfonsi – PW.

The troubadours lived and functioned within a society based on feudalism. Certain ones were themselves feudal lords; others were liegemen dependent on such lords for their sustinence. The troubadours who were members of the clergy were also actively involved in this feudal society. It is only natural that their literature reflect some traits of the age in which it was created. Scholars soon saw striking parallels between feudalistic practices and certain tenets of Courtly Love. The comparisons lie in certain resemblances shared by vassalage and the courtly “love service.” Fundamental to both was the concept of obedience. As a vassal, the liegeman swore obedience to his lord. As a courtly lover, the poet chose a lady to whom he was required to swear obedience. Humility and obedience were two concepts familiar to medieval man, active components of his Weltanschauung. Critics, such as Erich Kohler, have found them exhibited in both the life and literature of that time.

The entire concept of love-service was patterned after the vassal’s oath to serve his lord with loyalty, tenacity, and courage. These same virtues were demanded of the poet. Like the liegeman vis-a-vis his sovereign, the poet approached his lady with fear and respect. Submitted to her, obedient to her will, he awaited a fief or honor as did the vassal. His compensation took many forms: the pleasure of his lady’s company in her chamber or in the garden; an avowal of her love; a secret meeting; a kiss or even le surplus, complete unity. Like the lord, the woman who was venerated and served was expected to reward her faithful and humble servant. Her failure to do so was considered a breach of “contract.” Most critics who support the theory that the courtly-love-service was formed by assimilation to the feudal service inherent in vassalage, credit Guillaume IX with its creation. However, the universality of these parallels cannot be doubted:

The posture of the true lover is so familiar that we have come to accept it as the hallmark. A seal attributed to Cononde Bethune represents it perfectly. This depicts in an oval cartouche, an armed knight on his knees before a lady. His body is shrouded in a mail hauberk. His head is completely concealed in his helmet. He wears spurs but no sword. The lady stands at arms length, chastely robed, her regular nonedescript features framed in long braids, presumably blonde, and between her outstretched palms the knight’s hands are placed in the formal gesture of homage. Within the cartouche, in the space above the helmet of the kneeling knight is inscribed a single word: MERCI. 1

The similarities between courtly service and vassalage are indeed striking. Although of a more refined character than an ordinary vassal, the poet-lover is portrayed as his lady’s liegeman, involved in the ceremony of homage and pictured at the moment of the immixtio manuum. His reward for faithful service will doubtlessly include the osculum.

The influence of feudalism upon courtly love was, in my opinion, twofold: it provided the poets with a well-organized system of service after which they might pattern their own; it furnished them with a highly developed vocabulary centered around the service owed by a vassal to a lord. Feudalistic vocabulary was comprised of certain basic terminology indicative of the ties which legally bound a man to his lord in times of peace and war.

1. Servitium
In Merovingian Gaul the position of the feudal lord was expressed by the verb suscipere ‘to take into one’s charge,’ while the verb commandare ‘to put oneself in the charge of’ represented the role of the vassal. The obligations accepted by the latter formed the servitium ‘service.’ This term, used in Classical Latin to denote slavery, had begun to lose this connotation by the fourth century, and during the Middle Ages, and had come to mean the duties of a freeman vis a vis a feudal lord.

2. Dominus
The Latin term dominus was used to denote the feudal lord served by the vassal.

3. Homo
h2_ufarm_1From the beginning of the ninth century, suus homo ‘his man’ became the expression by which the position and duties of the vassal were expressed. During the eleventh century, the expression homo ligius ‘liegemen’ became popular.

4. Homage
The original terms used to denote homage were vassaticum and vassalaticum. Since the old French vasselage did not carry the meaning of homage due to the feudal lord, variations on the Latin hominum appeared in the eleventh century: hominagium, hominiaticum, homagium. The word hommage became popular during the twelfth century, denoting servitium homini, the honorable service due to the lord.

5. Legalitas
The term loyaute ‘loyalty’ was used to define the bond between vassal and lord.

6. Honor
The term onor was used to designate any compensation received by the vassal in return for his services. The concept of tenure tenire was attched to this idea. During the classical age tenire meant to occupy or possess; during the feudal age, it acquired as well the meaning of a rapport between former proprietor and the person now possessing the land through certain services rendered to the former. This relationship was expressed with the verb retenir ‘to retain,’ implying the retention of the vassal by the lord in return for his services. *

It was only natural that such terms, as well as their variants, should appear within the poetic love service created by the troubadours. Feudal vocabulary provided for all aspects surrounding the love service; it was well known and popularly understood. Its usage carried with it all the connotations inherent in the concept, without necessitating further explications by the poet. An extensive examination of the poetic love-service , its vocabulary and stylistic traits, is to be found in the second part of this work. It is questionable whether feudalism may be considered as the primary source for either the poetic love-service or the theme of masculine submission. The very essence of both rests in the elevation and adoration of the woman chosen by the poet. Feudalism, with its bellicose concerns anmd masculine point of view, could not have instilled the Cult of Woman in these poets. Even the elevated social position held by women in Southern France and her presence as the “mistress of the manor” during the absence of her husband cannot explain the origin of this cult. It cannot be denied that much of this poetry was written to please the women who provided the troubadours with a means of sustinence by engaging them to entertain them in their chateaux. But such external social realities do not explain the origins of the internal revolution which culminated in poetic worship of woman.

___________________________________

 

 

Reference:

[1] Maurice Valency, In Praise of Love, Macmillan Co. 1958
 
Note:

*This configuration of unequal power is the central feature of the poet-lover’s positioning of himself with regard to the love object. Drawing on the stratification and class-consciousness of medieval society, the canso describes primarily in terms of social hierarchy the woman’s psycho-sexual power to determine the outcome of the relationship. Thus the troubadour’s lady is regularly portrayed in terms denoting aristocracy, such as ‘‘noble’’ rica, franca or ‘‘high born’’ de bon aire, de aut paratge, whereas the poet stresses his own subordination, describing himself as ‘‘humble’’ umil, umelian, ‘‘submissive’’ aclin, and ‘‘obedient’’ obedien. The culmination of this tendency is one of the most pervasive images of troubadour poetry, the ‘‘feudal metaphor,’’ which compares the relationship of the lover and his lady to that which obtains between a vassal and his lord. The poet-lover presents himself to his lady in an attitude of feudal homage omenatge, ‘‘kneeling’’ a/degenolhos with ‘‘hands clasped’’ mans jonchas. He declares himself to be his lady’s ‘‘man’’ ome or ‘‘liege man’’ ome lige and refers to the lady as his ‘‘lord’’ senhor, midons. He asks her to ‘‘retain’’ retener him as her ‘‘servant’’ ser, servidor or to take him into her ‘‘service’’ servizi. According to a military variant of the feudal metaphor, the lover ‘‘surrenders’’ se rendre to the lady, declaring himself ‘‘vanquished’’ vencut or ‘‘conquered’’ conques, and asks for her ‘‘mercy’’ merce. [Note excerpted from ‘Why is la Belle Dame sans Merci?’ by Don A. Monson]

The other Beauty Myth

Woman_at_a_Mirror__1907
In 1991 Naomi Wolf wrote The Beauty Myth where she claimed women are oppressed by cultural pressure to be beautiful. What she failed to tell us is where this habit originated, and how it is essentially used to gain power over the male sex.

In human beings, various compulsions and desires come into conflict with one another, each jostling for momentary supremacy where one imperative will usurp the claims of another. That game has reached a problematical impasse during the last 800 years because, during that relatively short time span, human culture has thrown its patronage into developing, intensifying and enforcing sexual gamesmanship to the degree that our sexual compulsions appear pumped up on steroids and taken to extremes never before seen in human society (myths about widespread Roman orgies notwithstanding). The obsession with female beauty forms a significant part of the problem.

If we lived back in Ancient Greece, Rome or anywhere else we would view sexual intercourse as little more than a bodily function akin to eating, defecating and sleeping – a basic bodily function without the hype. After the Middle Ages, however, it developed into a commodity to pimp and trade, and the new cult of sexualized romance that arose from it resulted in a frustration of our more basic attachment needs – a frustration aided and abetted by social institutions placing sexual manipulation at the center of human interactions. This development entrenched a new belief that beauty was the native possession of women, and only women, and conversely that the desire to possess beauty was the lot of males alone, thus creating a division between the sexes that remains in place today.

Compare this division with the beliefs of older cultures – India, Rome, Greece etc – and we see a stark contrast, with classical cultures equally apportioning beauty to males and sexual desire to females. In ancient Greece for example males used to grow their hair long and comb it adoringly, rub olive oil on their skin and pay devoted attention to attire -the colors of the toga, the materials it was woven from, the way it was draped on the body- and there is perhaps no modern culture on earth where male beauty is more marvelously celebrated in the arts than it was in Greece.

Another example comes from the Biblical Song of Solomon, in which the appreciation of beauty and associated longing flows both ways between the man and women, whereas in romantic love beauty is ascribed only to the female, and desire only to the male – the roles are radically split. Moreover, in the Song of Songs there is no hint of the gynocentric arrangement; no appearance of man as a vassal towards women who are both Lord and deity. For the lovers in Song of Songs there already exists a God and so there is no worshipping of the woman as a quasi divinity who can redeem the man’s pathetic existence – as in “romantic” love.

According to Robert Solomon, romantic love required a dramatic change in the self-conception of women. He recounts;

They too were freed from an identity that depended wholly on their social roles, that is, their blood and legal ties with men, as daughters, wives and mothers. It is in this period in Christian history that looks become of primary importance, that being beautiful now counts for possibly everything, not just an attractive feature in a daughter or wife (which probably counted very little anyway) but as itself a mark of character, style, personality. Good grooming, as opposed to propriety, came to define the individual woman, and her worth, no longer dependent on the social roles and positions of her father, husband or children, now turned on her looks. The premium was placed on youth and beauty, and though some women even then may have condemned this emphasis as unjust, it at least formed the first breach with a society that, hitherto, had left little room for personal initiative or individual advancement. The prototype of the Playboy playmate, we might say, was already established eight hundred years ago, and did not require, as some people have argued recently, Hugh Hefner’s slick centerfolds to make youth, beauty and a certain practiced vacuity into a highly esteemed personal virtue. The problem is why we still find it difficult to move beyond this without, like some Platonists, distaining beauty altogether – the opposite error. [1]

Modesta Pozzo penned a book in the 1500’s 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. One of the topics explored is women’s use of cosmetics and clothing to enhance beauty, including mention of hair tinting for which there is twenty-six different recipes. The following is the voice of Cornelia who explains that men’s sexual desire of women (and women’s control of that process via beauty) is the only reason men can love:

“Thinking about it straight, what more worthy and what lovelier subject can one find than the beauty, grace and virtues of women?… I’d say that a perfectly composed outer corporeal form is something most worthy of our esteem, for it is this visible outer form that is the first to present itself to our eye and our understanding: we see it and instantly love and desire it, prompted by an instinct embedded in us by nature. “It’s not because men love us that they go in for all these displays of love and undying devotion, rather, it’s because they desire us. So that in this case love is the offspring, desire the parent, or, in other words, love is the effect and desire the cause. And since taking away the cause means taking away the effect, that means that men love us for just as long as they desire us and once desire, which is the cause of their vain love, has died in them (either because they have got what they wanted or because they have realized that they are not going to be able to get it), the love that is the effect of that cause dies at exactly the same time.” [written 1592]

Cavalier 1964What I find interesting is that since the Middle Ages, as evidenced in Cornelia’s words, we have collectively conflated male love with sexual desire as if they are inseparable, and to women’s ability to control that male “love” through a skillful cultivation of beauty. One might be forgiven for refusing to believe this is love at all, that it is instead the creation of an intense desire for sexual pleasure due to the call of beauty. Observation shows that sex-generated “love” does not necessarily lead to compatibility for partners across a broad range of interests, and may occur between people who are, aside from sexual attraction, totally incompatible, with little in common, which is why the relationship often goes so badly when there occur gaps in the sexual game.

This raises the alternative notion of love based on compatibility, on what we might term ‘friendship-love’ which is not based solely on sexual desire – in fact sexual desire is not even essential to it though often present. Friendship love is about interests the partners share in common, a meeting of compatible souls and a getting to know each other on a level playing field. However aiming for friendship-love means women are no longer required to pull the strings of sexual desire as is practiced with beauty-based allure, which ultimately frees men and women to meet as equals in power and, with luck, find much in common to sustain a durable relationship.

Nancy Friday

[1] Robert Solomon, Love: Emotion, Myth, Metaphor, 1990 (p.62)
[2] Modesta Pozzo, The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men, 2007
[3] Nancy Friday, The Power of Beauty, 1997