Category Archives: Feminism

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 modern feminism. – 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 gave 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

Feminism, sex-differences and chivalry

On which side should the men’s movement focus its activism — on the similarities or differences between the sexes?

The thinkers among us will stay abreast of both sides of the argument, however in the realm of activism most will take up a position one way or the other to make their point.

Arguments for sameness or difference rest on a more fundamental dyad, the biological and cultural – topics that have been tackled extensively in manosphere discussion circles, though I’m not sure we have gained good mileage from them in the fight against gynocentrism.

Regardless of whether we fixate on biological imperatives, or on the biology-shaping power of culture, the gender war rages on unchecked.

So just for a moment, let’s partition-out the hard scientific discussions of biology vs. culture, and pay more attention to the rhetorical leverage points of sexual politics – to those emotive generalizations about sameness/difference. All feminist reasoning, all female privilege, and all misandry start from there.

Departing from the usual MRA emphasis on differences, real and significant biological ones, this article will make a case for focusing on the similarities, on the things men and women have in common as the most effective basis for tackling gynocentrism. Emphasizing only differences between the sexes, as old-school MRAs and new MGTOW like to do, will not reach the goal of defeating feminist propaganda and the anti-male culture created by same. Let’s look at some rationale for this move.

Difference Feminism as the order of the day

I am here going to chart three changes within socialist feminism over the last fifteen years. It has, I argue, moved in large part from androgyny to gender difference, and from Marxism or revolutionary socialism towards an accommodation with, if reform of, the political and social system we know now. [Socialist Feminism: From Androgyny to Gynocentrism, Equality to Difference – 1995]

In this quote, feminist Judith Evans makes an observation many are familiar with; that today’s feminism is more concerned with promoting sexual differences than androgyny. While obvious to astute observers, I will argue that feminist ideology and feminist activism has not traveled in a linear fashion from androgyny to gynocentrism as Evans suggests, but more accurately has always enjoyed it both ways.

Ernest B. Bax observed this fact well over a century ago:

Modern Feminism would fain achieve the feat of eating its cake and having it too. When political and economic rights are in question, such as involve gain and social standing, the assumption of inferiority magically disappears before the strident assertion of the dogma of the equality of woman with man – her mental and moral equality certainly! When, however, the question is of a different character – for example, for the relieving of some vile female criminal of the penalty of her misdeeds-then Sentimental Feminism comes into play, then the whole plaidoyer is based on the chivalric sentiment of deference and consideration for poor, weak woman.” [Chapter V: The “Chivalry” Fake, in The Fraud of Feminism 1913]

Feminists only claim equality with men in so far as it has agreeable consequences for women. And this applies all along the line… I would advise woman’s-righters to choose the one side or the other. If they stick to the weakness of woman physically as ground for woman’s privileges and immunities, let them give up prating of equality otherwise. If they contend for equality let it at least be an even equality all round. [‘Female Suffrage’ – in Social Democrat, Vol.8, no.9, pp.533-545 1904].

The bulk of the advocates of woman’s rights are simply working, not for equality, but for female ascendency. It is all very well to say they repudiate chivalry. They are ready enough to invoke it politically when they want to get a law passed in their favour – while socially, to my certain knowledge, many of them claim it as a right every whit as much as ordinary women. [‘No Misogyny But True Equality’ – in To-day, pp.115-121 1887]

Reading through Bax’s articles it’s clear that feminists argued in both directions, especially enjoying the difference narrative, proving that sentimental appeals to sex-difference were the approach that gained women the most. Why?

Because differences, especially those implying weakness and vulnerability, evoke chivalry.

And chivalry brings goodies!

Meme juxtaposes equalist vs difference arguments: indicates difference is the stronger social power

Meme juxtaposes equalist vs difference arguments: indicates difference is the stronger social power

MRAs need to catch up with this fact and realize that whenever we promote difference, be it biological or cultural in origin, we play into feminist word-games and provide them with the basis for arguing chivalric treatment for women.

Commentaries on men and women’s different natures and the corollary of why men and women should be treated differently (read special treatments for women) appear throughout history. The claims are that men and women are different due to cultural training (e.g. men are trained in patriarchy and violence; women in softness and subservience), or they are biologically different (e.g. men are testosterone poisoned, and women give birth and need special help), thus, we must discriminate to better serve those differences, say feminists.

Whenever old school MRAs thrash their swords around yelling “WE ARE BIOLOGICALLY DIFFERENT!!” they play right into the rhetoric and remedies of feminists. In fact, many of the more prominent stars in the MRM specialize in promoting difference, arguing for biological differences over culturally implanted ones, and not realizing that they end up with a conclusion of difference that gets exploited equally by feminists – it matters not whether the difference is of cultural or biological origin.

Conversely, when we discuss that men and women have a massive overlapping area of shared humanity – the discussion changes to one of equal value, concern and empathy for men.

Males and females, for example, are both among the homeless, both are among the mentally ill, both can be poor or disabled. Men and women equally experience all emotions- jealousy, pride, elation, fear, anxiety, depression, or joy, and they equally suffer heart attacks, diabetes, strokes, broken bones, malaria or the common cold. Both suffer the impact of environmental degradation and pollution, and so on.

Despite that massive area of overlap, you can already read the “difference” argument being exploited by protofeminist Modesta Pozzo in the year 1590;

Don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.” [The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men – 1590]

And it doesn’t stop with Pozzo. The same language can be seen by virtually all feminist writers from her day to the present, including revered feminist philosophers like Julia Kristeva or Iris M. Young, through to the “difference feminists” of today. The historical lineup, all milking difference, is unbroken.

Take for instance the language of popular “equity” feminist Christina Hoff-Sommers who, while helpfully deconstructing many feminist myths, is happy to promote sex-differences as a basis for seeking chivalry for women.

Sommers demonstrates the sex-differences perspective in an interview with Emily Esfahani Smith. “Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes,” explains Sommers, “and given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want.” “If women give up on chivalry, it will be gone,” says Sommers, and “If boys can get away with being boorish, they will, happily. Women will pay the price.”1

The historical benefit to women of the difference argument has far outweighed the sameness argument because difference enlists the traditions of damselling, white knighting, and romantic chivalry. The sameness argument fails to tap into those medieval powers and thus affords far less reach for gynocentric tentacles.

* * *

Feminists are among the most rigid enforcers of gender stereotypes on the planet – all while championing “varieties of masculinities/femininities” which “don’t fit the binary.” However, those varieties are something they tend to spout for window dressing, in passing, before going on to enforce strict gender stereotypes in most everything they say.

Some MRAs miss the fact that most feminists today are difference feminists or cultural feminists – feminists who believe first and foremost in reinforcing real or perceived differences between men and women. Many of us labor under the assumption that feminists promote a polymorphous perverse (androgynous) identity — which they never did with any consistency.

And for feminists it doesn’t matter if the differences are of biological origin (many feminists subscribe to Evolutionary psychology) or the result of cultural conditioning – selling any differences of sexed behavior allows them to argue for special treatments for women and harsh treatment for men, regardless of whether the differences are congenital or cultural.

As men’s rights activists, we would do well to emphasize the biological/behavioral overlap between the sexes – that we all feel emotions, all think, fall in love, catch a common cold, and seek intimate human bonds – and with that we can defeat calls for preferential treatments of women arising from differences. Let’s move on from the task of defeating ‘feminist androgyny,’ which appears to be an activism dead-end.

This article contends that some MRAs place the focus on differences between men and women and that that approach is an activism cul-de-sac. But before adopting the alternative strategy of highlighting male and female behavioral similarities, we need first to observe how feminists have used the difference narrative to their advantage; only then will we see the urgency.

So next time you see an argument for difference or sameness, stop and ask yourself who stands the greatest chance of benefiting from it. And if you are advocating for difference, ask yourself if you are helping to promote men’s human rights or instead promoting a return to the good-ol-days of strictly demarcated gender roles.

Notes:

[1] Emily Esfahani Smith, ‘Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance’ The Atlantic, Dec 10 2012
For more on Hoff-Sommers’ views on chivalry, see “The Acculturated Podcast: Ladies and Gentlemen”

Feature image by Steven Lilley

Stanford historian says falsified medieval history helped create feminism

Through research into the first historians of medieval Europe, Professor Paula Findlen discovers that an interest in women’s history began much earlier than is assumed.

Harley 4431 f.4

Detail of a miniature of medieval writer Christine de Pizan. Stanford historian Paula Findlen has studied Renaissance biographies of medieval women and says these often embellished tales represent a kind of feminism.

Today, feminism is often associated with the political protests of the 1960s or the earlier women’s suffrage movement, but Stanford historian Paula Findlen‘s latest research reveals that the impetus to champion women started in the late Middle Ages.

A scholar of the Italian Renaissance, Findlen has collected biographies of medieval women, written in Italy from the 15th to 18th centuries, several centuries after the women lived.

Through a close examination of these texts, Findlen found that these early modern writers were so passionate about medieval women that they sometimes fabricated stories about them.

As Findlen carefully tracked down the claims in these stories, she found they varied from factual to somewhat factual to entirely false.

These invented women were often mentioned in regional histories, with imaginary connections to important institutions. They were described as having law degrees or professorships, claims that turned out to be fictitious.

Findlen argues that these embellished tales represent what could possibly be described as the origins of a certain kind of feminism.

“Early modern forgers used stories of women to create precedents in support of things they wanted to see in their own time but needed to justify by invoking the past,” Findlen said. “While debating the existence of these medieval women, the writers also contributed to the science of history as we know it.”

Expanding her archival base from Bologna to other Italian cities, and observing how these stories traveled beyond Italy, Findlen found that the stories of local women gained international recognition.

Findlen described her foray into conjectural history “a project partly about how early modern medievalists invented the Middle Ages, claiming and defining this past.” She added, “Making up history is a way of ensuring that you get the past you want to have.”

In her forthcoming publication, currently titled “Inventing Medieval Women: History, Memory and Forgery in Early Modern Italy,” Findlen pays particular attention to Alessandro Macchiavelli, an 18th-century lawyer from a Bolognese family.

Macchiavelli was passionate about finding evidence to support Bologna’s reputation as a “paradise for women.” He created stories and footnotes about learned medieval women from the region, including writer Christine de Pizan.

According to Findlen, “He aggressively made up [biographies of] medieval women and supplied the evidence that was missing for them.”

Presented as facts, these fables forged the medieval origins of Bologna’s female intelligentsia. Findlen initially worked on this material because she was searching for – and failing to find – evidence of medieval precedents that kept being invoked in early modern sources. “In the end,” she said, “it intrigued me.”

While people later recognized that Macchiavelli was a forger, it was true that he brought critical attention to women’s lives.

In a sense, Macchiavelli demonstrates “a quirky early modern male version of feminism,” Findlen said. He also contributed to the beginnings of the discipline of medieval history. When he forged a document, he did so based on extensive knowledge of the archives and a fine understanding of historical method.

“Medieval history is one of the really important subjects where people develop a documentary culture during the late 17th and 18th centuries, and they begin to identify and select the documents that matter for defining the Middle Ages,” Findlen said.

Imagining the women of Bologna

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Findlen said, representations of medieval women enhanced a city’s reputation.

For example, scholars in Bologna wanted to learn about its presumed tradition of learned women. They craved information about medieval women who could provide historical precedents for someone like Laura Bassi, the first woman who can be documented as receiving a degree and professorship from the University of Bologna in 1732. Having precedents made her seem like a reinvention of the old rather than someone threateningly new.

Findlen first turned to Christine de Pizan (c. 1364-1430), the daughter of a University of Bologna graduate and professor. She is perhaps best known for her writings praising women.

In her Book of the City of Ladies (1405), a catalog of illustrious women, Christine contemplated her Italian roots. This longing for her past inspired Christine to imagine “what the ingredients were of this world that made her, and other women like her,” Findlen said.

Although inspired by some kernels of truth, Christine’s writings invented evidence to fill out her narratives, Findlen said. In this way, Christine provides a starting point for Bologna’s interest in women’s history that will unfold over the next four centuries.

What we want from history

Findlen’s project rethinks our compulsion to write about the past. “Some of the stuff we take for granted is legend, not fact,” she said, “but I think that I’m even more interested in having people understand why we want it.”

Despite the presence of fake facts in medieval women’s biographies, Findlen emphasized that “the unreliability of the past is also part of the evidence that we have to account for.” Moreover, she added, this project requires “knowing the archives … well enough to catch the nuances.”

“The process of creating a history of women,” Findlen said, “starts with this impulse to create collective biographies in the 14th and 15th centuries onward.”

Envisioning the wider impact of her work, Findlen said: “I would like this project to offer an interesting window into the invention of history, taking Italy as a case study, to understand why [early modern] people were so passionate about the Middle Ages.”

During the Renaissance, “people are increasingly concerned with documenting the history that was,” Findlen said. “They’re interested in the history that might have been. And then they’re also interested in the history that should have been. And those are three different approaches to history.”

Article reprinted with permission.

Women’s and Men’s Rights (1875)

The following short article, entitled Women’s and Men’s Rights, appeared in the 1875 volume Historic and literary miscellany, by G.M.D. Bloss. – PW

* * *

THERE have recently been Women’s Rights conventions in New York and Boston. The general drift of the proceedings was to show the wrongs of woman under the laws of society at present constituted. There were plenty of facts to show that in many instances women, at the present time, were ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-sheltered; that their employment was not remunerative in many cases, and that under their afflictions they were driven often to live a life of vice and crime.

All this will be freely admitted and universally regretted. But, and the question may be asked with emphasis, are these wrongs peculiar to women? Do they alone suffer them? Is there a discrimination against the sex? We unhesitatingly answer in the negative. Would man–yea, would man, who is endowed with that wonderful right of suffrage, which in the eyes of these reformers is the great cure for all the grievances of the sex, not be enabled to find as serious cause of complaint as those made by his female associate?

How many men of ability and intelligence, willing to work, are trodden down in the battle of life? How many are scantily fed, miserably clad, and barely sheltered, who labor with assiduity from the rising to the setting sun? To the ill requital of man’s labor, in hundreds and thousands of instances, may be attributed woman’s calamities.

For one woman who is driven by destitution to sin and shame, there are probably ten men. If one sex more than the other has the right to be restive under society as it is now constituted, it is the male. He makes the laws, it is true, but who derive the greatest benefit from them? In cases at law and equity, where the two sexes are antagonistic, who is generally the loser? Women are seldom convicted of criminal offenses, where men would be certain to suffer the penalty. They always, or nearly always, succeed before a jury of men, in civil cases.

In most of the States they can hold property in their own name, and while in the position of a fem-covert– their property is exempt from execution, even upon their own contracts. They are exempt from all military and jury duty, and from many other labors of serious import, which fall upon the males alone. They receive all the courtesies of society. They are the first at the feasts, and all the reserved seats everywhere are for them.

The state in which we live is very far from being perfection; men and women are joint sufferers by a false and ill-regulated condition of society. There is no antagonism between them, and they are enemies of both man and woman who desire to create the impression that either sex is enjoying rights at the other’s expense, or suffer infliction for the other’s benefit. They are our partners in the great trials and misfortunes which an All-wise Creator has imposed upon all the sons and daughters of Adam, and from which there is no escape by either this side of the grave.

Whatever improvements and reforms of modern society are demanded, should be in the name of both, and for both, instead of one. “A Men’s Rights Convention,” to redress the wrongs of the men alone, leaving the females alone where they are, would be selfish and ungrateful. Scarcely less so are those of the strong-minded woman, who has no eye and no compassion for the sufferings of any but her own sex.
 

Feature image by Michael Coghlan

Feminism

 

FEMINISM

Below is provided a selection of articles showing the feminist project as a continuation of the longer gynocentric tradition to which it belongs. The underlying thesis of the articles is summarized in this passage by Adam Kostakis:

Feminism is only the modern packaging of Gynocentrism, an ancient product, made possible in its present form by the extensive public welfare arrangements of the post-war period. In spite of its radical rhetoric, the content of feminism, or one could say, its essence, is remarkably traditional; so traditional, in fact, that its core ideas are simply taken for granted, as unquestioned and unquestionable dogma, enjoying uniform assent across the political spectrum. Feminism is distinguishable only because it takes a certain traditional idea – the deference of men to women – to an unsustainable extreme. Political extremism, a product of modernity, shall fittingly put an end to the traditional idea itself; that is, in the aftermath of its astounding, all-singing, all-dancing final act.

The traditional idea under discussion is male sacrifice for the benefit of women, which we term Gynocentrism. This is the historical norm, and it was the way of the world long before anything called ‘feminism’ made itself known. There is an enormous amount of continuity between the chivalric class code which arose in the Middle Ages and modern feminism, for instance. That the two are distinguishable is clear enough, but the latter is simply a progressive extension of the former over several centuries, having retained its essence over a long period of transition. One could say that they are the same entity, which now exists in a more mature form – certainly, we are not dealing with two separate creatures.

Selection of articles:
La Querelle des Femmes
Ernest B. Bax on “Chivalry feminism”
Feminism: the same old gynocentric story
Gynocentrism and its Discontents
Feminism: gynocentric or egalitarian?
Feminism, sex-differences and chivalry
Nathanson and Young on gynocentric feminism
Gynocentrism, humanism and The Patriarchy™
Gynocentrism 2.0, compassion, and choice
Damseling, chivalry and courtly love (part two)

Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady

White Lady on Green Shield
The “Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady” (Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche) was a chivalric order founded by Jean Le Maingre and twelve knights in 1399, committing themselves for the duration of five years. 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, including widows. It was an undertaking that earned the praise of protofeminist Christine de Pizan.

Foundation

According to his Livre des faits, in 1399 Jean Le Maingre, tired of receiving complaints from ladies, maidens, and widows oppressed by powerful men bent on depriving them of the lands and honours, and finding no knight of squire willing to defend their just cause, out of compassion and charity founded an order of twelve knights sworn to carry “a shield of gold enamelled with green and a white lady inside” (une targe d’or esmaillé de verd & tout une dame blanche dedans). The twelve knights, after swearing this oath, affirmed a long letter explaining their purpose and disseminated it widely in France and beyond her borders.

The letter explained that any lady young or old finding herself the victim of injustice could petition one or more or the knights of the ‘Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady’ for redress and that knight would respond promptly and leave whatever other task he was performing to fight the lady’s oppressor personally. The twelve knights promised not just this, however. They offered also to release any other knight from a vow requiring him to fight a duel before a judge. The letter was signed 11 April 1399 by Jean le Maingre, Charles d’Albret, Geffroi le Maingre, François d’Aubrecicourt, Jean de Lignères, Chambrillac, Castelbayac, Gaucourt, Chasteaumorant, Betas, Bonnebaut, Colleville, and Torsay.

Symbols

The emblem of the order was the shield of gold enamelled with green and a white lady inside. It seems reasonable to believe that the dame blanche represented the purity of women which the knights of the order were to protect; what the green background signified is not so clear. That white and green were sometimes associated together in connection with the observances of May is shown by an account, in Hall’s Chronicle, of a “maying” of Henry VIII of England, in which the company were clad in green on one occasion and in white on another. In Machyn’s Diary, too, there is mention of a white and green Maypole around which danced a company of men and women wearing “baldrykes” of white and green.

WRLogo_NO_CO.UK_The Order of the Green Shield with the White Lady bears a striking resemblance to the so-called “White Ribbon Campaigns” of today that require men, as was required of the medieval knights above, 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 badly toward a female. The continuity of chivalry in these two examples is worthy of study in itself.

Sources:

Lalande, Denis (1988). Jean II Le Meingre, dit Boucicaut (1366–1421): étude d’une biographie héroïque.
Marsh, George L. (1906) “Sources and Analogues of ‘The Flower and the Leaf’: Part I.” Modern Philology, pp. 153.
Riquer, Martín de (1967). Caballeros andantes españoles. Madrid: Editorial Espasa-Calpe.

The Feminists: a book review

Many people have read Orwell’s prophetic book 1984, but almost none has heard of the 1971 pulp fiction novel The Feminists, an equally prophetic work detailing events that have unfolded -and continue to unfold- in the area of gender politics. By way of introduction here’s the blurb from the back cover:

the feminists - front coverTHE STORY THAT HAD TO BE WRITTEN—SO TIMELY, SO FRIGHTENINGLY POSSIBLE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT’S FICTION!

Take a look into the future…women now rule the world—or most of what’s left of it—and their world is not a pretty place to live in. Men have been reduced to mere chattel, good only for procreation. THE FEMINISTS are working to eliminate even this strictly male function…

Men must get permission to make love to any female—even if she is willing—or the penalty is death!

Follow one man’s story as he is hunted for just such a crime. In desperation, he stumbles upon the hide-out of the subterranean people—others, like himself—both male and female—who have broken the law of THE FEMINISTS. Hiding in abandoned subway undergrounds, this group of gallant and desperate people wage a guerilla war to overthrow their enslavers.

 
Set in the year 1992, the story recounts the rise of misandry and feminist governance that saw women in charge of every aspect of civilization, and of a growing resistance movement (to feminism) that mirrors the sentiment of men’s rights groups that have formed in the decades since the book was written. The story tells of how one resistance group, while living in a network of secret underground tunnels, plans and executes a successful bombing (which I hasten to add no one in the MHRM would ever consider doing) at a public gathering attended by both the feminist President and a mayor named Verna. The deed is one of many attempts to undermine feminist governance and hasten the end of misandric culture.

During the bombing the feminist President is injured. From a hospital bed she organizes an emergency meeting with executive members of her government, including her old friend and mayor, Verna, who was also witness to the bombing. The following is the pivotal scene in which the President addresses her guests, and where she makes the intriguing suggestion that an increase in female MHRA’s has made it impossible for feminist governance to continue. – PW

***
 

The president glanced from one to the other of the women, her eyes finally settling on Verna and softening as if she was remembering their long years of friendship during the rise to power. She smiled weakly and then fixed her gaze on her own hands. There was a look of defeat on her face.

”It has been the policy of our administration to conceal the unfavorable aspect of Feminist control,” she said, her voice almost a monotone. “I’ve spoken to some of you individually about the resistance in Los Angeles and Chicago.”

”The pigs can be overcome,” the Secretary of Defense interrupted. “We beat them once, we can do it again!”

”No,” the president said firmly. “We won’t beat them again. We are no longer merely fighting the male element of society. An increasing number of females have joined forces with the men.

“Traitors!”

The president lifted her head and stared at the Secretary of Defense coldly. “This country,” she said, “is in the midst of a revolution like it has never known. The only thing keeping us from being ousted is the lack of communication. If the revolutionists in each city did not think they were fighting alone, they would be in control. Fortunately we’ve dissected the country by cutting off all forms of communication.” She met Verna’s stunned face. “The resistance movement in New York has been minor in comparison,” she said. “But all these groups will soon unite. It’s inevitable.”

The Mayor, feeling her legs growing weak, turned and sank into a chair.

“The time has come for us to objectively examine our control,” the President said. “Unless we return the rights to males that make them equals, our country will be torn apart.”

“But they’re not equals!” the Secretary of Defense insisted.

“Thirty percent of the female population has suddenly decided they are, “ the President said. “To retain control we would be fighting our own sex.” She closed her eyes and sighed wearily. “In short,” she said, “we must face the fact that Feminist control has failed.”

The mayor felt as if she had been struck. “Then it’s all been in vain,” she mumbled.

”Not entirely,” the President told her. “Not if we concede now. Unless we allow ourselves to be beaten and forced into male servitude, we can maintain our dignity. Remember, I said equals. In the future, men will consider us in higher esteem. Many of the changes we have brought about will remain in effect. Our control, even though only temporary, has proven that our sex does not make us inferior. “

”Is this what you intend to tell the public?”

”It is.”

”You will create mass hysteria.”

”I don’t think so,” the President said. “Granted, there will always be a segment that will resent my decision to reunite the sexes. I suppose there will be guerilla fighters who refuse to comply, but they will be a minority. I only hope none of you are among them. There are many problems our country must face once the question of sexual superiority is conquered. All of us are needed. We must rebuild our environment and stop starvation.”

Source: The Feminists, by Parley J. Cooper (pp. 173-75) Pinnacle Books, 1971