Eleanor of Aquitaine and her ‘Courts of Love’

By Amy Kelly (1937)

ANDREAS CAPELLANUS furnishes in his Tractatus2 the principal source of our notions, which are scanty enough, of the institution known as the ‘courts of love’ in the twelfth century. In his work we come as near as possible to the original character of the courts before their ideas and practices became a stereotyped element in the chivalric convention, a part of a shaping influence in the social customs and the literary traditions of the Renaissance. The Tractatus (published 1190 AD) is based closely in theme and substance on Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (published 1 BC). In both works the conception of love is that of illicit passion; but there is a significant difference. Whereas in Ovid man is the master employing his arts to seduce women for his pleasure, in Andreas woman is the mistress, man her pupil in homage, her vassal in service.

What operated to change men’s attitude toward women from one of gross cynicism in Ovid to one of homage and deference in Andreas? What was the significance of the cult of women propounded in the Tractatus to the society in which it flourished? Furthermore there are internal evidences that Andreas, in spite of being ‘sapientissimus’ (wisest) was unable, in his redaction of Ovid, to make the free doctrines of the classical poet lie down comfortably in his clerical mind.

The Tractatus, in dealing with the theme of love, is so full of this conflict between pagan naturalism and Christian restraint, that one is tempted to imagine that Andreas did his redacting under some compelling influence. What was that influence? To recapture at this date the quality the court of love had for those who elaborated it, is doubtless impossible. There are, however, such puzzling incongruities between the bald erotic precepts of Ovid and the mystical transformation of these precepts in Andreas that curiosity reverts again and again to attempts to divine what, in the twelfth century, gave impetus to those alterations of doctrine before they passed into the social and literary conventions of the chivalric order.

Andreas reports, where lovers actually brought dilemmas before highborn ladies for judgment, but have been disposed to see in accounts of them mere literary redactions of the sophistical discussions of coteries of precieux, or attempts to reduce such discussions to juridical form. Some reflections of contemporary life – dramatized elements of feudal relationships, the hairspun scholasticism of the day, the formalism of ritual – are indeed discovered in the chivalric code as set forth by Andreas and as elaborated in the chivalric romances following the middle of the century. But the actual enactment of the little drama of the court of love in the feudal castle has seemed too fantastic to be taken literally. Without for the moment questioning these interpretations, it is suggestive to approach the inquiry as to what was the early character and significance of the courts and their code by studying in other connections the personages alleged to have presided in them, the circumstances affecting these personages in the third quarter of the twelfth century, and the atmosphere in which they lived. The contemporary materials for such study are fragmentary, but such bits as can be pieced together lead to speculation as to whether there are not other important elements than those suggested above in the grand assizes of the ladies known as the courts of love.

What we think of the actual courts of love depends ultimately upon what we make of the background of the work of Andreas Capellanus, recently assigned to the period between 1174 and 1182, and in modern studies attributed to Andreas, a chaplain of Louis vii associated at some time with the court of Louis’s daughter, Marie, Countess of Champagne. The Tractatus, which purports to be a guide to one Walter, a young man seeking to equip himself for admission to elect society, discourses with the precision of dialectic on the science of love in all its branches, defines the principles of love, its effect upon lovers, its disciplines, its code, its etiquette. It records twenty-one cases in which lovers (as litigants might appear at a feudal assize) present their dilemmas for judgment by a court of ladies. In these courts preside as judges Eleanor of Aquitaine, her daughter Marie of Champagne, her niece Isabelle of Flanders, and Ermengarde, Countess of Narbonne.

The only specific clue in the Tractatus to the date of the assemblies is the dating of a letter by Marie de Champagne to two petitioners, as of May, 1174. This date, as an approximation for establishing the period in which the courts flourished, is supported by historical circumstances which will presently be related. Presumably, though Andreas does not so state, the place of assembly is Poitiers, where from about 1170-74 Eleanor of Aquitaine was maintaining her independent court in the interests of her son, the youthful Coeur de Lion, who was in 1169 recognized by the treaty of Montmirail as hereditary Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine. That Marie and Eleanor presided together in the same court is intimated by the fact that they are associated as judges in the Tractatus, at least once in one and the same case. Nothing that we know of Marie’s life precludes the assumption that she was in Poitiers in the period in question. Though in the work of Andreas, Marie de Champagne appears more conspicuously than Eleanor as presiding genius of the courts of love, the queen herself is certainly the more dominant figure in Poitiers, the sustainer and patron of the society which gave substance to the chivalric ideal.

And as Andreas mentions the queen’s juries as including as many as sixty ladies upon occasion, it may be presumed that the revival of the ducal court brought to Poitiers the negotiable heirs and heiresses of the great counts’ fiefs of the south. The heirs of Poitou and Aquitaine who came to the queen’s high place for their vassals’ homage, their squires’ training, and their courtiers’ service were truculent youths, boisterous young men from the baronial strongholds of the South, without the Norman or Frankish sense of nationality, bred on feuds and violence, men with rich fiefs and proud lineage, but with little solidarity and no business but guerilla warfare and daredevil escapade. These wild young men were a deep anxiety not only to the heads of their houses, but to the kings of France and England and to the Pope in Rome. They were the stuff of which rebellion and schism are made. For two generations the church had done what it could with the problem of their unemployment, marching hordes out of Europe on crusade and rounding other hordes into the cloister.

The biographer of Guillaume le Marechal gives an idea of how this rabble of courtly routiers amused itself on the jousting fields of western Europe. To the tournaments, occurring in a brisk season about twice a month from Pentecost to the feast of St John, flocked the young bloods, sometimes three thousand strong, taking possession of the nearest town. Thither also flocked horse dealers from Lombardy and Spain, from Brittany and the Low Countries, as well as armorers, haberdashers for man and beast, usurers, mimes and story-tellers, acrobats, necromancers, and other gentlemen of the lists, the field, the road. Entertainers of every stripe found liberal patronage; troubadours singing of love and war and the ‘bel saison’ in the south country, story tellers out of Brittany, goliards from the Paris streets. The gossip of palace and fief and school, of shrine and cloister, of synod and assize, flew in the street. There were feasts in upper chambers, and forges rang in the smithies all night long. Brawls with grisly incidents – a cracked skull, a gouged eye – occurred as the betting progressed and the dice flew. To cry up their champions in the field came ladies of fair name and others of no name at all. There was dancing below the pavilions on the greensward, with heralds and knights clapping the measures and calling out the changes.
We do not suspect either Queen Eleanor or the Countess Marie of having invented the courts of love. But it seems possible that Marie, who knew not only her Ovid, but the poetical traditions of her Provengal forebears as well, appropriated its little drama, so apt for her purpose of dramatizing the disciplines of the renascent court of Poitiers. She made this familiar framework the vehicle for her woman’s doctrine of civility, and in converting it, she transformed the gross and cynical pagan doctrines of Ovid to something more ideal, the woman’s canon, the chivalric code of manners. For manners, she plainly saw, are after all the fine residuum of philosophies, the very flower of ethics.

So Marie began her academic program in the queen’s palace not with philosophies, but with a theory of conduct developing the ultimate refinements of the mind and heart. The lesson, if formal, was not dry. With Ovid for a model, she drew up, and her chaplain Andreas recorded for her, then or subsequently, the constitution of a society to be impelled not by force nor by casual impulse, but by an inner disciplined sense of propriety. What progress could be made in dialectic by untutored squires who rode hacks into mess halls, and by hoydens who diverted eyes from psalters in the very midst of mass? And upon what could one ground a code of chivalry save on the classic and universal theme of love?

‘How passing wonderful is love,’ exclaims Andreas, ‘which makes men to be effulgent in virtue, and teaches everyone to abound in good manners.’ And finally, to support the rather threadbare dicta of Ovid, who was after all in that court the passion of the elder generation, Marie’s code professed to derive from the authentic practice of chivalry in the court of King Arthur in Caerleon on Usk, than which nothing could afford a more unexceptionable pattern for chivalry. It elucidated for aspiring knights the true inwardness of Gawain, the sustaining principles of Arthur himself.

There is something ghoulish in exposing Andreas’s book, which is also Marie’s, to the callous scrutiny of an age hostile to sentiment. A faint odor of cloistral mould and feudal decay clings to it. But the soil in which it grew was valiant. The ideal of l’amour courtois which grew up in Poitiers had, as Mr Loomis has suggested, more than a little to do with freeing woman from the millstone which the church in the first millenium hung about her neck as the author of man’s fall and the facile instrument of the devil in the world. The court of Poitiers gave its high sanction to ideals which spread so rapidly throughout Europe that ‘the doctrine of the inferiority of woman has never had the same standing since.’

The code of Andreas gives glimpses of a woman’s notions of a society different in essential respects from the prevailing feudal scheme, which was certainly man-made. In the Poitevin code, man is the property, the very thing of woman; whereas a precisely contrary state of things existed in the adjacent realms of the two kings from whom the reigning duchess of Aquitaine was estranged. Incidentally, there is something to explain the puzzling conflict in the Tractatus between the secular and the ecclesiastical views of love in the fact that the clerk whom Marie employed to organize her code was earning his living by flattering feminine majesty.

There is reason to think that Andreas, sensing the perversive nature of the document upon which he was engaged, made good Latin of it only under a certain pressure from his sovereign ladies; and the Countess’s other servant, Chretien de Troyes, quite openly revolted from the too liberal implications of her scheme. As critics we may make what we please of this upside-down philosophy of women. There it is in the first two books of Andreas. There have always been two schools of thought about it.

With this anatomy of the whole corpus of love in hand, Marie organized the rabble of soldiers, fighting-cocks, jousters, springers, riding masters, troubadours, Poitevin nobles and debutantes, young chatelaines, adolescent princes, and infant princesses in the great hall of Poitiers. Of this pandemonium the countess fashioned a seemly and elegant society, the fame of which spread to the world. Here was a woman’s assize to draw men from the excitements of the tilt and the hunt, from dice and games, to feminine society, an assize to outlaw boorishness and compel the tribute of adulation to female majesty. The book, together with the poetry of the troubadours, enables us to catch a glimpse of those famous assemblies in the queen’s new hall to which lovers brought their complaints for the judgment of the ladies.

The female portion of the academy, disciplined by the fashionable example of the countess and the queen to a noble grace of bearing, a flattering condescension, mount the dais, an areopagus something sixty strong. They gather round the queen, and among them shine, besides Marie, Isabelle Countess of Flanders, who is the queen’s niece; Ermengarde Countess of Narbonne, doubtless familiar with some such proceedings in the South; probably also Henry’s sister, the lovely Emma of Anjou, perhaps also, if she was actually another sister of the king, Marie de France – all except Ermengarde, who was more nearly the queen’s contemporary, women from twenty-five to thirty, the notable high priestesses of art and beauty in the day.

The chronicle of Geoffrey of Vigeois leads us to conclude that the standards of the court impressed themselves upon Poitou and the Limousin. ‘Time was,’ he says, ‘when even the Bishop of Limoges and the Viscount of Comborn were content to go in sheep and fox skins. But today [the queen’s day] the humblest would blush to be seen in such poor things. Now they have clothes fashioned of rich and precious stuffs, in colors to suit their humor. They snip out the cloth in rings and longish slashes to show the lining through, so that they look like the devils that we see in paintings. They slash their mantles, and their sleeves flow like those of hermits. Youths affect long hair and shoes with pointed toes.’ As for women, he adds, ‘You might think them adders, if you judged by the tails they drag after them.’ The price of fur and cloth had doubled within the period of the chronicler’s observation.

While the ladies, well-accoutred, sit above, the sterner portion of society, purged (according to the code) of the odors of the kennels and the road, and free for a time from spurs and falcons, range themselves about the stone benches that line the walls, stirring the fragrant rushes with neatly pointed shoe. There are doubtless preludes of music luring the last reluctant knight from the gaming table, tensons or pastourelles, the plucking of rotes, the ‘voicing of a fair song and sweet,’ perhaps even some of the more complicated musical harmonies so ill-received by the clerical critics of London; a Breton lai adding an episode to Arthurian romance, or a chapter in the tale of sad-man Tristan, bringing a gush of tears from the tender audience clustered about the queen and the countess of Champagne.

After the romance of the evening in the queen’s court, the jury comes to attention upon petition of a young knight in the hall. He bespeaks the judgment of the queen and her ladies upon a point of conduct, through an advocate of course, so that he may remain anonymous. A certain knight, so the advocate deposes, has sworn to his lady, as the hard condition of obtaining her love, that he will upon no provocation boast of her merits in company. But one day he overhears detractors heaping his mistress with calumnies. Forgetting his vow in the heat of his passion, he warms to eloquence in defence of his lady. This coming to her ear, she repudiates her champion. Does the lover, who admits he has broken his pledge to his mistress, deserve in this instance to be driven from her presence?

The Countess of Champagne, subduing suggestions from the floor and the buzz of conference upon the dais, renders the judgment of the areopagus. The lady in the case, anonymous of course, is at fault, declares the Countess Marie. She has laid upon her lover a vow too impossibly difficult. The lover has been remiss, no doubt, in neglecting his vow to his mistress, no matter what cruel hardship it involves; but he deserves leniency for the merit of his ardor and his constancy. The jury recommends that the stern lady reinstate the plaintiff. The court takes down the judgment. It constitutes a precedent. Does anyone guess the identity of the young pair whose estrangement is thus delicately knit up by the countess? As a bit of suspense it is delicious. As a theme for talk, how loosening to the tongue!

A disappointed petitioner brings forward a case, through an advocate of course, involving the question as to whether love survives marriage. The countess applying her mind to the code, which says that marriage is no proper obstacle to lovers (‘Causa coniugii ab amore non est excusatio recta’) and after gravely deliberating with her ladies, creates a sensation in her court by expressing doubt whether love in the ideal sense can exist between spouses. This is so arresting a proposition that the observations of the countess are referred to the queen for corroboration, and all bend upon the opinion of this deeply experienced judge.

The queen with dignity affirms that she cannot gainsay the Countess of Champagne, though she finds it admirable that a wife should find love and marriage consonant. Eleanor, queen of France and then of England, had learned at fifty-two that, as another mediaeval lady put it, ‘mortal love is but the licking of honey from thorns.’ Of course they rationalize a conduct that has outburst the rigid feudal scheme for women; but disillusion speaks also in these noble ladies, who, though they divine some unattainable ideal value in life, know that actually they remain feudal property, but part and parcel of their fiefs. It is plain that each and every one of the judgments in the queen’s court is an arrant feudal heresy. Taken together they undermine all the primary sanctions, and are subversive of the social order.

REFERENCES:
1. Amy Kelly, ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Courts of Love’ Source: Speculum, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1937), pp. 3-19 Published by: Medieval Academy of America

2. Title Tractatus de Amore et de Amoris Remedio referred to in English as ‘The Art of Courtly Love’

Sex and attachment

Woman2

Did the image above get your attention?

Male motivation is tied to sexual reproduction and men are motivated primarily by sexual urges to mate with a female, right?

Wrong… it’s more complex than that.

As far back as 1941 Scottish psychiatrist Ronald Fairbairn found that the desire for attachment in human beings, in terms of the overall psychobiological economy, is a more important necessity than the desire for sexual pleasure and reproduction.

This scientific finding, not controversial in the field of psychology, presents something of a heretical view to some of today’s Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) who, by contrast, seem to have come in recent years to believe that males are chasing sexual reproduction only — which, oddly enough, seems similar to the stereotype of the “all men want is sex” misandrist paradigm we’ve all come to find so annoying.

Fairbairn’s proposition is now many decades old, but his findings heralded a Copernican revolution within the world of scientific research that would culminate in today’s attachment sciences; it moved the discussion beyond the reductionist sexual theories of Darwin and Freud and into new areas–more complex, more subtle, more nuanced, and ultimately more human.

The question attachment scientists explored is: why do couples continue to stay with each other years after producing offspring, and indeed sometimes for decades after all sexual activity has ceased in relationships? The answer is because human beings are pair bonders who get more out of attachment than they do out of fucking.

Since Fairbairn, studies have confirmed that humans possess an array of distinct motivational systems each in communication with the surrounding environment. Of those systems two are singled out as particularly powerful in motivating humans to form relationships – the sexual urge (eros), and -separately- the urge to attach. Of these, attachment is quite simply the most important to the continued survival of the individual. This cannot be overstated: attachment is the more important to individual survival.

As studies reveal, an absence of close and consistent human attachment causes children to literally wither and die, refusing to thrive even when being provided with clothing, food and an adequate number of toys. Children need reliable and consistent relationships in order to thrive. Likewise adults literally sicken both physically and mentally, and often commit suicide, to escape feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially after a relationship separation.

A lack of sexual contact on the contrary is not as life threatening; you will never see someone die simply because they didn’t get to fuck with the opposite sex and reproduce. I would think that seals the case about what is really important to both men and women. Survival of the species depends on sex; survival of the individual depends on the vital bonds of attachment.

What does all this mean to Men Going Their Own Way?

Well, it means that we need to evaluate separately our attachment needs and our sexual needs, and avoid the common mistake of conflating them; especially if that conflation sees us rejecting both when in fact it may be only one of these causing most of our relationship angst. It may turn out that attachment and sex both need to be rejected, however that cannot be determined until we consider each factor separately and thoroughly.

In our psychobiological economy, various 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 (historically relatively short) time span, human culture has thrown the weight of its patronage into developing, intensifying and enforcing sexual gamesmanship (yes, including hypergamy) to the degree that our sexual compulsions appear pumped up on steroids and taken to extremes never before seen in the human animal (myths about widespread Roman orgies notwithstanding).

If we lived back in Ancient Greece, Rome or anywhere else we would view sex as little more than a bodily function akin to eating, shitting 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 resulted in a frustration of our basic need for attachment – a frustration aided and abetted by social institutions placing sexual manipulation at the centre of human interactions.

During these fairly recent centuries of increased hypergamy and sexual focus, our drive to pair-bond continues to shout its demands even while being neglected. Observe for example the not-infrequent feelings of disillusionment and loneliness of serial partner upgraders (hypergamy) or of promiscuous gamers, or consider a beautiful young woman living in her mansion with an aged but wealthy husband to whom she has little or no emotional attachment; even if she is getting sex on the side her loneliness can eat away at her sense of contentment. These examples reveal an urgency surrounding attachment when it is neglected for the sake of secondary sexual or power gains.

Like men, women desire secure attachment beyond whatever sexual advantages they can and do exploit. However their hypergamous compulsions tend to get in the way and frustrate their powerful need to pair-bond. From the Middle Ages all the way to today we read of men and women bitterly disillusioned by the interference of hypergamy in the desire to form stable pair-bonds. Read for instance the bitter, antifeminist complaints of 12th century Andreas Capellanus or those of 14th century Christine de Pizan, or the disillusionment and ultimate rejection of the benefits of hypergamy in later works like Madam Bovary. These authors knew full well that sexualized romantic love had upset the balance of attachment security for both men and women alike.

The question those of us who consider ourselves MGTOW must ask ourselves is this: can our human need for attachment be indulged without men and women succumbing to the destructive manipulations of the modern sex code? As we stand atop our MGTOW mountains of freedom, rightly rejecting women and culture as bastions of exploitation, have we intellectually thrown out the attachment baby with the exploitation bathwater?

Sexual games need not get in the way of healthy attachment, so why should we live without relationships? Well no one ever said we had to, but in recent years I’ve sensed a trend both within and without the MGTOW community (which I’ve long been part of) that foregoing “relationships” is a necessary part of the deal.

This does not seem a prudent attitude to be cultivating, especially in young men who may now be reading about MGTOW philosophy and making extreme decisions about their lives; refusing to marry, cohabit, or procreate does not require a cutting off from human society. Even if we don’t suicide from loneliness (as so many men do) we need to question if the absence of an intimate relationship in our lives can leave us limping, or somehow unfulfilled. Some will say no, and some of these naysayers may well be what are known as ‘avoidant attachers.’ Of those who would say yes, some might recommend we fill our intimacy void with friendships, which is I think a very good starting point. But this leads to a further question of whether there is an adequate formulation of friendship that can satisfy our needs in a modern context – a relationship that doesn’t rely on the usual corruption at the core of sexualized romantic love.

These questions lead to an exploration of adult human attachment, and modern studies on the subject are abundant from psychological, biological and behavioural points of view. For those interested in following this subject further the Wikipedia entry on Attachment in Adults would be a good place to start, and to branch out from there. Of particular interest is the existence of four basic attachment styles in human beings, indicating that there must also be four main ways of doing MGTOW:

secure attachment (64% of the population)
anxious–preoccupied attachment (17% of the population)
fearful–avoidant attachment (12% of the population)
dismissive–avoidant attachment (7% of the population)

Only one of these styles (dismissive avoidant) involves a lack of desire for emotionally close relationships (relationships with minimal emotional intimacy may be tolerable to them), while the other three involve a desire to form emotionally intimate attachments. These are biologically-based traits appearing in each man before he elects to GHOW, and they help to account for the behavioral and ideological variability we see among MGTOW – for the most part we are working creatively with what’s already in our make up rather than changing our core attachment style. Based on this taxonomy we can safely say there are four irreducible kinds of MGTOW:

Secure MGTOW
Anxious–preoccupied MGTOW
Fearful–avoidant MGTOW
Dismissive–avoidant MGTOW (‘ghosts’)

The four attachment styles and their implications for “ways of doing MGTOW” deserve a follow up article. While some MGTOW claim men do not need attachment at all, evidence is not in their favour. Thus, for most of us, constructing new ways to form secure relationships with our fellow humans in a rich and rewarding way is an important long-term question, even if we cannot pretend to have all the answers now; we start by knowing what we don’t want: relationships of enslavement and entrapment to the opposite sex (or anyone else for that matter) in an environment that makes healthy attachment difficult. But how do we forge a more positive model for human relationships and attachment for ourselves?

We started this essay with an important question: are sex and attachment two relatively different motivations? The answer is a resounding yes! Yes, despite all the pop culture bombardment of sex, sex, sex, the sexual shaming of men, and all the rest, the answer is yes: sex and attachment are not the same. People can live their lives avoiding sexual games but they will not end their lives happily unless they meet their attachment requirements. And while this journey will be different for each man going his own way, we must not flinch from seeing the problem for what it is: not “overcoming our urge to procreate,” but rather, how to be healthy human beings able to recognize and fulfill our natural need for human intimacy.
Sources
– Frederico Pereira, David E. Scharff, M. D. Fairbairn and Relational Theory (2002)
– Fairbairn, W.R.D., ‘Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality’. (2013)
– Shaver, P.R., Handbook of attachment – Second Edition (2008)
– Shaver, P.R., Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics and Change (2010)

MGTOW – facts and fallacies

In this article I attempt to define the cultural phenomenon of ‘Men Going Their Own Way’ (MGTOW), a contemporary movement that sees men rejecting traditional relationships with women.

Men’s Human Rights Activists (MHRA’s) have always promoted the MGTOW lifestyle in one form or another, and in many ways the men’s rights movement is synonymous with the intent of MGTOW. So it should come as no surprise that two men from an early men’s rights forum (Ragnar and Meikyo) actively promoted the phrase Men Going Their Own Way.

Ragnar, one of the promoters of the phrase describes the moment as follows:

“You see all the ideas were floating around on the internet. We were frustrated that we couldn’t get men to build an organization, couldn’t get men to come to this damned meeting- everybody was going their own damned way, and the fact that men went their own way, we started to use that phrase and we started to talk about what’s important for men… who’s going to define their masculinity? Well, they actually have to do that themselves, they have to find out what it is for themselves. So, as you have the responsibility for your own actions, well then it’s also your responsibility to define who you are as a man.” Ragnar [1]

More interesting is the growth of ideas that have attached themselves to the concept that make it all but impossible to define what MGTOW is. So that will be the purpose of this article – to locate a single definition compatible with the variety of descriptions being proposed. This can be achieved by applying Occam’s razor to all extraneous ideas and dogmas that have attached themselves to MGTOW – to those pet ideas that have hitched a ride on the core motive so that we end up with a short definition everyone agrees on.

We’ll start here with a small sample of ideas and practices that have attached themselves to the MGTOW concept that can be considered superfluous to a limited definition that is going to suit everyone. Here then are a few of those add-ons to what we will call the core definition of MGTOW:

MHRAs are not MGTOW:
This false claim is easily discounted. According to the core definition of MGTOW (see below) many MHRAs are MGTOW, so any claims that these are opposed orientations doesn’t prove useful for constructing a definition. Some claim that the ‘A’ in MHRA refers to the word activism and so must be about group-based political actions – hence unrelated to men’s individual path to liberation. That argument, however, is based on a false premise, because a Google search reveals that the ‘A’ refers not only to activism but to advocacy, including self-advocacy – at least for the majority who use the acronym. So the argument that MGTOW are working toward a goal opposite that of MHRAs amounts to a false and divisive proposition.

MGTOW is anti ‘traditionalism’:
This widespread and increasingly popular stance in the MGTOW movement was elaborated largely by Paul Elam and Barbarossaaa. Traditionalism refers to traditional gender roles for men and women, roles which most everyone in the MHRM/MGTOW movement reject as destructive to a man’s wellbeing and freedom. However a small percentage of self-described MHRAs/MGTOW do advocate traditional gender roles, especially men in the earlier MRM who were split on this question with perhaps half endorsing traditionalism and half rejecting it.

Sinatra-My-WayThose advocating traditional gender roles claim men can enjoy significant freedom by stipulating what they are willing to accept as a viable and fair ‘role-division’ in relationships with women – a claim that can be demonstrated, they say, by a study of traditional males who embodied Sinatra’s song “I Did It My Way.” Whatever freedom these men pretend to enjoy they are still laboring within that narrow and self-limiting paradigm that requires male utility in exchange for a woman’s charms, which means he continues to live the ‘gynocentric way’ even if he feels he is doing it “his way.” The man must continue to labor outside the home and bring home the bacon, while his wife occupies herself as a homemaker. In terms of logical categories it’s obvious that traditionalism and radical male autonomy are mutually exclusive, meaning that if traditionalists want a full taste of freedom they must, by definition, look for it outside of the traditionalist template.

Since the invention of ‘romantic chivalry’ in the Middle Ages (and not before), MGTOW men became an exception to the new rule, and those who continued to practice it were held in suspicion, shamed and rejected by society. The new gynocentric mandates viewed free men as recalcitrant, and from that moment in history society would no longer tolerate any man opting out of his gynocentric “duty” toward women. So I find myself in full agreement with Paul Elam and Barbarossaaa that traditionalism constitutes the antithesis of any coherent definition of MGTOW, a fact so blatant it can be considered implicit in the definition without the need state it.

Veto-MGTOW:
For some men MGTOW is demonstrated exclusively by veto power. Veto constitutes a narrow philosophical practice of negating things, which is nevertheless a perfectly acceptable expression of MGTOW. However some MGTOW tend to specialise in veto alone and have no other tool in their toolbox. About veto:

‘This singular kind of power demonstrates agency dedicated wholly to negation. Its sole strength lies in its ability to frustrate the will of others… its power is wholly prohibitive, as the word originates from the Latin meaning: “I forbid”.’ [2]

Stating what you don’t accept (veto) is a simple task compared with figuring out and articulating what you do want for your life. Living the MGTOW lifestyle usually includes a mixture of positive aspiration – such as figuring out the kind of friendships you might want to cultivate, or the career or hobby you might want to pursue – and is not limited merely to “I don’t want this, and I don’t believe that”. Veto-MGTOW naturally falls well short of a universal law for MGTOW.

MGTOW is anti-relationships with women:
The ‘no relationships’ position is supported by a small but vocal minority of the MGTOW community, and particularly by the veto-MGTOW contingent. Conversely, many MGTOW develop positive criteria for cultivating relationships with women on the basis of friendship or other relationships that may or may not include sexual relations depending on preference. For instance, in his recent discussion with Dean Esmay, Barbarossaaa –a respected MGTOW advocate- indicated that he engages in sexual friendships with women that include going out to dinner and other fun activities. The guiding principle for these men is that relations with women are workable if they can be based on creative agreements outside the usual gynocentric criteria, and can be backed with a determination to reject groupthink and societal pressure to conform to the typical male role.

Briffault’s law:
The 19th Century Marxist thinker Robert Briffault is remembered for this comment; “The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.” This generalization has since been spun out and declared a “law” by some, though Briffault never proposed it as a law. Since it was first coined, others have added addendums and corollaries to this “law” which amount to little more than personal and unscientific opinions. Further, despite the current attempt in MGTOW blogger circles to revive this “law,” a review of the scientific literature shows no support nor even a reference to “Briffault’s Law” – nor is it mentioned in Google Scholar, not once. If anyone can find any academic sources that take this “law” seriously I would welcome a list of citations and will happily update this article to reflect them if provided.

A careful look at Briffault’s “Law” shows it to be two independent statements, with the second arguably more factual than the first. However both statements are too generalized to be useful as a law; yes it often happens that women can be controlling and, for example, may turn out not to like their man’s friends (because women derive no benefit from the association) and so drive them out, but men do this too, and both sexes are hardly 100% successful in doing so. In the latter cases we are talking about highly pathological behaviors in which case Briffault’s Law might better be characterized as “Briffault’s generalization about dysfunctional relationships.”

The implication of this “law” for men going their own way is that, because women supposedly dictate all relationship moves, the male is better off opting out of that power imbalance. Relationships are simply a bad deal. Understandably this assumption of a biology-based female omnipotence is not something universally subscribed to by the MGTOW community and therefore cannot be considered a basis for an agreed definition.

Male mother love:
MOMMYThis idea suggests that men’s relationship aspirations are driven by an unconscious yearning for “mother” love, from which all MGTOW men should attempt to liberate themselves. Oedipus complex, anyone? Whatever the real influence of “mother” love this presents a historically tired argument for male motivation. It is one that no longer appears in the practice of psychology and for good reason; over 100 years of analysis have proven the theory of less value than first suspected, and the man who first theorized it as a “universal complex” is thought to have suffered the complex himself. Behaviorism, psychoanalysis and the long reign of the Oedipus complex have been superseded by contemporary attachment theory which has deepened our understanding and shown that male need for attachment and affection need not be linked to that word “mother”.

None of this is to dismiss the pivotal importance of attachment desire in males, and there is much in the so-called “mother love” theory that warrants close and ongoing discussion. In fact the science of attachment is potentially one of the most fruitful paths of investigation for MGTOW there is. The issue here is that whilst promising, the discussion about adult attachment theory in relation to MGTOW is currently underdeveloped and is therefore of limited use as a theoretical base.

Female hypergamy:
This popular theory holds that when it comes to the mating game females can’t resist “trading up” and therefore make unreliable mates for the long-term; it is better for men to avoid relationships with women and go their own way. A decisive piece of data confirming the practice of female hypergamy comes from a talk by Roy F. Baumeister who says that “maybe 80% of the women but only 40% of men reproduced” throughout the history of the human race. However according to follow-up research Baumeister’s “maybe” turned out to be incorrect and the numbers have been superseded by more recent science.

The estimates on historic male/female population sizes are based on The Most Recent Common Ancestor for both males and females. At the time Baumeister’s address where he publicized the ‘findings’ that 2 women reproduced for every 1 man, TMRCA for males was between 50-100 thousand years ago, and the TMRCA for females was 200,000 years ago; leading to a 2 to 1 split favouring female ancestors. Revised genetic studies have found that TMRCA for males is ~142,000 thousand years ago and the TMRCA for females is ~177,000 years ago. This means that Baumeister’s conclusion is void. There is a slight skew towards female ancestors but this may be accounted for by female exogamy and the fact that female generations are shorter than male (women have children earlier then men do). It may also be an artifact of our current level of knowledge into the matter and as our science is refined, the numbers converge.

With the revised figures the importance of the female hypergamy to MGTOW is also revised; we now see a less extreme a picture than the earlier Baumeister figures painted and, one would assume, a somewhat less relevant ideological motivation for MGTOW.

Biological reductionism:
Men are viewed by some MGTOW as eternally groveling trilobites who will not change; they are merely nerve reactions to environmental stimuli with the ultimate aim of sexual reproduction with women.

The typical biological reductionist spends 99% of his conversation promoting human behavior as biologically determined, while meagerly acknowledging (if at all) the role culture plays in inhibiting or encouraging the release of our biological urges. Despite a reluctance to recognize it, cultural control of biology is an undeniable fact; and when a person’s behaviour transgresses a social taboo, the transgressing individual stands a high chance of being incarcerated or killed by edict of the body politic. For instance if hypergamous behavior by women is subject to a taboo in a given culture, then if she transgresses it she may be (literally) stoned to death: score zero for the selfish-gene, and one for culture. Such punishment of “anomalous” behavior sends a message to others about how much of their biological compulsions will be tolerated, and people’s behavior is adjusted to that threat accordingly. Conversely is it not true that some cultures encourage freedom of biological expression more than others? The point of these examples is that cultural dictates –and their wide fluctuations over time– provide the more powerful factor in determining the inhibition or release of biological imperatives.

We need to be wary, then, of those who would explain human behavior as constistent and relatively changeless over long swathes of time and regardless of cultural contexts. This angle is strongly promoted by MGTOW advocate Stardusk whose primary hypothesis goes like this:

“This has been going on for millennia if not millions of years- men have always kowtowed and adhered to the desires of women, and have always been what women wanted them to be. Men have always subordinated their desire for freedom to their desire to reproduce.” [3]

Stardusk further claims that men (one assumes, aside from himself) will never change from their unconscious kowtowing ways. Not only does this hypothesis ignore the wild fluctuations in culture that saw, for example, men of classical times behave much more freely in relation to women than they did, say, in the Middle Ages, it also promotes a reductionist and patently misandric hypotheses about men that is unlikely to gain traction as an explanatory basis for MGTOW.

***

Any of these topics can serve legitimate interests for MGTOW; but the question arises of what binds these disparate ideas together? In order to find a definition of MGTOW we must find a degree of general consensus, some shared factor among the variety of perspectives, or otherwise MGTOW will end up talking about entirely different things. And if there were no common consensus here we would merely have debaters talking about different subjects; one would be talking about female hypergamy and the other would be talking about celibacy with no common ground between them.

So we will need a universally applicable definition that will fit everyone’s criteria for what MGTOW is in spite of the different perspectives that different people hold on its nature. This definition must be a limited one since it can encompass only those parts of MGTOW which all broader definitions hold in common. For this essay the definition is this: Male self-determination.

That, then, is what everybody who discusses MGTOW holds in common regarding the concept. Note in this definition there is no reference to the disputed ideas or practices listed above. Some might insist on including those ideas in the base definition – to piggyback it with a whole range of idiosyncratic concepts – but that is of no use here, for beyond this narrow definition people basically disagree with each other. To be as objective as possible, then, we must take only that which everybody agrees upon as the universally applicable definition.

MGTOW-square-whiteSelf-determination refers simply to the human right to determine the course of one’s life, and to apply self-advocacy in that direction. And let’s not forget that the ‘A’ in MHRA refers to precisely the same advocacy. Self-determination and self-advocacy were always there for men who chose it long before the MGTOW acronym provided another way to say it. We can also state that implicit in this definition is opposition to, and rejection of gynocentrism as being the antithesis of male self-determination. Men who subscribe to gynocentric directives, such as profeminist men, are subscribing to ‘other-determination,’ or ‘determination of self by other’ and need not apply for MGTOW status.

This article does three things. It carves away superfluous ideas from a core definition of MGTOW; it offers a concise definition of MGTOW; and it takes back MGTOW from those who would cleave it from its synonymy with the Men’s Human Rights Movement.

AVfM has churned out hundreds of articles promoting self-determination for men, and it has done so more vigorously than it has commentaries and articles calling for specific political activism. If one wants to soak themselves in a MGTOW atmosphere they need go no further than this high quality MGTOW community that showcases articles and interviews on every aspect of the subject.

A further development worth mentioning is the notion of Women Going Their Own Way (WGTOW). While the persecution of men by gynocentric culture is unique, there exist solid albeit different reasons for women to reject it, including the infantilizing dogma and gender bigotry it pressures women to adopt. The uncommon woman who chooses to renounce gynocentrism in favor of a different path deserves the ‘going their own way’ title announcing self-determination. As long as women use the ‘W’ I take no offence to WGTOW. In fact I applaud it as another slap in the face for gynocentrism.

SOURCES

[1] Dialogue with MGTOW Founders (2012)
[2] Hillman, J., Veto, chapter in ‘Kinds of Power’ p.196, (1995)
[3] Stardusk On the Men in the Matrix
[4] Elam, Paul., A Voice for Men
[5] Barbarossaaa, YouTube Channel
[6] Davison, Diana., Women Going Her Own Way
[7] Esmay, Dean., Youtube Channel
[8] AVfM Wiki Glossary of terms: MGTOW

Love and friendship

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Feminism promotes a neurotic vision of what constitutes true love. It takes its model directly from the Age of Feudalism which saw vassals bowing down and kissing the hands of Lords. In the 12th century that model served as the basis for a new kind of love in which men were to play the role of vassal to women who played the role of an idealized Lord.

C.S. Lewis, back in the middle of the 20th Century, referred to this historical revolution as “the feudalisation of love,” and stated that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. “Compared with this revolution,” states Lewis, “the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.” [1]

Not only has this feudalistic notion of love permeated almost every corner of the globe today, it continues to be vigorously promoted by both feminists and traditionalists alike. The love we are referring to is what Hollywood, romance novels, and other media refer to as “romantic love,” the fantasy to which every modern man and woman pledges blind obeisance. Here are two descriptions of romantic love from modern scholars:

C.S. Lewis:

“Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.”[2]

C.S. Lewis wrote that many decades ago; I’m not sure “everyone” knows it today. We ought to remember his words, because in the long sweep of human history, what we think has been with us forever is something people only a few generations ago knew to be mostly an artificial, idealized notion.

Slavoj Zizek:

“The knight’s relationship to the Lady is thus the relationship of the subject-bondsman, the vassal, to his feudal Master-Sovereign who subjects him to senseless, outrageous, impossible, arbitrary, capricious ordeals. It is precisely in order to emphasize the non-spiritual nature of these ordeals that Lacan quotes a poem about a Lady who demanded that her servant literally lick her arse: the poem consists of the poet’s complaints about the bad smells that await him down there (one knows the sad state of personal hygiene in the Middle Ages), and about the imminent danger that, as he is fulfilling his ‘duty’, the Lady will urinate on his head.” [3]

Feminism’s mission today is largely the promulgation of this “love,” and it is right that men and women learn to reject it, as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), Women Against Feminism (WAF), and Men’s Human Rights Advocates (MHRAs) are doing. It is a “love” that dehumanizes males by turning them into masochistic servants, while simultaneously dehumanizing women by idealizing them to the extent that their humanity is obliterated and replaced with an image of divinity. It’s a recipe for disaster on both sides; the occasional lucky couple for whom this works is about as rare as a lightning strike, with no evidence that even that lucky few are really happier or more productive than anyone else.

When I consider this disastrous state of affairs that has lead men to boycott relationships, a few questions arise; are we being too rash in our rush from love, and if yes is there a better model, a new model, or perhaps an older model for relationships that we have forgot?

The field of attachment science concludes that an absence of close and consistent human attachment causes children to literally wither and die, refusing to thrive despite being provided with clothing, food and an adequate number of toys. Likewise adults literally commit suicide to escape feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially after a relationship separation. Even if we don’t end up suiciding from loneliness we have to ask ourselves if the absence of an intimate relationship in our lives leaves us limping, or somehow unfulfilled? Some would suggest we can fill our intimacy void with friendships, but this leads to a further question of whether there is an adequate formulation of friendship that can satisfy our needs – a relationship that doesn’t rely on the usual vassal and lord model at the core of romantic love.

In ancient cultures friendship was a more lofty aspiration than it is today. It was synonymous with love and it often involved sexual intimacy. In Ancient Greek, the same word was used for friend and lover. In our culture we have succeeded in separating friendship from the category we call love, and excised all trace of sex from friendships. Today when we say, “They are just good friends” or “she’s only a friend” we are indicating the absence of both intimate love and sex.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary:

‘A friend is a lover, literally. The relationship between Latin amicus “friend” and amo “I love” is clear, as is the relationship between Greek philos “friend” and phileo, “I love.” In English, though, we have to go back a millennium before we see the verb related to friend. At that time, freond, the Old English word for “friend,” was simply the present participle of the verb freon, “to love.” The Germanic root behind this verb is fri, “to like, love, be friendly to.” (2006)

To older classical cultures, friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of the different kinds of loves, and for that reason I wonder whether it’s worth reintroducing it here as a guide to relationships between red-pill men and women?

Suppose that rather than running from intimacy we were to demote our idea of “romantic” love from its pedestal, and elevate friendship-love in its place. Suppose also that we steal back sexual attraction and sexual intercourse from the neurotic clutches of “romantic” love, and allow it once again to be part and parcel of friendship if and when relationships call for it.

Before we consider elevating friendship as a replacement for romantic love we need first to detail precisely what it is and how it looks in lived experience, and to that end here are three salient points of definition.

Friendship is based on shared interests
Friendship is based entirely on things people have in common, like some shared insight, interest or taste. It might be cooking, sport, religion, politics, sex, or gardening, and in the best friendships there occurs a handsome combination of these. No friendship can arise without shared interests, because there would be nothing for the friendship to be about. Furthermore, that “something” is generally located outside oneself and one’s relationship – at the football stadium, church, chess-board, or stamp collection. Friendship differs in this respect markedly from “romantic” love in which couples perpetually focus on each other and talk to each other about their love.

Friends hardly ever talk about their friendship. C.S. Lewis captures this with his remark that friends stand side-by-side rather than face-to-face:

“Friends are not primarily absorbed in each other. It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up – painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction. Lovers look at each other – that is, in opposite directions.”[1]

This kind of friendship, this love, is not something we can have with anyone we meet. We can no more choose in advance who we are going to be close friends with than we can choose what sort of skin colour we are going to be born with. Friendship arises organically when we discover that a previously casual acquaintance, or perhaps a new person we meet, shares significant interests with us; “What? You too? I thought I was the only one!” The pleasure derived from cooperation in that shared interest, and of getting to know them through that activity, provides an avenue for deep bonding and human attachment.

Friendship is based in personal authenticity
Friendship is based on true identities and interests, not on some narrow and dehumanising role we might play. Friendship invites you to speak out about your interests in order to find potential areas of commonality. This is not allowed in so-called “romantic” love lest your interests threaten the narrow feudalistic fantasy. In “romantic” love the main “shared interest” is that script which insists the man play the role of masochistic utility, and the woman an idealised goddess. It is an objectification of both parties.

Friendship is not based on the feudal model: not vassals and overlords, but partners in crime.

Friendship is highly compatible with sex
Sex does not belong to romantic love – it belongs anywhere you want it to belong. Modern culture has begrudgingly allowed for this possibility under the risqué concept of “friends with benefits,” but to the ancients it was not daring at all, it was perfectly normal. Friendship also allows for a kind of quasi-romance–or dare I say, a possibly more authentic romance? Have you not had a good friend give you a gift, take you out for a meal, or to the movies? Sex and romantic gestures need not remain colonised by feudalistic notions of romantic love alone.

Sexual attraction and desire also need to be put in their place. They may generate some chemistry and may be the first thing that attracts you to a person, but like the shiny trinket that catches your eye at the shopping mall, you will first stare at it in wonder, maybe have a feel, and then decide whether you really want to take that thing home and share your life with it. Friendship is much the same, and if a person you meet has little in common you will be inclined to leave them on the shelf and move on, despite their sexual attractiveness.
________

Romantic-love and friendship-love are clearly opposed relationships with opposing motives. A woman might say: “I don’t want to be friends with my husband because it will take all the drama and intensity out of our marriage.” That is true enough, friendship does take some of the neurotic drama and intensity out of a relationship. But it also takes away the masochism and narcissism, and replaces that sickness with something human and real.

One of the worst-kept secrets about married couples is that they often treat their friends with more kindness, compassion and generosity than they ever do for each other. When best friends are together they are charming, engaging, helpful and courteous, but when they return home to their spouses they appear resentful, angry and uncooperative with each other. Hardly ever do we see this pattern reversed, where people are horrible to friends and at their best with their long term romantic love partners.

Friendship-love not only existed throughout the world before “romantic” love was invented, but it remains active in some pockets of culture today – for instance in China and India. Author Robert Johnson, for instance, writes about the presence of friendship between couples in India, recounting a Hindu marriage rite in which the bride and groom make the solemn but hopeful statement, “You will be my best friend.”

Johnson goes further, telling that “In a traditional Hindu marriage, a man’s commitment to his wife does not depend on his staying ‘in love’ with her. Since he was never ‘in love’ in the first place, there is no way he can fall ‘out of love’. His relationship to his wife is based on loving her, not on being ‘in love’ with the ideal he projects onto her. His relationship is not going to collapse because one day he falls ‘out of love,’ or because he meets another woman who catches his projection. He is committed to a woman and a family, not to a projection.” [4]

Friendship-love appeared long before “romantic” love and it worked. The “romantic” version of love is full of narcissism, corruption, entitlement and despair, where dreams collapse and lives are shattered. On the other hand go ask the happily married octogenarian couple who their best friend is – they will look at each other and smile knowing the answer has been beside them for sixty years. Our lives, loves and families fare much better when we base them on this very human kind of love called friendship.

With freindship, men and women have an opportunity to truly go their own way while keeping the option of healthy intimate relationships with either sex alive. Having your cake and eating it too. That would be my suggestion of how we might cure the malaise.

I once again note that the breakdown in relations between men and women has been painful, and men have suffered the most in this I would think; in the current socio-political climate, marriage and even cohabitation is like jumping out of an aeroplane with a chute you’re not even sure is going to open. And all change can’t simply be political. Still, if we are ever to look forward to a cultural change that might make for a new era of improved relations between the sexes, ditching these feudalistic attitudes about “romantic love,” and restoring the ancient tradition of seeing intimate friendship being the highest ideal for a relationship, would probably by a major step in the right direction culturally. This will require a shift in the attitudes of men and women alike, but the evidence for this being possible is strong; we’ve done it before, and we still see it in some cultures today. It’s not impossible for human beings to think and act this way. So can we return to a culture where that’s the more normal way of thinking? I’d like to believe that possible for us today, or at least in the future.

References

[1] C.S. Lewis, Friendship, chapter in The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 1960
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, 1936
[3] Slavoj Zizek, The Metastases of Enjoyment, Verso Press, 2005
[4] Robert A. Johnson, Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love, HarperCollins, 1983
[5] Robert C. Solomon, Love: Emotion, Metaphor, Empathy, Prometheus Books, 1990
[6] Marcus Tullius Cicero, Cicero’s Essays on Old Age and Friendship, Translation Publishers, 1926
[7] Lorraine S. Pangle, Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship, Cambridge University Press, 1986
[8] Irving Singer, The Nature of Love: Plato to Luther, University of Chicago Press, 1966
[9] Irving Singer, The Nature of Love: Courtly and Romantic, MIT Press, 2009
[10] Alan Soble, Eros, Agape and Philia: Readings in the Philosophy of Love, Paragon House, 1998