In the premodern period there existed a movement called the Querelle des Femmes or quarrel about women, which approximates what we today refer to as the debate between feminists and antifeminists. Generally speaking the centuries-long querelle revolved around discussion of the rights, power and status of women which displayed, at its extremes, hatred of women on the one hand (misogyny), and extreme adoration or love of women on the other (philogyny).
Isaac Newton proposed the law that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction and, by extension, we could say the same for trends within human society. By this reasoning we can assume a counterpoint to the querelle des femmes would have been in full force from the Middle ages through to the modern period. But what form did it take?
As you will read below, the querelle des femmes was part of the general quarrel between the sexes (querelle des sexes) in which men and women argued in favor of their respective issues. In that context surely men had something more to say for themselves beyond obsessing with the status of women alone; what about their own experiences as men, and where was that experience most detrimentally played out?
Marriage, in a word, is one place where men’s concerns most critically clustered.
During the pre-modern period men’s issues resembled the same concerns of today’s MGTOW and Men’s Human Rights Movement which speaks to discrimination against males in the relational sphere – both public and private.
I recently chanced upon an article which outlined that deeper history under the heading the querelle du mariage or quarrel about marriage. Being a chicken and egg scenario we cannot easily determine whether the querelle du mariage or the querelle des femmes came first, however it is clear that the two traditions served as vehicles for male and female advocacy respectively.
The following book excerpt provides more detail about this tradition:
Christine de Pizan’s praise of women was directed against the misogamists and misogynists of her time, the anonymous text Les quinze joies de mariage (The Fifteen Joys of Marriage) deplored the loss of male liberty in marriage, and a century later Erasmus of Rotterdam presented the misogamist virgin in his Virgo misogamos (The Misogamist Virgin – 1523), who desperately wants to enter a convent but inspired by love she thinks better of it at the last moment. Philogynous texts questioned why women were punished more strictly for adultery than men or why a husband had to be brought (by a dowry); misogamists and misogynists, eg. In England, answered the question by stating that women tend to squeeze money out of their husbands.
In Germany this aspect of the querelle has been largely ignored (interest has focused on voices which argued in favor of women’s intelligence and reason), although the querelle du mariage played an important role here: the wide-ranging marriage debate during the Reformation, in particular in its sensational and scandalous early phases – public betrothals of monks and nuns, closures of monasteries and convents, an epidemic of marriages in Germany to which even French reformers travelled who wished to marry – must be read as an integral part of the European querelle des sexes and the same goes for the marriage debates of the Counter-Reformation. Martin Luther’s Von chelichen Leben (The Estate of Married Life – 1522) speaks quite in the manner of a querelle text by turning against the traditional misogamist attitude:
“What we would speak most of is the fact that the estate of marriage has universally fallen into such awful disrepute. There are many pagan books which treat of nothing but the depravity of womankind and the unhappiness of the estate of marriage […]. So they [young men listening to the advice of a Roman official] concluded that woman is a necessary evil, and that no household can be without such an evil. […] For this reason young men should be on their guard when they read pagan books and hear the common complaints about marriage, lest they inhale poison . For the estate of marriage does not sell well with the devil, because it is God’s good will and work. This is why the devil has contrived to have so much shouted and written in the world against the institution of marriage […]. The world says of marriage, ‘Brief is the joy, lasting the bitterness.”1