While it may seem like a topic of modern MRAs and MGTOW, the burning question of whether men should marry, or more to the point, not marry, is centuries old. That men are rejecting marriage in increasing numbers is well documented, however cynicism about the virtues of marriage is nothing new.
In the premodern period there appeared a movement called the Querelle des Femmes or quarrel about women, which approximates to the current debate between feminists and antifeminists. The centuries-long querelle revolved around discussion of the rights, power and status of women. At its extremes the debate showcased hatred of women on the one hand, and extreme adoration or love of women on the other.
In its broader sense, the querelle encompasses all writing in which the relative merits of the sexes are discussed to ultimately draw gynocentric conclusions. If we consider the longevity of this revolution we can say that today’s feminism is the tail end of a longer advocacy machine for women.
The timeframe of the querelle begins in the twelfth century, and after 800 years of debate finds itself perpetuated in the feminist-driven reiterations of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s).
The following excerpt from a paper discussing the querelle, by historian Joan Kelly, is instructive. It was written with a feminist focus, thus leaving out all but the most superficial characterization of the male experience of gender relations. Nevertheless it provides much important history about the longer gender debate and how it underpinned the growth of modern feminism:
We generally think of feminism, and certainly of feminist theory, as taking rise in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most histories of the Anglo-American women’s movement acknowledge feminist “forerunners” in individual figures such as Anne Hutchinson, and in women inspired by the English and French revolutions, but only with the women’s rights conference at Seneca Falls in 1848 do they recognize the beginnings of a continuously developing body of feminist thought. Histories of French feminism claim a longer past.
They tend to identify Christine de Pisan (1364-1430?) as the first to hold modern feminist views and then to survey other early figures who followed her in expressing prowoman ideas up until the time of the French Revolution. New work is now appearing that will give us a fuller sense of the richness, coherence, and continuity of early feminist thought, and I hope this paper contributes to that end. What I hope to demonstrate is that there was a 400-year-old tradition of women thinking about women and sexual politics in European society before the French Revolution.
Feminist theorizing arose in the fifteenth century, in intimate association with and in reaction to the new secular culture of the modern European state. It emerged as the voice of literate women who felt themselves and all women maligned and newly oppressed by that culture, but who were empowered by it at the same time to speak out in their defense. Christine de Pisan was the first such feminist thinker, and the four-century-long debate that she sparked, known as the querelle des femmes, became the vehicle through which most early feminist thinking evolved.
The early feminists did not use the term “feminist,” of course. If they had applied any name to themselves, it would have been something like defenders or advocates of women, but it is fair to call this long line of prowomen writers that runs from Christine de Pisan to Mary Wollstonecraft by the name we use for their nineteenth- and twentieth-century descendants. Latter-day feminism, for all its additional richness, still incorporates the basic positions the feminists of the querelle were the first to take.1
The paper is worth reading in full, but as mentioned above the author leaves out a substantial exploration of the male experience within the querelle. For the record I would also place the beginnings of the Querelle back further, and least to the writing of The Romance Of The Rose and earlier to the treatise The Art of Courtly Love which both discuss the themes of the emergent querelle, and both generated lively social debate on women’s status and gendered issues.
Isaac Newton proposed the law that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction and, by extension, we could say the same law applies to trends within human society. By this reasoning we can assume that a counterforce to the querelle des femmes must have been in full force from the Middle ages through to the modern period. But what form did it take?
As mentioned, the querelle des femmes was part of a more 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 – at least in terms of their literary activism.
During the pre-modern period men’s issues resembled the concerns of today’s MGTOW and Men’s Human Rights Activists (MHRAs), which revolve around discrimination against males in the relational sphere – both public and private.
I recently chanced upon another article which outlined the 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:
The early manifestations of the quarrel often focus on marriage, one of the pressing problems of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period: An uxor sit ducenda (Should One Take a Wife) was a question much discussed by Italian men, and in Germany it could appear as Ob einem manne sey zu nemen ein eelichs weyb oder nit (Should a Man Take a Wife or Not? – Albrecht von Eyb, 1472). In answer to this question male misogamy (hatred of marriage) is expressed as misogyny (hatred of women) and philogyny (love of women) as philogamy (love of marriage).
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.”2
I have long wondered where and in what form male activism existed in response to traditional European gynocentrism, but was not clear on what forms it took. From the above description, and from the many anti-marriage texts abounding through old Europe, it’s clear that a historical form of men’s rights advocacy concerned itself with both gynocentrism and the dangers of entrapment within marriage.
Gynocentrism is coming under sustained pressure within the internet age, seeing it increasingly criticized even as it remains powerful as a cultural force. Will the current pushback against cultural gynocentricity see it weaken further? That’s anyone’s guess, but if nothing else we can take pride in the fact that our resistance to it extends back far longer than the laughable Wikipedia article on Men’s Rights would have us believe.
The Wikipedia entry would have us believe that men’s rights advocacy started in the 1970s as a feminist initiative which then deformed itself into an antifeminist backlash. Clearly this is a monumental con driven feminist editors of the Wikipedia entry, one which denies blatant evidence extending back to Ernest B. Bax and before. With the longer history on men’s activism outlined above, I hope you will join with others in calling bullshit on feminist denials of men’s history and lived experiences.
 Joan Kelly, Early Feminist Theory and the “Querelle des Femmes”, 1400-1789
 Gisela Bock and Margarete Zimmerman, The European Querelle des Femmes, in Medieval Forms of Argument: Disputation and Debate (p.134).