Valerii ad Rufinum: speaking truth in love for a friend

Ulysses and the Sirens, a allusion in Valerii ad Rufinus

Today, as in Europe in the days of Valerius and Rufinus, men are silenced. Loqui prohibeor et tacere non possum. They forbid me to speak, and I cannot be silent. I detest the incessant howling of humans who lack the songs of a dog except one. Rufinus, Valerius’ friend, wanted to marry. Heloise urged Abelard not to marry. They now say that’s misogyny. They forbid me to speak.

Women encircling men delight them with the attention, praise, and bodies of women. You will become a husband surrounded by one threefold monster with the face of a taskmaster, the belly of an accepted fatty, and a tail you hardly ever see. Ulysses too was enchanted by women, especially the Sirens. Veritatis vinculis sibi vim fecit, ut vitaret voraginem. I foretell you will remain a man, but many are becoming manboobs. I am afraid. They forbid me to speak.

Lest you become a pig or an ass, I cannot be silent. Walter Duranty, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, reported for the New York Times from the Stalinist Soviet Union amid the famines of 1932-1933. He explained to readers:

But—to put it brutally—you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socializaton as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction.

Generals who order a costly attack cause the deaths of men. Deaths of men matter little to today’s queens and kings. My beloved friend, the Bolsheviks caused not only the deaths of millions of men, but also the deaths of millions of women and children who weren’t even forced to be soldiers. Your life is worth nothing to them. They will even lie about persons who count.

Now Ezra Klein, a minister of Babel positioned in new media like Walter Duranty was in old, has taught readers the merits of arbitrary criminalization of men’s sexuality. Recently Klein coolly wrote:

Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty D–n Sure.

Convicting men for “genuinely ambiguous situations” is “law’s success” only in a culture of misandry without reason. That’s our mire in which you want to marry. I cannot be silent.

You have many advocates for your desire. They pour you honeyed poison that goes down pleasantly. It pleases you. I cry out bitter truth that you loath. They forbid me to speak.

Prima primi uxor Ade post primam hominis creationem primo peccato prima solvit ieiunia contra preceptum Domini. In the beginning in the apes’ forest, scholars have said that males were demonic and social groups gynocentric. Truth, which cannot be deceived, says otherwise. I have no wife to lay down for you. I will lay down my life for you. I cannot be silent.

Det tibi Deus omnipotens omnipotentis femine fallatia non falli. Let the women go first. Let them go first into the elevator to ride to the top of modern life. May the fire of my love shine a light into your heart. I have written boldly, perhaps with incivility, but that is necessary. Heloise understood. I am afraid. Stay here with me. Farewell.

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Notes:

The above includes text from Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum philosophum ne uxorem ducat (Letter of Valerius to the philosopher Rufinus, dissuading him from marrying). Walter (Gualterus) Map wrote that Latin work probably in the late 1170s. Map, who was Welsh, was a courtier to King Henry II of England. Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum apparently circulated on its own. Map later incorporated it into his De nugis curialium (1180-1183) as Distinction IV, Chapter 3. The Latin text and English translation, with interpretive and textual notes, are available in Hanna & Lawler (1997). The Latin text is freely available online in James (1914) pp. 143f.

Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum was a highly popular medieval work. It has survived in at least 158 medieval manuscripts and generated at least seven medieval commentaries. Cartlidge (1998) p. 156 (manuscript count) and Lawler & Hanna (2014) (commentaries, with English translations). In medieval Europe, Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum tended to be falsely attributed to the ancient Roman author Valerius Maximus. Falsely attributed to Jerome, it was occasionally printed with Jerome’s work. It thus appeared in a 1468 printed edition of Epistolae Hieronymi. Goldschmidt (1943) p. 40. A leading medieval Latin scholar called Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum “a rhetorical tour de force, which is amusing precisely because it defies both moderation and logic.” Cartlidge (1998) p. 158.

Neither medieval commentators nor modern scholars have appreciated Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum as literature of men’s sexed protest. Four of the medieval commentaries are primarily concerned to explicate classical allusions. The other three moralizing commentaries, according the book blurb for Lawler & Hanna (2014), “mount eloquent defenses of women.” For example, one declares, “Of Lais, Livia, Deinira and Lucilia I concede that they were dangerous; (but not all women are dangerous).” Lawler & Hanna (2014) p. 288 (Commentary Four, “Valerius qui dicitur parvu,” on Chapter Six).  A manuscript of the medieval commentary “Hoc contra malos religiosos” explains:

What he means to say is that the number of bad women is very much greater than that of the good. Indeed, morally speaking, this is just as true of men, which is something to be regretted.

Cartlidge (1998) p. 159. Lawler & Hanna (2014) follow the approach of those medieval men commentators and ponders at length “anti-feminism” in Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum. Scholars today might more usefully ponder the male gender protrusion in mortality and incarcerating men for having done nothing more than have consensual sex and subsequently not being able to make the legally required payments.

The Latin phrases in the text above are from Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum. Here are English translations of those phrases:

  • Loqui prohibeor et tacere non possum. They forbid me to speak, and I cannot be silent.
  • Veritatis vinculis sibi vim fecit, ut vitaret voraginem. He made himself strong with the shackles of truth so as to avoid the whirlpool.
  • Prima primi uxor Ade post primam hominis creationem primo peccato prima solvit ieiunia contra preceptum Domini. The first wife of the first Adam after the first creation of humanity by the first sin ended the first fast, against God’s command.
  • Det tibi Deus omnipotens omnipotentis femine fallatia non falli. May almighty God grant you the grace not to be tricked by the trickery of almighty woman.

Trans. adapted from Hanna & Lawler (1997).  The text above also includes English phrases adapted from Hanna & Lawler (1997)’s translation.

[image] Ulysses and the Sirens. Herbert James Draper, c. 1909. Oil on canvas. Held in Ferens Art Gallery, KINCM:2005.4878. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Cartlidge, Neil. 1998. “Misogyny in a Medieval University? The ‘Hoc contra malos’ Commentary on Walter Map’s ‘Dissuasio Valerii’.” Journal of Medieval Latin 8: 156-91.

Goldschmidt, Ernst Philip. 1943. Medieval texts and their first appearance in print. London: Bibliographical Society.

Hanna, Ralph and Traugott Lawler, eds. 1997. Jankyn’s book of wikked wyves. Vol. 1: The Primary Texts (with translations). Walter Map’s Dissuasio; Theophrastus’ De Nuptiis; selections from Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum. University of Georgia Press: Athens.

James, Montague Rhodes, ed. 1914. Walter Map De nugis curialium. Anecdota Oxoniensia. Medieval and Modern Series. Part XIV. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lawler, Traugott, Ralph Hanna, eds. and trans. 2014. Jankyn’s Book of Wikked Wyves: Seven Commentaries on Walter Map’s “Dissuasio Valerii.” Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Heloise wholly innocent of disastrous marriage with Abelard

Following Heloise and Abelard’s affair, her pregnancy and childbirth, and their marriage, her uncle and his relations broke into Abelard’s lodgings and castrated him. Only two of the perpetrators were caught. Both were both castrated and blinded. Reviewing Abelard’s account of these calamities, Heloise wrote to him:

Who is there who was once my enemy, whether man or woman, who is not moved now by the compassion which is my due? Wholly guilty thought I am, I am, as you know, wholly innocent. [1]

In a subsequent letter, Heloise explained:

But even if my conscience is clear through innocence, and no consent of mine makes me guilty of this crime, too many earlier sins were committed to allow me to be wholly free from guilt. I yielded long before to the pleasures of carnal desires, and merited then what I weep for now. [2]

In Heloise’s apparent understanding, Abelard’s castration and the castration and blinding of the other two men flowed not from Heloise and Abelard’s sexual affair, but from their disastrous marriage. That disastrous marriage led to Heloise, who did not suffer any physical violence, being deprived of her delight in Abelard’s sexuality. Heloise is worthy of compassion and wholly innocent because she strongly objected to that marriage. Throughout history, few persons have argued as forcefully and eloquently against marriage as did Heloise. Men and women everywhere should listen to Heloise.

caught in marriage net

Heloise selflessly recognized that her marriage to Abelard would oppress Abelard. She urged Abelard not to marry her. After their disastrous marriage, Abelard mournfully recalled Heloise’s sagacity:

{Heloise said} it would be a sorry scandal if I should bind myself to a single woman and submit to such base servitude. She most strongly rejected this marriage; it would be nothing but a disgrace and burden to me. Along with the loss to my reputation she put before me the difficulties of marriage … What harmony can there be between pupils and serving women, desks and cradles, books or tablets and distaffs, pens or quills and spindles? Who can concentrate on thoughts of Scripture or philosophy and be able to endure babies crying, nurses soothing them with lullabies, and all the noisy crowd of men and women about the house? Who will put up with the constant muddle and squalor which small children bring into the home? [3]

Jerome fabricated words of Theophrastus to persuade widows to reject marriage out of compassion for men. Like many holy women in Jerome’s own time, Heloise, even as a single woman, took to heart Jerome’s lesson. She counseled Abelard:

St. Jerome in the first book of his Against Jovinian recalls how Theophrastus sets out in considerable detail the unbearable annoyances of marriage and its endless anxieties, in order to prove by the clearest possible arguments that a wise man should not take a wife [4]

Heloise figured herself as Marcella, one of Jerome’s close female associates, and Abelard as Jerome.[5] Jerome did not marry. Heloise wanted Abelard to live like Jerome (“blessed Jerome”), with additional pleasure.

Heloise’s courageous rejection of the formal institution of marriage did not imply rejecting sexual relations. Heloise and Abelard delighted in having sex with each other. Heloise recognized that day-to-day association in the ordinary affairs of life can dull romantic ardor. She explained to Abelard:

if we had to be parted for a time, we should find the joy of being together all the sweeter the rarer our meetings were. [6]

Heloise insisted:

The name of wife may seem holier or more valid, but sweeter for me will always be the word friend or, if you will permit me, concubine or whore.  … you keep silent about many of my arguments for preferring love to marriage and freedom to a chain. God is my witness that if Augustus, emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess forever, it would seem dearer and more honorable to be called not his empress but your mistress. [7]

Heloise preferred to be Abelard’s whore or mistress than be Abelard’s wife. She surely was wholly innocent of their disastrous marriage.

A disastrous marriage is much more likely for men today. Family law is now a whirlpool of anti-men bigotry. For example, if a wife bears a child from an extramarital affair, the law will impose a conspiracy of silence and force financial obligations upon the cuckolded husband.[8] Men should listen to Heloise. Men should not get married.

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Notes:

[1] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.13, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 137.  Id. has Historia calamitatum as Letter 1.  Other collections have the subsequent letter as Letter 1.

[2] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4.11, id. p. 169.

[3] Abelard to a friend, consoling him, Letter 1 (Historia calamitatum) 24-5, id. pp. 35, 37.

[4] Id. p. 37.

[5] In her preface to Problemata Heloissae. Heloise quoted Jerome praising Marcella, as well as praising Asella. Heloise then wrote to Abelard:

What do these statements mean, I ask you, who are dear to many, but dearest of all to me? They are not mere testimonies; they are admonitions, reminding you of your debt to us, which you should not delay in paying.

In Abelard’s rule for the nuns of the Paraclete, Abelard described Jerome as “the greatest doctor of the Church and glory of the monastic profession.” He counseled the nuns:

in your love and study of sacred writings model yourselves on those blessed disciples of St. Jerome, Paula and Eustochium, for it was mainly at their request that this doctor with so many volumes lit up the Church.

S. 123, 128, trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) pp. 509, 517. In a letter to the nuns of the Paraclete, Abelard put forward Jerome’s advice to Laeta on the upbringing of her daughter Paula and other examples of Jerome’s guidance to women. Letter 9, trans. Ziolkowski (2008) pp. 10-33. Abelard, however, felt that Jerome sometimes went too far in his solicitude for women and his praise of women:

he seems to go somewhat beyond the bound of truth in their praise, as if he felt in himself what he mentions elsewhere: “Love has no limit.” … in writing to the virgin Demetrias, he began his letter with such remarkable praise of her that he seems to give way to excessive adulation.

Abelard to Heloise, Letter 7.49, id. p. 347. Boccaccio addressed the under-appreciated historical problem of men’s excessive adulation for women through his under-appreciated creative wit in El Corbaccio.

[6] Abelard to a friend, consoling him, reporting Heloise’s advice, Letter 1 (Historia calamitatum) 26, id. p. 43.

[7] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.10, id. p. 133.

[8] Of course, current times are also difficult for unmarried men. Instead of thuggish relatives, the state now deploys vast resources to punish unmarried men for consensual sexual intercourse that produces a child.

[image] Sunset over Lake Erie through fishing net, Erie, Pennsylvania, September 5, 2004. Thanks to Sensor and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Luscombe, David, and Betty Radice, ed. and trans. 2013. The letter collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Ziolkowski, Jan. M., ed. and trans. 2008. Letters of Peter Abelard, beyond the personal. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

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Heloise taught Abelard boldness and courage

Joan of Arc followed Heloise

Heloise, a leading figure in twelfth-century Europe, described women and men as by nature created unequal. She described women as the weaker sex, and men, the stronger sex.[1] These epithets, of course, are merely conventional, misleading descriptions of physical sex differences. Nonetheless, Heloise noted that St. Gregory the Pope had written gender inequality into his Pastoral Rule of 591:

men are to be admonished in one way, women in another; for heavy burdens may be laid on men and great matters exercise them, but lighter burdens on women, who should be gently converted by less exacting means. [2]

Heloise sought to lessen women’s burdens. But she didn’t believe that women are generally inferior to men. She argued that women should be allowed any sort of food and drink, because women are less prone to gluttony and intoxication than are men.[3] Abelard, a leading scholar of logic, should have been able to figure that out.

Abelard’s reason functioned in a different direction. A leading scholar of Abelard’s work observed:

we can see in his religious writings an exceptional theological exaltation of womankind. He is to my knowledge the first theologian to suggest that “the creation of woman surpasses that of man by a certain dignity, since she was created within paradise, but man outside it”; he argues that “inasmuch as woman is physically the weaker sex, to that extent her virtue is more acceptable to God and more worthy of honor”; Christ asks the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink of water “to indicate plainly that women’s virtue is the more pleasing to him in that they are weaker in person”; the saints who are virgin martyrs have achieved “a perfection of virtue that we know to be rare in men but frequent in women”. [4]

Abelard also declared that male bodies are not as beautiful as female bodies: “maidenly beauty is naturally considered more refined and delicate than the male figure.”[5] Abelard has been an influential figure in Europe’s historical development of reason. His influence can be recognized in present-day elite scholarship.

Heloise, who delighted in Abelard’s body as well as his mind, teased Abelard for his attempt to recognize that she was not his inferior. She began a letter to him with a courtly admonishment:

I am surprised, my only love, that contrary to custom in letter-writing and, indeed, to the natural order of things, you have thought fit to put my name before yours in the greeting which heads your letter, so that we have woman before man, wife before husband, handmaid before lord, nun before monk and priest, and deaconess before abbot. Surely the right and proper order is for those who write to their superiors or equals to put their names before their own, but in letters to inferiors, precedence in order of address follows precedence in rank. [6]

Abelard responded at length to explain that Heloise wasn’t his inferior. He sought to avoid Heloise’s blame and reproach.

Heloise taught Abelard boldness and courage. She had argued strongly to him against marriage when their sexual affair was discovered. Abelard, more reluctant to stand up to oppressive laws, insisted that they must marry. After much reasoned protest and tears, Heloise agreed to marry only so as not to offend Abelard.[7] Subsequent terrible events made clear to Heloise her mistake. Heloise became more bold and courageous. She wrote letters with honesty and truth, without concern for offending anyone. Heloise taught Abelard to write like she did.

Heloise taught Abelard words of men’s sexed protests. As a woman religious, Heloise did not believe that men are a demonic species. She recognized sacred scripture encompasses even literature of men’s sexed protests. In a letter to Abelard, Heloise drew upon that literature in counseling him:

Again and again women utterly destroy the very greatest of men!  Hence the warning about women in Proverbs: “But now, my son, listen to me, attend to what I say: do not let your heart entice you into her ways, do not stray down her paths; she has wounded and laid low so many, and the strongest have all been her victims. Her house is the way to hell, and leads down to the halls of death.” And in Ecclesiastes: “I put all to the test … I find woman more bitter than death; she is a snare, her heart a net, her arms are chains. He who is pleasing to God eludes her, but the sinner is her captive.”

It was the first woman in the beginning who lured men from Paradise, and she who had been created by the Lord as his helpmate became the instrument of his total downfall. And that mighty man of the Lord, the Nazirite whose conception was announced by an angel, Delilah alone overcame; betrayed to his enemies and robbed of his sight, he was driven at last by sorrow to destroy himself along with the fall of his enemies. Only the woman he had slept with could make a fool of Solomon, the wisest of all men; she drove him to such a pitch of madness that although he was the man whom the Lord had chosen to build the temple in preference to his father David, who was a righteous man, she plunged him into idolatry until the end of his life, so that he abandoned the worship of God which he had preached and taught in word and writing. Job, the holiest of men, fought his last and hardest battle against his wife, who urged him to curse God. The cunning arch-tempter well knew from repeated experience that men are most easily brought to ruin through their wives, and so he directed his usual malice against us too, and tempted you through marriage when he could not destroy you through fornication. [8]

Abelard, like many scholars since, probably was horrified that Heloise wrote those words. But words of men’s anguished sexed protests deserve to heard. To make such words heard requires boldness and courage. Heloise taught Abelard boldness and courage.

Heloise deserves equal credit for the Samson planctus ascribed to Abelard. Insightful scholarship has recognized the relation of the Samson planctus to Heloise’s writing, but misunderstood that relationship.[9] Abelard learned from Heloise. With that learning, he wrote poetic words of men’s sexed protest:

Oh, ever of the mighty
supreme destruction,
to such catastrophe
was created — woman!

She brought the father of all
down with due speed,
and the cup of death
she hands to everyone.

Holier than David,
wiser than Solomon,
who could be thought?
Or again, more impious —
through women’ fault — or more
fatuous,
who could be found?
Who among the strong
was like the strongest Samson
weakened?

The poem builds to a shocking concluding stanza:

Bare your breast to the asp —
bare it to fire sooner,
wise one, whoever you are,
than entrust yourself
to womanly wiles —
unless you should prefer
towards that catastrophe
to run inexorably
with those already named! [10]

Adam, Solomon, and Sampson were commonly recognized to have been asinine in relation to women, with disastrous results. At the same time, in Christian understanding, they were major figures in salvation history. Boldness and courage imply recognizing danger and moving forward. With the help of Heloise, Abelard not only appreciated the literature of men’s sexed protest, but also greatly heightened its poetic form.[11] Heloise taught Abelard to move forward in Christian understanding with her.

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Notes:

[1] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 6.3, 6, 9, 10, 11, 27, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013).  Id. has Historia calamitatum as Letter 1.  Other collections have the subsequent letter as Letter 1.

[2] Letter 6.9, id. pp. 222, 227.

[3] Letter 6.14, id. p. 233.

[4] Dronke (1970) p. 137.

[5] Abelard to Heloise, Letter 8.3, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 353.

[6] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4.1. id. p. 159. Heloise’s implicit dominance is also evident in her sophisticated issuing of demands to Abelard:

we handmaids of Christ, who are your daughters in Christ, come as suppliants to demand of your paternal care

Letter 6.3, id. p. 219.

[7] Letter 1.27 (Historia calamitatum), id. p. 43.

[8] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4.9-10, id. pp. 167, 169.  The Jealous Husband in the Romance of the Rose noted of Heloise: “she knew  the feminine ways, for she had them all in herself.” See ll. ll. 8759-8832 , from French trans. Dahlberg (1995).

[9] Dronke (1970) pp. 116-7, 137-40.

[10] Samson Planctus,2a-3a, 3c, from Latin trans. id. pp. 123-4.  Based on the critical commentary of Orlandi (2001) p. 339, I’ve amended “for such a catastrophe / was created — woman” to “to such a catastrophe / was created — woman” (“in exitium / creatam feminam”) and “Who among the mighty / is not, like mightiest Samson, / unmanned?” to “Who among the strong /was like the strongest Samson / weakened?” (“Quis ex fortibus / sicut Sanson fortissimus / everuatur?”) The second amendment includes a better reading of the Latin text. Regarding Abelard’s planctus depicting Dina weeping for the killing of Sichem, id. p.  341 observed:

we are living in 2000, when, luckily, no judge in any civilized country would forgive the rapist Sichem’s offence.

In the U.S., the leading U.S. government public health institution has categorized men being raped as not real rape. It has obscured the fact that about as many men are raped as women are raped. Today, women who commit rape are much less likely to face punishment than men who commit that offense.

[11] Abelard’s achievement shouldn’t be exaggerated. He blamed only himself for his castration and demeaned his own male sexuality. He lacked the self-regard and social consciousness to recognize that his experience was part of a broader social pattern of violence against men. In Letter 1.69, Abelard cited a line from Juvenal’s Satire 6. Nonetheless, other than in his Samson planctus, Abelard did not show outstanding boldness and courage in thinking and writing about men’s social position.

Relative to some current medieval scholarship, Heloise and Abelard appear to be towering figures of Enlightenment thought. A recent doctoral dissertation on Heloise features as an epigram to its introduction a gyno-solipsistic absurdity:

What would happen if one woman told the story of her life? The world
would split open. — Muriel Rukeyser

Posa (2009) p. 1. Newman (2014) breathlessly reported that Heloise quoted:

St Jerome’s distasteful image of family life with just one significant revision: ‘What man, bent on sacred or philosophical thoughts, could endure the crying of children, the nursery rhymes of nannies trying to calm them, the bustling throng of male and female servants in the household? And what woman will be able to bear the constant filth and squalor of babies?’ Jerome twice wrote ‘what man’ (‘quis … quis?’), whereas Heloise quietly changed the second ‘quis’ to a ‘que’: ‘What woman?’ In short, we hear an educated woman asking disdainfully, in the early 12th century, how she could be expected to bear the filth and squalor of babies. This boggles even 20th and 21st-century minds.

That boggles the mind only of persons ignorant of important medieval literature. Boccaccio counseled men in relation to women:

Even if they have the grace to want children (which is not often the case), it is not necessary to be their slaves.

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Downfall of Illustrious Men (De Casibus Virorum Illustrium), Bk. 1, penultimate section, “The tricks women use to capture the reason of men are many and varied.”  From Latin trans. Hall (1965) p. 45. Even earlier, Juvenal in Satire 6 offered bracing words about women’s lack of love for children. Today persons who apparently have received advanced medieval education proudly post on the web “academic” writing that uncannily embodies popular stereotypes of medieval thought. See Ongley (n.d).

[image] Joan of Arc, painting, oil on parchment, c. 1485. Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Dahlberg, Charles, trans. 1995.  Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1970. Poetic individuality in the Middle Ages: new departures in poetry, 1000-1150. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hall, Louis Brewer, trans. 1965. Giovanni Boccaccio. The fates of illustrious men. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co.

Luscombe, David, and Betty Radice, ed. and trans. 2013. The letter collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Newman, Barbara. 2014. “Astonishing Heloise.” Review of The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise edited by David Luscombe. London Review of Books. 36:2: 23 Jan.

Ongley, Shannon. n.d. “Gender Roles in ‘Abelard and Heloise.'” Pidgin Scratch, under “Writing Samples,” “Academic,” with headline image indicating “pen for hire.”

Orlandi, Giovanni. 2001. “On the text and interpretation of Abelard’s Planctus.” Pp. 327-42 in John Marenbon and Peter Dronke,eds. Poetry and philosophy in the Middle Ages: a festschrift for Peter Dronke. Leiden.

Posa, Carmel M. 2009. The Theology and Spirituality of the Body in the Writings of Heloise of the Paraclete. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Divinity (Melbourne).

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Heloise loved Abelard with a big-hearted love

Heloise departing from Abelard

Everyone today should listen attentively to the voice of the learned, articulate medieval woman Heloise writing about Abelard.  Medieval scholars, who have historically been predominately men, have under-appreciated Heloise just as they have under-appreciated the medieval woman writer Marie de France.  Heloise, like Marie de France, spoke out with a strong, independent voice in love for men in the fullness of their persons.[1]

Heloise understood that hypergamy tends to characterize women more than men.  Aspasia, a friend of Socrates, the mistress-master of Pericles, and perhaps also a brothel-keeper, declared:

Unless you come to believe that there is no better man nor worthier woman on earth you will always still be looking for what you judge the best thing of all — to be the husband of the best of wives, and the wife of the best of husbands. [2]

While Heloise appreciated Aspasia’s wisdom, Heloise better understood the truth about women’s and men’s love.[3]  As a young woman, Heloise fell in love with her older, eminent tutor-scholar Peter Abelard.  Abelard had taken the initiative to establish a relationship with her.  While most men find most attractive in women youth, beauty, and warm receptivity, Abelard had broader interests in Heloise:

In looks she did not rank least, while in the abundance of her learning she was supreme.  A gift for letters is so rare in women that it added greatly to her charm and had made her very famous throughout the realm. … Knowing her knowledge and love of letters I thought she would be all the more ready to consent, and that even when separated we could enjoy each other’s presence by exchange of written messages in which we could write many things more boldly than we could say them, and so need never lack the pleasures of conversation. [4]

Abelard’s broader interests in Heloise did not mean that she was his social and intellectual equal.  He was her tutor.  He was probably more than fifteen years older than her.  Heloise’s description of Abelard’s social standing implies that he was much more eminent than she:

What king or philosopher could match your fame?  What region, city, or village did not long to see you?  When you appeared in public, who (I ask) did not hurry to catch a glimpse of you, or crane her neck and strain her eyes to follow your departure?  Every wife, every young girl desired you in absence and was on fire in your presence; queens and great ladies envied me my joys and my bed.

You had beside, I admit, two special gifts with which you could at once win the heart of any woman — the gift of composing verse and song. … You have left many songs composed in amatory verse and rhyme.  Because of the very great sweetness of their words as much as their tune, they have been repeated often and have kept your name continually on the lips of everyone.  The beauty of the melody ensured that even the unlettered did not forget you; more than anything this made women sigh for love of you.  And as most of the songs told of our love, they soon made me widely known and roused the envy of many women against me. For your manhood was adorned by every grace of mind and body …. [5]

Abelard didn’t love Heloise because there was no worthier woman, as the worth of women was commonly judged among men of his time.  Heloise’s love for Abelard was love for a man who had leading sexual market value among men of his time.[6]  Aspasia’s sexually symmetric proposition about wive’s and husband’s love failed to recognize important differences in women’s and men’s natures.  In terms of the fundamental model of sexual selection, men desire youth and beauty.  Women desire social status.[7]  Heloise implicitly recognized those differences.

While Abelard’s social and intellectual eminence made him powerfully attractive to Heloise and other women, Heloise in intimate relationship with Abelard valued greatly his physical masculinity.  Heloise could not suppress, years after the acts, delightful memories of “our lust”:

The lovers’ pleasures we enjoyed together were so sweet to me that they cannot displease me and can scarcely fade from my memory.  Wherever I turn they are always there before my eyes, bringing with them awakened longings and fantasies which will not even let me sleep.  Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purer, lewd visions of those pleasures take such a hold on my most unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness rather than on prayer.  I, who should be grieving for the sins I have committed, am sighing rather for what I have lost.  The things we did and also the places and times we did them are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live though them all again with you.  Even in sleep I know no respite. [8]

Heloise described Abelard as her “one-and-only.”  Among the things Heloise and Abelard did was have sex in her uncle Fulbert’s house.  They also had sex in the rectory of the convent in which Heloise later lived.  They had sex “during the day’s of Our Lord’s Passion” and during other holy days.[9]  Abelard took the most egregious fault upon himself:

Even when you were unwilling, resisted to the utmost of your power, and tried to dissuade me, as yours was the weaker nature I often forced you to consent with threats and blows.  So intense were the fires of lust which bound me to you that I set those wretched, obscene pleasures, which we blush even to name, above God as above myself [10]

Based on her own description of her lust, the occasions on which Heloise was unwilling to have sex with Abelard were probably quite rare.  In the ancient and medieval world, women’s lust was thought to be more fiery than men’s.  The configuration of sexual desire and punishment for sexual acts are much different today than they were then.  Yet today one might still dare to recognize and celebrate Heloise’s profoundly humanistic appreciation for Abelard’s physical masculinity.

Adding to the horrific historical record of violence against men, Abelard suffered castration for his relationship with Heloise.  Involuntary bodily punishment wasn’t imposed on Heloise.  Heloise sorrowed deeply for the punishment that Abelard received as a result of their relationship.  Heloise and Abelard together resolved to become, respectively, a nun and a monk.

While Abelard’s punitive castration prevented him from further providing Heloise with the delights of his physical masculinity, Heloise also cherished Abelard’s emotional and intellectual support for her.  Heloise assigned to Abelard the task of writing hymns, sermons, and other liturgical, regulatory, and exegetical texts to serve her and the nuns of her convent.  Abelard completed many of those assignments with outstanding work.[11]  Nonetheless, in Heloise’s view, Abelard was deficient in providing emotional support to her.  She wrote to him:

While I am denied your presence, give me at least through your words — of which you have enough to spare — some sweet semblance of yourself.  … Remember, I implore you, what I have done, and think how much you owe me.  … I beg you to restore your presence to me in what way you can — by writing some word of comfort … I beg you, think what you owe me, give ear to my pleas, and I will finish a long letter with a brief ending: farewell, my one-and-only. [12]

Heloise’s insistence, “you owe me,” has a cutting resonance.  Heloise and Abelard were married before Abelard was punitively castrated. In medieval Christian understanding, husband and wife were required to fulfill each other’s sexual needs, irrespective of their own desires.  That requirement was known as the “marital debt.”  Because he was punitively castrated, Abelard could not fulfill his marital debt.  Heloise insisted that he had other debts that he could fulfill.

Heloise loved Abelard with a woman’s big-hearted love.  Heloise was a deeply humanistic, flesh-and-blood woman.  Heloise’s love for Abelard cries out to be adequately appreciated.

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Read more:

Notes:

[1] The primary collection of surviving letters between Heloise and Abelard has recently been edited and translated in Luscombe & Radice (2013).  A more accessible version is Radice (1974).  An version of Hughes (1714) is available online.  Radice (1974), p. 52, describes that text as a “travesty.”  Ziolkowski (2008) includes additional letters from Abelard to Heloise.  An additional letter from Heloise to Abelard is included in the preface to Problemata Heloissae, 42 biblical-textual questions that Heloise sent to Abelard and he answered.  Epistolae duorum amantium, a letter collection that has been ascribed to Heloise and Abelard, doesn’t provide a reasonable basis for such an ascription. Close textual study suggests that Abelard did not write the letters in Epistolae duorum amantium that the man wrote.  Ziolkowski (2004).  Many other letters that Heloise and Abelard exchanged apparently have been lost.  A fine example of male scholars’ lack of appreciation for Heloise’s voice is Alexander Pope’s lengthy poem, Eloisa to Abelard (1717).  That poem inspired Angelica Kauffman’s painting above, “The Parting of Heloise and Abelard” (1780).

[2] As quoted in Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.11, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 135.  Heloise took this quote from Cicero, De inventione, i.31, 51-2.  The context in Cicero includes some sex differentiation.  Aspasia had the wife of Xenophon express her desire for better gold and more valuable dresses and ornaments for women.  Aspasia had Xenophon express his desire for a better horse and a better farm.  On Aspasia, see Plutarch, Lives, Pericles 24, 32.  Pericles, enamored of Aspasia, reportedly waged war against the Samians at Aspasia’s behest.  Hypergamy has attracted considerable reasoned analysis in today’s New Renaissance.

[3] Heloise also wisely and nobly rejected the men-oppressing formal institution of marriage.

[4] Abelard, A Letter of Consolation from Abelard to a Friend (Historia calamitatum), Letter 1.16, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 25.  Heloise’s fame for learning may have arisen in part through her relationship with her tutor Abelard.  Heloise told Abelard, “your many songs put your Heloise on everyone’s lips, so that every street and house resounded with my name.” Letter 2.16, id. p. 141.  Writing years after their relationship, Abelard may have projected to some extent Heloise’s fame backward in time.

[5] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.12-13, id. pp. 135, 137.  Heloise perceived herself to be socially exalted through her relationship with Abelard:

The higher I was exalted when you preferred me to all other women, the greater was my suffering over my fall and yours as much, when I was flung down; for the higher the ascent, the heavier the fall.  Has Fortune ever set any great or noble woman above me or made her my equal, only to be similarly case down and crushed with grief?  What glory she gave me in you!  What ruin she brought upon me in you!

Letter 4.7, id. p. 165.  The parenthetical “and yours as much” interrupts Heloise’s line of self-concern about Abelard’s castration.

[6] Heloise disparaged women who married men for their wealth or power:

For a person’s worth does not rest on wealth or power; these depend on fortune, but worth on his merits.  And a woman should realize that if she marries a rich man more readily than a poor one, and desires her husband more for his possessions than for himself, she is offering herself for sale.

Letter 2.11, id. p. 135.  Abelard was neither wealthy nor politically powerful.  His extremely high sexual market value was a result of his social status.  As Heloise’s attraction to Abelard makes clear, a man’s worth to women depends on his social status.  That can but does not necessarily follow from wealth or (political) power.

[7] Of course, real life is more complicated than abstract models.  Women often desire as lovers “bad boys,” who have high social status in a transgressive or brutish sense.  Many older husbands remain deeply attracted to their wives, whom they still remember as young, beautiful women.  Men even have other reasons for being sexually attracted to old women.

[8] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4.12,  id p. 171.  For one of Heloise’s references to “our lust,” see her letter to Abelard, Letter 2.16, id. p. 141.

[9] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.16, id p. 141 (“my one-and-only”); Abelard to Heloise, Letter 5.17, id. p. 197 (sex in convent refectory and in Fulbert house) , Letter 5.20, id. p. 199 (sex during days of Our Lord’s Passion and other holy days).

[10] Abelard to Heloise, Letter 5.20, id. p. 199.

[11] Ziolkowki (2008) pp. 3-132.  Id. p. xlii observed:

The standard translation of the earlier correspondence {between Heloise and Abelard} may leave an unsuspecting reader with the misimpression that once Heloise had taken the veil, Abelard has no interest in communicating with her.  He may come across as being coolly logical and as having no niche for her in his mind and even less in his heart, now that he has been castrated and has turned to religion.  Such a construction would be badly misguided.  These later letters and the long writings that they accompanied bear witness to an altered but continued devotion to Heloise and thus complicate our understanding of their relationship as it evolved after the affair.

[12] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.16, id. p. 141.

[image] Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807) , The Parting of Heloise and Abelard.  Oil on canvas, 1780. Thanks to Wikipedia.

References:

Hughes, John. 1714. 4th ed. 1722, reprinted 1901, Honnor Morten, ed. The love letters of Abelard and Heloise. London: J.M. Dent and Sons.

Luscombe, David, and Betty Radice, ed. and trans. 2013. The letter collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Radice, Betty, trans. 1974. The letters of Abelard and Heloise. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2004. “Lost and Not Yet Found: Heloise, Abelard, and the Epistolae duorum amantium.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 14 (1): 171-202.

Ziolkowski, Jan. M., ed. and trans. 2008. Letters of Peter Abelard, beyond the personal. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

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violence against men in Boccaccio’s Decameron

Since men have the social status of relatively disposable human beings, violence against men tends to be taken as natural in life and literature.  Violence against men is prevalent in Boccaccio’s Decameron.  Yet that imaginative masterpiece provides an inner, critical perspective on violence against men.  Readers fail to recognize the Decameron’s ethical critique of violence against men because they are complicit in their own culture of demeaning violence against men.

Violence against men tends to be associated with men’s natural sexual rivalry for women.  In Decameron IV.4, Gerbino attacked a Saracen ship to capture his beloved, the daughter of the King of Tunis.  She was being conveyed to marriage with the King of Granada.  Many of Gerbino’s men and many of the men in the other ship were killed.  After the Saracens’ killed the woman rather than be forced to give her up, Gerbino, acting the part of the courtly hero, climbed onto the enemy ship:

Just like a starving lion who falls upon a herd of bullocks, slashing this one with his teeth and that one with his claws, intent on satisfying his anger rather than his hunger, so Gerbino, sword in hand, cut down one Saracen and then another, slaughtering a host of them without mercy. [1]

Gerbino’s grandfather, the King of Sicily, subsequently had Gerbino beheaded for attacking the ship in violation of his promise of safe passage.  The “gallant” Gerbino had an “exalted reputation for courtesy and valor.”  He caused many men to be slaughtered.  The same literary pattern occurs in Decameron V.1 when Cimone is transformed into a courtly lover:

like a ferocious lion, he fell upon his enemies {men} in an amazing display of force, and sword in hand, struck them down one after the other, slaughtering them like so many sheep. [2]

Boccaccio justly had contempt for the idiocy of men acting the script of courtly loversDecameron II.7, understood more than superficially as the story of Alatiel, makes clear Boccaccio’s concern for the reality of men’s deaths in sexual rivalry.  Sexual rivalry among men is natural.  But the extent of slaughter of men it produces depends on specific social conventions and circumstances.

blinding and castrating King William III of Sicily

Punishment of men for illicit sex is a specific social construct.  In the U.S. today, men are jailed for doing nothing more than having consensual sex of reproductive type and then becoming poor.  In Decameron IV.1, a father kills a man for having consensual sex with his daughter.  In Decameron IV.5, brothers kill a man for having consensual sex with their sister.  In Decameron IV.9, a husband kills a man for having consensual sex with his wife.  Men traditionally have been socially assigned the task of killing other men.  The effect of being dead, however, doesn’t depend on who does the killing.  In domestic relations and in supportive social circumstances, women can and do physically attack men.  In Decameron IX.5, Monna Tessa caught her husband Calandrino in flagrante delicto:

Before Calandrino could get up, Monna Tessa ran at him with her nails and clawed him all over this face.  Then she seized him by the hair and started dragging him up and down. “You damned filthy dog, you!” she said to him.  “So this is how you treat me?  You old fool ….”  {Calandrino} did not have the courage to do anything to defend himself against her.  But later, all scratched and scraped and disheveled, he gathered his cloak, got to his feet, and began humbly begging her not to shout, unless she wanted to see him all cut up into little pieces, because the woman who had been with him was the wife of the master of the house. [3]

Engaging in physical violence against other men as a heroic courtly lover was largely an elite ideal.  Like punishing men for consensual sex in the U.S. today, punishing men for illicit sex was in Boccaccio’s Florence much more significant in the lives of ordinary men.

Boccaccio makes clear that women are agents, both socially and individually, for violence against men.  In Decameron VII.4, Monna Ghita encouraged her husband Tofano’s abuse of alcohol in order to enable her to have an affair.  When Tofano caught on to his wife behavior and locked her out of the house, she trumped his trick and contrived to have her family beat him:

they grabbed Tofano and beat him until he was completely covered with bruises.  Then they went into the house, gathered up all the lady’s belongings, and took her back home with them, threatening Tofano with even worse to come. … Tofano, who was really very fond of his wife, got some friends to act as intermediaries, and thanks to them he managed to make peace and arranged for her to come back home.  And not only did he promise her that he would never be jealous again, but what is more, he gave her permission to do whatever she liked, as long as she was so discreet that he never found out anything about it. [4]

In Decameron VII.7, Madonna Beatrice encouraged her lover to give her husband Egano a beating:

“Sweet lips,” she said. “I want you to get yourself a stout stick and go down to the garden.  Then, pretending that you’d asked me to go there in order to test me, I want you to heap abuse on Egano just as if you thought you were talking to me, and after that, I want you to play a nice tune on him with your stick for me.  Just think of the amazing pleasure and delight we’ll get out of that!” [5]

Madonna Beatrice’s lover carried out her request and beat Egano “black and blue” with a stick.  Women’s dominance over men allows them to persuade men to carry out violence against other men.

Men’s social inferiority to women supports violence against men.  Women tend to suppress socially stories of women’s guile.  Men often don’t even understand their social position with respect to women.  In Decameron VII.9, Lidia yanked out one of her husband’s healthy teeth to demonstrate her loyalty to her lover.  Her husband never suspected that his wife might betray him.  Violence against women generates much more social concern than violence against men.  Many men and women don’t suspect that violence against men is much frequent and severe than violence against women.

Boccaccio challenges readers to reject trivialization of violence against men.  In Decameron VIII.9, Master Simone wanted to join Bruno and Buffalmacco’s company of privateers.  As part of a mock initiation ritual, they threw him into a ditch filled with feces.  Such light-hearted violence against men is now associated with fraternity hazing rituals.  Decameron II.1, however, indicates the broad social base for violence against men.  Martinello pretended to be crippled in order to mock popular veneration of a saint’s body.  An onlooker recognized the ruse and alerted the crowd:

the grabbed him {Martinello} and dragged him down from where he has standing.  Holding him by the hair, they tore all the clothes off his back and started punching and kicking him.  … although he did his best to defend himself, it was no use, and the crowd on top of him just kept getting bigger and bigger. [6]

In Decameron IX.8, Messer Filippo falsely believed that Biondello had made fun of him:

he smashed in Biondello’s face with his fists, which seemed to made out of iron, and did not leave a single hair on his head in place.  Then he rolled him over in the mud and ripped all the clothes he had on to shreds, applying himself to all these tasks with such zeal that after Biondello’s first utterance, he was unable to say another thing, let alone ask Messer Filippo why he was doing all this to him. [7]

Messer Filippo perceived an insult in nonsense words that he didn’t understand.  Ciacco had set Biondello up for this beating in revenge for Biondello setting him up for a disappointing dinner.  That incredible disproportion represents the trivialization of violence against men.

Violence against men in the Decameron has been unremarkable only because violence against men is so deeply embedded in human culture.  Boccaccio, with his keen ethical sense, provided a critical inner understanding of violence against men.  Readers of the Decameron have an ethical obligation to seek that understanding.

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Notes:

[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 4, Story 4, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 342-3.  Saracen was the medieval European term for Muslims. Id. n. 4, p. 894, suggests that this epic simile comes from Virgil, e.g. Aeneid 9.339-42.

[2] Id., Day 5, Story 1, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 394.  The lion simile here is connected to the slaughter of sheep.  The latter has anti-heroic biblical resonances.  Romans 8:36, Acts 8:32.

[3] Id., Day 9, Story 5, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 723.

[4] Id., Day 7, Story 4, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 541.

[5] Id., Day 7, Story 7, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 561.

[6] Id., Day 2, Story 1, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 79.

[7] Id. Day 9, Story 8, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 736.

[image] Blinding and castrating King William III of Siciliy, apparently from Boccaccio, trans. into French by Laurens de Premierfait, Des Cas des nobles hommes et femmes, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 227Thanks to Wikipedia.

Reference:

Rebhorn, Wayne A., trans. 2013. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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The Corbaccio: our heartless, dark age of literary criticism

Corbaccio: big crow bearing unpleasant news

Leading Boccaccio scholars have produced the authoritative tome Boccaccio: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works.  The prestigious University of Chicago Press published it this year.   This work could have been vitally important to compassionate women and men pondering Boccaccio’s complex masterpeice Il Corbaccio.  Today compassionate women and men are urgently seeking new ethical language and narratives to protest incarcerating men for doing nothing more than having consensual sex, to summon concern about raping men, and to denounce punishing men for being raped.  The Critical Guide, however, offers only a place to sit and sip scholarly status amid heartless ethical darkness.

In our desperate circumstances, the subversive literary genius of Il Corbaccio offers strong imaginative resources and a critical measure of literary culture.  Men, seeking directions, need good guides.  Here are the first two sentences of the Critical Guide on Il Corbaccio:

On its surface, Boccaccio’s Corbaccio reads as a misogynistic blast with insults added to injuries, scurrilous terminology, imagery descending to the pornographic, bad puns, and unrelenting lists of female vices far beyond the limits of decency or plausibility.  The two main characters in dialogue are sour aging men on whom no modern women in her right mind would wish to waste a word, let alone seek their company. [1]

Apparently the women who lived before the era of “modern women” were compassionate and sophisticated enough to talk with such men, to seek their company, and to try to understand their concerns.  In our heartless, dark age of literary criticism, many critics are incapable of sympathetically considering literature of men’s sexed protests.  They misandristically label it misogyny and dismiss it with superficial, contrived analysis.

For these critics, Boccaccio’s masterpiece Il Corbaccio is just another piece to be processed in tallying the literary wrongs done to women and men, respectively, since the invention of writing.  Criticizing women, or disciplinary norms forbid, making fun of women, is always wrong.  Since Il Corbaccio is superficially classified as invective, it thus adds many points to the tally of literary wrongs done to women.  Fortunately, hard-working literary scholars have dug up Lucrezia Marinella’s 1601 treatise entitled, with uncanny literary sophistication, The Nobility and Excellence of Woman and the Defects and Vices of Men.  The Critical Guide’s article on Il Corbaccio declares approvingly:

Lucrezia Marinella sized up Il Corbaccio‘s repulsiveness with a meaty chapter titled “Boccaccio’s Opinion Adduced Here and Destroyed.”  She understood the rhetoric of invective perfectly and righted the imbalance by praising women’s virtues and condemning men’s far more numerous and serious faults. [2]

Of course Lucrezia Marinella didn’t “right the imbalance” in 1601.  Tally-keepers believe it’s necessary to continue to emphasize violence against women even though in the U.S. today four times as many men die from violence as do women.  Reading Boccaccio on the governance of friendship thus naturally means directing attention to violence against women.

Boccaccio’s trangressive Il Corbaccio cannot be adequately appreciated without deep appreciation for men’s position within a culture that produced Ulrich von Liechtenstein and Suero de QuinonesIl Corbaccio combines comic realism with great literary sophistication:

Boccaccio, having destabilized the character of the guide through the conflating of specific Dantean intertextualities, warns the reader that the guide holds a less than authoritative position.  The misogynistic diatribe that spews forth from the guide serves as a further indication of the demented state of the guide’s intellect.  Boccaccio must have really enjoyed composing this section; rare indeed is the opportunity for an author to assume the voice of an almost comically deranged mind; such was also the case for Ovid in his Ibis. [3]

Ovid unquestionably was deeply hurt by his exile.  Men unquestionably suffer deep wounds from women.  Nether Ovid’s Ibis nor Boccaccio’s Corbaccio can be adequately read merely as playful invective.  In contrast to superficial readings of its preface, Boccaccio’s Decameron was written for men to instruct them in the comic reality of love for flesh-and-blood women.  With that same fundamental ethical concern Boccaccio also wrote Il Corbaccio.[4]  Il Corbaccio outrageously imagines the comic reality of love as a new Vita Nuova.  Our culture desperately needs that humane vision.

That humane vision doesn’t require great literature insightfully read.  One summer during my college years, I got a job in a large corporation focused on engineering and technology.  Most of the employees in my department were middle-aged career men.  One secretary was a young, beautiful, curvy woman who emphasized her sexual power with provocative dress.  A relatively old co-worker, perhaps noticing my vulnerability, said to me, “Yeah, but imagine how she looks bent over taking a shit.”  Scholars who dismiss Il Corbaccio as misogynistic would probably also dismiss that comment as misogynistic.  That comment highlights that the young, stunningly attractive woman was a flesh-and-blood human, just like us men.  That’s a much different view of a woman than Dante’s view of Beatrice in Dante’s Vita Nuova.

In the relatively illiberal and oppressive historical circumstances of our intellectual life, Boccaccio offers an inspiring monument of ethical concern and intellectual courage.  A scholar recently recognized Boccaccio’s under-appreciated contemporary importance:

My most sincere hope is that the reader will, when walking the streets of Florence with the tourist hordes, look at the many monuments to Dante and Petrarca in that once lovely city and remember one name: Giovanni Boccaccio. [5]

Remembering Boccaccio’s name isn’t enough.  We should also remember Boccaccio’s use of Jerome’s artful literary construction, Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage.  To foster for men and women a more pleasurable life without trespassing the sign of reason in any way, we must adequately appreciate Boccaccio’s Corbaccio.

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Notes:

[1] Panizza (2014) p. 183. Id. goes on to declare that the Corbaccio “has its fascinations” for relatively unimportant reasons, ending with “it offers a therapy for dealing with immoderate sexual passions.”  That latter reason follows Solomon (1997)’s deeply misandristic analysis of Alonso Martínez de Toledo’s Archpriest of Talavera and Jaume Roig’s Spill.

[2] Id. p. 193.  The most well-known medieval author of this sort of work is Christine de Pizan.

[3] Houston (2010) p. 116.

[4] Within circumstances of narrow and strongly constrained male self-consciousness, academics continue to fail to appreciate the Corbaccio.  In a recent example, a literal reading of the Decameron’s Proem revealed that it was written for “gentle ladies of Florence’s salons.”  In addition:

The message in the Corbaccio could not be more opposed to the Decameron; so too Boccaccio aims these two works at different audiences, confirming his tendency to target specific audiences for his writings.

Houston (2010) p. 120.  Houston suggests that the Corbaccio “can be made to support any reading” and offers a highly contrived reading of the Corbaccio as “a satire against the critics of vernacular poetry with an embedded parody of the Dominican preachers {specifically Bartolomeo di San Concordio and Jacopo Passavanti}  and their limited view of literature.”  Id. p. 122, see in general pp. 100-23.

[5] Id. p. 11.

[image] American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Singing Sands, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, Canada.  June, 2007.  Thanks to Wikipedia.  Panizza (2014) p. 184 states:

The title itself, Il Corbaccio, offers a typical medieval play on Boccaccio’s name.  It inverts the first part, turning bocca, “mouth,” into corba, “crow” or “raven,” and keeps -accio as a suffix qualifying the noun, suggesting something huge, ugly, coarse, or unpleasant.  Boccaccio playfully inverts his name, transforming a “big, vulgar writer of novelle” into a “big, ugly, coarse crow/raven” bearing harsh news.

Crow as a verb can mean “to shout in exultation or defiance; to brag” and “to utter a sound expressive of joy or pleasure.”  Those additional verbal meanings provide insight into Il Corbaccio’s perspective on men’s courtly fantasies about women.

References:

Houston, Jason M. 2010. Building a monument to Dante: Boccaccio as Dantista. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Panizza, Letizia. 2014. “Rhetoric and Invective in Love’s Labyrinth (Il Corbaccio).”  Pp. 183-93 in Victoria Kirkham, Michael Sherberg, and Janet Levarie Smarr, eds. 2014. Boccaccio: a critical guide to the complete works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Solomon, Michael. 1997. The literature of misogyny in medieval Spain: the Arcipreste de Talavera and the Spill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Secundus the Silent Philosopher on men’s troubles

Secundus Silent Philosopher

Secundus the Silent Philosopher (or the Life of Secundus) in an anonymous Greek text from about the second century GC.  Like the Genesis story of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Secundus text describes disastrous consequences of seeking knowledge.  The Secundus text more specifically describes disastrous consequences of men seeking knowledge about women.  It documents men’s troubled sense of who they are in relation to women.

Secundus heard that all women would have sex for money.  Unrecognized as a Cynic philosopher, Secundus sought to verify that proposition by propositioning his own mother.  Secundus’ mother was then a widow.  She accepted Secundus’ proposition.

Now after the two had finished dinner, and when they had started to go to bed, she was expecting to have carnal intercourse with him; but he put his arms around her as he would around his own mother, and, fixing his eyes upon the breasts that had suckled him, he lay down and slept until early morning.  When the first light of dawn appeared Secundus rose up with the intention of going out, but she laid hands on him and said, “Did you do this only in order to convict me?” And he answered, “No, lady mother, I refrained because it is not right for me to defile that place from which I came forth at birth, God forbid.”  Then she asked him who he was, and he said to her, “I am Secundus, your son.” [1]

This isn’t just of a sensational story of proving your mother’s a whore.  Secundus’ mother was a widow.  In the ancient world, widows were expected to be sexually eager.  That a man would have to pay a widow for sex would be shocking within ancient understanding.  Moreover, this wasn’t a pay-for-the-act porni transaction.  The man and woman had dinner together and then spent the whole night sleeping together.  The woman indicated that, with respect to the social norms of her time, she did wrong apart from knowing Secundus’ actual identity.

Secundus seems troubled by the bodily reality of male sexuality and procreation.  Incest is a near universal taboo across cultures and throughout history.  Secundus stared at his mother’s breasts.  He figured his male sexuality as defiling the place of his birth.  Unlike the general taboo of incest, Secundus’ horror seems to arise from the physical connection between sites of male heterosexual desire and procreation.  Secundus conveys a troubled sense of male sexuality and male bodily origin.

Secundus seeking the truth about women had terrible results.  Although she had not done anything wrong knowingly from the perspective of most non-Christians in the ancient Greco-Roman world, Secundus’ mother was tormented with her own sense of guilt and shame.  She hung herself.  Secundus, believing himself to be culpable for his mother’s death, resolved to remain silent for the rest of his life.  None of this makes carefully reasoned philosophical sense.  Secundus’ silence is consistent with the more general theme of suppressing knowledge and reasoning.  That suppression serves to preserve women’s social dominance.

Secundus, however, left of written record of wisdom.  It consisted of questions that the Emperor Hadrian asked Secundus, and the answers that Secundus wrote.  Originally there seems to have been twenty questions and answers.  The questions and answers are ontological with cosmic scope.  Here are the first seven questions:

  1. What is the Universe?
  2. What is the Ocean?
  3. What is God?
  4. What is the Day?
  5. What is the Sun?
  6. What is the Moon?
  7. What is the Earth?

Then comes three more questions and answers.  These cast light on the story of Secundus’ propositional test:

  1. What is Human Being?  Mind clothed in flesh, vessel containing a spirit, receptacle for sense-perception, toil-ridden spirit, temporary dwelling-place, phantom in the mirror of time, organism fitted with bones, scout on the trail of life, Fortune’s plaything, good thing that does not last, one of life’s expenditures, exile from life, deserter of the light, something that earth will reclaim, corpse forever.
  2. What is Beauty?  Picture drawn by Nature, self-made blessing, short-lived piece of good fortune, possession that does not stay with us, pious man’s ruin, accident of the flesh, minister to pleasure, flower that withers, uncompounded product, human’s desire.
  3. What is Woman?  Man’s desire, wild beast that shares one’s board, worry with which one rises in the morning, intertwining lustfulness, lioness sharing one’s bed, viper in clothes, battle voluntarily chosen, incontinence in the form of bed-partner, daily loss, storm in the house, hindrance to serenity, wreck of an incontinent man, stock-in-trade of adulturers, sacking of one’s estate, expensive war, evil creature, too much of a burden, nine-wind tempest, venomous asp, means of procreating humans, necessary evil. [2]

The answers to “What is Human Being?” concerns dualism of mind/spirit and body.  In the story of his test of his mother, Secundus was troubled by the connection between his sexuality and his bodily origin.  Secundus’ dualistic understanding of human being similarly shows lack of integral sense of person.

The answers to “What is Beauty?” seem implicitly weighted toward a man’s appreciation of another person’s physical beauty.  Human physical beauty fleeting with age underlies understanding beauty as “short-lived piece of good fortune, possession that does not stay with us, … accident of the flesh, minister to pleasure, flower that withers.”  The last answer to “What is Beauty?”, “human’s desire,” is sexually unmarked.  But it connects to the first answer to “What is Woman?”, “man’s desire.”  For most men, beauty is closely linked to women.

The answers to “What is Woman?” are understandings of women in relation to men.  The answers suggest men’s vulnerability to women and men’s lack of power in relation to women within the homeDomestic violence against men continues to generate almost no help for men, men continue to face huge anti-men gender discrimination in family law, and men continue to have much worse opportunities than women do to withdraw from the paid workforce and be supported for work within the home.  Secundus’ definition of woman tends to be misandristically dismissed as misogyny.  It should be understood within the context of the literature of men’s sexed protests.

Men’s understanding of women covered a wide range. The first answer to “What is Woman?” was not only “man’s desire” (ἀνδρός ἐπιθεμία).  Within the surviving Greek manuscript corpus of the Secundus text, other manuscripts have for that phrase “man’s despondency” (ἀνδρός αθυμια) and “man’s comforter” (ἀνδρός παραμυθιά).[3]  Working from a Greek text that had “man’s despondency,” Willelmus Medicus’ influential late-twelfth century Latin translation used the phrase “man’s confusion” (hominis confusio).[4]  A late-twentieth-century male academic translated “hominis confusio” as “man’s undoing.”[5]  That translation of the Latin seems to reflect the description of Pandora in Hesiod’s Greek Works and Days.[6]  Understood as a revision-mistranslation, “man’s undoing” lacks the wit and literary charm of Chauntecleer’s declaration in Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale:

For as true as Genesis declares, “Mulier est hominis confusio” — Madame, the judgment of this Latin is, “Woman is man’s joy and all his bliss.”[7]

Throughout history, men have not consistently understood women.

Secundus’ text doesn’t include the question “What is Adult Male Human {Man}?” corresponding to the question “What is Woman?”  Man, meaning adult male human, historically has been a category of relatively little explicit public consideration.  The distinctiveness of men has been obscured within generic consideration of humans.  Progressive scholars need to bring more awareness of men’s being into literature and public life.

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Notes:

[1] Secundus the Silent Philosopher, from Greek trans. Ben E. Perry in Hansen (1998) pp. 68-9.

[2] I’ve modified Perry’s translation to better track the Greek text given in Perry (1964) pp. 82-4.  The answers in Greek are typically short phrases that do not include any definite articles.  Perry’s translation used a mix of definite and indefinite articles as the first words of the answer clauses.  I have eliminated those articles.  In addition, Perry translated both ἄνθρωπος (human being) and ἀνδρός (adult male) as “man”.  I have clarified the sexual distinction between those word-forms.

[3] Perry (1964) p. 84, textual notes.

[4] Id. p. 96.  Willelmus Medicus in 1167 brought from Constantinople a Greek manuscript of Secundus the Silent Philosopher.  That Greek manuscript has survived and is identified as R in Perry’s manuscript corpus analysis.  Id. pp. 23-38.   Blamires in Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992), p. 100, n. 4, declares, “Willelmus derived this notorious opening expression from a corruption in his Greek MS of a phrase meaning ‘the object of man’s desire’.”  The Greek R manuscript that Willelmus used had the variant Greek ἀνδρός αθυμια.  That Greek variant is better understood as a revision than a corruption.  Vincent of Beauvais (1190-1264) used Willelmus’ Latin translation (Vita Secundi Philosophi) in his Speculum historiale, an influential medieval European encyclopedia.  For additional discussion (and medieval manuscript texts) of the Latin translation “hominis confusio,” see Brown (1920).

[5] Blamires in Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992), p. 100.

[6] Hesiod, Works and Days, ll. 58, 90-105.

[7] Chaucer, Nun’s Priest’s Tale, ll. 3163-6, my close translation into modern English.  Here’s an alternate translation that seems to me to dissipate some of the decisiveness of the original Old English.  The phrase “mulier est hominis confusio” doesn’t occur in most Latin Secundus texts.  The common form in Latin translation, following the original Greek, is the question, “Quod est mulier?” (What is woman?) followed by answer clauses.  The first answer clause is commonly “hominis confusio.”  “Mulier est hominis confusio” obscures the range of men’s thinking about “Quod est mulier?”.

[image] Imaginary rendition of Secundus the Silent Philosopher.  Constructed from image of Luni marble portrait of Plato made by Silanion ca. 370 BGC for the Academia in Athens. Musei Capitolini MC1377.  Copy in the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925.  Source image thanks to Jastrow and Wikipedia.

References:

Blamires, Alcuin, Karen Pratt, and C. William Marx. 1992. Men Impugned, Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: an anthology of Medieval texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Brown, Carleton. 1920. “Mulier est Hominis Confusio.” Modern Language Notes. 35 (8): 479-482.

Hansen, William F., ed. 1998. Anthology of ancient Greek popular literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Perry, Ben Edwin Perry. 1964. Secundus, the silent philosopher: Critically ed. and restored so far as possible together with transl. of the Greek and Oriental versions, the Latin and Oriental texts, and a study of the tradition. New York: The American Philological Association.

self-fashioning in late twenthieth-century academia

My subject is self-fashioning from Greenblatt to Brown; my starting point is quite simply that in twentieth-century academia there were both selves and a sense that they could be fashioned.  Of course, these is some absurdity in so bald a pronouncement of the obvious: after all, there are always selves — a sense of personal order, a characteristic mode of address to the world, a structure of bounded desires — and always some elements of deliberate shaping in the formation and expression of identity.  One need only think of Housman’s extraordinary subtle and wry manipulations of persona to grasp that what I propose to examine does not suddenly spring up from nowhere when 1899 becomes 1900.   Moreover, there is considerable empirical evidence that there was may well have been less autonomy in self-fashioning in the twentieth century than before, that family, state, and religious institutions now impose a more rigid and far reaching discipline upon their middle-class and aristocratic subjects (the lower classes are preserved from these effects).  Autonomy is an issue but not the sole or even the central issue: the power to impose a shape upon oneself is an aspect of the more general power to control identity — that of others at least as often as one’s own.

What is central is the perception — as old in academic writing as al-Jahiz and al-Farazdaq — that there is in the early modern period a change in the intellectual, social, psychological, aesthetic, social-intellectual, psycho-social, and social-psycho-aesthetic structures that govern the generation of identities.  This change is difficult to characterize intelligibly because it is not only complex but resolutely unintelligible. If we say that there is a new stress on the executive power of the will, we also say that there is the most sustained and relentless assault upon the will; if we say that there is a new social mobility, we also say that there is a new assertion of power by both family and state to determine all movement within the society; if we say that there is a heightened awareness of the existence of alternative modes of social, theological, psychological, social-theological, social-psycho, and theo-social organization, we also say that there is a new dedication to the imposition of control upon those modes and ultimately to the destruction of alternatives, most importantly, the alternative of forming a broad-based coalition of progressive organizations to struggle for the liberation of men from gynocentric microcapillaries of power in the fashioning of human beings from the cradle to primary school.

Perhaps the simplest observation we can make is that in the late-twentieth-century there appears to be increased self-consciousness about self-consciousness of fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process.  Such self-consciousness about self-consciousness appears in Brown’s 1988 preface to The Body and Society:

I have begun to benefit, slowly, from the gains of a remarkable recent development in the study of the religious world of women, most especially from the chastening sophistication of {feminist} viewpoint that this study can now offer.  At a crucial moment in my own work, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to take heart from the humbling serenity and unaffected craftsmanship of Michel Foucault, in what I was not to know were his last years.

Foucault and his crazy-cult followers fashioned The Body.  Before The Body became fashionable, there was only my body, your body, and that pile of bodies that were buried there.  Brown’s preface concludes with a most un-Foucauldian eulogy:

No one known to me has maintained with such unremitting vigor the necessity of truth in historical studies than has Arnaldo Momigliano.  It is to his sense of truth, as well as to the magnificently unconstricted range and human warmth of his concern for the role of Judaism and Christianity in the history of the ancient world, that I have turned, for all of thirty years now, as a model and inspiration.  It is an honor for me to make clear, through the dedication of this book to him, the fact that he has been my teacher and my friend.

Brown’s new introduction to the twentieth anniversary (2008) edition of The Body and Society mentions in the first paragraph “guides as different from one another as Michel Foucault, Caroline Bynum, and Arnaldo Momigliano.”  The new introduction ends not with a eulogy to a champion of historical truth, but with an invocation of poetry:

It is easy to make rhetoric (indeed, polemic) out of the pros and cons of a Christian past when we do not attempt to make its living texture our own but are content to sit in judgment on it.  But to make this past part of ourselves, if only for a moment, is, perhaps, the best way to make poetry from it.

Plato wept.  The French Revolution failed.  Arnaldo Momigliano turned over in his grave.  Monkeys in a cage pissed on a typewriter.  And a bird shat on a stone statue of Byrd.

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Notes:

A model for this post is Greenblatt (1980), Introduction, pp. 1-2.  In a new preface to the 2005 edition, Greenblatt states “Renaissance Self-Fashioning was the book in which I first found my own voice.” (p. xi)  The publisher’s blurb declares that this book “spawned a new era of scholarly inquiry” and is now “a classic text in literary studies.”

A good of example of continuing self-fashioning is this passage from the preface Greenblatt added to the 2005 edition of Renaissance Self-Fashioning:

Because Renaissance Self-Fashioning has often been characterized as a grimly pessimistic account of the containment of subversion, a sour recognition that what looks like free choice is actually institutionally determined, a disenchanted acknowledgment of the impossibility of apocalyptic change. (“There is subversion, no end of subversion, only not for us.”)  It is true that the end of the war {Vietnam War} did not usher in the millennium.  The year that my book came out was the year that Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.

Connecting apocalyptic change to the election of one U.S. presidential candidate rather than another indicates poetic historicism detached from ordinary persons’ experiences of everyday life.  Greenblatt goes on to declare that “coursing through these chapters is an eradicable principle of hope, hope in many different forms, often crushed but then springing up again in spite of everything.”  One can still hope for better poetry and a new enlightenment.

A.E. Housman is probably now most famous for the concluding sentence of his 1921 essay,“The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism”:

Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all others is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders and brains, not pudding, in your head.

That leading twentieth-century academics had powerful brains in their heads seems to me to be beyond question.

References:

Brown, Peter. 1988. The body and society: men, women, and sexual renunciation in early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. 1980. Renaissance self-fashioning: from More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

women and men belong to different communication cultures?

Olmec Head

Some communications scholars have argued that men and women belong to different communication cultures.  A scholar who both achieved considerable mass-market success and gained a prestigious academic position stated:

boys and girls grow up in what are essentially different communication cultures, so talk between women and men is essentially cross-cultural communication. [1]

A scholarly review of this work noted:

Many best-selling books aimed at the general public have propounded this “different cultures” thesis in recent years… . The idea that men and women belong to different communication cultures has also gained wide acceptance in academic circles. …In brief, the different cultures thesis maintains that gender-specific socialization of boys and girls leads to different masculine and feminine speech communities. [2]

This review indicated that the different cultures thesis has great importance:

The pragmatic implications that follow from the different cultures thesis are just as far reaching as its theoretical and methodological consequences. The remedy for the “cross-cultural” misunderstandings that plague communication between men and women is to increase “multicultural” awareness and sensitivity. Educators are encouraged by proponents of the different cultures perspective to develop programs that foster “multicultural awareness” of stylistically different, but functionally equivalent, approaches to communication events such as “troubles talk.” [3]

The idea that women and men belong to “different communication cultures,” like the idea of cultural cognition, avoids questions of biological reality.  Sex differences in communication that evolve through differential reproductive success in evolutionary time apparently are beyond the boundaries of acceptable academic research and study.

Despite widespread elite support for multiculturalism, communication unicuturalists have vigorously attacked communication multiculturalists.  The issue is clearly cultural.  Five communication scholars earnestly reasoned within the social-scientistic standards of their discipline:

A reasonable question is: “How big a difference does there need to be between groups to be indicative of a ‘cultural’ difference?” Although any answer to this question necessarily contains an arbitrary element, the question remains an important one. … We suggest that the degree of nonoverlap in group distributions should exceed the degree of overlap on relevant variables (i.e., that Cohen’s U > .50). This corresponds to a standardized mean difference of d > 0.87 (and to r2 or η2 > .16). This appears to be a reasonable criterion; if there is not at least this much separation in the two distributions, it is hard to see how a claim of “cultural” (or even subcultural) difference can be maintained. [4]

Based on this difficulty in seeing how claims of cultural (“or even subcultural”) differences could be made, these scholars forcefully rejected multiculturalism as unsubstantiated, irresponsible, and potentially harmful:

the substantive claims of the different cultures myth lack an appropriate evidentiary foundation. Thus, there is no reasonable basis for entertaining its theoretical, methodological, or practical implications. … The mythical status of the different cultures thesis is now so evident, especially with respect to supportive communication, that we believe it is, henceforth, inappropriate (and irresponsible) for authors of textbooks, self-help books, and similar publications to feature favorably this thesis or leading statements of it. … it is past time for the myth of gender cultures to lose its narrative force, as well as its privileged place in the professional and popular literatures, for it has been shown to be a story that is false and potentially harmful. [5]

The unicultural thesis holds that women and men have common standards of communication skill. In addition, on at least one important measure of communication skill, proponents of this thesis found that women are more skilled than men:

although men and women exhibit differential skill with respect to the provision of supportive communication, they are not members of different cultures. …On average, however, women are more adept than men at providing sensitive emotional support. This finding may explain why – contrary to predictions of the different culture thesis – both men and women largely prefer to seek and receive emotional support from women. … We underscore, however, that these skill differences are inconsistent with the different cultures thesis, which holds that there are different standards for what counts as skillfulness in feminine and masculine speech communities. [6]

Uniculturalist proponents suggest that gender differences in socialization and gender roles among adults account for differences in male and female communication skills:

Perhaps gender-linked socialization experiences, such as the extent to which caretakers talk about feelings with boys and girls, as well as the different roles that men and women fill in post-industrial Western societies, lead women, as a group, to be somewhat more skilled {than men} at the complex psychological and communicative tasks associated with providing emotional support to distressed others. [7]

For both multiculturalists and uniculturalists, gender-specific socialization explains sex differences in communication.  Those scholars, however, do not connect gender-specific socialization of children to knowledge about genetics, behavioral patterns in non-human animals, and the social circumstances in which humans evolved.

Gender-specific socialization of children implies nothing about nature versus nurture.  Human nature might imply particular patterns of nurture, e.g. care for helpless young.  Without such nurture, humans would naturally die or fail to achieve their natural level of human functioning.  Moreover, gender patterns of socialization of children cannot simply be changed so as to change gender-associated behavior in the desired way.  In humane societies, parents typically have considerable freedom to decide how to raise their children.  Children, of course, often have a strong sense of their own interests.  Parental attempts to mold their children into persons that parents want their children to be are often remarkably unsuccessful.  Social policies on gender socialization of children are likely to be even less successful.

Nonetheless, gender socialization of children remains a focus of elite concern about gender inequality.  In 2005, a prominent gender scholar declared:

We should allow all of the evidence that men and women have equal cognitive capacity to permeate through society.  We should allow people to evaluate children in relation to their actual capacities, rather than one’s sense of what their capacities ought to be, given their gender. [8]

Allowing every person to freely realize her or his capabilities, irrespective of gender, is admirable.  Allowing all of the evidence that men and women have equal communication capabilities, and all of the evidence that they don’t, to permeate through society would be reasonable and democratic.  The specific form of the prominent gender scholar’s proposal indicates the direction of failure.

Describing sex differences in communication as cultural has little scientific significance.  Male and female humans undoubtedly have shared considerable common culture since the beginning of humanity.[9]  Human living-groups are typically mixed-sex.  Contemporary democracies embrace both men and women in common public deliberation.  At the same time, sex-differentiated bodily relations to offspring and sex-differentiated social environments are human universals highly relevant to the evolution and development of human communication capabilities.  The gender socialization of children and adult gender roles are not merely arbitrary social constructions.  They likely have elements essential to humane flourishing of humans, male and female.

Understanding sex differences in communication is crucial for understanding stark sex differences in social concern.  Perhaps that’s why serious discussion of sex differences in communication is suppressed.

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Notes:

[1] Tannen (1990) p. 18.  Tannen is a professor at Georgetown University.  Her biography states:

she is one of only two in the College of Arts and Sciences who hold the distinguished rank of University Professor. She has been McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, following a term in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She has published twenty books and over 100 articles and is the recipient of five honorary doctorates.

With her idea of gender-based communication cultures, Tannen has achieved extraordinary success in the extremely competitive U.S. intellectual marketplace.

[2] MacGeorge et al. (2004) pp. 143, 144.

[3] Id. 145.

[4] Id. 145-6, ft. 6.

[5] Id. pp. 72, 173.  Robert Sapolsky, a highly regarded academic and scientist (see notes [6]-[8] here), declared:

For a wonderful overview of gender differences in emotional expressivity, see Deborah Tannen’s 1990 book, You Just Don’t Understand (New York: Morrow). I firmly believe this should be required reading for all newlyweds.

Sapolsky (1997) p. 173.  Only seven years later, in a remarkable slide into totalitarian thinking, the academic communication authorities warned that Tannen’s views are inappropriate, responsible and “potentially harmful.”

[6] MacGeorge et al. (2004) p. 171, references omitted.  MacGeorge, as an Assistant Professor at Purdue University, received for this article the 2005 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology.

[7] Id. Despite the reference to “post-industrial Western societies,” this scholarship analyzes communication with terms such as “provision of support,” “message units,” “support messages,” and “responses to supportive messages.”  These terms have their conceptual roots in mechanized production and information transfer.  Much of what persons value in communication cannot be well understood within a model of message production and transfer.  See Sense in Communication.

[8] Spelker, in Pinker & Spelke (2005).  How such evidence is not allowed to permeate through society and how people are not allowed to evaluate their children in that way is not clear. To find out the effects of discrimination and social biases on the highly disproportionate violence against men, one might like to use the procedure that Spelke proposes, “We need to do the experiment, getting rid of discrimination and social pressure, in order to find out.”  However, getting rid of social pressure probably would not be a feasible social experiment even within the most authoritarian society.  Eliminating social pressure seems not feasible even in deliberation among scientists.

[9] Boehm (1999) argues that a hunter-gatherer egalitarian political lifestyle shaped human nature. Women are thought to have participated fully in the moral life their communities:

One area in which women seem to enjoy a far more equal footing politically, is in holding down male upstarts of whom we have been speaking. My main hypothesis is that egalitarian societies are created and maintained by moral communities, and women participate quite fully in the moral life of their community.

Id. p. 8.  Experimental evidence on strong reciprocity in humans shows similar behavior among men and women, but it has fundamental weaknesses.

[image] Colossal Head 4 (replica) of Olmec ruler, Olmec Culture, San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, Veracruz, Mexico, date 1200 – 900 B.C.E.  Located outside of the Smithsonian National History Museum, Washington, DC.

References:

Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the forest: the evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

MacGeorge, Erina L., Angela R. Graves, Bo Feng, Seth J. Gillihan and Brant R. Burleson. 2004. “The Myth of Gender Cultures: Similarities Outweigh Differences in Men’s and Women’s Provision of and Responses to Supportive Communication.” Sex Roles 50(3/4): 143-175.

Pinker, Steven, and Elizabeth Spelke. 2005. “The Science of Gender and Science: Pinker vs. Spelke.”  Edge The Third Culture.

Sapolsky, Robert M. 1997. The trouble with testosterone: and other essays on the biology of the human predicament. New York, NY, Scribner.

Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York, William Morrow and Co.

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strong, independent Kenyan rejects Unbound gender bigotry

pith helmet in the style of 2nd French Empire

Like most cutting-edge international development organizations, the sponsorship organization Unbound has been attacking failures in poor communities to conform to world-elite standards of gender equality.  In a recent mailing to Unbound sponsors, an article entitled online “Bank accounts offer independence and opportunity to families” got an extra super-title and cover billing: “MOTHERS KNOW BEST.”  This article explains:

In countries such as India and Kenya, sponsorship benefits are distributed to families through individual bank accounts.  With the assistance of Unbound staff members, the mothers of sponsored children manage the accounts until the children are of age.  These bank accounts are created to empower mothers to decide how to best use the sponsorship funds for the development of their families. [1]

Notice how “distributed to families” is equated to “distributed to mothers.”  Contrary to gender lies propagated through leading educational institutions and powerful media, males across all primates commonly have been excluded from equal relationships with their children.  In the U.S., men face huge gender discrimination in decisions about child custody and child support.  Nothing has been done to address that gender inequality.  Unbound and many other international development organizations are perpetuating and worsening gender inequalities against men worldwide.

Unbound’s literature provides a fine case study in the soft power of cultural imperialism in spreading gender bigotry.  A recent edition of an Unbound magazine had 12 pages (about half the total pages in the magazine) devoted to “girls and women.”[2]  That’s a conceptual category largely unknown in relatively high-income, cosmopolitan cities and poor rural villages only a few decades ago.  Are women really more akin to girls than boys are to girls?  If you doubt that conceptual doctrine, then you aren’t fully educated to today’s world-elite standards.

Unbound’s literature aggressively disseminates cultural constructs of gender bigotry.  Here are some more examples:

  • Article titled “GIRL POWER / sponsorship provides opportunities for girls, women.”  The phrase “girl power,” like “girls rule” and “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them,” now appear on girls’ t-shirts in the U.S.  You can count on Unbound to bring these phrases to girls living in material poverty in villages around the world.  After all, persons in high-income countries have an abundance of spiritual poverty.  They can contribute their spiritual poverty to persons living in material poverty.
  • Article titled “Women in India establish identity.”  Western experts in lack of identity ask poor, under-educated others whether they have an identify.  The other responds with a look of complete bewilderment.  The Western expert records that the other does not have an identity.  Western expert then helps the other “establish identity.”
  • Article titled “Giving Girls the Power to Dream.” How can girls dream without the help of highly developed teen-girl magazines (“polish your nails with the color of your dreams!”) and specially designed go-girl video programming (“Glamor and Drama in STEM — the adventures of supergirl hero who works 80 hours a week as a computer programmer at Facebook”)
  • Another article featuring the exemplary indoctrination of Sonia in Guatemala.  The article begins:

    “I have so many dreams!” Sonia said as her mother looked on proudly. “I see myself graduating from the university as a business administrator or an auditor.  I dream of working in a big company and doing important things.”

    Sonia has thus received outstanding preparation for joining the global workforce of corporate drones.  I’m sure when she’s fifty years old, shuffling papers and counting the days until she can retire and spend more time home alone with her cats, she’ll look back fondly on her original and truly inspiring childhood dreams.

  • Article titled “Challenging Traditions.” This article describes how Sophia, a Greek-named woman living in “the traditional Maasai community in southern Kenya,” plans to “continue her education.”  Making clear that Sophia has been well-educated, the article reports:

    “I have learned that girls are equally as important as boys,” Sophia said. “I have been empowered to fight for the rights of the girls who are suffering in my community.”

    How generous, empathetic, and community-spirited!  To better understand how to serve her community, Sophia might examine how her values relate to sexist values in the World Values Survey.

  • Article titled “Staff member sees effects of gender inequality.” Unbound staff member Sara Asmussen answers questions about “gender inequality.”  Here’s a typical question, “How does {Unbound} help to empower women and their families?” Asmussen says nothing about gender inequalities disadvantaging men or disadvantaging boys.  A reasonable inference is that Unbound doesn’t care about inequalities hurting men or hurting boys.
  • Pull quote from Unbound founder Bob Hentzen: “My joy and inspiration is to work with strong, independent women.  They are my heroes and I love them.”  Unbound apparently is rooted in fashionable, old-fashioned, insipid sexism.  Parroting the women-are-wonderful effect is not inspiring. [3]

Culturally dominant persons offering the poor desperately needed material resources and gender bigotry are an enormously powerful force worldwide.  But heroic acts of resistance are possible.  For example, David, a strong, independent Kenyan, stood up to Unbound’s gender-biased programming:

One requirement of {Unbound} sponsorship is the family taking an active part in the program. In some projects this can include being part of a mothers group.  As the name implies, these small groups are typically made up of mothers.  A main goal is to empower members to become economically self-sufficient through microlending.

Because Caroline {David’s wife) spent so much time at the market, she couldn’t attend the group meetings. So David went instead. “I am a member of a support mothers group, although I am a man,” David said. “My group is called Nguono group, and we have 30 members. It is from this group that I was able to grow and come up with the idea of starting my welding workshop.” [4]

Women and men worldwide should look for inspiration to courageous persons like David.  The future of civilized life depends on such action.

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Read more:

Notes:

[1] From feature article, p. 4, in Unbound’s publication Impact, Spring 2014 issue, cover title: “MOTHERS KNOW BEST / Celebrating mothers around the world.”

[2] Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, renamed CFCA, renamed Unbound, publication sacredground (vol. 32, no. 2, fall/winter 2013), pp. 10-19, 22-23.

[3] All these examples are from sacredground, id.

[4] From feature article, p. 5, in Unbound publication Impact, Summer 2014 issue, cover title: “A FIRE WITHIN / Sponsorship sparks opportunities for fathers full of potential.”  That title is misleading.  One father’s refusal to accept being excluding by gender from Unbound’s programming allowed him to acquire resources to open his own welding shop.  Here’s an online version of the article.

[image] Pith helmet in the Second French Empire style, worn by soldiers in the army of Madagascar Queen Ranavalona III (reigned 1883 – 1897).  Thanks to Rama and Wikipedia.

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