Steven Pinker: sex, violence, and failure of enlightenment

Brezhnev in the Era of Stagnation

Harvard professor Steven Pinker is a superstar scholar and a champion of science and truth-seeking. His book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, is an international best-seller. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who each are probably more influential world-wide than any politician, lauded Pinker’s book.[1] Pinker’s book explains that prior to the eighteenth century, or perhaps prior to the past few decades, women had no rights, men held women as property, and men could rape and beat women with impunity. But much more work remains for men to do to protect women:

At the top, a consensus has formed within the international {elite} community that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world. [2]

Elite discourse tends to describe males throughout history, except for a few enlightened fellows speaking today, as brutally demonic in relation to women. Primate behavior in general doesn’t support that peculiar view of humans. Neither does the broad historical mass of data on human behavior. Enlightenment values of reason and truth-seeking, at least among elites, are astonishingly absent in addressing sex and violence.

Recognizing enlightenment’s failure with respect to sex and violence doesn’t require special gifts of intellect or laborious scholarship. High-quality data freely available online makes clear that, in the U.S., four times more men than women die from violence. Much higher levels of violence in medieval Europe were even more disproportionately directed against men. Loss of men’s lives through suicides, workplace fatalities, and battlefield casualties vastly outnumber the corresponding loss of women’s lives. These gender inequalities in lives lost attract remarkably little public attention even in our time of intense concern about gender equality. Evolutionary psychologists might explain that, because of sex differences in reproductive potential, men’s lives are socially less valued than women’s lives. But Steven Pinker and most elite thinkers declare that women’s lives have been socially devalued throughout most of history. To ordinary persons not thoroughly indoctrinated, that elite view is obviously, egregiously false.

Public discourse about sex and domestic violence is an appalling spectacle of bad reason. Pinker dismisses evidence of women and men perpetuating domestic violence in roughly equal measure against each other by directing attention to severe violence. That’s misleading with respect to criminal punishment. Domestic violence laws now encompass acts that cause only minor or no physical injury. With respect to injuries severe enough to send a person to a hospital emergency department, men suffer about 40% of the incidence of such injuries. Nonetheless, domestic violence against men has largely been ignored. Men victims of domestic violence receive much inferior services to those available to women. In medieval Europe, domestic violence against women generated punishment of men, and domestic violence against men generated ridicule of men. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker wrote:

The argument that women should not be assaulted by the men in their lives is irrefutable, and as Victor Hugo noted, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” [3]

That’s hollow rhetoric. The argument that men shouldn’t assault women largely hasn’t been necessary to make. The corresponding argument that women shouldn’t assault men mainly generates laughter and derision. Pinker’s tagged-on quote from Victor Hugo adds only pretentious puffery to the intellectual debacle.

Rhetorical posing about domestic violence has probably increased violence. In the U.S. over the past three decades, new laws and policies targeting domestic violence against women have created a frequently invoke regime of emergency law. Those laws have been central to the rise of U.S. mass incarceration. In the U.S., an extraordinary number of persons per capita now live in highly violent places: jails and prisons.

Generating emotions from deep within, a woman claiming to be raped is a potent means for inciting violence against men. Being accused of raping a woman is enough to get a man lynched by a large mob. Leading newspaper now headline sensational statistics such as the claim that nearly a quarter of Asian-Pacific men admit to being rapists. Pinker describes rape as “one of the prime atrocities in the human repertoire.”[4] Should nearly a quarter of Asian-Pacific men be executed or least incarcerated for many years? Or are those elite claims about rape incredible and hateful? Rape throughout history has generally been treated seriously and sanctioned more severely than other forms of interpersonal violence. Given the seriousness of rape claims, false accusations of rape have also, not surprisingly, been a matter of serious concern, except in recent years. Historically, men seducing women has been broadly criminalized. Today U.S. college campuses are experiencing a reign of terror about sexual assault. That reign of terror is teaching students contempt for truth and justice.

Pinker and other elites treat women raping men as not real rape. Pinker forthrightly declared in The Better Angels of Our Nature that “rapists are men.”[5] Until 2013, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation defined rape such that only women could be raped. That reflects lengthy historical lack of concern about men being raped. Official crime victimization surveys such as the U.S. National Crime Victimization Survey now obscure the definition of rape in complicated administrative judgments. Leading rape surveys have redefined rape to increase greatly the number of reported rapes. Yet men being made to penetrate another person sexually remains excluded by definition from rape. If that form of sexual violence is counted as rape, incidents of women raping men would outnumber incidents of men raping women in the leading U.S. survey of sexual victimization. U.S. judges have uniformly upheld men being forced to pay child support to women who have raped them and had children by their acts of rape. Those celebrating our enlightened times selectively close their eyes to narratively unpropitious facts about rape.

Enlightenment reason’s failures in addressing sex and violence undermine the broad social trust crucial to civilization. Ordinary person through experience and readily accessible facts can easily recognize elite lies about sex and violence. In discussing The Better Angels of Our Nature, Mark Zuckerberg wrote to Steven Pinker:

One question I have is whether there is any data that suggests the internet has led to or will lead to a decrease in violence? Are there any things we should consider while developing internet services that could help further decrease violence?

Pinker responded:

At a bird’s-eye view, one would certainly expect technologies that enhance cosmopolitanism to reduce violence. They can expand our circle of empathy, by seeing the world through the eyes of other people; they can enhance the spread of good ideas and expose bad ideas; and they can empower separated people to act together. In the past, the rise of printing and literacy, and then TV (“the global village”) seem to have led to greater tolerance, and forces against war and prejudice … But what none of us yet understands, I think, is how to prevent a new form of insularity – self-selected, mutually reinforcing ideologues finding each other on the Web and reinforcing their own conspiracy theories. I wish I was smarter and wiser on how to deal with this, and I hope that the geniuses at Facebook are thinking about this!

From the perspective of many ordinary persons considering women’s rights, men’s rights, rape, and domestic violence, Steven Pinker, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other international elites are no better than mutually re-enforcing ideologues. Although commonly smeared as hate sites, marginal deliberative fora such as the Men’s Rights Reddit and A Voice for Men are more inspiring examples of concern for truth and justice. If enlightened civilization ultimately rests on reason, truth, and justice, rather than status, power, and money, a new revolution of minds is desperately needed.

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[1] Zuckerberg, multi-billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, selected The Better Angels of Our Nature to discuss in his 2015 Year of Books on his personal Facebook page. Zuckerberg described Pinker’s book as a “timely book” that he “really enjoyed.” Zuckerberg further noted, “A few people I trust have told me this is the best book they’ve ever read.”

Bill Gates, multi-billionare founder and CEO of Microsoft and guiding mind of the influential Gates Foundation, in 2012 declared:

People often ask me what is the best book I’ve read in the last year. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever.

I’m a dogged advocate for innovations that have brought us longer life spans, better nutrition and more freedom. But I’m also concerned about the things innovation can’t always change, like how we look at justice and violence. Is there a positive trend there, and if so, what are the lessons? How can we make sure the trend continues? How can we broaden it – and maybe even speed it up?

The U.S. criminal justice system is widely regarded as being disastrously unjust. The Gates Foundation should address the grossly malfunctioning U.S. criminal justice system.

[2] Pinker (2011) p. 414. With respect to women’s rights, Pinker states:

it was also during that era, the age of Enlightenment {18th century}, that women’s rights began to be acknowledged, pretty much for the first time in history.

Id. p. 399. Women throughout recorded history have long held key rights: rights to property and rights to custody of children. Roman women held in their own right large estates. Under English common law, women, but not men, were recognized to have a natural right to custody of children born out of wedlock.

Pinker reproduced claims from Wilson and Daly’s influential, fallacious, and misandristic article:

In their article, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel,” Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have documented that traditional laws all over the world treat women as the property of their fathers and husbands. Property laws entitle owners to sell, exchange, and dispose of their property without encumbrance, and to expect the community to recognize their right to redress if the property is stolen or damaged by others.

Id. p. 197. On Wilson and Daly’s rhetoric, see note [4] and associated text in my post on primatology. See also the Roman-era story of Perpetua, the story of Aseneth (probably fourth-century Syria), and Boccaccio’s story of Madonna Filippa (fourteenth-century Italy). Consider as well bureaucratic management difficulties in a fourteenth-century French household.

Pinker quotes with approval the highly celebrated and deeply misandristic scholar Andrea Dworkin. She tendentiously declared, “a man wants what a woman has — sex.” Id. p. 395. Do men not have sex? Do women not want sex? Pinker declares:

The history of rape, then, is one in which the interests of women had been zeroed out in the implicit negotiations that shaped customs, moral codes, and laws.

Id. p. 398. Inconsistent with history reality, that ridiculous claim uncannily complements Pinker’s zeroing out of men as victims of rape. For further sensational History Channel history, Pinker declares, “The oppression of women used to include laws that allowed husbands to rape, beat, and confine their wives.” Id. p. 382. That seems to be a grotesquely distorted interpretation of laws of coverture.

[3] Id. p. 415. Pinker offers an ideological understanding of domestic violence:

Domestic violence is the backstop of a set of tactics by which men control the freedom, especially the sexual freedom, of their partners.

Id. p. 407. Such tactics, according to Pinker, have included “chastity belts.” Id. Maintaining belief in this domestic-violence ideology requires trivializing domestic violence against men and ignoring contemporary laws that deny men sexual freedom and impose on men forced financial fatherhood. To avoid any misunderstanding, Pinker explains that, with respect to domestic violence, “feminism has been very good for men.” Id. p. 412.

[4] Id. p. 394. Apparently to emphasize that he is a good man, Pinker also declares that “rape is always an atrocity”; it is a “heinous crime against the woman.” Id. p. 398. Parroting dominant, mythic, women-were-men’s-property history, Pinker declares:

Rape was seen as an offense not against the woman but against a man — the woman’s father, her husband, or in the case of a slave, her owner. … Rape is the theft of a woman’s virginity from her father, or her fidelity from her husband. … When medieval European governments began to nationalize criminal justice, rape shifted from a tort against a husband or father to a crime against the state, which ostensibly represented the interests of women and society but in practice tilted the scales well toward the side of the accused.

Id. p. 395. For reality-based understanding of rape, see, e.g. historical literature about rape claims, the story of the nun of Watton, the Arabic poem ““If only al-Barrāq had an eye to see,”, and the criminalization of seduction.

[5] Id. p. 405. Pinker heads a section “Women’s Rights and the Decline of Rape and Battering.” That heading underscores Pinker’s unsubstantiated belief that enlightenment reduced men’s violence against women. That heading also underscores Pinker’s need to ignore men victims of rape and domestic violence. If men victims of rape and domestic violence (battering) actually exist in numbers similar to those of women victims, that would imply the urgency of further enlightenment and men’s rights. Celebration of current enlightenment and no concern for men’s rights characterize Pinker’s highly honored and best-selling book.

[image] Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, at a Communist Party Congress in Berlin in 1967. Brezhnev presided over a period in Soviet history known at the Era of Stagnation (Zastoy). Detail from photo with source attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-F0418-0001-020 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA.


Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Ménagier de Paris: bureaucratic reality in medieval marriage

child praying for parents

In Christian biblical teaching, the husband is the Christ-following head of the two made one in marriage. This two-person corporation is the smallest possible multi-person organization. Le Ménagier de Paris, a medieval household book written in French about 1393, makes clear that even Christian marriage had bureaucratic characteristics. A husband’s authority mattered less than his wife’s good will.

In modern bureaucracies, workers learn that they should do their assigned job and not ask questions. Medieval marriages formally were similar. A wife’s job was to do whatever her husband told her to do:

a wife must obey her husband and carry out his orders, whatever they may be, great or small or even really minor. Furthermore, it is not fitting that your husband tell you his reason or the motive behind his order, for that would seem to be a signal to you to do or not do his bidding based on whether or not you found the rationale to be valid. … With regard to his orders, you should never hesitate or refuse to carry out his instructions or in any way slow down or delay their execution. Also, never do anything that he has forbidden or in any way modify, exaggerate, diminish, broaden, or narrow his prohibitions. In and for all things — good or bad — that you have done, you are free and clear of blame when you say, “My husband ordered me to do it.” [1]

For modern bureaucratic workers, what has always been done in a particular job is similarly an all-encompassing justification. “I did what we have always done.” A bureaucrat does her job, and nothing more, and nothing less.

Ideal workers in bureaucracies do whatever their bosses tell them to do. The guiding maxim for an ambitious bureaucrat: you say, “Jump,” and I respond, “How high?” The ideal medieval wife behaved like the modern ambitious bureaucrat:

They all entered the squire’s house together, and the young woman came immediately to meet them. The squire set the stick on the ground and said: “Madam, jump over this.” She jumped right way. He told her, “Jump again.” She jumped again. “Again!” She jumped three times, without saying a single word besides “Willingly!” [2]

Over the subsequent seven centuries, ambitious bureaucrats learned to say in addition, “How high?” But the basic principle of mindless obedience hasn’t changed.

In reality, many bureaucrats are not merely mindless drones. Many bureaucrats push back against being given idiotic tasks. For example, when medieval husbands set a metric for household performance and competed in outcomes, some of their wives responded with mockery:

In front of all the husbands, Robin asked her {his wife}, “Marie, repeat after me what I say.” “Willingly, sir.” “Marie, say: ‘One,”” “One.” “And ‘two.'” “And two.” “And ‘three.'” To which Marie, a bit peevishly, replied,  “And one, and 12, and 13! Come now! Are you making fun of me?” In this way, Marie’s husband lost. Next, the husbands all went to Jean’s house, whose wife Agnes was one to put on airs. Jean told her, “Repeat after me what I say: ‘One.'” Agnes answered disdainfully, “And two.” And thus he lost. Tassin said to the lady Tassine, “One.” With pride, Tassine responded aloud, “This is something new!” Or she said, “I am not a child learning how to count,” or she said, “Come now, by God! Have you become a musician?” and the like. And so he too lost. [3]

In such situations, the appropriate procedure is to set up a meeting to discuss job assignments and responsibilities. With respect to idiotic tasks, that generally isn’t worthwhile. Hence mockery can be a potent internal bureaucratic tactic.

Smart bureaucrats manage up. Medieval wives knew how to manage up:

When such a woman finds herself alone with her husband and they discuss their business matters and amusements, the woman by hinting around subtly investigates and realizes that her husband intends to handle this matter otherwise than she would prefer. The woman briskly changes the topic of their conversation, before he has the chance to say, “In this matter, do thus.” Cunningly she maneuvers out of the touchy situation and turns her husband to another subject and concludes their conversation on a topic distant from the one on her mind. As soon as she sees the opportunity, she has the initial matter accomplished according to her own wishes and does not concern herself about her husband’s viewpoint, which she ignores and having a ready excuse will say, “You said nothing about it to me!” [4]

Another tactic is to contrive to get desired advice from another authority, such as the husband’s respected cousin or a management consultant. That advice then provides cover for doing what you want to do. Another general principle: “Don’t ask for permission. Act first, then ask for forgiveness.”[5]

If all else fails, working to rule can easily overthrow authority.  For example, a medieval wife insisted that all her rights and obligations to her husband be explicitly listed in a document. One day, traveling on a pilgrimage, they had to cross over a ditch on a narrow plank. The wife hesitated behind, afraid to cross. The husband went back and helped his wife to cross. Holding her hand, talking to her, and walking backwards, he accidentally fell into the water. He asked his wife to help him get out of the water:

She responded, “No, no, indeed not! First I will look in my charter to see if it says that I must do so; if it does, I will do it, but otherwise I will not.” She looked, and since her document did not mention the current situation, she told her husband that she would do nothing, and left him and went on her way. [6]

Her husband nearly drowned. If workers do only and exactly what they are instructed to do, without any use of their own good judgment, their organization is dead in the water. Authority is no substitute for good will. Authority that destroys good will destroys itself.[7]

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[1] Le Ménagier de Paris (The Householder of Paris) 1.6.24, from Old French trans. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 123. Here’s an Old French text of Le Ménagier de ParisCurrent views on Christian household headship tend to be much different. Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.8 includes Petrarch’s version of the Griselda story. Le Ménagier comments on the Griselda story:

I have placed the tale here as instruction, not to apply it to you, or because I expect the same obedience from you, since I am not worthy. I am no marquis, nor were you a shepherdess, and I am not so foolish, presumptuous, or immature as to fail to recognize the inappropriateness of my abusing or testing you in such ways. God keep me from trying you in this or any other manner, under any false pretenses! … And I apologize if the story contains excessive accounts of cruelty, in my opinion more than is fitting, and I don’t believe it was ever true.

From 1.6.10, trans. id. pp. 118-9. The hugely popular story “A Message to Garcia” (first published in the U.S. in 1899) similarly taught men to carry out orders without asking questions. Men, however, were to take the initiative to figure out how to fulfill the order.

[2] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.40, trans. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 129.

[3] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.27, id. p. 125.

[4] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.47, id. p. 132.

[5] On seeking covering advice from a respected cousin, Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.46. On acting first, id. 1.6.48-59. In the latter story, the woman’s mother advised her to “shit test” her husband before committing adultery. Asking forgiveness worked well twice, but on the third instance the husband responded to his wife’s bad blood.

[6] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.12, id. pp. 119-20. An early example of working to rule is the servant Aesop’s responses to his master Xanthus’s commands in the Life of Aesop 38-50. Written in French about 1500, the farce Le Cuvier (La farce du cuvier) centers on the husband working to rule. Johannes Pauli’s Schimpf und Ernst (Strasbourg, 1522) includes a story of working to rule similar to that in Le Ménagier de Paris. But in Pauli’s story, the wife by working to rule and allowing her husband nearly to drown gains the right to do whatever she wants. Schnell (1998) p. 781. On other pre-modern versions, Centres Sandhu (1980). Some modern actions of working to rule themselves establish complicated rules.

[7] Greco & Rose (2009) offer a brutal interpretation of Le Ménagier de Paris:

This manual naturalizes the brutality of men while blaming women for it and disallows women’s anger.

Id. p. 41. Similar, but more sophisticated interpretations have been put forward for Aucassin et Nicolette.

[image] Elizabeth Cary, daughter of Sir Lawrence Tanfield (ca. 1551-1625) and Elizabeth Tanfield (ca. 1560 -1629), praying at foot of the Tanfield tomb, Burford Church, Oxfordshire, Great Britain.  Detail from image © Copyright Julian P. Guffogg and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons By-SA License.


Centres Sandhu, Marcelle. 1980. “La Farce du Cuvier: Origines du thème.” Romance Philology 34:2: 209-216.

Greco, Gina L., and Christine M. Rose, ed. and trans. 2009. The good wife’s guide; Le ménagier de Paris: a medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Schnell, Rüdiger. 1998. “The Discourse on Marriage in the Middle Ages.” Speculum. 73 (3): 771-786.

Melibee reversed women’s incitement of violence against men

women and medieval violence against men

In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer tells the ridiculous chivalric verse romance of Sir Thopas. Sir Thopas, a knight errant longing for the love of an elf queen, “for love and pleasure” prepared to battle the three-headed giant Sir Elephant. The Host stopped this nonsense and asked for a different story. Chaucer responded with the Tale of Melibee, an English version of Albertanus of Brescia’s Latin work Liber consolationis et consilii. That work reversed women’s incitement of men to do violence against men. Lessening women’s promotion of violence against men is crucial to reducing violence.

Steve Pinker, a Sir Thopas of our time, credits feminization of civilization for contributing to the long-run historical decline in violence. Pinker declares “the most fundamental empirical generalization about violence” is that “it is mainly committed by men.”[1] That’s half right in a tendentiously biased way. Pinker approvingly observes:

At the top, a consensus has formed within the international {elite} community that violence against women in the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world.

That makes the gender bias obvious. In the U.S. today, four times more men than women die from violence. Around the world, violence overwhelmingly occurs against men. Whether a man’s immediate killer was a man or a woman doesn’t change the reality of the man being dead. Violence against men is much greater than violence against women and of much less social concern. Belief that the most pressing human rights problem today is violence against women is a modern version of ridiculous chivalric behavior.

Violence against men was much more prevalent in medieval Europe. Homicide per capita was roughly thirty times higher in medieval Europe than in high-income countries today. Because men are vastly disproportionately victims of homicide and casualties in war, medieval men’s life expectancy was about nine years less than women’s. Medieval men also experienced considerable non-fatal violence such as castration and vicious beatings.

Violence against men, along with all other evils, tends today to be blamed on men, or among the more sophisticated, blamed on patriarchy. But in the more liberal political circumstances of medieval Europe, thinkers had more respect for women’s agency. Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest emphatically declared that women promoted violence against men:

She sets friends against one another,
Turning brother against brother;
She cleaves the father from the son,
She robs the mother’s nest of one.

Woman fosters strife and wars,
And exiles men from ruined shores;
Castles she burns, cities defeats,
Destroys the towers and the keeps.
Women’s the reason tourneys are born,
Woman’s the reason swords are worn,
Enmity she instigates,
And combat she perpetuates;
The schemes she quickly engineers
Can drown a countryside in tears. [2]

Sefer Shaashuim, a Hebrew book from early-thirteenth-century Spain, described how women caused wars between families. In early-fifteenth-century Spain, the Archpriest of Talavera documented that women’s tears can prompt violence against men. Across world cultures, the classical Arabic poetic laments known as marthiya provide perhaps the most pointed and poignant representation of women’s role in inciting violence against men.

In contrast to literature describing women inciting violence against men, Albertanus of Brescia’s Liber consolationis et consilii described a woman named Prudence acting as a peacemaker. Prudence’s husband Melibee, a young, strong, and rich man, returned home to find that ancient foes had assaulted his wife and grievously injured their daughter. Albertanus made clear his work of gender reversal in depicting the initial interaction of Melibee and Prudence:

But when Melibee returned to his home, he saw what happened and began to weep greatly and tear his hair and rend his clothes like a madman. His wife then began to say, so as to quiet him, that he had wept enough. But he continually cried more. And she, being disturbed a little, remembered the words of Ovid in The Remedy of Love, who said:

Who’d stop a mother weeping, unless he’s mad,
at her son’s grave? That’s not the place to admonish her.
When tears are over, and the sorrowful spirit’s done,
then grief can be given expression in words. [3]

When Melibee finally stopped weeping, he gathered around him “a huge multitude of men” and “showed his strong desire to carry out a vendetta.”[4] Prudence didn’t incite her husband and the other men to violence against men. Drawing upon classical wisdom, Prudence urged her husband to take time to carefully consider the best course of action.[5] Like the initially weepy Melibee and the philosophical Prudence, the rashly violent Melibee and the calm, peace-seeking Prudence reversed long-established gender stereotypes.

In writing his English version of Liber consolationis et consilii, Chaucer understood Albertanus’s theoretical-didactic gender reversal. Immediately following the Tale of Melibee, Chaucer presented in the prologue to the Monk’s Tale medieval folk wisdom on women and violence:

When ended was my tale of Melibee,
And of Prudence and her goodness,
Our Host said, “On my faith,
And by that precious body of Madrian,
{I swear that} I had rather than have a barrel of ale
That Goodelief, my wife, had heard this tale!
For she is in no way of such patience
As was this Melibeus’ wife Prudence.
By God’s bones, when I beat my knaves,
She brings me forth the great knobby clubs,
And cries, ‘Slay the dogs every one
And break them, both back and every bone!’
And if any neighbor of mine
Will not in church bow to my wife,
Or be so bold as to offend her,
When she comes home she shakes her fists in my face,
And cries, ‘False coward, avenge thy wife!
By God’s bones, I will have thy knife,
And thou shalt have my spinning staff and go spin!’
From daybreak to nightfall right thus she will begin.
‘Alas,’ she says, ‘that ever I was created
To wed a milksop, or a coward ape,
That will be browbeaten by every body!
Thou darest not defend thy wife’s right!’
This is my life, unless I will fight;
And out at door immediately I must hasten myself,
Or else I am as good as lost, unless I
Be like a wild lion, fool-hardy.
I know well some day she will make me slay
Some neighbor, and then be on the run;
For I am perilous with knife in hand,
Albeit that I dare not stand up to her,
For she is strong in fighting, by my faith:
That shall he find that does or says something amiss to her —
But let us pass away from this matter.” [5]

Neither Albertanus’s Liber consolationis et consilii nor Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee can be adequately appreciated without recognizing women’s important role in inciting violence against men.

Medieval readers widely understood and valued Albertanus’s Liber consolationis et consilii. Judging from manuscripts and influence, Liber consolationis et consilii was among the most popular medieval works. Renaut de Louhans translated Liber consolationis et consilii into French about 1337. He did so apparently to promote peace in war-torn Burgundy. In the fourteenth century. Liber consolationis et consilii and its many vernacular translations became recognized as “an edifying treatise for women.”[6] The need for such edification is scarcely appreciated today.

Violence has always been highly disproportionately violence against men. International elites today seem to be benighted within ridiculous chivalric romances like that of Chaucer’s Sir Thopas. Even worse, many of them seem to have the character of Shakespeare’s Malvolio.[7] They deserve to be mocked.

Reducing violence, which worldwide is predominately violence against men, depends on both women and men. Women should stop inciting men to violence against men. Men should stand up to women’s social power and start valuing men’s lives more highly.

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[1] Pinker (2011) p. 684. On feminization, id. pp. 684-9. The subsequent quote is from id., p. 414. On women’s responsibility for violence against men, Pinker states that women “frequently egg their men into battle.” But he declares, “over the long sweep of history, women have been, and will be, a pacifying force.” Id. pp. 526-7. Over the long sweep of history, the evidence for that claim is very weak.

[2] Le Blasme des Fames ll. 41-44, 53-62, from Old French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) pp. 123, 125. The text is probably from the late-thirteenth century. In the Lancelot romance of the Vulgate cycle, Bors carries the white banner of the Lady of Hungerford Castle into battle and joyfully returns with it stained red with the blood of her enemies.

[3] Albertanus of Brescia, Liber consolationis et consilii Ch. 1, from Latin my translation. The quote from Ovid’s Remedia Amoris ll. 127-130 is from A.S. Kline’s translation. Melibee is an English form of the Latin name Melibeus.

Albertanus wrote Liber consolationis et consilii in 1246. He dedicated that work to his son John. Albertanus had at least three sons. He probably didn’t want to see his sons die early, violent deaths.

Arabic literature could have reached Brescia from Sicily or Spain. Albertanus was familiar with the work of the Spanish Jewish convert Petrus Alfonsi (lived c. 1026-1110). Albertanus referred to Petrus Alfonsi 17 times in Liber consolationis et consilii (16 references to Disciplina Clericalis, 1 reference to Dialogus). Petrus Alfonsi was well-versed in Arabic literature.

Prudence tends to be seen as a recasting of Boethius’s Lady Philosophy. While there are some parallels, Liber consolationis et consilii has only one direct citation from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. The motivation for Prudence much more probably came from immediate experience and the contemporary literature of men’s sexed protest. That literature is well-represented in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis.

Although Albertanus wrote in Latin, he was a layman. He worked as a judge, a notary, and a professional legal counselor (causidici). He was also the author of at least three treatises and five sermons. A primary concern in his writings is to “find means to resolve both public and private disputes in accordance with legal principles rather than knives, swords, spears, clubs, and rocks.” Powell (1992) p. 31. In his Genovese sermon of 1243, Albertanus declared:

The sweetest of legal precepts are these: to live honorably, to do no harm to another, to give to each his own. … Nothing, however, is more unsuitable than to be feared. As a matter of fact, men clearly hate the person they fear because everyone seeks the destruction of the person he fears.

Nuccio, Brannan & Felice (2004) pp. 13-14.

[4] Liber consolationis et consilii, from Latin trans. Powell (1992) pp. 80-1. Wars and vendettas were common within tumultuous, factious northern Italy early in the thirteenth century. In 1238, the army of Emperor Frederick II successfully besieged Brescia. Albertanus, whom the Brescians had put in command of a fortress at Gavardo, was taken prisoner of war.

[5] Prudence successfully led the hostile parties of men to repentance, forgiveness, and a “kiss of peace.” Powell (1992) p. 86. Powell declares:

Prudence, the wife of Melibeus, is more than the personification of an abstract virtue: she stands for the female principle.

Id. p. 116. Mann (1991), p. 98, similarly describes patience as a “womanly quality” and declares:

Melibee submits himself to his wife and to patience in one and the same process; his patience must match hers.

In assigning this tale to himself, Chaucer identifies himself with the values it embodies, and with the centrality of women’s role.

These interpretations ignore Liber consolationis et consilii’s gender reversal and implicitly blame men for violence against men. Prudence, like great women writers of the Middle Ages, had more loving appreciation for men.

Prudence herself opposed gender stereotyping. In her response to Melibee’s argument that “women are wicked and no good one may be found” and therefore he shouldn’t listen to Prudence’s counsel, Prudence responded:

I reply (with due respect to you) that you ought not to despise women in such general terms … there are a great many good women.

Liber consolationis et consilii, Ch. 3 & Ch. 4.2, from Latin trans. Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992) pp. 237-8. For an alternate approach to affirming “not all women are like that” (NAWALT), see the story of the farmer, his wife, and the fish in the field in Sindibad.

[5] Chaucer, The Monk’s Prologue ll. 1889-1923, close modern English translation from Benson (2002). The wife’s name Goodelief literally means “good dear one.”

[6] From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, Albertanus’s Latin writings were translated into Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Dutch, and Czech. They  survive in hundreds of Latin and vernacular manuscripts. Many printed editions were produced in the fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. Powell (1992) pp. 5, 121.

Renaut de Louhans (Renaud de Louens) was a Dominican friar. Renaut’s French translation of Albertanus’s Liber consolationis et consilii was “more a paraphrase and a somewhat shortened version.” On Renaut’s translation, id. p. 124-5. Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee is a very close translation of Renaut’s French version, but in minor differences “draws more attention to the limits of human knowledge, to the difficulty of interpreting.” Grace (2004) p. 396. Le Ménagier de Paris (The Parisian Householder), compiled about 1392-94, includes at sec. 1.9 Renaut’s French translation of Liber consolationis et consilii. Le Ménagier de Paris apparently drew upon a slightly different text than that which Chaucer used. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 41. Greco & Rose, apparently oblivious to the literary context, irascibly interpret the text:

Since every man want to “rule as lord” in his home, the narrator demonstrates that the prudent wife must subdue her anger or grief in order to reform her husband’s foolish and dangerous impulses which would destroy the peace of that home.

Id. p. 147. The literature of men’s sexed protest provides considerable insight into that interpretation.

The description of Liber consolationis et consilii becoming “an edifying treatise for women” is from Mario Roques, cited in Powell (1992) p. 125.

[7] Apparently seeking to flatter international elites and dominant interests in academia and media, Pinker declares, “We are all feminists now” and “rapists are men.” Ignoring forced financial fatherhood, he emphasizes the importance of “women’s control over their own reproduction.” Pinker (2011) pp. 404, 405, 688.

[image] Man killing another man while women watch and applaud. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 321v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Benson, Larry, trans. 2002. Geoffrey Chaucer. The Monk’s Prologue and Tale. The Geoffrey Chaucer Page, Harvard University.

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

Fiero, Gloria, Wendy Pfeffer, and Mathé Allain. 1989. Three medieval views of women: La contenance des fames, Le bien des fames, Le blasme des fames. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Grace, Dominick. 2004. “Telling Differences: Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee and Renaud de Louens’ Livre de Mellibee et Prudence.” Philological Quarterly. 83 (4): 367-400.

Greco, Gina L., and Christine M. Rose, ed. and trans. 2009. The good wife’s guide; Le ménagier de Paris: a medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mann, Jill. 1991. Geoffrey Chaucer. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International. Republished in 2002 as Feminizing Chaucer. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer.

Nuccio, Oscar, Patrick T. Brannan, and Flavio Felice. 2004. “Genovese Sermon: Albertanus of Brescia.” Journal of Markets & Morality 7(2): 599-638.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Powell, James M. 1992. Albertanus of Brescia: the pursuit of happiness in the early thirteenth century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

De coniuge non ducenda: angels save Gawain from marriage

Gawain tempted by wife of Bercilak de Hautedesert: De coniuge non ducenda!

Sometimes your friends really aren’t looking out for your best interests. Especially if they’re married, and they’re urging you to marry. De coniuge non ducenda, a Latin work of men’s sex protest written between 1225 and 1250, tells how three angels saved Gawain from marriage.

The married men who were Gawain’s friends didn’t act like angels. They instead sought company to the end of their miserable days. Gawain easily could have joined them:

And all these made wild,
By women that they used.
Though I be now beguiled,
I think I might be excused. [1]

Gawain explained:

I once had planned to take a wife
(To follow others’ wretched life),
A tender, juicy, winsome maid —
By her alone my heart was swayed.

Some friends advised me on the spot
To run and tie the nuptial knot
(“The married life’s the way for you!”),
To join me in their woeful crew.

My hasty wedding they did press
To cheer their gloom by my distress,
But through three angels all was well:
God snatched me from the gates of hell. [2]

Gawain’s vigorous, celebrated knightly life could have ended with a lament like that of Matheolus in a Latin work of the late-thirteenth century:

Just as I, though sad, am less disturbed in marriage
Because my fellow husbands provide solace in their misery.
Oh, single life! Be sad that single life ends in sadness
Increased only because it is allowed to end. [3]

What made all the difference was the appearance of three angels. Just as three angels appeared to Abraham at Mamre, so too three angels came to Gawain at Mamre.[4] Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

One angel was Peter of Corbeil, elevated to archbishop of Sens in 1200. Courtly poets described abstractly men’s love servitude to women. Peter of Corbeil described the life of the ordinary, married working man:

Who takes a wife a millstone ties
around his neck until he dies.
The wife commands, the man obeys;
He once was free, but slave he stays.

His work piles up in rows and rows;
Where one job ends, another grows.
The man’s an ass pricked on by spur
To feed the brats produced by her. [5]

Patriarchy is a hateful fiction beguiling foolish students. Husbands have long lacked equal opportunities with wives to withdraw from paid work. The angel Peter proclaims, “Let Gawain shun the married life!”

The second angel was Lawrence. He was probably the poet Lawrence, prior of Durham, who died in 1154. Lawrence explained how biological inequality in parental knowledge works to oppress men:

So rancour grips the married male
Who keeps a wife who’s up for sale.
He names as heir another’s brat
And feeds what someone else begat.

Thus bitter grief and shame begin —
The child that’s been conceived in sin.
Its mother knows its bastard line,
The foolish husband says, “It’s mine.”

Under English common law, a child born within a marriage is indisputably presumed to be the husband’s responsibility. Thus a New York court in 1975 ruled that a prisoner was the father of four children his wife had while he was securely locked away from her in prison. The angel Lawrence proclaims, “Let Gawain therefore wife eschew!”

The third angel was John Chrysostom. Known in the ancient world as the golden-mouthed, with God’s grace he spoke harsh truth to men:

A married man’s a slave for sure,
His flesh and spirit pain endure —
Like ox from market homeward led
To work the plough until he’s dead.

Who takes a wife accepts a yoke;
Not knowing pain, with pain he’ll choke.
Who takes a wife, himself is caught
And to eternal serfdom brought.

A wife’s demands are always met;
If not, she’ll quarrel, rage and fret.
The noise defeats the patient spouse;
He yields to her and quits the house.

Is it any wonder that men’s lifespan is on average shorter than women’s? Some say that’s because men prefer to die than remain married. In truth, the matter hasn’t been seriously investigated. International authorities don’t care about gender inequality in lifespan that shortchanges men. The angel John advises, “If wise, then marriage you’ll forbear!”

Marriage is a foolish game in which a wife is entitled to swing a legal axe at her husband’s neck. There is no equal exchange under gynocentric law. When the axe strikes the husband’s neck, his head will be severed from his body. It will never re-attach. Gawain had magic that Merlin lacked. But magic didn’t save Gawain’s neck. Against the selfish advice of his married friends, the Holy Trinity of angels Peter, Lawrence, and John interceded on Gawain’s behalf. Give thanks and glory to them!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

[1] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ll. 2425-9, close translation from Middle English by Benson (2012) p. 179. Like the knight Gawain, the bookish scholar learned from experience of the superior wiles of women. The verse romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was probably written in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Surviving only in one manuscript (British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x.), it’s written in an English dialect associated with Cheshire (northwestern England). On Gawain’s relation to the literature of men’s sexed protest, Dove (1972).

[2] De coniuge non ducenda I2-I4, from Latin trans. Rigg (1986) pp. 67-9. A Latin text is freely available online in Wright (1841) pp. 77-85. De coniuge non ducenda survives in 55 Latin manuscripts. Considerable variation among manuscripts suggests transmission through scribal memory. Rigg’s text is based mainly on the manuscript Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 450, dating from about 1310. Rigg chose it to represent the best-known and earliest form of the work. Id. pp. 1, 61. Like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, De coniuge non ducenda encompasses realistic descriptions of mundane, non-bookish activities.

A French version of De coniuge non ducenda exists in the Harley 2253 manuscript as Article 83, De Mal Mariage (Against Marriage). Fein (2014). The Harley version, which is less sophisticated than Andreas Capellenus’s De amore, inserts qualifiers limiting claims to “bad women” and “bad marriages.” Another French version, Douce 210, lacks those qualifiers. Dove (2000) p. 341. There’s also a Middle English version of De coniurge non ducenda attributed to John Lydgate and entitled Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage. Salisbury (2002).

De coniuge non ducenda is part of the Latin tradition of men’s sex protest that encompasses Juvenal’s Satire 6, Jerome’s Golden Book on Marriage attributed to Theophrastus, Walter Map’s Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum, and Lamentationes Matheoluli. Rigg (1986), pp. 101-2, outlines parallels between De coniuge non ducenda and Lamentationes Matheoluli. He argues that the former, written in the second quarter of the thirteenth century, influenced the the latter, written about 1290.

[3] Lamentationes Matheoluli ll. 326-9, my translation from the Latin text of Van Hamel (1892) vol. 1, p. 23:

Sicut ego, tristis, minus hinc conturbor in istis;
Ut socios habeant solacia sunt miserorum.
Ve solis! doleant, quia solis puncta dolorum
Augmentatur eo quod eam soli paciuntur.

[4] On the three angels appearing to Abraham at Mamre, Genesis 18:1-15.

[5] De coniuge non ducenda P2-P3, trans. Rigg (1986) p. 73. The subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 79-99. Kuczynski (2000) reports:

one nineteenth-century reader of De conjuge non ducenda (no. 83), one of Harley’s antifeminist diatribes, spoke for many when he scrawled above the title of the Latin text in a book at the Tulane University Library, “A brutal piece of Monkish foulness, worse than any Classical smittishness. Luther is here justified.”

Id. p. 141. Rigg (1986), in contrast, observes that De coniuge {conjuge} non ducenda is “a cheerful poem and not very serious.” The poem’s assertions:

stress not the obstacles that marriage poses to the scholar or cleric but the disadvantages for the ordinary working man. … the context is an ordinary working man’s household, beset above all by financial worries.

Id. preface, p. 4. Men’s burdens historically have tended to be disparaged and depreciated.

[image] Wife of Bercilak de Hautedesert attempts to seduce Gawain in bed. Illumination detail from f. 125/129 recto from British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x, the only surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Thanks to the Cotton Nero A.x. Project.


Benson, Larry Dean, trans. 2012. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a close verse translation. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Dove, Mary. 1972. “Gawain and the Blasme des Femmes Tradition.” Medium Aevum 41: 20-26.

Dove, Mary. 2000. “Evading textual intimacy: the French secular verse.” Pp. 329 – 349 in Fein, Susanna Greer. 2000. Studies in the Harley manuscript: the scribes, contents, and social contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Kuczynski, Michael P. 2000. “An ‘electric stream’: the religious contents.” Pp. 123-161 in Fein, Susanna Greer. 2000. Studies in the Harley manuscript.

Rigg, A. G. 1986. Gawain on marriage: the textual tradition of the De coniuge non ducenda with critical edition and translation. Toronto, Ont., Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Salisbury, Eve. 2002. The trials and joys of marriage. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1841. The Latin poems commonly attributed to Walter Mapes. London: Printed for the Camden Society, by J.B. Nichols and Son.

medieval life expectancy: gender difference through history

medieval chivalry greatly reduced men's life expectancy relative to women's

In England, homicides per capita fell roughly by a factor of thirty from the fourteenth-century to the late twentieth century.[1] This progress of civilization wasn’t associated with a secular reduction in gender inequality in life expectancy. Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was perhaps nine years less than elite women’s. Men achieved near equality with women in life expectancy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But men’s lifespan shortfall subsequently grew to about five years in late-twentieth-century England. These facts of gender difference in life expectancy are largely unknown. Reducing gender inequality that disfavors men has never been of public concern. Whether that anti-men bias continues may determine the future of civilization.

Violence against men in late medieval England made men’s life expectancy much less than women’s. The best available data are for the legitimate offspring of British kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. For such persons born from 1330 to 1479, men’s and women’s expected additional years of life at age twenty were 21.7 years and 31.1 years, respectively. Men at age twenty thus expected to have 9.4 less additional years of life than women had. The share of violent deaths to all deaths for men ages 15 and older was 46%.  If men dying from violence are excluded from the life-expectancy calculation, men and women at age twenty had nearly the same expected additional years of life.[2] Violence against men in medieval England explains why men expected to have much shorter lives than women did.

Men probably had much shorter life expectancy than women did across late medieval Europe. The sparse available evidence indicates that the male/female ratio of homicide victims was 13, 7, and 3, in the thirteenth-to-sixteenth centuries, the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth century, respectively.[3] The leading scholar of long-term historical trends in homicide observed:

Generally, the shift toward lower homicide rates appears to have been primarily — but not exclusively — a drop in male-to-male violent encounters. [4]

Violence has always been vastly disproportionately directed against men.[5] Homicidal violence was high enough in medieval Europe to be a considerable factor in life expectancy. These facts imply that medieval European men had a considerable life-expectancy shortfall relative to women.[6]

During the European Age of Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, women and men apparently had nearly equal lifespans. Life expectancy calculated from English parish registers indicates that males had roughly a half-year advantage in life expectancy on average across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[7] The experience of the Age of Enlightenment makes clear that there is nothing natural or inevitable about men suffering relatively short life expectancy. Use of reason in pursuing social reform can promote gender equality in the most fundamental dimension: gender equality in life expectancy.

The growth of men’s life expectancy shortfall from the early nineteenth century to the late twentieth century probably reflects men’s historically disproportionate burden of financially supporting families. In England, excluding decades of world wars, men’s life expectancy shortfall peaked at 6.2 years in the 1970s.[8] In the U.S., men’s life expectancy shortfall peaked at 7.7 years about 1970. Subsequent movement toward gender equality in life expectancy is plausibly associated with women’s greater participation in the paid labor force, particularly in highly stressful jobs previously associated with men.

Much work remains to be done to achieve gender equality in life expectancy.  Men continue to face enormous gender discrimination in family court decisions. Men continue to be deprived of equal opportunities with women to withdraw temporarily or permanently from the paid workforce and be financially supported by their partners or spouses. The effects of gender inequality can be measured ultimately in life. In England and the U.S., men currently fall about four years short in life expectancy relative to women. The long shadow of medieval chivalry remains in devaluing men’s lives to this day.[9]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Data: workbook on female and male life expectancy at birth in medieval Europe to the present (Excel version)


[1] Eisner (2003) p. 96, Fig. 3:

homicide per capita in England from Middle Ages to present

Cf. Pinker (2011) p. 61, Fig. 3-2, “Source: Graph from Eisner, 2003.”

[2] Hollingsworth (1957) pp. 10, 8. Life expectancy at birth was 24.0 years for males and 32.9 years for females. The full time-series data are available in the life-expectancy gender trend worksheet.

In documenting medieval English mortality, Clark (2007), Table 6.2 p. 122, has an imprecise population description (“English aristocrats”) and an incorrect source citation. Table 6.2’s data on life expectancy at birth are for British kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. Its source is Hollingsworth (1957) p. 8. The data on “fraction of deaths from violence” appears to be an estimate for male deaths from violence relative to all male deaths, rather than the directly reported figures for the male violent death share for deaths after age 15. Clark’s estimates appear to be made by using the survivors per 100 males born at age 5 and 20 (64 and 54, respectively), id. p. 11, to estimate 57 survivors at age 15. Assuming all violent deaths occurred after age 15 gives Clark’s Table 6.2 violent death share estimates. Pinker (2011) p. 81, Fig. 3-7, is a line graph of Clark’s death share estimates, described as for “English male aristocrats.”

[3 Eisner (2003) p. 118, Table 5.

[4] Id. p. 119.

[5] Deuteronomy 20:12-15 describes a general commandment to massacre all the men, but take the women and children as spoils. A mass grave at Schöneck-Kilianstädten (Germany) from about 7000 years ago clearly indicates a massacre of at least nine men ages 20 to 40, no women of those ages, and eleven children ages seven or under. That demographic distribution strongly suggests that women ages 20 to 40 were present, but abducted rather than killed. Meyer et al. (2015).  Demographic data from human groups at Sredny Stog and Novodanylovka about 7000 years ago indicate that life expectancy at birth was 7.8 years longer for females than for males. Estimated life expectancy at birth was for females, 43.6 years; for males, 35.8 years. For a remarkably factless and Whig-ideological analysis of male-female mortality differences throughout history, Berin, Stolnitz & Tenenbein (1989).

[6] Prospects of survival apparently favored aristocratic women relative to aristocratic men in tenth and eleventh century Saxony. Violence against men is a plausible explanation. Leyser (1975) pp. 56-7. Leading medieval biologist Albertus Magnus in his Cologne lectures in 1258 declared that, in exception to an Aristotelian generality, women then outlived men. See Albertus Magnus, Quaestiones super libris de animalibus, Bk. 15, quaestio 8. Herlihy (1975), pp. 11-2, found Albertus’s view consistent with other medieval evidence from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. For a detailed, somewhat tendentious review of Albertus’s claim, Biller (2000) pp. 286-95. Here are links to Albertus’s works available online.

Among first marriages in the elite Nesle family in northern France, 1100 to 1300, wives outlived husbands nearly two to one. Hadju (1980) p. 129. The implications of that statistic for gender differences in life expectancy depends on gender differences in age at first marriage. Among person born in British ducal families from 1330 to 1470, men at first marriage were 5.3 years older than women at first marriage. Hollingsworth (1957) p. 14. In the Nesle family data, the average length of widowhood was 19.5 years and 35% of widows remarried. Those facts suggest that widows’ former husbands were dying quite young.

[7] Wrigley (1997) Figure 6.21, Table 6.27, pp. 307-8. These calculations included only married persons. Childbirth created some additional mortality risk for women. If unmarried persons were included, then perhaps women would have had a slight life expectancy advantage. For the data, see the life expectancy gender trend worksheet.

[8] Based on national vital statistics for England and Wales. Estimates compiled in the Human Mortality Database. See the life expectancy gender trend worksheet for details.

[9] Chivalry can take subtle forms. Consider the UK Longevity Science Advisory Panel’s conclusions on gender inequality in life expectancy:

The gender gap in human lifespan is profoundly affected by societal and behavioural factors and movement towards greater parity in lifestyle between men and women is a major factor in the recent reduction in gender gap in life expectancy. Nevertheless there is such a significant range of genetic, endocrine, cell and molecular biology differences between men and women with impacts on longevity that we are led to the conclusion that a gender difference in longevity will persist. At age 65 this is probably of the order of 1-2 years.

Finally we believe that raw data exists which could be analysed to eliminate social and environmental factors and provide a more accurate estimate of the underlying gender gap in longevity. We plan to explore this possibility in the near future.

Pattison et al. (2012) p. 44. Humans have never and can not exist apart from “social and environmental factors.” The “underlying gender gap in longevity” is a meaningless concept. Achieving gender equality in the fundamental human capability of being alive is clearly feasible. The remaining important question is whether gender equality is truly a constitutional public value.

[image] Knights killing other knights while women watch and applaud.  Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, created between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 17r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Berin, Barnet N., George J. Stolnitz, and Aaron Tenenbein. 1989. “Mortality Trends of Males and Females over the Ages.” Transactions of Society of Actuaries 41: 9-32.

Biller, Peter. 2000. The measure of multitude: population in medieval thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, Gregory. 2007. A farewell to alms: a brief economic history of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Eisner, Manuel. 2003. “Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime.” Crime and Justice. 30: 83-142.

Hajdu, Robert. 1980. “The Position of Noblewomen in the Pays Des Coutumes, 1100-1300.” Journal of Family History. 5 (2): 122-144.

Herlihy, David. 1975. “Life Expectancies for Women in Medieval Society.” Pp. 1-22 in Rosmarie Thee Morewedge, ed. 1975. The role of women in the Middle Ages: papers of the sixth annual conference of the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton 6-7 May 1972. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

Hollingsworth, T. H. 1957. “A Demographic Study of the British Ducal Families.” Population Studies. 11 (1): 4.

Leyser, Karl. 1979. Rule and conflict in an early medieval society: Ottonian Saxony. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Meyer, Christian, Christian Lohr, Detlef Gronenborn, and Kurt W. Alt. 2015. “The massacre mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten reveals new insights into collective violence in Early Neolithic Central Europe.PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, US). Published online before print August 17, 2015, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1504365112 The online supplement includes the demographic data on the bodies in the grave.

Pattison, John, Klim McPHerson, Colin Blakemore, Steven Haberman. 2012. Life expectancy: Past and future variations by gender in England & Wales. LSAP paper 2. Longevity Science Advisory Panel.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Wrigley, E.A. 1997. English population history from family reconstitution, 1580-1837. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

blasme des femmes: misogyny in the myth of patriarchy

Pravda: Soviet official meets with Hitler in 1940

Le blasme des femmes (The culpability of women) is medieval vernacular literature of men’s sexed protest. It’s scarcely understood or tolerated today. Many persons now believe that men ruling in patriarchy have brutally oppressed their wives, mothers, daughters and all other women throughout history. Belief in patriarchy and men’s brutality toward women has to explain away the literature of men’s sexed protest. Why have some men cried out about the abuse, deceptions, and betrayals that they felt men suffer from women?

A man cannot withstand her guile
Once she has picked him for her wile;
Her will to power will prevail,
She vanquishes most any male.

Woman lives in constant anger,
Do I even dare harangue her? [1]

Patriarchy myth-makers dismiss men’s sexed protests as misogyny. While ruling over women, exploiting women, and controlling women as their own personal property, men complained bitterly about women simply because men hate women, according to the now dominant mythic view of men. Hate is a word for mobilizing social repression. Calling men’s sexed protest misogyny socially justifies repressing it.

A man who slanders women
Is a man I must condemn,
For a courtier whom one respects
Would never malign the opposite sex. [2]

As master narratives, patriarchy and misogyny are social obfuscation. The lives of men and women have always been intimately intertwined in successfully reproducing societies. Those aren’t plausible circumstances for absolute, hierarchical rule and hatred of the other. Men’s sexed protest doesn’t indicate misogyny. Patriarchy has no significance to most men. Men’s sexed protest, and the social suppression of it, reflect men’s social subordination and women’s social dominance.

I would tell it clearly,
But all truths are not good to say. [3]

Today men are incarcerated for doing nothing more than having consensual sex and being too poor to fulfill their obligations of forced financial fatherhood. Through state-institutionalized undue influence, misrepresentations, and mis-service, forced financial fatherhood is imposed on many men without regard for the biological truth of paternity. Men face massive discrimination in child custody decisions, the criminalization of men’s sexuality is ever-expanding, the vastly disproportionate violence against men attracts no public concern, and men continued to be sex-selected for disposal in military service. Why aren’t more men protesting the privileges of women relative to men?

Therefore each man ought to honor
And value women above all. [4]

When men protest the sex-based injustices they suffer, gynocentric society generates quarrels about women, apologies for women, and defenses of women. Men’s servitude to women is deeply entrenched in European culture. Men historically have tended to understand their worth as persons in terms of defending women and children, and in providing resources to women and children. Women are superior to men in social communication. Women are the decision-makers for a large majority of consumer spending. In many high-income countries, women also make up the majority of voters by a larger margin than that which commonly decides major elections. Myths of patriarchy and misogyny work to keep men in their socially subordinate place.

There’s no clerk so shrewd,
Nor any other so worthy,
Who would want to blame women
Nor argue anything against them,
Unless he be of base lineage.
Because of this, they say nothing but good. [5]

Are women equally to blame for the evil done to men? The current dominant view is that the injustices done to men are all men’s fault. Blame patriarchy for the highly disproportionate suicides of men.  Blame patriarchy for the highly disproportionate incarceration of men. Blame “toxic masculinity” for men’s suffering. But don’t blame women. Say nothing but good about women.

Sweet friend, be assured
That he will be cursed by God
Who, with evil and empty words,
Speaks dishonor or contempt to women. [6]

Le blasme des femmes is necessary for true democratic equality.[7] Women and men, whose lives have always been intimately intertwined, are equally responsible for injustices against women and men.

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[1] Le blasme des femmes {The culpability of women} ll. 113-6,  142-3, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) pp. 127, 129. Le blasme des femmes appears to have been composed for oral recitation. Manuscripts of it exist with many variations. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989)’s version is based on the manuscript Cambridge, University Library, Gg I.i, f. 627r. Text dated 1272-1310. Id. pp. 15-6. Another version of Le blasme des femmes exists in the Harley 2253 Manuscript, Art. 77.

The Cambridge manuscript of Le blasme des femmes concludes with five lines of Latin verse. The last line:

uxorem duxi quod semper postea luxi
{Now, ever since I took a wife,
Calamity has marred my life.}

Id. pp. 130-1. The concluding Latin verse has the leonine rhyme that Matheolus used in his seminal work of men’s sexed protest.

Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest was much less prominent and influential than medieval literature of courtly love. Courtly love literature abased men and pedestalized women.

[2] Le bien des fames {The good of women} ll. 1-4, from Francien French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) p. 107. Text dated 1272-1310. For the source text word courtois I’ve used “courtier” rather than “chap.”

[3] La contenance des fames {The ways of women} ll. 170-1, from Francien French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) pp. 97, 104 (literal translation version). Text dated 1272-1310. The source text:

Cleremont le deviseroie,
Mais touz voirz ne sont bonds a dire.

Above I’ve added the explicit translation “but” for mais.

[4] Le dit des femmes {The song on women) ll. 65-6, MS Harley 2253, Art. 76, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fein (2014).

[5] Le dit des femmes {The song on women) ll. 51-6, MS Harley 2253, Art. 76, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fein (2014).

[6] ABC a femmes {ABC of Women} ll. 276-9, MS Harley 2253, Art. 8, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fein (2014).

[7] Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) p. xi explains:

The greater space given to the anti-female material in our discussions reflects the misogynic tradition that prevailed in medieval times and subtly persists into our own age. Since, according to Webster’s dictionary definition, the word feminist refers to one who advocates the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes or generally defends the rights and interests of women, we have avoided the words pro-feminist and anti-feminist, preferring instead pro- and anti-female.

The subtle incoherence of Webster’s alternate definitions of feminist seems to have eluded these scholars. The underlying social problem is far from subtle. On the term antifeminist, see my Matheolus post, note [7].

[image] Front page of Pravda (Moscow, USSR) newspaper, 18 November, 1940. It features a photo of Soviet Commissar M.B. Molotov and Adolf Hitler meeting in Berlin. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Fiero, Gloria, Wendy Pfeffer, and Mathé Allain. 1989. Three medieval views of women: La contenance des fames, Le bien des fames, Le blasme des fames. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

the devil’s gateway & putting the devil back into Hell

devil's gateway

In a treatise addressed to “you … best beloved sisters” about the year 200, the Christian writer Tertullian vigorously disparaged women’s fancy apparel. Tertullian understood pride as the preeminent sin. His beloved sisters apparently wore necklaces and anklets of gold, emeralds and pearls, and embroidered fabrics colored with expensive dyes. Tertullian’s beloved sisters must have been very wealthy, high-status women. He served them a heaping plate of humble pie:

You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—-that is, death—-even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?

Those words could easily be interpreted as being vicious and hateful. We who are morally far superior to Tertullian could feel pride that we would never write anything like that. Tertullian’s work in general uses extravagant rhetoric that would not be acceptable in our less tolerant age.

In medieval Christian Europe, Giovanni Boccaccio, a literary genius not prone to sanctimony, responded outrageously to Tertullian’s outrageous rhetoric. A humble sense for men’s common carnal interest suggests that the devil that enters the “devil’s gateway” is man’s penis. Boccaccio created for his fellow Christians and anyone else interested in entertaining tales the story of the hermit Rustico and the beautiful girl Alibech. Rustico taught Alibech how to “put the devil back into Hell.” Alibech enjoyed immensely that activity. In our current age of intense concern for verbal orthodoxy, Boccaccio’s medieval stories show more liberal possibilities for understanding.

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The above quote is from Book I, Ch. I of Tertullian’s treatise On the Apparel of Women, from Latin translated by Rev. S. Thelwall. In Book I, Ch. II of that work, Tertullian declares:

you too (women as you are) have the self-same angelic nature promised as your reward, the self-same sex as men, the self-same advancement to the dignity of judging

Tertullian apparently was like Jerome in implicitly affirming women’s ability to understand sophisticated rhetoric. At the same time, Tertullian’s Christian teachings undoubtedly presented serious challenges to prevailing ways of life for both women and men. Little is known about Tertullian’s life. But Jerome clearly had intense concern for women and a strong following among women.

Modern scholars commonly regard Tertullian’s On the Apparel of Women as misogynistic. Jon Huckins provides an example of a typical current response to Tertullian referring to his “best beloved sisters” as “the devil’s gateway.”

Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’ (24 May 2015) took up Tertullian’s concerns about consumerism:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. … Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.

Para. 203-4. Unlike Tertullian, Pope Francis emphasized the effect of consumerism on the earth’s natural environment. But like Tertullian, Francis began with a figure implying humility:

We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Para. 2.

A more sensational figure of humility is inter faeces et urinem nascimur (“we are born between feces and urine”). That phrase has been widely mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo. It was probably minted in the nineteenth century. The attribution to Augustine is consistent with modern stereotyping of Augustine’s thought. The phrase, liberally construed, is consistent with biological reality and Christian theological understanding of original sin and the necessity of baptism.

[image] Devil’s Gate, Wyoming. Photo released to the public domain thanks to Ryan Reeder and Wikicommons.