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The Troublesome Helpmate:
A History of Misogyny in Literature
Katherine M. Rogers
University of Washington Press, 1966

 

After discussing misogyny in Western writers from Aristotle to Hemingway, Rogers concludes with a nice summary of the male psychology of patriarchy. In her conclusion, she discusses why men become misogynists and she emphasizes that men fear that if women are ever freed from their restrictions, women will become men's master.

 

II Medieval Attitudes Toward Love and Marriage

      1) Greeks were virulently misogynistic. Romans allowed women more freedom but were ambivalent toward woman. The pain of an unfaithful lover is a constant theme in classical Roman writings.

      2) The medieval era is virulently misogynistic-- sex even within marriage was regarded as a sin; because of Eve, women were regarded as the source of sin and mortality, and , consequently, all woman should be punished throughout their lives -- an attitude only slightly tempered by the concept of courtly love.

      3) Typical themes in medieval writings: women have unbridled passions; women are unable to keep secrets; women have weaknesses for flattery, greed, extravagant dress, pride, and duplicity; and women tend to shrewishness. page 61

      4) "St. Thomas had to overcome a serious stumbling block in adapting Aristotle's biology to Christian theology: Aristotle had said that the father provides a child's soul while the mother supplies only formless matter. As Christians believe that a the soul comes from God, the superior father is left making no contribution at all. St. Thomas' solution is ingenious: while the soul comes from God, the father supplies the formative power without which the female matter could not receive it. For this reason, a child should love his father more than his mother, since the father principle of his origin " in a more excellent way than the mother, because he is the active principle, while the mother is a passive and material principle." " page 66-67 includes citations St. Thomas consistently assumed that a woman is her husband's property.

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III The Court Wanton, The Bossy Bourgeoise,and the Insatiable Strumpet: The Renaissance

      1) The Renaissance was much less misogynistic than in the medieval period. Public expressions of misogyny were less acceptable than in medieval period. Only some women are shown in a bad light instead of all women being shown as fundamentally flawed. Misogyny often expressed as comic relief or as satire by unsavory characters. Still many anti-woman views are expressed and there is a very pronounced double standard.

      2) "At the same time that these men were exhausting their ingenuity to cheat women, they complained of female wiles; while they regarded women as vessels to be used at minimum expense, they complained of female incapacity to give love." page 114

      3) "Although the Renaissance retractions were more secular and generally less virulent, as well as less frequent, than those of the Middle Ages, poets continued to indulge in the medieval charges that women's bodies are really masses of corruption; that women are lustful and undiscriminating; that they offer no more than sensual gratification, which is degrading; and that they are to be used, discarded, and escaped from before they ruin their lovers." page 118

      4) "For the most part, however, Renaissance dramatists limited the misogyny in their comedies to particular characters, whom they used as satiric butts rather than as mouthpieces for their own point of views. But of course at the same time that the misogynists were being ridiculed, their charges against women could be enjoyed as antifeminist satire." page 123

      5) "Partly because of this tendency to cling to old ideas about women in a changing culture, partly because the Renaissance was a period of transition-between medieval asceticism and modern idealization of conjugal love, between harsh attacks on women's ungovernable passions and moderate criticisms of their weaknesses- the Renaissance attitude toward women was curiously mixed. ... Most of the playwrights definitely disavowed misogyny by restricting their attacks to certain types of bad women or by placing generalized denunciations in the mouths of unreliable characters. " page 133

      6) "In the religious writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we are also apt to find harsh antifeminism reminiscent of the Middle Ages, although it is usually tempered by a high regard for marriage. Neither secular nor religious writers in this period felt any need to moderate their criticism of women by consideration for the supposed fragility of the female sex." page 134

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IV St. Paul with a Difference: The Puritans

      1) "While the subordination of women was accepted almost universally during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the really zealous expressions of this doctrine are to be found among religious writers, especially those of Puritan sympathies. Reacting against the Roman Catholic Church and all its ways, the Puritans reverted to the patriarchy of the Old Testament, specifically as it was expounded by St. Paul. Although they extolled marriage- for they almost never followed St. Paul's sexual asceticism- they condemned the courtly lover's worship of women as disgusting effeminacy." page 135

      2) Lots of stuff about women's subordination to man because of the fall, men's complete domination (even to chastisement) of women

      3) "Numbers of sixteenth- and seventeenth- century preachers delighted in giving the Bible the most antifeminist possible interpretation, self-righteously using Biblical texts as justification for their contempt for and distrust of women. Although they did confine themselves to misogyny which could be sanctioned by the Bible, they demonstrated what virulence could be extracted from it even without the aid of early Christian asceticism. That extreme condemnations of the female sex remained morally and socially acceptable until well into the seventeenth century is shown by their appearance in sermons and in the Religio Medici." page 159

 

 

Sunshine for Women. Feb. 10, 2001. January 16, 2004. <http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/book-sum/rogers1.html >.

English IV