Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland

Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland

Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland

Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland

Excerpt

This book takes an unromantic approach to the history of early medieval Ireland. I do not seek heroines or golden ages of powerful queens, nor have I tried to describe what daily life was like for women in the distant Ireland before the Norman invasions. Instead, I confront a larger historical problem: how to reach the women of a society where men dominated formal culture and where all the written evidence about women was produced by a small group of literate men -- in the case of early Ireland, mostly by monkish men vowed to a religion that has always been ambivalent toward the female sex. The book explains what men in early Ireland thought about women, how men and women interacted, and how gender ideologies and important forms of gender relations influenced each other. In short, the book represents an attempt to sketch the gender system of a society long dead.

When I engage the early Irish texts, I feel a little like Clifford Geertz blundering into the midst of the Balinese cockfight. When the anthropologist watched the cocks tearing at each other and Balinese villagers' reactions to the fight, he was able to use the event as a meeting place of his notions about his host society and that society's own representations of itself. But Geertz could share the intuitions, jokes, and camaraderie of Balinese men. I am separated by almost impenetrable screens of time and gender from the men who composed the documents that confine early Irish women. I have attempted to understand the Irish literati's questions about their women (what are they? what should they do? what should I do with them?) while still remaining responsible to my own audience's concerns (what was the status of women in early Ireland? how were women then different from women now? what can they tell us about ourselves?). Like every good historian, I have also endeavored . . .

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