Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages

Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages

Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages

Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

This volume demonstrates how the idea of gender, in the Middle Ages no less than now, intersected in subtle and complex ways with other categories of difference. The contributors reveal shifting paradigms which had a profound effect on medieval identities.

Excerpt

The essays in this volume take seriously the variety of recent theoretical stances that have compelled feminists to consider not only the fluidity and multiplicity of gendered identities but also the ways in which gendered constructs interact with other categories of difference. Most salient to our project are the insights of multiracial and postcolonial feminists, who have pointed out that genders are constructed in historically specific and changing ways within a range of interlocking inequalities—a “matrix of domination, ” as Patricia Hills Collins has called it. In the twentiethcentury United States, prominent components of that matrix include class, race, sexual orientation, and gender. Postcolonial feminists remind us, moreover, that matrices of domination function differently in different contexts: in order to understand the contingency of our own culture's matrix of domination and the gendered constructs that emerge within that matrix, we must look beyond the borders of our own society; in order to understand the implications of colonialisms, both premodern and modern, we must look at the multiply mixed identities that emerge in colonial contexts and on the borderlands between societies.

Looking at medieval societies provides us with one opportunity for crossing borders, and, indeed, a number of medievalists have paved the way for this project. Since the early 1980s, Caroline Walker Bynum has brilliantly highlighted the permeable and elastic nature of gender categories in western medieval Christian culture and the multiple positions that men and women could assume within the dominant constructs. Thus, for instance, the salvific, embodied God-man—Jesus—was often imagined in a feminized form, and male clerics often imagined themselves as brides to his bridegroom or as mothers to their own flocks. Moreover, the concepts of incarnation, bodily resurrection, and transubstantiation placed the holy, salvific, and often feminized body at the center of medieval Christian theology, thus subverting apparent binaries that might seem to devalue bodiliness and the feminine. . .

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