Misogyny: The Male Malady

Misogyny: The Male Malady

Misogyny: The Male Malady

Misogyny: The Male Malady


The Trotula was the most influential compendium on women's medicine in medieval Europe. Scholarly debate has long focused on the traditional attribution of the work to the mysterious Trotula, said to have been the first female professor of medicine in eleventh- or twelfth-century Salerno, just south of Naples, then the leading center of medical learning in Europe. Yet as Monica H. Green reveals in her introduction to this first edition of the Latin text since the sixteenth century, and the first English translation of the book ever based upon a medieval form of the text, the Trotula is not a single treatise but an ensemble of three independent works, each by a different author. To varying degrees, these three works reflect the synthesis of indigenous practices of southern Italians with the new theories, practices, and medicinal substances coming out of the Arabic world.

Arguing that these texts can be understood only within the intellectual and social context that produced them, Green analyzes them against the background of historical gynecological literature as well as current knowledge about women's lives in twelfth-century southern Italy. She examines the history and composition of the three works and introduces the reader to the medical culture of medieval Salerno from which they emerged. Among her findings is that the second of the three texts, "On the Treatments for Women," does derive from the work of a Salernitan woman healer named Trota. However, the other two texts--"On the Conditions of Women" and "On Women's Cosmetics"--are probably of male authorship, a fact indicating the complex gender relations surrounding the production and use of knowledge about the female body.

Through an exhaustive study of the extant manuscripts of the Trotula, Green presents a critical edition of the so-called standardized Trotula ensemble, a composite form of the texts that was produced in the mid-thirteenth century and circulated widely in learned circles. The facing-page complete English translation makes the work accessible to a broad audience of readers interested in medieval history, women's studies, and premodern systems of medical thought and practice.


Since I am a man writing a book about man’s inhumanity toward woman, I feel I should explain my motives, if only by way of exculpation. Like most babyboom males, I consider myself a tolerant and enlightened man, and I harbor a sincere fondness for women as friends, lovers, colleagues, workmates, and, of course, paragons of physical beauty. However, I do recognize occasional negative stirrings in myself, feelings that certainly exist in most of my male friends whether they will admit to it or not: these include impatience, peevishness, a tendency to scapegoat females, atavistic impulses (usually erotic), fustrations in trying to communicate, and anger over inherent differences. Most men who are honest with themselves will admit to such uncharitable feelings, no matter how incompatible they are with an enlightened self-image. Perhaps this book is an attempt to help combat masculine obtuseness on the subject of relations with women, but I also think that its writing was part of a detour toward selfimprovement.

At an intellectual level, my curiosity about misogyny was aroused when I was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania back in the 1970s. Reading the classic ethnographic monographs for the first time, I was struck again and again by the pervasiveness and intensity of misogynist institutions: rituals of mockery directed against unoffending women, hostile folklore and jokes, domestic despotism, demonization of women in magical beliefs, terror over female witches, a truly visceral horror about female glandular secretions, menstrual phobias and taboos, and so on.

I was also struck by a paradox that made misogyny far more interesting than a simple phobia because, wherever these rituals and misogynist beliefs were the most sordid and flamboyant, one also found their exact opposite: histrionic rituals of female imitation or glorification. This dualism clearly pointed to some deeper social and psychic dynamic concerning sex and gender that got me thinking.

Underlying my curiosity was the vague memory of misogynist themes in the Western canon that I had read and admired in college, especially in the works of the ancients, Strindberg, D. H. Lawrence, Swift, Pope, the Jacobean dramatists, Restoration dramatists like Wycherley, Ezra Pound, and so many others. Some of my favorite writers—Hemingway, Cowper Powys, Keats, even . . .

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