Images of Masculinity in the Middle Ages.

by Dawn Hadley.

To be published by Longman, Summer 1998.

Previewed by Jan Fuller.

This volume originated as a conference held in April 1996 by the Institute of Historical Research in London entitled 'Images of Masculinity in the Middle Ages'. In her introduction, Hadley outlines conclusions from some of the more recent research in gender studies -- gender varies and is socially constructed; there are a series of masculinities and femininities; the focus on women has added them to the archaeological picture, but has not been about gender -- and identifies where these have fallen down. Gender studies need to move beyond women to the gendered identities of men. This, she acknowledges, may cause scepticism, since there is the danger that looking specifically at masculinities may be labelled as, amongst other things, anti-feminist. The papers in this volume cover the period from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries, and show masculinities from a number of different view points -- legal, political, ecclesiastical, social, literary and archaeological. In this way, this volume aims to introduce an area of gender not yet studied. The papers are split into three sections, although some of the themes in the sections overlap, binding the volume together as a whole.

The first section looks at how masculinity was attained. The papers show that within a given society, the dominant masculinities underpinned and were constantly challenged by subordinate masculinites. Many authors in the Middle Ages drew on Biblical and Classical works to uphold their arguments of dominance and subordination. Often, forms of masculinity perceived as inferior were characterised as feminine. Hadley and Moore re-examine the relationship between males of all ages as reflected in burial rites, a moment when gender was reaffirmed, and grave goods, whose symbolic meaning can be seen as changing. William Arid shows that part of the authority of William the Conqueror depended on his ability to control the behaviour of Robert Curthose, his eldest son. Discussion on the relationship between maters and their apprentices is given by Jeremy Goldberg, who shows it to be fraught with tension and the potential for conflict. Matthew Bennett looks at the notions of military or knightly masculinity and how they were inculcated through communal living, hunting, eating and sleeping. In the Byzantine Empire, stereotypical imagery was used to ensure the subordination of eunuchs. Shaun Tougher details this imagery, exposes the reality behind it and demonstrates how important the perpetuation of these myths was to maintaining elite dominance.

The second section discusses the tension between lay men and Church men. Principal differences in the notions of acceptable masculine behaviour are highlighted here. The papers show that there were a series of individuals who experienced varying notions of masculinity. Conrad Leyser looks at the rise of ascetic masculinity in terms of the competitive culture of public power, which subsumed the divisions between ecclesiastic and lay estates. Janet Nelson identifies that aristocratic males, who were offered divergent careers, suffered anxieties from these choices and endured physical symptoms as a result. Ross Balzaretti examines the expectation, in the writing of Liutprand, that adult males should be setting an example to the young. The idea of a contemporary perception of two rigid genders is discussed by Robert Swanson. It would seem that the imposition of celibacy and the restriction of marriage on the clergy entailed a new gender identity, a third gender, that was doomed to failure. Patricia Cullum shows that one of the causes of tension, the problem of masculine status, led to a lack of social adulthood.

The third section looks at how masculinity was portrayed in the written word. Mark Chinca shows that the context of medieval literature introduces a different perspective on the tales of aristocratic lovers, on what they say and how they might be understood. Marianne Ailes paper is an important corrective to recent studies which have interpreted the homosocial scenes of medieval life as homosexual. Lastly, Julian Haseldine examines the letters which underpin masculinites through an analysis of the friendships that they were maintaining.

To say that this book doesn't go far enough would be an unfair criticism since it is intended only to be an introduction to the subject. The papers are well researched, well argued and well written. Even though they present a small area of study, they answer all the questions which arise in the text and do not leave the reader with many other questions. The authors themselves identify areas of future research.

This volume challenges previous theories regarding the many aspects of masculinity in such a way as to be informative and enjoyable. Those concerned that, in concentrating on masculinity, femininity is forgotten, should remember that by identifying and defining perceived masculinity we are also identifying and defining femininity, and vice versa. More importantly, people who lived in the Middle Ages are just that: people. They had preconceived stereotypical ideas about gender but, like today, they probably didn't all fit into them. Every scholar, both those interested specifically in the Medieval period and those whose views may potentially be narrow-minded or overly rigid, should read this book. To quote Malcolm S. Forbes: "Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one." Hopefully Images of Masculinity in the Middle Ages will go some way to achieving a more open-minded interpretation of this period.

Jan Fuller is studying at Sheffield for an MA in Archaeology and Prehistory. Her areas of academic interest include Medieval Britain and geophysics.

© Jan Fuller 1997

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