Gender, Sexism, and the Middle Ages

In October of 2018, The Public Medievalist launched its second special series: Gender, Sexism, and the Middle Ages. If the past few years has illustrated nothing else, it has shown in stark terms how rampant sexism is in societies across the world. When it comes to gender, the popular imagination of the Middle Ages is a toxic fairy tale. Men and women had clear, unchanging gender roles, and there was no room for flexibility or queerness within that binary. Thankfully, none of this is true. The actual Middles Ages were little like modern preconceptions of them. And more, the people who use the Middle Ages to support retrograde misogynistic or transphobic agendas are badly mistaken.

The series is currently ongoing.

The goal of this series is the same as the overarching goal of The Public Medievalist: present cutting-edge scholarship that explores these issues with depth, nuance, and complexity, and do it in as accessible a manner as possible. We hope that you find these essays thought-provoking, enjoyable, and useful.

Gender, Sexism, and the Middle Ages: No More Fairy Tales

by Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant

Introducing The Public Medievalist’s new series on Gender, Sexism, and the Middle Ages. A profoundly sexist view of the Middle Ages has gone uncorrected for too long. Let’s tell some new stories.

A Medieval #MeToo

by Lucia Akard

Medieval women also experienced sexual assault. They too spoke up and spoke out against it, and were often not believed. How “medieval” are we still?

My Fair Lady? How We Think About Medieval Women

by Yvonne Seale

When we think of medieval women, one word stands out above the rest: “lady.” But what did it mean to be a lady? What does it now? And what should it mean?

Were there Transgender People in the Middle Ages?

by Gabrielle Bychowski

If transgender people have a long history, then that means that being transgender is not a “post-modern lifestyle,” but simply a part of the human condition.

Silencing Medieval Women’s Voices—Nevertheless, She Persisted

by Vanessa Corcoran

Even the holiest of medieval women was not known for being placid or passive. She was known for punching the devil right in his evil face.

Just the Good Wife? Death and Legacy of Noblewomen in the Middle Ages

by Mariah Luther Cooper

Many medieval women were not just “the good wife” or “the good mother”, but also had real power. But their power was often erased after they died.

The Notorious Garsenda of Provence

by Jennifer Speed

Garsenda of Provence was a powerful noble, a shrewd politician, and an all-around boss. So of course, some dude called her fat.

The Virgin Mary in Medieval Islam

by Kathleen Crowther

Did you know that Mary is revered in Islam as well as in Christianity? And more, the status of Mary offers a window into something you might expect: that women being respected religious scholars has a long tradition in Islam.

A Transgender Fairy Tale

by Paul B. Sturtevant

Fairy tales are not known for being progressive. But one from 1901 is remarkably gender-affirming, featuring a trans man as a chivalric hero.

“Viking Tough”: How Ads Sell Us Medieval Manhood

by Megan Arnott

Ads sell us an image of ourselves. So what are they selling to men when that image is medieval?

What “Knight Fight” Gets Dead Wrong about Medieval Men

by Ken Mondschein

Knight Fight is a new reality show on HISTORY, where men compete by beating each other over the head with pseudo-medieval weapons. What could be wrong with that?

Werewolves as a Metaphor for Domestic Abusers

by Kisha Tracy

We all know werewolves as legendary figures that periodically fly into an unstoppable rage. What you may not know is that in the Middle Ages this was often a metaphor for domestic violence.

Queer Asgard Folk

by Linnea Hartsuyker

Pop-culture vikings are typically butch masculine stereotypes. The real vikings were often anything but.

Literary Women in the Middle Ages: An Interview with Diane Watt

by Megan Cavell

Medieval women were not illiterate princesses in towers. They read and wrote, and some became literary giants in their time.

How Medieval are the Eunuchs in Game of Thrones?

by Jes Battis

Castration is a spectre that looms large in Game of Thrones. But how common were eunuchs in the actual Middle Ages? Does Game of Thrones exaggerate their importance to medieval culture, or simply reveal how central they were?

How One Medieval Nun Reformed a Devil’s Nest

by Diana Denissen

Alijt Bake was a young, passionate, brilliant reformer. So, naturally, she was opposed by the older generation. See how a medieval nun took her critics head on.

How Museums Hide Women’s and Queer Histories in Plain Sight

by Kit Heyam

When you walk through a museum, what aren’t you seeing? Kit Heyam explores the hidden histories of women and queer people just below the surface of the V&A.

The Soft Power of Tough Medieval Women

by Marta Cobb

Well-behaved medieval women seldom made history. While medieval women were officially barred from positions of power in the Church, several found ways to make their voices heard nevertheless.

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