Anachronism, Ahoy!

Question:

Why is Gawain’s rant against women, at the end of SGGK, reffered to as an ‘anti-feminist diatribe’? I doubt Gawain, or his poet, has any idea what feminism is. You can’t be anti-something that doesn’t exist yet. (Un, yes. I’d pay it as an ‘unfeminist’ diatribe, but no one ever calls men ‘unfeminist’, and it would be a moot point in the fourteenth century anyway.)

Why does ‘feminist’ in this context function as the adjective for ‘relating to women’? What is meant, I assume, is ‘misogynistic’, which is a perfectly good word on its own. Use it, people.

Oh, and Shiela Fisher: the primary right of a feudal lord is not the right to traffic in women. A feudal lord is a feudal lord based on the pact of service and protection between himself and his dependants. Feudal lords traffic in women, yes, but every man and his dog traffics in women- they did so before feudalism developed and continue to do so today. What makes a feudal lord distinct from anyone else around him is his relationship with other men. NER.

This rant is brought to you by Shiela Fisher, ‘Taken Men and Token Women’, in Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Writings ed Fisher and Halley.

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5 Responses to “Anachronism, Ahoy!”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    You tell her sister! But be careful with that `feudal’ word. A feudal lord is almost an ideal type anyway, but in particular I’d modify this:

    A feudal lord has the right to possess the products of the land and the service of his dependants.

    This depends a lot on your definitions, but I don’t think any lord has a right to all the products of the land. There are various proportions of them they can claim, but so can anyone who owns land they don’t work. The feudal lord is a landlord too, of course, but it’s the capacity to demand military service and to direct it at others that makes him distinct from, say, a parish priest, who can demand a tenth of his parishioner’s produce and lay penance upon them but isn’t a feudal lord for all that. And of course a king can demand military service too, even before feudalism, and so could lords then, including churchmen. This is why, when you push the definition of feudalism, it tends to give way (Susan Reynolds’s Fiefs and Vassals will leave you thinking there isn’t anything in it that will take weight at all). But even if you let it be centred around an agreed pact of service-and-homage-for-protection-and-patronage, it’s got to be something that a feudal lord can demand, that a town merchant with a country estate can’t, you see. So not produce.

    But again, this sounds very critical. You already have a better grasp on the so-called feudal system than a good many of my past students, and your point about false gendering is one hundred per cent right and nicely observed. I merely offer polish…

  2. highlyeccentric Says:

    dammit, you’re right again!

    Someone on my LJ was telling me the other day how feudalism didn’t really exist after all… that was rather confusing, but I suspect you might enjoy that argument.

    Thanks! Polish and nitpicking are great 😀

  3. Dr. Virago Says:

    H.E. — I wouldn’t take it out on Fisher — she’s only following a critical convention. Take a look at Alcuin Blamires very scholarly anthology Women Defamed and Women Defended and you’ll find Part I called “The Roots of the Antifeminist Tradition.” The word “antifeminist probably comes from the French phrase the “querelle de femme,” which isn’t anachronistic, I don’t think, though my knowledge of the French tradition here is sketchy (although perhaps the word should then be “antifemmist”??). At any rate, it’s like talking about Anglo-Saxon “elegies” (or for that matter, calling the female voiced one “The Wife’s Lament”) — someone came up with the term long ago and we’re stuck with it if we want readers to know we’re all talking about the same thing.

    I do tell my students this when I talk about “antifeminist” tradition — i.e., that the word means “anti-woman,” not anti-feminist-in-the-modern-sense. Jean de Meun is not Rush Limbaugh. 🙂 But sometimes we get so used to a term that we forget how it might confuse a student — I try always to be aware of those things.

  4. Dr. Virago Says:

    Clearly I have trouble closing parentheses and quotation marks. Mea culpa.

  5. highlyeccentric Says:

    *sigh* I suspected it was some kind of critical convention… it’s just such a dangerous one, coming loaded with so many biases.

    We might come to the ‘elegies’ with a few misconceptions over the genre thanks to that tag, but elegaic literature and its social manifestations is hardly a modern political hot button.

    And when we have this perfectly good word ‘misogyny’ lying around to cover the ‘anti-woman’ base, it just seems silly to keep using a term with so much potential for misconstruction.


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