The Uses and Misuses of Misogyny

A Critical Historiography of the Language of Medieval Women's Oppression

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Paula M. Rieder
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This article examines the development of language used to describe the oppression of medieval women—particularly the terms patriarchy and misogyny—and its connection with the women's movement of the late twentieth century. It argues that the broad application of the word misogyny by medieval historians to describe a wide spectrum of anti-feminine attitudes and the tendency to understand misogyny and patriarchy as coterminous are inaccurate and problematic. The article supports this position first with an analysis of medieval clerical texts that use the common medieval linkage of women with sex and pollution. The analysis suggests that the usage of this negative linkage is not always misogynistic. The article then analyzes three medieval sermon collections intended for preaching to lay audiences and suggests that the sermons, though androcentric or paternalistic and so in some sense patriarchal, are not misogynistic.

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