In Defense of those Nasty, Medieval, Misogynists

(Yes – the following is an actual essay question I had to answer for a test in my British Literature class.  Imagine the face of my teacher as she read this.  She gave me an A and wrote, “Nicely Done” on the paper, but I can just imagine what she really thought of it.  Enjoy.)

“Is the Wife of Bath meant to contradict the misogynist ideas of her time, or to uphold them?  Use the text to back up your argument.”

This is one of those complex question fallacies, ie: “have you stopped beating your wife?”  It presupposes the immoral nature of the medieval society in which Chaucer was writing. 

Worse, the sin-term “misogynist” is highly ambiguous, especially as applied by the editor of our text-book (a Harvard professor armed with radically feminist ideals and an axe to grind).

Despite our friendly editor’s attempt to indoctrinate unsuspecting rural college kids, the honorable nature of Chaucer’s time-period shines through his loveable and memorable characters, especially the Wife of Bath who, far from being an avant-garde neo-feminist (parroting the views of left-wing Harvard professors), is right at home in her social class and revels in the dignities afforded her station.

I say “honorable nature” when describing Chaucer’s time, but how can this be?  Space doesn’t afford an adequate response, nevertheless, history records (through the pen of Cicero) the respect and honor given to ladies in the barbarous lands (the Celts).  This almost mythical status of women in early European tribes is reflected in Beowulf, as well as other early literature.  The martial culture of these honorable folk, including their treatment of women, matured with the onset of chivalry and the rules of courtly love.  True, the society wasn’t radically egalitarian, but each class had an inherent dignity and, unlike today’s “enlightened” world, (where 80-year-old grandmothers are brutally tazed by police, and young mothers are humiliated by unwarranted strip searches, not to mention countless other indignities faced by our ladies on a daily basis), the honorable status of women was seldom breached.

Thus, the Wife of Bath was comfortable asserting her rights as a widow, and comfortable in her station as wife.  She was, no doubt, a peculiarity, nevertheless, her accounting of her exploits supports the social hierarchy of the day; it certainly doesn’t diminish it.

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8 Responses to In Defense of those Nasty, Medieval, Misogynists

  1. Lazarus North says:

    Nice.

  2. Alan J. Perrick says:

    Indeed nicely done, “Shotgun” my friend.

    I can see how a Kinist coukd potentially set the academeic world on fire…

    Best regards,

    A.J.P.

  3. J.B Howitt says:

    This must be a standard question, as I had to answer something quite similar for an EngLit module at my British university. I responded much in the same way: misogyny would have been a meaningless concept for Chaucer.

    There’s a similar sort of bent when discussing The Reeve’s Tale. I remember shocking people in my class when I said that Malyne and Simkin’s wife had not been raped as they didn’t cry out or protest. It’s also nonsense to see them as moral agents or actors: their `rape` is a punishment on Simkin for attempting to con the college out of the proper amount of corn.

    Chaucer’s tales are stories, not sociological codices. You can get a good reflection of late-fourteenth century England, but they can be taken far too seriously by writers with an ideological axe to grind. I have a good memory of someone genuinely discussing whether or not John’s humiliation in The Miller’s Tale was an indictment of the institution of marriage! It’s just bawdy, quite funny humour, but the left can’t resist looking at everything through their twisted prism.

  4. Carte says:

    When I took classes at U of Phoenix a few years back, I opposed in writing, everything that the classes sought to teach. But the professors were very gracious and always gave me A’s. I was very surprised. I am glad that things went well with you.

  5. rogerunited says:

    Hey, Shotgun,
    I came across the Distributist Review following a link from a site in your links and read some interesting stuff there. This one in particular jumped out at me and I thought your opinion would interesting to hear.

    http://distributistreview.com/mag/2012/08/the-logic-of-christendom/

    • shotgunwildatheart says:

      I like the way the article clearly contrasts the political mindset in which we’re all seeped today, with the old Christian order – though, as with all things at the Distributist Review, I would quibble with their overly-Romanized perspective.

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