On power and entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women, or, the thing that IS actually medieval about Trump

Elsewhere, we have discussed why it is that the use of the word ‘medieval’ as a pejorative is, in general, quite lazy and a convenient way of distancing ourselves from the terrible things which take place in our own time.

Having said that, the medieval world still very much influences many of our political institutions, and our mind-sets.  If we consider, for example, that the Church and a universal concept of the West as the home of Christendom to be the overriding hallmarks of the medieval period, it helps us understand why for many people, theoretical Christian values are seen as an inherent part of being Western.

Bearing this in mind, we can say that Trump, inadvertently or not, has indeed hit upon something that we can certainly say has medieval roots – his assumption of power over women’s bodies due to his status.

We’ve discussed courtly love on several occasions on this blog before, and in particular we’ve discussed one Andreas Capellanus.  His major work, De Amore, was written in the same sort of style as Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, and is a series of instructions about love addressed to a young man at court. It functions, essentially, as a framework within which chivalric romance was to take place. Amongst other things, Capellanus, explains how it is that love responds to absence, how love is to be attained, and how love is to be conducted.

At court, Capellanus advocates that lovers conduct their affairs cerebrally, for to consummate love at court would mean damaging the reputation of the women involved.  Best then to write letters and share moody glances, for ‘neither a previously undefiled maiden, nor a widow, or married woman can experience any injury from such love…’. In a world where marriage is about property exchange, and in which sexual liaisons were considered, literally, damning, Capellanus advocated for restraint in love towards nobel ladies.

Capellanus also advocated that young courtiers rape women of lower status.

More specifically, Capellanus felt that young courtiers should ‘praise [peasant women] lavishly’, if they found the girls attractive, and encouraged them to ‘not delay in taking what you seek, gaining it by rough embraces.  You will find it hard so to soften their outwardly brusque attitude as to make them quietly agree to grant you embraces, or permit you to have the consolations you seek, unless the remedy of at least some compulsion is first applied to take advantage of their modesty.

In other words, ‘I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss.  I don’t even wait.  And when you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.  Grab them by the pussy.  You can do anything.

This dichotomy – that one must respect ladies of the court, but can take literal possession of the bodies of lower class women – is played out in Trump’s own treatment of women.  He is able to refer to himself as ‘a gentleman’, whilst simultaneously advocating for sexual assault because he sexually assaults women who he considers to be his social inferiors: women who are at work and can’t complain when an old guy with a mouth full of Tic Tacs shoves his tongue down their throats; women who are not famous; thirteen year old girls with no social connections. They do not need to be deferred to because they are not in the same social circle as Trump.  He need not ‘delay in taking what [he] seeks.’

This is, of course, fucking horrifying.  It’s also deeply ingrained enough in Western Culture that Trump’s supporters (who he still fucking HAS somehow), are here to tell you  “… this is what guys talk about when [women are] not around. So if you’re offended by it, grow up. And by the way, this is what you guys [women] talk about over white wine when you have your brunches, so take it easy with your phony outrage. This is the way the world works. It’s not a big thing.’

This is, indeed, the way the world works, and has been working since Capellanus committed ink to parchment.  It is called rape culture, and it is seriously medieval.  Not that we’re doing any better.

For more on women in the medieval period see:
Such a nasty woman – on Eleanor of Aquitaine, femininity, reputation, and power
Islam was the party religion, or, why it is lazy and essentialist to say that Islam oppresses women
On Hotline Bling and courtly love
Let’s talk about Game of Thrones part 2: on marriage and Sansa

For more on politics and the medieval period see:
History is a discipline, not a virtue
Keep the word ‘Judeo’ out of your racist mouth Nigel Farage
On chronicles versus journalism and ruling versus governing
On the medieval separation of Church and state
On the American election, teaching history, and why it matters
Such a nasty woman – on Eleanor of Aquitaine, femininity, reputation, and power
Islam was the party religion, or, why it is lazy and existentialist to say that Islam oppresses women
The medieval case for remain, or, fuck Brexit

(This was originally posted 11 October 2016 here.)

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, Kendrick Lamar enthusiast.

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