On “alpha” men, sexual contagion, and poorly disguised misogyny

So, this week on Twitter, aka the place that Mufasa would have warned you that you must never go, we met a new dude. I became aware of him because he had some advice to world’s strongest man, and holder of the new world deadlift record Hafþór Björnsson, aka the Mountain, on how to stand next to his wife.

The sound you can hear is me sighing endlessly….

So, this is wild, as many important historians have noted already. His main deal seems to be that he is really concerned that men are leaning into the women they are in love with and/or married to, and thereby revealing themselves as weak and needy, and turning women off. AKA – fellas is it gay to love women?

While this is the unique selling point that this particular grifter is using to convince alienated men that he has the answer to their love life, much like pick up artists, a quick hatescroll of his TL reveals that his particular series of beliefs is linked to medieval conceptions of women and attraction.

Through the time-honoured medium of posting tits on main, (warning – tits ahead) he expresses, for example that he believes in humoral theory, like so:

I think they all look nice!

While it may not be obvious what these tits have to do with humoral theory, the answer is in the captions. My man here believes that “natural, balanced … and harmonious” are not simply subjective qualities that he has ascribed to his preferred wank bank material, but quantifiable physical attributes. Humoral theory, of course, agrees. Its concern is that there exists an ideal “balance” in the four humors (blood, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm) which when maintained is “harmonious” and allows for good health, both physical and mental. If this balance is disrupted, say by “excessive” blood, the body can become “polluted” and illness occurs. Apparently, this also has to do with this guy’s taste in women. He could be dating any of these glamour models, because he doesn’t lean into women, obviously. He is just choosing not to date the women on the right. A totally believable thing that is definitely happening.

Beyond humoral theory here, we also see the age-old distaste for women who are “fake”, preferring women to just “naturally” adhere to whatever beauty standard is in vogue at the time. This manifests itself in a number of ways in medieval culture. One is praising women who just happen to look exactly the way they should. We see this from basics like the twelfth century authors Matthew of Vendôm or Geoffrey of Vinsauf who were both writing slash fic about Helen of Troy. Before they even get to enumerating the number of ways in which Helen was a babe worth starting a war over, both men take a time out to praise the personification of Nature for bestowing all these gifts of beauty on Helen.[1] Nice work Nature.  

Medieval renderings of Priam sending Paris, the rape of Helen, the siege of Troy, British Library, Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 4v.

But what if women didn’t leave it all up to nature? What if they actually tried to live up to the beauty standard by, oh IDK, wearing makeup? Well then they had to be denounced as Jezebels, whose interest in their own beauty would quite literally lead to the apocalypse. Medieval women were aware that they were being constantly monitored to ensure that they adhered to the beauty standard, but that they weren’t supposed to be aware of it.

As a result, we see recommendations for beauty tips in texts such as the Trotula, a twelfth-century treatise on women’s health, which advises that “noblewomen should wear musk in their hair, or clove, or both, but take care that it not be seen by anyone.”[2] Yes, that’s right. You should be wearing perfume, but people better not know that you are. You are just supposed to naturally smell of cloves, OK? Get on figuring out how to be born like that, ladies, otherwise no one is ever gonna wank about you, and you’ll just have to live with that.

But just when you think my man is a run of the mill misogynist espousing quasi-eugenic ideas about natural (white) beauty, he hits you with one of medieval sexuality’s greatest hits. Witness:

Oh hell yeah, my man said “the sexuality of women is draining and damaging to men.” Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, fucking everywhere.

The thing about sex in the medieval conception was that it in and of itself could be thought of as an agent of pollution. This can be gleaned from the constant obsessing over the “purity” of virgins, who were not defiled by disgusting sex. But we don’t need to infer this from the negative. Medieval people also high-key stated the same thing. Peter Damian, an eleventh-century Benedictine monk, for example warned Bishop Cunibertus of Turin in a 1064 letter warned the women married to priests (a thing which you could do at the time) that they were “…appetisers of the devil … toxin of banqueters, matter of sin, occasion of ruin … harem if the ancient enemy … dens of unclean spirits, nymphs, sirens, witches, Dianas … through you the devil is fed on such delicate banquets, he is fattened on the exuberance of your lust …sirens and Charybdis, who while you bring forth the sweet song of deception, contrive if the ravenous sea an inescapable shipwreck … mad vipers, who because of impatience of the burning lust of your loves mutilate Christ”.[3]

Is the pollution of lust and sex the fault of the priests who married these women? Oh absolutely not. You see, in general if something is going down involving sex that someone considers dodgy, you had best believe that it is the fault of the women involved. The reasoning behind this is laid out in the medical text On the Secrets of Women, or Secreta Mulierum, which was attributed to Albertus Magnus, a thirteenth-century polymath and saint, in the late medieval period. There we learn that women are polluted by their desire for sex and are drawn to men as a result of this pollution. So woman has “a greater desire for coitus than a man, for something foul is drawn to the good.”[4]

Now the fact that women be horny would be all well and good, except that, of course, it destroys men.

Well, we’ve all been there. Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. lat. 33, f. 79v.

Your boy the Church father and saint Jerome warned his audiences about this tendency saying that “woman’s love in general is accused of being ever insatiable; put it out, it bursts into flame; give it plenty, it is again in need; it enervates a man’s mind, and engrosses all thought except for the passion which it feeds.”[5]

Women are built to chase after sex because of their cold wet natures. Men, being logical, hot, and dry on the other hand can more or less ignore it unless they become ensnared by all this polluting female sexuality.  Accordingly, “[t]he more women have sexual intercourse, the stronger they become, because they are made hot from the motion the man makes during coitus …. On the other hand, men who have sex frequently are weakened by this act because they become exceedingly dried out.”[6]

Men are left not only physically weakened by the nefarious sexual woman, but emotionally harmed as well. Men are warned that the coolness which invades them as a result of sex with women leaves them open to lovesickness. All the sexy sex that they just had will impress itself on their cold dry imagination, causing their memory to fixate on the sex even more and push them to violently obtain the object of their desire. If denied it, say because a sexually adventurous woman realises that the man she is banging is absolutely crap in the sack and that no amount of him standing up straight will fix that, they can pass into melancholy. More than just a bad breakup, we are told that melancholy can lead to wasting and even death.[7] Sad times.

So yeah the issue is sexy women here. Obviously. Your dick might be able to handle the insatiable demands of the wild and crazy slut, (That’s a reclaimed term, I can use it.) but obviously their inherently bad “energy” will deplete you while they do it. And that is why homeboy here is not having sex with sexually experienced women. Yeah … that’s it. He just doesn’t want to. Uh huh.

I know that the fact that misogynistic men can’t get laid and are creating elaborate systems to justify that is probably not breaking news to you. I mean if you have ever read this blog it becomes very clear very quickly that I never shut up about it. I am actually self aware. The reason why I go on about it is not just because I find it extremely funny to mock these men, which I obviously do, but because it is important to understand that these attempts to systematise prejudice are nonsense. Creating a framework of belief doesn’t mean that something is real, no matter how much you believe in it. It wasn’t true when the Romans believed that over sexed women could drain men’s precious semen and leave them illogical and unable to participate in public life;[8] it wasn’t true when medieval people warned that sexual women would enervate men’s minds; and it certainly isn’t true now when this dollar store ass pick up artist is out here telling the strongest man in the world that his wife will find him weak. This is not a science, it is a way of defending the beliefs to which a bunch of misogynists, and our society as a whole, have already arrived.

More to the point, this stuff is laughable because it fails on its own terms. If masculinity is so incredibly mighty, so intensely strong and holds women in its thrall, how does it shatter the minute an extremely jacked 6’9” man puts his arm around his much shorter wife? How can it be defeated by women being sexually experienced? How is it destroyed because a woman tried to make herself look the way you just said you wanted her to, just now? If you are saying you have a system of knowledge at least make it consistent for the love of Christ. I thought you were meant to be the logical gender.

[1] Matthew of Vendôm, Ars Versificatoria, ed. Edmond Faral, Les ars poétiques du XIF et XIIf siècle. Recherces et documents sur le technique littéraire du moyen âge (Paris: Campion, 1923), pp. 129-30; Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetry Nova, in Ibid., pp. 214-215.
[2] Quoted in Martha A. Brozyna (ed.), Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages: A Medieval Source Documents Reader, (Jefferson NC and London: McFarland & Co Inc., 2005), p. 162.
[3] Quoted in, Ruth Mazzo Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others, 3rd edn. (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 54-55. The insults are so much longer than what I have included here. Dude fucking haaaated women doing what they were legally allowed to do.
[4] Helen Rodnite Lemay, Womens’s Secrets (Albany, SUNY Press, 1992), p. 51.
[5] Jerome, “Against Jovinian,” 367 in A Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (New York: n.p. 1893).
[6] Helen Rodnite Lemay, Women’s Secrets: A Translation of Psuedo-Albertus Magnus’ De Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), p. 127.
[7] Mary Francis Whack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The “Viaticum” and its Commentaries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).
[8] Aline Rouselle, Porneia: On Desire and the Body in Antiquity (Oxford: Basil and Blackwell, 1988), pp. 18-20.

If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my patreon. If not, that is chill too!

For more on medieval sex, see:
On sex with demons
The Medieval Sex Apocalypse on Drinking with Historians
Doing it Right – A Short Introduction to Medieval Sex for Nerd Nite
Talking sex in the medieval times on Holly Randall Unfiltered
On the plague, sex, and rebellion
No beastiality was never OK, you absolute rabid weirdo
On courtly love and pickup artists
That’s not what sodomy is, but OK
On sexualising the “other”
On Jezebel, makeup, and other apocalyptic signs
On Sex, Logic, and Being the Subject
The Medieval Podcast – Medieval Sexuality with Eleanor Janega
On the Objectification of Sex
On “the way of carnal lust”, Joan of Leeds, and the difficulty of clerical celibacy
On Dildos and Penance
On No Nut November
On cuckolding – a thing
On sex work and the concept of ‘rescue’
The history of penis in vagina as default sex at Bish!
Sex and the (medieval) city: social hygiene and sex in the medieval urban landscape
On women and desire
These hoes ain’t loyal – on prostitutes and bad bitches in medieval and hip hop culture

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, George Michael evangelist.

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