Elaine E. Whitaker

title.none: Trexler, ed., Gender Rhetorics

identifier.other: baj9928.9409.002 94.09.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Elaine E. Whitaker, University of Alabama at Birmingham, ARHUOO2@UABDPO.DPO.UAB.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Trexler, Richard C., ed. Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History. Series: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 113. Binghamton, NY: CEMERS, 1994.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.09.02

Trexler, Richard C., ed. Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History. Series: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 113. Binghamton, NY: CEMERS, 1994.

Reviewed by:

Elaine E. Whitaker
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Gender Rhetorics contains thirteen essays drawn from or developing a thread from the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies 1990 conference at SUNY-Binghamton. Historian Richard Trexler has selected, organized, and introduced these proceedings. Their thematic unity is excellent, considerably better than the sequence of titles below implies. The volume's unity is summaried in Trexler's introductory contention that "[s]exual communications, then, have fixed messages of domination and appeasement regardless of the sex of those who utter them" (3). Also of note is the emphasis on the possibility of gendered action irrespective of the gender of actors/actresses. My summary follows Trexler's organizational scheme.

Section A, FOUNDATIONS, establishes a context that includes primate studies, gendered generational rivalry, and gendered cultural conflict. Frans B. M. de Waal's "The Relation between Power and Sex in the Simians: Socio-Sexual Appeasement Gestures" (15-32) contextualizes the entire volume through observations concerning bonding experiences and gendered roles in primates. David N. DeVries' "Fathers and Sons: Patristic Exegesis and the Castration Complex" (33- 45) uses Alan of Lille's De planctu naturae to illustrate the unity he perceives between modern and medieval monastic cultures, due to use of "the feminine . . . as agent of disruption" (33). Devries argues that binary oppositions constructed by biblical exegetes deconstruct within De planctu naturae. In turn, this material, when imported into the Romance of the Rose, makes it a mine field. He sides with Robertsonians in their ability to deliver the Romance of the Rose to the modern reader with fidelity to the intentions of Jean de Meun; however, he notes that Alan of Lille's text is an open one. Ramon A. Gutierrez' "A Gendered History of the Conquest of America: A View from New Mexico" (47-63) is a fascinating story of cross-cultural miscommunication. According to Gutierrez, concepts "of gender and sexuality" existing in the matriarchal culture of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona were completely misinterpreted by their Spanish conquerors. In Pueblo culture, gift-giving schemes institutionalized inequality. Pueblo sexual customs required that women greet visitors physically, particularly in the case of holy people whose spirits could then intermingle with theirs. Gutierrez narrates this cross-cultural conflict memorably (I could imagine occasions for seeking permission to reprint this essay for use with undergraduates trying to gain perspectives outside their cultures of origin).

Section B, STATE FORMS AND MALE GENDERS, focuses on men's issues in Europe. "Edward Muir's "The Double Binds of Manly Revenge in Renaissance Italy" (65-82) analyzes the northern Italian cultural transition from the concept of the vendetta to conflict resolution through duelling. This was regarded as progress, since only one person was usually killed. Muir views the transition in terms of Gregory Bateson's psychological concept of "double bind theory" or the response to the pressure of choosing between uniformly undesirable, competing alternatives. Among the constructive responses in cases of insult was that of delay, which in turn permitted changes in customs (71-72). Muir's narrative of the situation of Soldoniero de Strassoldo, as it emerges from his chronicle, and Muir's outline of the solutions proposed by Mario Savorgnan in his "short treatise on family management" (76) make fascinating reading. Carlin Barton's "All Things Beseem the Victor; Paradoxes of Masculinity in Early Imperial Rome" (83-92) compares the Roman ideal of manhood with the possibilities for "soft" men in the cultures with which Rome interacted. These alternative choices in constructing masculinity were clearly indicated in dress. Linda L. Carroll's "Machiavelli's Veronese Prostitute: Venetia Figurata?" (93-106) concerns a possible metaphor for the "general ineptitude" (95) of the combattants. This is captured in a remarkably colloquial translation of Machiavelli's narrative of an experience with a prostitute, an experience that Carroll considers as an extended metaphor (97) in which the Veronese whore stands for Venice. Like Baskins (below), Carroll considers rape as the ultimate conquest and a natural vehicle for comparisons of the individual woman and the state.

Section C, WAR AND FEMALE GENDERS, focuses on women acting within established cultural constraints. Cecelia F. Klein's "Fighting with Femininity: Gender and War in Aztec Mexico" (107-46) concerns illustrations of a battle between Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco in 1473 as documentation of militarism as gendered discourse. In fact, the women in the culture were extremely passive, so much so that language invoking the feminine could be used as military insult. Instances of gender crossing are associated with defeat; while birthing and other positive women's roles are described positively using battle imagery. Klein also notes that male martial metaphors intersect with both the Enemy Woman and Good Woman topoi in Aztec visual and verbal texts. Helen Ostovich's "Teach you our princess English?" Equivocal Translation of the French in Henry V" (147-61) demonstrates that one method by which Shakespeare's Henry Vvalorizes England and vilifies France is the construction of France as feminine. Ostovich points out sexual punning, in particular the role of "learning the language" as a euphemism for sexual availability.

Section D, GENDER ASSIGNMENTS, focuses on methods for the social construction of gender. Patricia Simons' "Alert and Erect: Masculinity in Some Italian Renaissance Portraits of Fathers and Sons" (163-86) traces the relationships of power implied in these art works. Particularly noteworthy is the documentation of the use of codpieces to signify gendered power. Simons also notes that near-naked men were depicted under the lids of cassoni and that, in one instance, a wife's portrait, a "very fine and rich girdle . . . outlines a shape reminiscent of a vulva" (175). Particularly in her discussion of the more frontal rather than profile images of men appearing after 1450, Simons makes a forceful argument for the authority and sexuality of these portraits. Cristelle L. Baskins' "Corporeal Authority in the Speaking Picture: The Representation of Lucretia in Tuscan Domestic Painting" (187-206) considers depictions of Lucretia's narrative in cassone and spalliere because these chests and paintings given to newlyweds would define cultural expectations. Frequently, Lucretia's corpse functions as setting for speech, obviously not hers. Baskins argues that a "gendered rivalry [exists] between word and image" (188) in which the masculine speech implied in these images dominates the image that allegedly furnished the occasion for representation. She also draws out the implications of the analogy between the body and the state and suggests a more complex reading than previously posed.

Finally, Section E, GENDER RECONSTRUCTIONS, focuses on crossing gendered boundaries. Valerie R. Hotchkiss's "Gender Transgression and the Abandoned Wife in Medieval Literature" (207-18) premises her argument on the contention that the "medieval wife . . . without a husband . . . loses her sexual and social identity" (207). Using a broad range of materials, primarily German literary examples, Hotchkiss collects instances in which the wife rights her abandonment by disguising herself as male. The last sentence of this well-written essay is worth quoting: "Bridging gender distinctions without challenging them, the literary heroines achieve a twofold success: they prove their ability to survive and even flourish in male spheres, and, moreover, they ultimately conform to accepted models of femininity in medieval literature." (218) Jennifer Fisk Rondeau's "Prayer and Gender in the Laude of Early Italian Confraternities" (219-33) contends that the songs "sung by confraternities . . . should be read as prayers" (219). Rondeau argues that the laude "both describ[e] and prescrib[e] social behavior and spiritual attitude" (221), creating a gendered relationship of singer and song. Lisa Celovsky's "Pyrocles' Warlike Peace: Sir Philip Sidney and Androgyny" (235-44) focuses on liminality, contextualizing Sidney's unfinished work in order to explore the line between male and female behavior.

These proceedings from CEMERS at SUNY contain fresh and diverse voices. Most essays have a conversational tone— echoing their original presentation—and, thus, make for pleasant reading. When I began reading these essays and found pictures of bonding and copulating primates, I asked myself why I had requested the review copy from BMMR. Having completed Gendered Rhetorics, I see the wisdom of Richard Trexler's choices. The volume is coherent and well contextualized, so that reading it cover-to-cover makes sense. Originally, I was dismayed that I had accidentally requested a collection of essays. Ultimately, the collection accomplished the objective I had when I selected it: to get recent references concerning medieval feminist scholarship. Gendered Rhetoricsalso exceeded my expectations in that it correctly rendered the title's promise of gender (women's and men's) rather than feminist studies.

The physical, as opposed to intellectual, features of this volume deserve passing comment. For those who, like me, might have wandered into the volume expecting feminist perspectives, the book's only egregious typo—a "how" that has exploded into "hpow" on page one—creates a subversive subtext. I also got a bit confused by reading "ethologist" rather than "ethnologist" on page two. Is this someone who studies an "ethos"? On this, I plead ignorance. Layout in general makes this volume easy to separate into its component essays, since each has its own footnotes and included or appended illustrations and since no index is provided anyway. All in all, this highly interdisciplinary collection stays in the mind because it decenters the reader's expectations and provokes thought.