March 2019 Past Creators: Misogynists, Feminists, Racists, or Incels?
A continuing review of love’s impact on Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance art now turns to the conflicted influences of misogyny and discrimination. Rather than focusing on context -- Exodus, Black Death, Reformation, Revolution -- this month’s spotlight will shine on work and trends that infer an oppressive antagonism toward women, and yes -- even all other fellow mankind. There is no reason that this theme should ever be a part of any curriculum agenda. In fact, every attempt should be made to eradicate anti-social customs. The aim of this discussion is not to reject traditional or modern belief systems, or to suggest that mind control as a political tactic is subversive, but to demonstrate that despite centuries of socially destructive behaviors, the tragic plunge of our human condition is still spiraling beyond control.
If the gist of Genesis is that Adam and Eve’s fall through forbidden knowledge perpetuated everlasting pain on earth, then it is a pattern that needs to be broken. Eve could not resist temptation and thus, led Adam and the rest of mankind to sin. Biblical authors perpetually cast females into a predictably destructive, unsavory light. For example, if a woman bears a male child, “she shall be unclean seven days… She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days." [Leviticus 12:15]
Biblical authors also infer to the female’s inferiority to the male figuratively, and within a broader context. In society, in relation to their male counterparts, women are inept and must “keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.” [1 Corinthians 14:34-35] As to intellect, a woman is not permitted “to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” [1 Timothy 2:11-14] However, the misogynist spirit as it existed in Biblical Antiquity was not as intense as it became in the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey, c.8th century BC, is more expressive of a desire for nurturing, faithful females than it is an assertion of misogyny. Penelope embodies the ideal woman of archaic society and culture: she sits by a hearth, spinning and waiting for Odysseus to return home from the legendary Trojan War. Suited to an informal audience of listeners rather than highly educated readers, Homer’s tale praises his heroines, Helen and Penelope, for skill and physical beauty, in terms of what the trophy wives offer their male counterparts. However, the heroines who lack admirable traits are negatively stereotyped, whereas the hero is depicted as intellectually superior. Perhaps the first medieval fictional character to ever portray a deeply-rooted misogynist sentiment is Grendel’s monster-mother in Beowulf, c. 700 AD. Other female characters, such as Queen Wealhtheow, represent civility and charm. Although it has been thought that this text was produced by a female writer, Beowulf’s authorship remains anonymous.
Even as late as the middle ages, women had made precious little social progress since Biblical times. On the one hand, only dedicated, noble nuns like Hildegard von Bingen who remained distant from men were respected and loved for their empowered roles. On the other hand, extended dialogues among medieval writers and poets revealed that misogyny progressively intensified throughout the middle ages, where perspectives on females and their roles were either feminist or misogynist, but nowhere in between. One such discussion occurred between Charles VI’s court secretaries and clerks, 1401-1405. There, Christine de Pisan launched a discussion on Jean de Meun’s manuscript, Roman de la Rose, to protest against his explicit and crude misogynist sentiment. Other writers also portrayed female characters as morally corrupt, beastly, and incapable of resisting temptation.
For instance, Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” in Canterbury Tales, c. 1400, delivers a message of female loathing to his audience: Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is scheming, fickle, homely, and untrustworthy. However, it is unclear whether Chaucer himself was actually an anti-feminist, or simply wanted to raise awareness on issues surrounding the gender gap.
As for Renaissance poets, where Petrarch’s heroine, Laura, is based on courtly values, Dante’s poetry instead questions the righteousness of a war where death and loss are inevitable outcomes. As Dante expresses a longing and deep appreciation of platonic friendships in his letters, he likely views knighthood as unethical. Cellini, an ingenious Mannerist sculptor, accurately captures this complex cultural shift in his autobiography, My Life. In it, against a context of Spanish rule in Italy, Cellini physically fights to preserve the honor of Italian noblemen, yet barely considers his female companions as worthy of romantic affection. Nonetheless, despite Cellini’s ever-present misogyny, he comes across as a humanist author and artist.
Misogyny also flourished among other Italian Renaissance artists like da Vinci and Michelangelo. Their argument contended that all female painters, by use of limited techniques and bright, feminine color, lacked the necessary skill and imagination to manifest true character in portraiture and self-portraiture. Sofonisba Anguissola, Michelangelo’s young female student, took part in this intellectual debate by depicting herself as an intellectual and adopting a more masculine style of portraiture, as seen in Ponce Portrait of A Young Man, 1579.
As Shakespeare rose to fame in England, his poetry and plays pokes fun at the love sonnets of Petrarch and other poets. Essentially, Shakespeare’s female characters toy with a staunch rejection of female leadership, he emphasizes feminist ideas through satire. Of Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Cymbeline, and Othello, examples of such misogyny are the astonishing lack of respect for and oppression of heroines like Ophelia, Katherine, Princess Imogen of Britain, Bianca, and Desdemona. Shakespeare’s Othello also raises an awareness for racism through tensions between Iago, Othello the Moor, and Othello’s father-in-law, Senator Brabantio of Venice.
Throughout Renaissance Europe, for sake of religion, social wars were waged against those who dared to stand apart from collective members of society for one reason or another. Where the medieval Church once saw white magic and harmless verbal incantations as socially acceptable, extremists vociferously eradicated them in the Renaissance.
Such social discrimination in literature and drama intensified in following centuries due to an inability to reform misogynist attitudes into acceptance. The Grand Inquisition, for example, was sparked by Innocent VIII’s papal bull in 1484, which banned witchcraft. Sprenger and Kramer, who produced a dehumanizing text, The Hammer of Witches, overran the German Inquisition. That work tries to justify persecution without evidence; the Vatican rejected the measures set out in this text.
Decadent art from the 19th to 20th centuries reveals a concern for the odd, artificial, and grotesque; unconventional beauty is defined from within these themes. A most famous example of decadent art is Munch’s expressionist painting, The Scream, 1893. In addition to artistic expression, rather than peace and acceptance, misogyny, decadence, and crime is often linked to radical religious views.
In the name of religion, kidnapping, exploitation, and ritual human trafficking have become as ingrained in our culture as the witch hunting of Early Modern Europe,14501700. But the intent to inflict harm is by no means restricted to age-old faiths, and in today’s layered subcultures, the incel rebellion has risen to a crisis level. What actually began as an internet phenomenon, gradually took shape right here, in our neighborhood streets.
This pernicious movement circulated after a Texas school shooter, Elliott Rodger, highlighted his rant against female students on YouTube, thereby establishing a string of other crimes against women. In 2011, Elam, a defender of men’s rights, wrote “Stalking Sady Doyle” to discredit females who defended gender equality. In April 2018, a male driver, Minassian, took ten innocent lives and rose to instant fame because his murderous actions expressed a misogynist sentiment against women.
Consequently, society is neurotically addicted to ritual abuse and the macabre celebration of death and have led women to journal writing as a way to raise awareness on social injustice. To assist in the universal “operation clambake”, one female exposed a misogynist abuse of power in the chillingly real Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, 2013. This book shows how fanaticism can spiral beyond control and breach public safety standards. In fact, cases of severe maltreatment have surfaced in almost every other traditional Western and Eastern faith. For example, in August 2018, a grand jury decided that a Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania had withheld information about three hundred priests who had abused over one thousand children from six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.
Within a current, vast subculture, one form of modern spirituality has taken on a role of defensive protection for criminals. Santa Muerte, Lady of Holy Death, is a shapeshifting religious icon that has won the hearts of people everywhere. Santa Muerte is displayed as a female skeleton, costumed in various colorful robes, grasping globe and scythe. Although Santa Muerte grants the wishes of both good people and criminals through prayer, she is also revered for healing the ill, and for tolerance. Still, the saint embodies a dark obsession with death. Even though Santa Muerte does not discriminate between the benign and morally corrupt, she symbolizes a working class faith which likely originates from ancient Aztec society. Despite Santa Muerte’s good intentions, she apparently encourages those who are caught up in self-destruction.
Therefore, a call for peace and acceptance rather than rebellion and decadence is a logical, respectful way to inspire change everywhere, but if does not originate from within, the cycle of discontent and rebellion may never end. With respect to the vastness of misogyny and division and its past outcomes, the call to reform society should not go unnoticed. Figures and events that focus on mutual respect, acceptance, and co-operation, such as listening when other people speak, are ideal for instilling positive values in others.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu claimed, “By providing people…with interactive and stimulating opportunities to learn about and embrace moral and ethical practices, they are more likely to engage in and foster the principles of non-violence, equality, compassion and integrity in their societies.” Change can involve emphasis on history to find sublime examples of societal peace and amicableness, such as the leader Martin Luther King. On the other hand, instruction that remains focused on the study of violence, death, and division, may just keep our generation in locked in rebellion and degeneration forever.