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ABC's Everybody Loves Raymond_ a popular sitcom based on the stand Powered By Docstoc
					Margaret E. Loebe

June 8, 2005

Summer Honors Research Paper 1

                                    “Jeez! Can‟t you take a joke?”:

                          Misogyny and Jean de Meun‟s Roman de la Rose

        ABC‟s Everybody Loves Raymond, a popular sitcom based on the stand-up comedy of

Raymond Romano, presents a man who lives with his wife and two kids near to his parents and

brother. Much of the comedy is based on disagreements between mother and son, husband and

wife. Ray‟s mother is often the butt of the family‟s jokes, both those of her sons and those of her

husband. She is a type, the quarrelsome wife, the interfering mother. The comedy in Ray‟s

relationship with his own wife is based on contention as well. While Deborah is often the voice

of reason, Ray frequently paints her with the same brush with which he paint s his mother: she is

irrational and difficult. Despite the husband‟s characterization of his wife, Deborah is portrayed

positively: intelligent, confident and rational, ultimately making Ray the butt of his own jokes for

seeing his wife in a conventionally misogynistic, yet clearly erroneous, light. While Ray‟s view

of his wife can be seen as satirical and thus non-offending, it nonetheless relies on the typical

misogynistic stereotypes which are in fact millennia old and pervade Western intellectual and

popular thought and writings.



Defining and Tracing Misogyny

        Indeed, misogyny, as R. Howard Bloch, wrote in his essay, “Medieval Misogyny,” is a

“cultural constant” that he defines as a “ritual denunciation of women.” 1 To delineate the use of


1
 Howard R. Bloch, “Medieval M isogyny,” Representations 20, Special Issue: Misogyny, Misandry and
Misanthropy (Autumn 1987), 1.


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the word as a verbal device rather than to refer to an action, he noted, now famously, that

misogyny is “a speech act such that the subject of the sentence is woman and the predicate is a

more general term.”2 While the nearly total disenfranchisement of women in society should not

be ignored, the term misogyny only applies to the literary topoi rather than institutionalized

discrimination. 3 Misogyny, which he refers to as a “citational mode” of long-standing, distances

the act of misogyny from the author. 4 C‟est-à-dire, it prevents the author from actively affirming

the views he states are his own, the mindset being “If the Old Testament or the Philosopher said

such a thing, how could it be wrong, and how could I be wro ng in repeating it?”

        While the justification of woman‟s subjugation with her inferiority may very well be

antifeminist, Katherine Rogers, in her comprehensive “Troublesome Helpmate”: A History of

Misogyny in Literature, points out that it is not necessarily an act of misogyny since conventional

wisdom established this belief as fact until modernity. Thus the measure of misogyny is rather

the insistence “on this view to an extent unusually harsh for his period, as Milton and Lawrence

did, he is surely revealing misogyny.”5 Indeed, according to Rogers, in order to categorize

misogyny in a work or body of works, one must look for a one-sided view. If there are both

positive and negative portrayals of women of equal strength, then the work is not misogynistic.

Rogers also points out that the portrayal of a negative female type, one who represents Woman,

is misogynistic, while a female character who is an individual and happens to display negative

character traits is not. 6




2
  Ibid. 22 n. 15.
3
  Ibid. 8-9.
4
  Ibid. 6.
5
  Katharine Rogers, The Troublesome Helpmate : A History of Misogyny in Literature, Seattle: U of Washington P,
1966, xiii.
6
  Rogers xiv.


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           A topos that remains constant in misogyny is a distrust of marriage. Despite the fact that

misogamy and misogyny are not the same, they often appear together and represent the same

sentiments. In addition, anti- marriage sentiment is deeply antifeminist; it applies to all women

on behalf of all men, thus “no position of innocence is possible.”7 One related topos which is oft

repeated is that of the horse-trader—buying a horse is different from choosing a bride because

one can never tell how a woman will act once she has married and is no longer looking to please.

Thus a common stereotype is of bride who is thought of as a docile girl may become a harridan

(often like her mother) after her wedding.

           A related topos that Christianity brought to Western culture is a rejection of the body and

a deep-seated mistrust of sexuality, which finds expression in misogyny. According to Rogers,

“abhorrence of sex leads to abhorrence of the sexual object, while guilt feelings regarding desire

are conveniently projected as female lust and seductiveness.” 8 In Christianity, both sexes are

encouraged to remain celibate as a spiritual practice. Celibacy was often encountered with

difficulty, and men tended to blame women for their struggle rather than to place the blame in

their own human natures.



Roman de la Rose

           These various topoi are found in the portion of the thirteenth-century poem Roman de la

Rose that was written by Jean de Meun. There are two parts to the poem, that of Guillaume de

Lorris, who wrote the first 4,000 lines c. 1235, and that of Jean de Meun, who finished his

potion, lines 4029-21,750, between 1275 and 1280. The portion of Guillaume de Lorris is an

allegory of courtly love that is modeled after Ovid‟s Ars Amoris. The portion of Jean de Meun


7
    Bloch 3.
8
    Rogers 8. See also Bloch 14-15.


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employs social satire in order to refute the previous portion and the courtly love model itself.

The two poets‟ treatment of the ending demonstrates this difference. While, according to

Maxwell Luria in his Guide to the Roman de la Rose, Guillaume de Lorris would likely have

ended the poem with Lover pining over his unrequited love for the unobtainable Rose, Jean de

Meun assures that he gets the girl, in spite of (or perhaps more accurately, spiting) the mores o f

the courtly love tradition at which he continually thumbs his nose. 9

        Jean de Meun‟s portion was considered a summa, 10 or a “large [compilation] of

established opinion on a particular subject,”11 of love and its surrounding subjects by early

French humanists. Modern critics frequently concur upon its importance. To CS Lewis, it was

“the most important literary phenomenon of the later Middle Ages,” which “ranks second to non

except the Bible and the Consolation of Philosophy.” 12

        Maxwell Luria celebrates the union of these two features by identifying the poem as an

“„encyclopedic satire,‟ in Northrop Frye‟s convenient phrase, a vast festival of ideas, abrasive

wit, and consistently corrosive and unblinking reportage about women and men, sex, love,

religion and human behavior generally.” 13 In addition, the subject of love was particularly

important to the medieval thinker: Augustine of Hippo identified it was the most important part

of Christian doctrine and all or almost all medieval philosophers treated it. 14

        Both its satirical qualities as well as its importance make it difficult to characterize the

misogyny in the Roman de la Rose, both for its near contemporaries and for modern literary

historians.

9
  Maxwell Luria, A Reader’s Guide to the Ro man de la Rose, Hamden, Connecticut: Shoe String P, 1982, 49.
10
   Charity Cannon Willard, Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works, New Yo rk: Persea Press, 1984 77. See also
Sylvia Huot, “Medieval Readers of the Roman de la Rose: the Ev idence of Marginal Notations,” Romance Philology
43 (1990): 400-420.
11
   Joesph R. Strayer, ed., Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol.11, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, 57.
12
   Qtd. Luria 4.
13
   Ibid. 10-11.
14
   Ibid. 48.


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           There are several examples of antifeminist remarks in the Roman. Old Woman imprisons

Fair Welcome and catalogues abuses to men from the female perspective, implying that, in fact,

women consciously perpetrate the evils of which they are accused to men. Friend tries to

encourage Lover on his quest, though he does so by listing woman‟s negative qualities, including

lust (which he seems to concede is not necessarily a negative quality to the pursuer).              He

describes Jealous Husband, who says negative things to and about his wife‟s fidelity and

comportment.



           This thus raises the difficult question of authorial voice: should one read the antifeminist

comments as necessarily misogynistic? Does the author espouse the views that he is presenting

or is he simply using them for character development and presentation of material? Is this an

important consideration even or is the very existence of these views in a work an act of

misogyny? Even if modern critics and historians were inclined to answer this question in one

manner, would the late medieval commentator have answered it likewise?



Satire and Authority vs. Misogyny

           Rogers analyzes authorial voice using Freud‟s theory of faulty action (colloquially, the

Freudian slip): “just as obscene wit is a substitute for overt sexual activity, hostile wit is a

substitute for direct physical or verbal expressions of hostility.”15 Indeed, labeling satire of

women as misogyny includes both direct tirades as well as indirect misogynistic speeches by

characters. Displays of hostile wit (that is, satire) are displays of hostility. Thus satire about

women should be regarded as misogyny, whether it is meant to seem playful or not, subtle or not,

utile or not.

15
     Rogers xii.


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         Maxwell Luria, who a literary critic who disparages Christine‟s arguments against the

misogyny in the Rose, 16 does not see the antifeminist comments in the Roman as misogyny. He

criticizes not only the validity of Christine‟s arguments, but suggests that she does not have the

“critical tact” to appreciate the comments regarding women correctly. 17 Indeed, regarding the

discourse of the Old Woman, he notes that “Christine was sorely tried by such passages, though

her annoyance may have come at least partly from her lack of comprehension of Jean‟s literary

strategies.” 18 Not only does he insult her intelligence, but he also diminishes the validity of her

arguments. He describes her feelings as annoyed, a petty sense of displeasure, and resentful, a

stereotypically womanly emotion. 19

         Luria‟s derision does in fact raise the more salient question of authority, Howard Bloch

discusses. 20 The history of misogyny in Western literature (which Rogers covers thoughly in her

book) is all encompassing. One finds it in Greco-Roman texts, as well as in the Judeo-Christian

tradition: the Bible (which later becomes a source of misogyny for) the Church Fathers, and

finally in medieval works by well- respected philosophers. It is in fact inescapable in the literary

culture of the Middle Ages, where citing authority was a common method of positing an

argument. Block quotes the Roman as a demonstration of its ubiquity. Jean de Meun refers to

Theophrastus‟s Aureole (ll. 8561-70), which was a misogynistic and misogamistic work that was

quoted by Jerome (4th century), John of Salisbury (12th century) and Chaucer (14th century).

Thus it is easy for Jean de Meun to continue that it was not him who was misogynistic but

Theophrastus. Misogyny is a literary mode that he would have learned along with his ABCs.

16
   Lu ria 45. He characterizes her as shrewish, overcrit ical, even out of touch with the times. Indeed he places his
criticis m in the middle of a list of lauds, making her seem even more unreasonable.
17
   Lu ria 53. However, it seems then that he would take them at face value, odd for one who studies a work that is
entirely allegorical.
18
   Ibid. 54. He notes somewhat defensively that Chaucer employed a similar literary tool in “his triu mphant
creation” of the wife of Bath, ignoring that Chaucer’s purposes are in dispute as well.
19
   Ibid. 63.
20
   Bloch 2.


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This explains why refuting such a work was so difficult: to refute the knowledge collected in the

Roman is also to dispute 3,000 years of written history.



       Both the questions of satire and of authority make the question of misogyny in the Roman

de la Rose difficult to answer. Satire is made subjective by humor, and the authority of citation

makes it difficult to criticize one work in a topic where citation is commonly used.        Luria

presents no definition of misogyny and seems to take for granted that Jean de Meun had

overriding literary motives when portraying women in a negative light. However, Bloch and

Rogers in their studies of misogyny include it as a misogynistic work. While it was indeed a

literary topos, the antifeminist comments are too gratuitous for Jean de Meun to have just been

using it as a literary device. Its power as a summa means that it could only continue the cycle of

misogyny in Western literature.




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                                         WORKS CITED

Bloch, Howard R. “Medieval Misogyny.” Representations 20, Special Issue: Misogyny,

       Misandry and Misanthropy (Autumn 1987), 1-24.

Luria, Maxwell. A Reader’s Guide to the Roman de la Rose. Hamden, Connecticut: Shoe String

       P, 1982.

Rogers, Katharine. The Troublesome Helpmate : A History of Misogyny in Literature. Seattle: U

       of Washington P, 1966.

Strayer, Joesph R., ed.. Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol.11. New York: Charles Scribner’s

       Sons, 1988.

Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Press,

       1984.




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