We have seen misogyny portrayed in films, novels, television shows, music, and other forms of pop culture throughout the entirety of the 21st century, shaping young minds into an understanding of the female as less than men. What is the ongoing force that drives men to physically, sexually, and politically dominate women? The answers can be found in the heart of a period where thinking was based off of ignorant, uninformed, and archaic views on women- the Middle Ages. The misogynistic ideals engrained in society today stem from the misogyny of the Middle Ages, proving that sexism is indeed a medieval and unjust perception of women.
The misogynistic way of thought running rampant in pop culture, especially within the mainstream music industry, is that women are objects to be controlled by men. Although successful women throughout our country’s history have been seen as sex icons, like Marilyn Monroe for example, the active propagation of this viewpoint in the modern era does nothing more than subject women to sexism; it pushes an outdated view that women are little more than objects onto modern minds, creating an atmosphere in pop culture hostile to perceiving women as more than just sexual objects. In 2013, singers Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke, and rapper T.I. released a song called ‘Blurred Lines’. While it’s catchy tune awed audiences across the nation, the revealing and sexist music video portrayed shockingly nude women running around, mindlessly seeking out the attention of the three musicians, and subjecting themselves to sexual innuendos and degrading acts. The song lyrics read, “tried to domesticate you/ But you’re an animal/ Baby it’s in you’re your nature”. The lyrics suggest that women are literally animals, to be tamed or made wild by men, and that to be sexually wild is in their nature. Women are not merely mindless creatures to be gazed at and used; they are human beings to be respected. While the use of women as sexual objects in music videos may please the indoctrinated male eye, it paints women in a light that decreases modern women’s capabilities as equals to men in the music industry. Mainstream music needs to stop pushing the degradation of women’s bodies and minds, and start portraying them in more esteemed lights.
Similar to ways the musicians behind ‘Blurred Lines’ use the notion that women are to either be domesticated, or made use of sexually, a writer of the Middle Ages named of Jean de Meung wrote of the sexual nature of women in the domestic realm. “If she is beautiful, everyone will run after her, pursue her and honor her until they finally have her, for a tower besieged on all sides will in the end be taken”(8587-89). He suggests that women will inherently fall to any man outside of her marriage that wants to have her, because she cannot resist the temptation of flattering her own beauty. In comparison, the women in the video are made up to be beautiful, and are shown wanting to give in to the whims of the three musicians because of their attentions to the women’s’ bodies. Jean claims that women will never stay true to their husbands, or in other words, they may never truly be domesticated, because they will remain wild in their chase for flattery. The song ‘Blurred Lines’ harkens back to Jean’s notions, pushing the view that men will try to domesticate women, but women will always be wild, because it is in their nature to be, in the modern term, “sluts”. The music industry’s archaic and misogynistic views on women stems from writer’s like Jean de Meung, who wrote hauntingly similar sexist texts in the Middle Ages, to the songs we as a nation blindly popularize today.
In the same ways he propagates misogynistic viewpoints on women in the music industry, rapper T.I. yet again subjects women to his archaic and sexist criticisms, but in a completely different sphere. In an interview with You Tuber and DJ, Whoo Kid, T.I. makes blatantly degrading remarks about the role of women in society and politics, as well as the nature of women. When DJ Whoo Kid asks him what he thinks about Hillary Clinton being president, he states, “I just know that women make rash decisions emotionally…it’s kind of like it didn’t happen, or they didn’t mean for it to happen…And I sure would hate to just set off a nuke”. Later, in regards to the question of having a woman for president, he adds, “the world ain’t ready yet”. His ignorant remarks exemplify what misogyny has reincarnated itself into in modern day society. While in the Middle Ages, misogyny stemmed from men’s understanding of the nature of women in regard to marriage and sin, today’s notions rest with the idea that women are only good for every position in life except one of power in our society.
Middle Ages writer Andreas Capellanus proclaims, “not only is every women by nature a miser, but she is also…inconstant, fickle in her speech, disobedient, and inpatient of restraint”(201). Capellanus’ close mindedness on the behavior of women sounds strikingly familiar to those of T.I. He portrays women as out of control of their emotions, as resolute one moment, and indecisive the next. While men continue to shed light on a stereotype of women as fickle and inconsistent, they fail to shed light on the constant feat of women against these stereotypes. It is this type of sexist view on women that both pushes woman down in the eyes of male society, and also gives fuel to women, like Hillary Clinton, who are setting fire to these archaic notions, and breaking down stereotypes. If she were, “impatient of restraint”, Hillary may have long ago spoken and lashed out against her own husband’s infidelity, but her constancy, and patience has allowed her the opportunity she has today to run for office herself. Her marital situation in the past is the antithesis to Jean de Mueng’s statements about women, and her behavior is the exact opposite of Andreas Capellanus’ views on women; T.I. is both ignorant and incorrect when he says that the world is not ready for a female president, especially because the world already has had, and has, a plethora of female leaders.
In another attack on the character of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump yet again proves that misogynistic notions are well and alive in the political realm of America. In a social media post regarding the premise of Bill Clinton’s cheating scandal, he tweets, “if Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” This outrageously sexist comment would never be thrown at a male candidate for presidency, because Trump would have had respect for a male’s power in the political realm to not comment on his domestic life. Yet, in the case of a female candidate, an affair is the exact weakness he hones in on to demean Hillary’s political power and character as a woman. He questions her thought process, her domestic life, and her ability to rule. And instead of pointing the blame where it righteously should go, at Bill Clinton, he instead insinuates the affair was her fault for not being good enough in bed. The double standard he pushes is frighteningly misogynistic.
As Washington Post writer Janell Ross so profoundly states, “in Trump’s world, or at least the one that exists aboard his private 757, it seems that women must be pleasing to the eye and at all times and at all costs pleasant. In Trump’s world, without both, nothing else a woman — or more specifically, a female presidential candidate — says or thinks truly matters, has merit or meaning”. While Hillary may be a competitive candidate in the eyes of regular Democratic Americans, Trump will never see her as more than her defeat in her marriage, because his views on women are ignorant and misogynistic. As Jean de Meung writes, “I would never have taken a wife. He considers all men who marry to be fools, whether their wives happen to be ugly, beautiful, rich, or poor…he truthfully observes that matrimony is a life filled with grief, torment, and pain”(8561-70). Jean’s way of thought directly coincides with the sexist views Trump holds on Hillary’s marriage. He clearly believes the famous Clinton affair to be a direct result of Hillary’s inability to fulfill her husband in bed, thus causing, “torment, and pain” to Bill, justifying his actions and blaming her. Rather than placing the blame with the male who committed the act, the misogynistic viewpoint undoubtedly places the blame on women, because a failure in the domestic realm justifies a breach of faithfulness by the husband to the misogynistic mind.
Looking again at the music industry, it is remarkable how songs idolized by grunge culture and rock enthusiasts in the 1960’s profess some of the most disturbing and sexist points of view on women seen in modern culture. The famous British rock band Led Zeppelin released a song called ‘Dazed and Confused’ in 1969, and it is within these famous lyrics that misogyny in pop culture can be traced back through the Middle Ages, to the late sixties, and now to the present day. The song goes, “lots of people talkin’, few of them know/ Soul of a woman was created below./ You hurt and abuse tellin’ all of your lies./ Run around sweet baby, Lord how you hypnotize”. While the song at first listen invokes a forlorn and frustrated vibe from the singer, the second listen brings to the surface the misogynistic perception on women held by the band. He sings, “soul of a women was created below’, stating that a women is not descended from God in heaven, but from the Devil in Hell. The notion that a women’s soul is unequal to a man’s directly stems from the exaggerated Christian ideal that women in and of themselves are all Eve’s. Misogynistic point of view believe that women will search for a way to go against God, and bring destruction and sin to men. In the eyes of a misogynist, the lyrics emphasize that women are descendants of Satan, because of their fickleness of heart and treatment of men’s hearts.
Harkening back to the Middle Ages, this same view that women are descendants from God’s archangel was represented in the works of Tertullian. Out of distaste for women’s apparel and makeup, he actually wrote, ”you are the devil’s gateway! You are the unsealer of that tree! You are the first deserter of the divine law! You are she who seduced him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack! You destroyed so easily God’s image, man; and, on account of your fatal presumption, even the Son of God had to die!”(14). Insinuating that all women are in essence Eve, Tertullian lets the blame of the loss of Eden fall on the back of all women. His perception on women is ignorant and misogynistic, and can be directly linked to the lyrics of ‘Dazed and Confused’. While Led Zeppelin lyrics say the soul of a woman comes from Hell, Tertullian claims that all women embody Eve, are the carriers of sin, and are even the reason Jesus Christ died. Furthermore, after stating that women are from Satan and Hell, Tertullian goes on to say that,” those things, then, which are not from God, the Author of Nature, are not in their nature best”(17). He brings to light the fact that men in the Middle Ages literally thought women were bad, less than them, and evil. The difference between the institutionalized misogyny in the past and the present, is that in the Middle Ages, women did not have easy access to an outlet in which to speak their defense against these claims, while women today have an abundant access to education, and far more opportunities to prove themselves equal to men in society.
Yet again, as the court hearing between the CEO of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards, and the GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz shows, the men in power in America do not give or show the women in power the respect they deserve. The continued belittling of Cecile’s statements and knowledgeable remarks during the Planned Parenthood hearing highlights the sexist view the Republican party holds against women. Not only did they not listen Cecile’s facts and statistics on her own company, they also completely ignored them in their argument for the defunding of one of America’s central women’s health providers. The argument both disrespects Cecile’s position of power over her company, and disrespects the right American women have to their bodies. Relating back to the Middle Ages, Capellanus writes that, “we know that everything a women says is said with the intention of deceiving, because she always has one thing in her heart, and another on her lips”(204). The inherent sexism that stems from the writing of Capellanus yet again finds itself in the realm of politics. While Cecile Richards repeatedly tries to get her claim across in the hearing, she is cut off and over talked by a plethora of Congressman and Congresswomen. The Republican viewpoint on both Planned Parenthood and on Cecile Richards is that it is rooted in an inherent feminine evil; as Capellanus says, a women will say one thing but feel another inside out of an instinct for deceit. The Republican’s mindset of thinking it okay to cut Cecile off and not allow her to defend herself rises out of a belief that they are more righteous than her, and that their argument against hers is more truthful. The Middle Age misogyny against the nature of women is perfectly transcended into the Republican Party’s treatment of Planned Parenthood and Cecile Richards.
The mindsets of male Middle Ages writers were adamant about the negative nature of women. However, female Middle Ages writers like Christine de Pizan harness the power of education to bring the misogynistic viewpoints of that era to light, and bring justice to their sex. Pizan writes that she had been reading from her library one day, when she made a profound discovery. ”Judging from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators-it would take too long to mention their names-it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth”(4). She sees that the novels, books, and stories in her library, the same texts she learned to read out of, all seemed to speak from the same mouthpiece a negative view on the nature of women. From Capellanus to de Meung, Pizan suddenly realizes that women are suffering a great travesty by not having any mouthpiece of their own against the prejudices being written against them. Pizan saw the treatment of women in her time, and realized that in school and in the church, men were indoctrinated into thinking women were less than them. She culminated the works of male Middle Ages writers, and realized that the works of all of the male artists, writers, and speakers, stemmed from one common ground, that women are bad. To Pizan, it felt as though all men were promoting a negative viewpoint on women to keep them down in society and in the home.
Where the justification of this central thesis against women came from, she was not certain; yet, she knew through her writing that she could inspire other educated women of the time to take action against the institutionalized injustices and prejudices against women. She writes, “I advise you to profit from their works and to interpret them in a manner in which they are intended in those passages where they attack women”(7). In her story, three saints come to her, and tell her to believe the exact opposite of what all of the writings she has been reading say about women. She writes this story in order to inspire and provoke passion within women who were reading it to rise above the misogynistic stereotypes, and to believe the antithesis of what they say to prove them wrong about the nature of women. Christine de Pizan is just one woman, who in the face of misogyny was greatly outnumbered, but who took a stance to benefit the betterment of women.
The same misogyny that was engrained in the society of the Middle Ages is alive and well in today’s society. It is has weaved itself into music culture, political culture, and the culture as a whole. The ways in which the lines of a musician in 2013 and the lines of a Middle Ages writer can be so strikingly similar hold true the notions that modern day misogyny’s predecessor is from the Middle Ages. And yet, we have Christine de Pizan’s of our era, like Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards, who are fighting against the misogyny, to prove women equal and worthy of respect. Society needs to take the proof provided here, and utilize its own opportunities to weed out sexism in our pop culture and society today. And to women, when you doubt yourself over the misogynistic points of views thrown at you from every angle of society, listen to Christine de Pizan: “I tell you, dear friend, that simplemindedness has prompted you to hold such an opinion. Come back to yourself, recover your senses, and do not trouble yourself anymore over such absurdities. For you know that any evil spoken of women so generally only hurts those who say it, not women themselves”(8).
Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. New York. Columbia University Press, 1990.
De Meung, Jean. Excerpts from Le Roman de la Rose. Translated, David Rollo.
De Pizan, Christine. The Book of the City of Ladies. New York. Persea Books. 1405.
“Donald Trump says he wasn’t attacking Carly Fiorina’s looks. Yeah, right”. The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 September 2015. Web. 11 October 2015.
“The GOP Argument for Defunding Planned Parenthood is Incoherent”. Slate. Slate, 30 September 2015. Web. 10 October 2015.
Led Zeppelin. Dazed and Confused. 12 January 1969. Mp3.
“Rapper T.I. apologizes after saying Hillary Clinton or any female President would ‘make rash decisions emotionally”. NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 13 October 2015. Web. 12 October 2015.
Tertullian. On the Apparel of Women. Grand Rapids, MI. Eerdmans, 1977.
“Trump’s Most Notable Insults”. The Hill. The Hill, 26 July 2015. Web. 12 October 15 2015.
Williams, Pharrell. Thicke, Robin. T.I. Blurred Lines. 2013. Mp3.
“Watch: Every Single Time a Republican Interrupted the President of Planned Parenthood”. Slate. Slate, 29 September 2015. Web. 13 October 2015.