Medieval Monastic Masculinity vs. Medieval Secular Masculinity

NOTE: Due to personal reasons today’s blog post is shorter than normal. This is a topic I may revisit in the future.

When it came to image and public relations regarding masculinity, medieval monks knew they had a bit of a problem on their hands. See, monks were not exactly considered masculine by the secular population. The pinnacle of masculinity in early Medieval English and post-conquest secular culture was to be a good warrior and have lots of children.

Horsemen Meeting an Abbot and Two Monks at a Monastery | Ms. Ludwig XV 9 (83.MR.179), fol. 186v | Source: The Getty Museum

Monks on the other hand didn’t fight and didn’t have sex. (Well, theoretically. In reality plenty of monks got physical with others, whether it was through punching, stabbing, or other means.) 

Because monks were not supposed to do either of those things, they created a new type of masculinity for themselves. Medieval monastic masculinity valued self-control in all forms. Masculine monks were disciplined when it came to their gluttony, anger, ambition, and of course, lust. 

Celibacy meant you controlled your body, mind, and soul. However, when secular society values a man’s virility, saying chastity is definitely super manly is a hard sell. Monastic leaders developed a lot of arguments about the manliness of chastity. 

I think my favorite argument is that it’s feminine to have sex. And they weren’t just talking about same-sex copulation. Reformers tried to say that a man sleeping with a woman made him feminine too. (It definitely reminds me of the “Fellas Is It Gay?” meme!)

Source:

Thibodeaux, Jennifer D. The Manly Priest Clerical Celibacy, Masculinity, and Reform in England and Normandy, 1066-1300. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 

Quick Update

As you can tell, I have not been super active on my blog, podcast, and Patreon lately. It’s been a weird two months. I had surgery in December and a lot of stressful stuff has happened since. (It’s always one thing after the other and it seems to happen all at once too!)

A while ago I had a poll on Instagram for my next article topic. (Medieval monastic corporal punishment won.) Due to things in my personal life (recovery, deadlines, etc.) I haven’t had a lot of energy to do the full amount of research the topic of medieval monastic corporal punishment deserves. 

Fear not! It’s still on my list of future blog posts. However, I am putting that particular topic on the back burner for now. I enjoy writing for this blog and want to produce more content. So my next few posts will be a bit more casual (but still informational!) and probably a bit shorter too. 

(In the future I’ll post an explanation of how I differentiate between academic and casual writing on my blog, as what I refer to as academic content is still much more informal than writing you’d find in actual academia (verses in an internet blog).)

My next few posts will relate to the non-fiction books I read at the end of 2021 and in January 2022. These books mostly focused on medieval views of gender, sexuality, and (sometimes) how they related to the medieval church. Because of this, you can expect some common themes to come up!