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. 

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