Arts & Sciences
Honors Thesis Faculty Advisor: Samantha Herrick
"In the Process of Becoming": Constructing and Re-constructing Gender in Twelfth-century Women's Texts
In this project I set out to study medieval women's texts and the practice of gender by both women and men. I studied texts from the European twelfth century and addressed the question of medieval women's perspectives: how did they conceptualize their gender and their place in the social hierarchy of the Middle Ages? What do their experiences reveal about how men thought about gender? How did they resist the expectations put upon them, and at the same time, how did they participate in the perpetuation of gender inequality? What can women writers of the Middle Ages tell us about how to study gender in a time and culture very different from our own? To answer these questions, I closely examined the writings of two twelfth-century woman writers and read secondary literature about their biographies, social milieux, and lasting legacies. The women I chose to study were Heloise d'Argenteuil, a French abbess, philosopher, and famous lover of theologian Peter Abelard, and Trota of Salerno, to whom the popular gynecological treatise the "Trotula" is attributed. I conclude that women were thoroughly imbricated in structures of the medieval gender hierarchy, and that we should not attempt to label them "feminist" or "not feminist." Doing so prioritizes resistance as the only valid reaction of women to gender hierarchies.
Links to Project Materials:https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.formstack.com/uploads/4336933/108624839/802099076/108624839_bajorek_hnrthesisfinal.docx