Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Article of the Month

Indexers select an article or essay at the beginning of each month that is outstanding in its line of argument, wealth of significances, and writing style. We particularly look for pieces that will be useful as course readings.

September 2022

Medieval depiction of a man and woman in bed.
Lovers in bed, detail of an historiated initial 'C', Le Régime du corps, 3rd quarter of the 13th c., French, London, British Library, MS Sloane 2435, fol. 9v, (Source: Web Gallery of Art, Open access).

Hartog, Marlisa Den. " Women on Top: Coital Positions and Gender Hierarchies in Renaissance Italy." Renaissance Studies 35, 4 (2021): 638-657. Available open access from the publisher, Wiley.

Abstract: "According to Christian theology, the 'missionary' position was the only proper way to have sex. Among clerical as well as secular authors, one of the most serious deviations from this prescription was the position with the woman on top of the man. Although medieval and early modern defences of the woman-on-top prohibition are often focused on reproduction or health, modern scholars habitually explain it as a reflection of concern about the inversion of gender roles and hierarchies. Against the background of the hierarchical perspective on sexual intercourse in general, this hypothesis seems almost self-evident. Thus far, however, it has not been sufficiently supported with relevant source material. This article brings a focused case study of this topic to the historiography by analyzing the discussion of the woman-on-top position in Italian sources written between c. 1350-1550. Theological, medical and literary sources are used to support the hypothesis that the woman-on-top prohibition was to an important extent sanctioned by beliefs about gender roles and hierarchies. There were various ways in which the 'missionary' position could be defended, ranging from defences of innate male prerogatives to concern about female power." — [Reproduced from the journal page in the Wiley Online Library website.]