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.

February 2024

Confessio (Confession) from BL Royal 6 E VI, f. 354v
Cleric hearing confession, Initial C illustration for Confessio, James le Palmer, Omne Bonum, British Library Royal Ms 6 E VI, fol. 354v (Source: Picryl, Public domain)

Garrison, Jennifer. "Speaking of Failure: Modern Masculinity and Medieval Confession." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 48, 4 (2023): 923-942.

Abstract: "Modern hegemonic masculinity often entails a focus on the past, a longing for an imagined time when men had more authority and power. I argue that this orientation toward the past stretches back to the Middle Ages. Specifically, the discourses surrounding medieval confession—the mandatory ritual of confessing one's sins to a priest—continue to shape how white men assert their own power and domination in modern North America. In Europe's Middle Ages, guides to confession encouraged men to assert their patriarchal authority by narrating their own past failures. Through an analysis of representative medieval penitential manuals, I show how confession became a discursive tool for men to imagine themselves in positions of social and moral superiority. This penitential tradition's continuing influence is particularly evident in North America's booming men's self-improvement culture and the growing nostalgia for historical versions of masculinity. By narrating the sins of their own past and their collective flawed past as men, North American men enact a modern penitential masculinity that does not undermine patriarchy but rather justifies their place as powerful men within it. Western patriarchy has long relied on a penitential model of masculinity that deploys men's past failures—both individual and collective—as a justification for future gendered domination." — [Reproduced from the article page on the University of Chicago Press website.]