Selected by Craig Perry. Ruth Karras, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 10 and 157.

Ruth Karras, From Boys to Men, p. 10

Michael Kaufman argues that ‘the common feature of the dominant forms of contemporary masculinity is that manhood is equated with having some sort of power.’ Men internalize a conception of power that implies domination and control. In the Middle Ages, however, political and cultural power were so narrowly held, and control of lords and masters over workers and other subordinates so extensive, that to claim power as the significant feature of masculinity would make many if not most males non-men….one core feature of medieval masculinity is the need to prove oneself in competition with other men and to dominate others…Medieval masculinity involved proving oneself superior to other men.

Ruth Karras, From Boys to Men, p. 157

The lines of social cleavage that divided noble from peasant, rich from poor, Christian from Jew, and so forth helped construct different forms of masculinity. Those lines of cleavage became sharper in the later Middle Ages. Patriarchy meant not just the dominance of men over women, but the dominance of a small number of men over most men and all women. It is not always possible entirely to disentangle one form of domination from another.

Selected by Craig Perry. Oded Zinger, “‘She Aims to Harass Him’: Jewish Women in Muslim Legal Venues in Medieval Egypt,” AJS Review, 42.1 (2018): 159-192.

Oded Zinger, “‘She Aims to Harass Him,’” p. 186

Thus, the question of why Islamic legal institutions were receptive to Jewish women is not fully answered. Two further explanations may be suggested that for the moment must remain speculative. The first is that subordinating Jewish women was probably not as appealing to the sense of authority of a Muslim official (whether government officials, qāḍī [judge], or mufti [jurisprudent]) as demonstrating his (and the state’s) domination over Jewish men. Thus, by using Muslim legal venues, Jewish women provided Muslim officials an occasion to perform their authority over Jewish men. The second explanation is that assisting Jewish women who felt wronged by their male relatives or by Jewish communal institutions fit well with the self-image of Muslim jurists. By helping the weakest of the weakest, Muslim judges demonstrated the superiority of Islamic justice over that of the ahl al-kitāb [people of the book]…

Discussion Questions

  1. What do Karras and Zinger argue (or suggest) characterizes the way that men constructed masculinity in medieval contexts?
  2. Do Karras’s insights raise any new questions, or shed any new light, on the related primary sources below?

Related Primary Sources