Gender at the Medieval Millennium

Constance H. Berman

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online May 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Gender at the Medieval Millennium

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  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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The turn of the first millennium was once seen by feminist historians like Jo Ann Kay McNamara as the beginning of an inexorable decline in the power and status of medieval women, particularly with the celibate clergy’s assertion of hegemony as a third gender, but new evidence shows that this was only a short-term setback. While new technologies, like water-powered mills, may initially have been resisted as a means of extracting new rent, they freed up peasant women for more productive activities, including textile production. As noblemen intent on asserting their masculinity joined the Crusades, women who ruled the estates in their absence found new power and authority. Women contributed to the consolidation of political power and economic growth by using clerics to keep written records, building religious establishments, and promoting commercial institutions like the Champagne fairs. Their contribution to the “takeoff” of western society, however, has rarely been noted.

Keywords: water-powered mills; Champagne fairs; written contracts; family monasteries; third gender; Jo Ann McNamara; boat shuttle; Peace and Truce of God

Article.  8445 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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