Gender Construction as Acculturation

in The Perfect Servant

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2004 | ISBN: 9780226720159
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720166 | DOI:
Gender Construction as Acculturation

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter discusses acculturation of eunuchs during the Byzantine period. Byzantine culture and society constructed a collective identity for its eunuchs, the result of which was something that modern gender analysis recognizes as perhaps the ultimate case of socially constructed gender. This is particularly the case if it is accepted that, in the Byzantine context, the primary indicators of gender were not sexual object choice but rather physical appearance, societal function, relationship to reproduction, and capacity for relating to the spiritual world. The chapter shows aspects of the acculturation process that defined these people both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the society around them. The process involved many things familiar to modern gender awareness: systematic preparation and education based on implicit assumptions; the appropriateness of specific forms of dress; and inculcation of distinctive speech patterns, facial expressions, and body language. The process normalized eunuchs as the appropriate agents for carrying out a variety of roles in society, particularly mediating between distinctive groups, defining the sacred space around the emperor, and connecting that space to the regular world.

Keywords: Byzantine period; indicators of gender; gender Construction; reproduction; acculturation; speech patterns

Chapter.  8901 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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