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13th c

LHMP entry

The actual demographics are hard to reconstruct (see previous entry), in part because attitudes towards singlewomen affected how records were compiled. The belief that women should be "under men" led to ignoring those that weren't. Tax records didn't list wage-earners so entire classes of single employed women might be absent. Marital status is not always retrievable from how names were recorded. A woman recorded as “X wife of Y” is clearly married, but “X the Occupation” might or might not be.

Introductory chapter to a collection of papers on the topic described in the title. The collection in general addresses the question of women living outside the “nuclear family”, and especially looks at systems and categories rather than treating singlewomen as isolated anomalies.

Benkov reviews how the squeamishness of medieval legal texts in indicating how the word "sodomy" is applied to women's acts effectively erases the lesbian nature of their activity: “women with each other by detestable and horrible means which should not be named or written about.” Which text is placed beside for more simple and clear descriptions of men participating in anal intercourse. Crompton (1980) addressed the question of prosecutions of women for sodomy up to the French revolution, but little additional material has been added since.

This chapter looks at the social construction of women’s categories. “Widow” (and its equivalents in other languages), for example, has varied in meaning across time, and has variously meant “woman with no man to represent her legally”, or “woman with no male source of economic support”. The Christian focus on remarriage versus sexual chastity introduced new concerns and nuances, with “vidua” sometimes indicating a woman under a vow of chastity, with “relicta” distinguishing more generally a woman left behind after a husband’s death.

Chapter 3

This chapter compares similarities and differences in a related group of stories from both French and Arabic sources that use cross-gender disguise as a bridge to the possibility of same-sex relations. The French tales and their Arabic counterpart share enough themes and tropes to suggest a common inspiration, but the attitudes of the characters and the resolutions reflect their respective cultural differences.


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