choice for men would reduce abortion coercion of women

reproductive yin yang and choice for men

Child-support laws give a man facing unplanned parenthood a strong financial incentive to coerce the mother of the fetus/unborn child into having an abortion. If she doesn’t have an abortion, the state could forcibly confiscate about a third of his pre-tax income (that’s called “child support“) for at least the next eighteen years.[1] That’s a crushing financial burden. Tens of thousands of men in the U.S. are jailed for not making these forced financial fatherhood payments. Given that completely and effectively criminalizing abortion coercion is infeasible, reproductive choice for women necessarily depends on reproductive choice for men.

Men deprived of formal, legal reproductive choice have a variety of informal, legal means for pressuring a woman to have an abortion. A woman often cares greatly about the man who contributed sperm to her pregnancy. If he’s unhappy about the pregnancy, she’s likely to be unhappy about it, or become unhappy about it. If she can make her man happy again by having an abortion, she might have one, just as loving persons might have sex with each other even when one lover doesn’t want to have sex. A man can explicitly implore a woman to have an abortion. If she truly loves him, she might do it for him.

Men’s informal, legal means for pressuring a woman to have an abortion include men declaring actions that they can choose. A man can tell a woman that if she doesn’t have an abortion, he will never again have sex with her, or never again talk to her. He can declare that he will walk out of her life if she allows forced financial fatherhood to be imposed on him.[2] Moreover, as slave-owners knew, harsh punishment often isn’t sufficient to produce a good worker. A man angry and demoralized with the grotesque anti-men injustices of family courts might transfer far less material resources to a woman than a man not made subject to forced financial fatherhood. After all, jailing a man for not paying “child support” makes is much harder for him to earn money to give to the woman.

As social beings, humans don’t make choices as abstract individuals. Humans’ relations are particularly important for choices closely associated with human relations. Consider, for example, Audrey in seventh-century England. King Egfrid sought to marry her. He offered her great riches if she would marry him. In an age when ordinary men and women had brutally difficult lives, Audrey wanted to remain a virgin. She opposed marrying even a king:

She resisted him with all her might
for the sake of God to whom she had given her heart.
In fact, she was burdened by his request
and distressed by his offers.
When she could not succeed in discouraging him,
she went to plead with her family.
However, her relatives so insisted on the marriage
that finally there was no way she could refuse.
Quite against her will,
then, the virgin agreed to the marriage.
Thus, in the seventh year after her father Anne
had been killed, on the advice of her loved ones
but without the consent of her heart,
the virgin accepted this marriage.

{ A son poër ke contredist,
Pur Deu ou son curage mist:
De sa requeste fu chargee
Ed de se offres ennuyee.
Kant ver li ne poet espleiter,
S’en ala ses parens prier.
[Mes] tant l’ont ses parens requise
Ne pot desdire en nule guise.
Tout encontre sa volenté
Lors a la virge gra[a]nté.
Et setme an k’Anne fu occis,
Son pere, par conseil d’amis,
Prist la virge ceo mariage,
Sanz volenté de son curage. }[3]

In medieval Europe, a valid marriage didn’t exist if either spouse didn’t agree to it. Against her will, Audrey agreed to the marriage and accepted it because her family strongly favored it. But she didn’t consent to it in her heart. If her husband were able to read her heart, and if he were subject to current campus sex regulations, he would be guilty of sexual assault if he had sex with her. The issue never arose. Audrey insisted on a sexless marriage. Her husband King Egfrid accepted, against his will, sexless marriage with Audrey.

Prominent public voices addressing abortion coercion urge more extensively criminalizing men and more public support for pregnant women. According to today’s authorities on public health and violence, a man, unmarried or married, refusing to have further sex with a woman if she makes him subject to forced financial fatherhood could be regarded as engaging in reproductive coercion. Given the amazingly broad scope of domestic violence law, he could be committing domestic violence against her if he walks out on her or gets angry at her for forcing financial fatherhood upon him. If he causes her to be emotionally distressed because he is emotionally distressed by the prospects of forced financial fatherhood, he could be charge with domestic violence. A man facing unplanned parenthood and forced financial fatherhood is supposed to act as if his life doesn’t matter to him. If, after learning of a pregnancy, he pressures the pregnant woman to have an abortion, he can be prosecuted as a criminal under abortion coercion laws.[4]  Persons who promote criminalizing abortion coercion typically call themselves pro-life. They typically show no concern for men’s lives.

Persons who call themselves pro-choice typically show no concern for men’s choices. Pro-choice persons usually oppose abortion coercion laws because such laws require the abortion provider to ask the woman whether she is being coerced into having an abortion. Such questioning could be burdensome and deter women from having abortions. Pro-choice persons favor providing a pregnant woman with as much help and support as she wants either to have an abortion or to give birth to a baby.

No one advocates providing support for men who want to have hetero-sex and not be at risk for forced financial fatherhood. Unlike providing all-encompassing support for pregnant women to do whatever they want with a pregnancy, freeing men from forced financial fatherhood costs little and is easy to do. All that is required is a change in law, or recognizing for men a constitutional right like that now recognized for women. If pro-choice advocates wanted to give women more freedom in choice concerning abortion, they would advocate reproductive choice for men. Pro-choice advocates typically say nothing about choice for men.

More than four decades of bitter public discussion about abortion provides an appalling spectacle of gynocentric society. Enacting choice for men would reduce the extent to which women are coerced into having abortions. Enacting choice for men would make choice for women more free. Instead, gynocentric society favors grotesquely enlarging the criminalization of men and expanding the transfer of resources from men to women, irrespective of women’s choices. Anyone who favors choice for men tends to be regarded publicly as a lunatic. Democratic societies have thus achieved Soviet-quality intellectual life.[5] The only rational, truthful persons are those labeled insane.

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[1] For the appalling legal and financial details of U.S. “child support” laws, see Real World Divorce.

[2] The extent to which women have abortions to please intimates or family members or in response to personal pressure is a matter of some dispute. A sample of women seeking abortion at U.S. abortion facilities between 2008 and 2010 were asked about their reasons for having an abortion. Among reasons given, including possible multiple reasons, 31% of the women gave partner-related reason for deciding to have an abortion. Chibber et al. (2014) pp. e133-4. Among women who had an abortion at a U.S. hospital in 1994, 64% affirmed that they “felt pressured by others” to have the abortion. Rue (2004) p. SR9, Table 4. Given the mendacious, anti-men bigotry that pervades study of domestic violence, any study that conflates domestic violence and abortion coercion lacks credibility. In addition, discussions of abortion coercion that frame the issue as men bullying women show contempt for men’s lives.

[3] Marie de France, The Life of Saint Audrey {La Vie seinte Audree} vv. 790-803, Old French (Anglo-Norman) and English trans. from McCash & Barban (2006) pp. 60-3. In earlier Latin literature, Audrey was known as  Æthelthryth and King Egfrid as King Ecgfrith. Here’s more on the marriages of Audrey / Æthelthryth.

[4] Michigan illustrates the possibilities for unlimited criminalization of men under the guise of criminalizing abortion coercion. Michigan House Bill No. 4787, introduced on July 14, 2015, proposes to add section 213a to the Michigan Penal Code (MCL 750). The proposed additional criminal law states in a part:

Sec. 213a. (1) A person having actual knowledge that a female individual is pregnant shall not do any of the following with the intent to coerce her to have an abortion against her will: …
(b) After being informed by a pregnant female that she does not want to obtain an abortion, any of the following: …
(iv) Engage in coercion as that term is defined in section 462a.

Michigan Penal Code MCL 750.462a in turn states:

(b) “Coercion” includes, but is not limited to, any of the following:
(i) Threatening to harm or physically restrain any individual or the creation of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause an individual to believe that failure to perform an act would result in psychological, reputational, or financial harm to, or physical restraint of, any individual. …

Threatening to no longer have sex with a woman if she doesn’t have an abortion could easily be encompassed under the Michigan proposal to criminalize abortion coercion (psychological harm). Criminalizing abortion coercion in this way amounts to forcing men to have sex against their will. That’s raping men. But men getting raped is of little public concern.

The organization Americans United for Life indicates that as of 2012, at least fifteen states have enacted laws criminalizing abortion coercion. Americans United for Life should be commended for including in its model abortion-coercion law, entitled “Coercive Abuse Against Mothers Prevention Act,” the following clause:

The terms “coerce” and “force” do not include or encompass constitutionally-protected speech, conduct, or expressions of conscience.

Constitutionally protected speech and conduct, at least formally, give men considerable latitude to coerce women into having abortions. Criminalization of abortion coercion is much less effective in reducing abortion coercion than is legal reproductive choice for men.

[5] Consider, for example a clinical-scholarly work on “reproductive coercion.” It begins:

Reproductive coercion (RC) is a type of intimate partner violence (IPV) that involves exerting power and control over contraceptive and/or pregnancy choices and outcomes.

Park et al. (2016) p. 74. Amid the acronym babble, the phrase “power and control” comes from the socially dominant, anti-men gender-bigoted Duluth model of domestic violence. One way that a man can exert “power and control” over an intimate partner’s pregnancy choice to get pregnant with him is not to have sex with her. Withholding sex to avoid forced financial fatherhood is thus called reproductive coercion / intimate partner violence. Park et al. (2016) concludes:

RC {Reproductive Coercion} is a form of partner violence that is prevalent in adolescents and adults, in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and in those with or without a history of physical or sexual violence. … Finally, additional studies of RC in certain vulnerable populations (ie, adolescents, the LGBT community), as well as coercive behaviors of women toward reproductive choices of men, should become a higher priority. With further education, assessment, intervention, and research, RC can be reduced to improve the reproductive health of women.

Id. p. 77. Violence, defined to include the all-encompassing jargon term “reproductive coercion,” is claimed to be prevalent, even among adolescents and homosexuals. Increase the number of police, arrests more men, and build more prisons! The men violently held in prisons can be treated by white-coated doctors (three of the four authors of id. list MD after their names). For those interested in rational scholarship, reproductive coercion isn’t prevalent among non-human primates. The penultimate sentence of id. declares that “coercive behaviors of women toward reproductive choices of men” should have a higher priority in study. The study then concludes with a call for improving the reproductive health of women. That’s a cant term for improving women’s access to abortion. As for the “reproductive choices of men,” men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. That reflects not the coercive behavior of particular women toward particular men, but gynocentrism and the overall Soviet quality of current U.S. intellectual life.

[image] Yin-yang symbol or Taijitu. According to Wikimedia, this symbol “reflects the inescapably intertwined duality of all things in nature, a common theme in Taoism.” Thanks to Gregory Maxwell and Wikimedia Commons.


Chibber, Karuna S., M. Antonia Biggs, Sarah C.M. Roberts, and Diana Greene Foster. 2014. “The Role of Intimate Partners in Women’s Reasons for Seeking Abortion.” Women’s Health Issues. 24 (1): e131-e138.

McCash, June Hall and Judith Clark Barban, ed. and trans. 2006. The life of Saint Audrey: A Text by Marie de France. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

Park, Jeanna, Sherry K. Nordstrom, Kathleen M. Weber, and Tracy Irwin. 2016. “Reproductive coercion: uncloaking an imbalance of social power.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 214 (1): 74-78.

Rue, Vincent M., Priscilla K. Coleman, James J. Rue, and David C. Reardon. 2004. “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: a preliminary comparison of American and Russian women.” Medical Science Monitor: International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research. 10 (10): 5-16.

Photis lovingly consoled Lucius after triple-murder trial farce

multier equitans: the position of Photis riding Lucius

What could be worse than having a rape-hoaxer classmate — who falsely accused you! — receive her college diploma while toting her fake-rape mattress upon the stage at your college graduation ceremony? Less hurtful would be to metamorphose into an ass, a thick-hided cloven-hoofed ass, fully equipped with the equipment many women cherish. But how about being falsely accused of triple murder? You wouldn’t stand a chance at trial. Clothed in black, the mourning wife of one deceased man would bring their baby to the trial and cry for your blood. You’d be as good as sentenced to death, but they would torture you first with fire, wheel, and whips to get you to confess about your accomplice. Amid the supernatural horrors of campus rape tribunals and U.S. mass incarceration, turn to the light. Look to Photis! In Apuleius’s Golden Ass, Photis lovingly consoled Lucius after he endured a triple-murder trial farce.

Photis and Lucius developed a sultry sexual relationship that began with Photis stirring the pot in the kitchen. Photis was a servant in the home of Lucius’s host. Lucius was a learned man from an eminent family. One day he saw Photis cooking in the kitchen:

She was cooking minced pork for stuffing, and slices of meat, and some very spicy sausage of which I had already caught a whiff. She was wearing an elegant linen dress, with a bright-red belt fastened up supporting her breasts. As she turned the casserole-dish round and round with her petal-like fingers, and shook it repeatedly in its circular motion, she simultaneously rotated her body. Her hips moved lightly in rhythm, and as she wiggled her supple spine, her person rippled most attractively. I was spellbound at the sight, and stood there lost in admiration. The parts of me that were asleep before now stood to attention. Finally, I managed to speak to her. “My dear Photis,” I said, “how lusciously and attractively you wiggle that little pot, and your bottom with it! That’s a succulent dish you have in readiness there! How lucky a fellow would be if you let him stick his finger in — he’d be on top of the world!” [1]

Photis the servant wasn’t cowed by Lucius the learned man from an eminent family. Photis was a smart, self-confident woman with strong, independent sexuality. She immediately responded to Lucius:

Keep clear, poor boy, keep clear as far as possible from this stove of mine. If my little flame shoots out once and as much as sears you, you will be all ablaze inside, and I’ll be the only one who can put out your fire. The spices which I incorporate are sweet. I’m an expert at pleasurably shaking a bed as well as a pot.

Photis then looked Lucius in the eyes and grinned. She had beautiful, long hair. Lucius learned over and kissed her on the top of her head. He did that without first asking her for affirmative consent. In short, he sexually assaulted her by the standards of college sex tribunals on U.S. campuses today. But Photis and Lucius lived in a more enlightened time. They kissed each other passionately without pre-negotiation. Photis promised Lucius to be in his bedroom at nightfall.

No flake, that night Photis came to Lucius’s bedroom. She had arranged for food and wine. She kissed Lucius forcefully, put a garland of roses around his neck, and sprinkled rose petals over him. They ate and drank. When Lucius displayed to Photis his manliness erect for action, Photis sprang into action:

She stripped off her clothes, and let her hair flow loose. Then with a show of genial wantonness she adopted the charming pose of Venus treading the ocean waves. She even for a moment covered her hairless pubes with her rosy little hand, a deliberate gesture rather than modest concealment. “Engage,” she said, “and do so bravely. I shall not yield before you, nor turn my back on you. Direct your aim frontally, if you are a man, and at close quarters. Let your onslaught be fierce; kill before you die. Our battle this day allows no respite.” As she spoke she mounted the bed, and eased herself slowly down on top of me. She bounced up and down repeatedly, maneuvering her back in supple movements, and gorged me with the delight of this rhythmical intercourse. Eventually our spirits palled as our bodies lost their zest; we collapsed simultaneously in a state of exhaustion as we breathlessly embraced each other. [2]

Photis took the position on top without becoming manly. She explicitly encouraged Lucius, who had previously spurned the embraces of women, to engage in characteristically heterosexual behavior.[3] Men tend to be disparaged as dogs. Evolutionary scholars have trivialized men’s sexuality. Now more than ever we must look to Photis. Women, especially when they are young and beautiful, must do more to encourage and support men’s heterosexuality.

Women can provide vital consolation to men amid farcical proceedings of criminal justice systems that vastly disproportionately incarcerate men. Returning home one night, Lucius thought he saw three big men attempting to break down the front door of the house in which Photis lived. Lucius was no self-devaluing manlet like Lancelot. Having enjoyed himself at a dinner party, Lucius was drunk. He lacked the wit to save himself like intelligent, truly learned men on a sinking ship. He should have called for women to confront the men breaking into the house, since it’s now women’s turn to do that. Instead, Lucius attacked the three big men himself. With his sword he stabbed and killed all three. He wasn’t proud of what he had done; he didn’t present himself as a brave hero who had saved a damsel in distress. He was weary and went to sleep without having sex with Photis. The next morning, magistrates arrested Lucius for triple murder.

The trial of Lucius for triple murder was the now-common criminal justice spectacle of a sensational case. In those days before mass media, the trial was moved to a theater to cater to public interest. The prosecutor was an elderly man, the commander of the night-patrol. He claimed to be a direct witness of the murders. This prosecutor concluded his appeal to the magistrates by strongly condemning the foreigner Lucius:

Here, then, you have a defendant sullied by numerous murders, a defendant caught in the act, a defendant who is a stranger to our city. So cast your votes responsibly against this foreigner, who is charged with an offense for which you would heavily punish even a fellow citizen.

Lucius, in turn, strongly defended his actions:

The robbers were plotting with each other the murder of those within. Then one of them, more eager for action and of more imposing physique than the others, began to rouse them to the same pitch with exhortations like these: “Come on, lads, let’s attack them, while they sleep, with all our manly spirit and ready vigor. Away with all feelings of hesitation and cowardice! Let slaughter stalk with drawn sword throughout the house. Let’s cut down those who lie sleeping and run through those who try to resist. We shall make good our retreat unscathed only if we leave no one in the house unscathed.”

I freely confess, citizens, that I sought to frighten off and rout these desperadoes. I was armed with a short sword which accompanied me in case of dangers of this kind, and I thought such action the duty of a good citizen. I was also extremely apprehensive for the safety of my hosts and myself. But those utterly savage and monstrous men did not take to their heels. Though they saw that I was armed, they nonetheless boldly confronted me.

Their battle-line was now assembled. The leader and standard-bearer of the gang promptly assailed me with brute force. He seized me by the hair with both hands, bent my head backward, and intended to batter me with a stone. But while he was urging that one be handed to him, my sword-thrust was true, and I successfully laid him low. A second robber was hanging on to my legs with his teeth. I killed him with a well-directed blow between the shoulder-blades. A third who rushed blindly at me I finished off with a thrust to the heart.

Lucius tearfully appealed to the audience to recognize the justness of his conduct. He reached out his hands in supplication to them and called on the gods to help him. When Lucius allowed his consciousness to move beyond his performance, he realized that everyone in the audience was laughing loudly at him.

The magistrates ordered Lucius to uncover the bodies of his murder victims on the bier. He reluctantly did. He saw three goat wineskins pierced in the places where he had stabbed the men. Drunk that night, he had killed three inflated goat wineskins, not three men.[4] All the events had been staged for a public festival of laughter. In similar circumstances today, no one laughs. No one even cares about the outcome of the case.

Photis cared about Lucius. After his triple murder trial farce, she came to him regretfully. She was somber. She spoke hesitantly and timidly:

I have to confess,” she said, “that I caused this discomfiture of yours.” As she spoke, she produced a strap from under her dress, and handed it to me. “Take your revenge, I beg you,” she said, “on a woman who has betrayed you, or exact some punishment even greater than this. But I implore you not to imagine that I deliberately planned this painful treatment of you. God forbid that you should suffer even the slightest vexation on my account. If anything untoward threatens you, I pray that my life-blood will avert it. It was because of a mischance that befell me, when ordered to perform a different task, that the damage was inflicted on you.”

Not satisfied with her husband, Pamphile, the lady whom Photis served, sought to cast a love spell on another man. Pamphile ordered Photis to secure some of that man’s hair for love sorcery. After suffering sexual harassment attempting to get the hair surreptitiously at a barber shop, Photis substituted hair that another man was clipping from three inflated wineskins made from goat skin. Pamphile’s mis-sourced love sorcery animated those wineskins and drove them ecstatically to her house. Lucius had killed those goat wineskins. Photis was only indirectly at fault.

With her loving concern for Lucius and her personal generosity, Photis received forgiveness from Lucius for the triple murder trial farce he had endured. Like most men, Lucius had no interest in beating a woman. He rejected the strap that Photis offered him for that purpose:

This is a wicked and most presumptuous strap, since you have allotted it the task of beating you. I shall destroy it by cutting it up or by slashing it to pieces rather than have it touch your skin, which is soft as down and white as milk.

Photis sought to please Lucius in other ways. She discussed with him how to help him learn more about marvelous magic of metamorphoses:

As we chatted away, our desire for each other roused the minds and bodies of both of us. We threw off the clothes we wore until we were wholly naked and enjoyed a wild love-orgy. When I was wearied with her feminine generosity, Photis offered me a boy’s pleasure. [5]

Amid the horrors of mass incarceration of men and deeply rooted anti-men gender bigotry, women must work harder to provide men with deserved consolation. Look to Photis and Lucius for enlightenment.

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[1] Apuleius, The Golden Ass / Metamorphoses 2.7, from Latin trans. Walsh (1994) p. 22. Apuleius wrote the Golden Ass probably late in the second-century GC. All quotations in this post are from Walsh’s translation, with some minor, non-substantial changes. Subsequent quotes, cited by book.section and page in Walsh’s translation, are id. 2.7, pp. 22-3 (Keep clear…); 2.17, pp. 28-9 (She stripped…); 3.3., p. 41 (Here, then,…); 3.5-6, p. 42 (The robbers…); 3.13, p. 47 (I have to confess…); 3.14, p. 47 (This is a wicked…); 3.20, p. 51 (As we chatted…).

Photis is a character apparently adapted from Palaistra in an earlier Greek story Onos. Palaistra, which means wrestling ground, engaged in non-literary bedroom sport with Lucius. Photis, in contrast, evokes the Greek word for light (phos) and also suggests the Latin word for a device containing and distributing fire (foculus). May (2015) pp. 60-1. The sexual interaction of Photis and Lucius invokes figures from Latin comedy and elegy associated with the soldier of love (militia amoris), but in a way that doesn’t devalue and frustrate the man.

The academic cant term “gaze” has tended to desiccate scholarly imagination in thinking about the importance of seeing in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses. One ambitious student declared of Photis and Lucius:

Here the artifice entices Lucius, who is thoroughly entranced by Photis’ dominance of the power of the gaze between them. … Lucius’ visual engagement with Photis is paradigmatic for his engagement with women throughout the novel. In an attempt to exercise control over Photis, Lucius finds himself on the defensive—penetrated and set ablaze.

McGar (2008) pp. 51, 52. Dominance, power, gaze, control, penetrated — imaginative literature deserves more imaginative response. Scholarship that begins with binary “power of the gaze” tends to perpetuate it unintentionally:

I believe rather that Apuleius is using it to make us as readers imagine a third, independent viewpoint — neither as voyeuristic males, gazing on female beauty for our own gratification, nor as objects of an equally if not more powerful female gaze that threatens to consume us.

Slater (1998) p. 46.

[2] Photis taking the position of Venus pendula (“swinging Venus,” meaning woman on top), also called mulier equitans, was a change from the Greek version Onos. After being transformed into a donkey, Lucius was ridden more literally. May (2015) p. 66.

[3] Lucius later commented, “previously I always spurned the embraces of matrons.” Golden Ass 3.19, p. 50.

[4] Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest denounced women’s betrayal of men’s secrets. In a story that celebrates the dog as man’s best friend, a man pretended to conspire with his wife to murder a pilgrim staying at their home. The husband slaughtered a calf, cut it into pieces, and put those pieces into a sack. He then gave his wife the sack to conceal. He told her that the sack contained the pilgrim’s dead body. Later, before the king, the man abused his wife. She, furious at her husband, told the king that her husband had killed a pilgrim. She declared that she could show where the body was hidden. Officials went with her, opened the sack, and found the dead calf parts. This story highlights that Photis would be regarded as highly virtuous among medieval men. Gesta Romanorum includes a version of this story: Tale 124, from Latin trans. Swan & Hooper (1876) pp. 223-5.

[5] Cf. Athenaeus, Dneipnosophistae 13.580f. A woman behaving sexually in such a way was rare, at least in surviving representations. May (2015) p. 65, n. 19. A surviving Roman graffito describes a different sexual re-orientation.

In a judicious and learned review of the characterization of Photis, May describes Photis as a “delightful, charming, and witty girl”:

She is more than a mere means to an end: Photis is an important foil for Lucius and a credible love interest, an equal and challenging partner for someone with literary interests.

May (2015) pp. 71, 74. Photis deserves additional credit for her loving concern for Lucius’s suffering from the mockery of criminal justice that he endured and that men likewise endure today.

[image] Couple in the position of Venus pendula (mulier equitans), like Photis and Lucius. Fresco from Pompeii. c. 50 GC. Thanks to Okc and Wikimedia Commons. Photis also invoked Venus Pudica (modest Venus) and Venus Anadyomene (Venus Rising from the Sea).


May, Regine. 2015. “Photis (Metamorphoses Books 1-3).” Ch. 4 (pp. 59-74) in Stephen Harrison, ed. 2015. Characterisation in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses: nine studies. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

McGar, Zachary. 2008. Viewers and viewed in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. Master of Arts Thesis. Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia.

Slater, Niall W. 1998. “Passion and Petrifaction: The Gaze in Apuleius.” Classical Philology. 93 (1): 18-48.

Swan, Charles, and Wynnard Hooper, trans. 1876. Gesta romanorum: entertaining moral stories. New York: Dover Publications Inc. (reprint edition of 1969).

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1994. Apuleius. The golden ass. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Livy’s gender critique: men show war wounds, women show breasts

Phryne baring breasts to influence court

Men’s value to society has been socially constructed as instrumental. In antiquity, men bared their war-wounded chests to gain public sympathy and support. Women, in contrast, merely bared their natural breasts. In the social construction of gender, men must earn their public value through dangerous acts of public service. Women’s social value is constructed as essential to their sex. Decades of mind-numbing gender scholarship have largely built upon and re-enforced gynocentrism. Livy’s witty, ancient account of Servilius baring his war wounds and his genitals provides a more compelling critique of gender power.

In antiquity, men displayed the right sort of war wounds to gain public favor. This practice carried the authority of the world-conqueror Alexander the Great. Alexander reportedly counseled his father Philip about the honor of war wounds. A Roman historian recounted:

The thigh of his father Philip had been pierced by a spear in battle with the Triballians. Philip, although he escaped with his life, was vexed with his lameness. Alexander said, “Be of good cheer, father, and go on your way rejoicing, that at each step you may recall your valour.” Are not these the words of a truly philosophic spirit which, because of its rapture for noble things, already revolts against mere physical encumbrances? How, then, think you, did he glory in his own wounds, remembering by each part of his wounded body a nation overcome, a victory won, the capture of cities, the surrender of kings? He did not cover over nor hide his scars, but bore them with him openly as symbolic representations, graven on his body, of virtue and manly courage. [1]

Thigh wounds were questionable. Wounds on the back indicated a fleeing coward. Wounds on the chest indicated virtuous acts fighting in facing the enemy. Men killed other men in service to the public and claimed public credit with display of their own wounds:

“Why should I have to mention the ranks of Sarpedon of Lycia cut to pieces by my sword? With bloody slaughter I killed Coeranos, Iphitus’s son; Alastor and Chromius; Alcander, Halius, Noëmon and Prytanis; and I dealt destruction to Thoön, Chersidamas, Charopes, and Ennomos driven by inexorable fate; and others less well known fell to my hand under the walls of the city. I have wounds, friends, honourable ones, as their position shows: do not believe empty words, look!” and he pulled his tunic open with his hand, “here is my breast that has always been employed in your actions!” [2]

Ordinary men, lacking the titles of nobility and social honors that elite women and men have, used their war wounds to validate their leadership. A man born on the geographic and political margins of the Roman Republic proclaimed to Roman nobles:

Nor am I unaware how great a task I am taking upon myself in accepting this signal favour of yours. To prepare for war and at the same time to spare the treasury; to force into military service those whom one would not wish to offend; to have a care for everything at home and abroad — to do all this amid envy, enmity and intrigue, is a ruder task, fellow citizens, than you might suppose. … since it is your judgment in giving me your highest office and a most important commission which they criticize, consider again and yet again whether you ought to regret those acts. I cannot, to justify your confidence, display family portraits or the triumphs and consulships of my forefathers; but if occasion requires, I can show spears, a banner, trappings and other military prizes, as well as scars on my breast. These are my portraits, these my patent of nobility, not left me by inheritance as theirs were, but won by my own innumerable efforts and perils. [3]

Men have long been used for fighting wars against other men. In the U.S., opening all military positions to women has been prominently celebrated as a victory for women. The vastly disproportionate number of men wounded and killed in combat is ignored. In the past, men had greater public recognition as persons vastly disproportionately wounded and killed fighting for their societies.

Women’s bodies, without any wounds, generate sympathy and support. Queen Hecuba bared her breasts to her son Hector in her attempt to control his action. After she murdered her husband, Clytemnestra bared her breasts to their son Orestes in a plea for him not to kill her. The power of a woman’s breasts isn’t just from motherhood. Helen of Troy bared her breasts to her husband Menelaus to dissuade him from killing her for adultery.[4] The power of a woman’s bare breasts isn’t confined within the home or within a personal relationship. The bare breasts of the courtesan Phryne motivated jurors to acquit her of a criminal charge of impiety carrying the penalty of death:

When Euthias successfully brought her to trial, she escaped the death penalty. Euthias was so angry about this that he never argued another case, according to Hermippus. Hyperides spoke in support of Phryne, and when his speech accomplished nothing, and the jurors seemed likely to convict her, he brought her out in public, tore off her undervest, exposed her chest, and at the conclusion of his speech produced cries of lament as he gazed at her, causing the jurors to feel a superstitious fear of this priestess and temple-attendant of Aphrodite, and to give in to pity rather than put her to death. [5]

This story’s broad cultural resonance is more important than its factuality. Many cannot believe the extent of anti-men bias in the criminal justice system. Many cannot believe that men are forced to pay “child support” to their rapists. Many cannot believe that persons who make false accusations of rape, which are horrendously damaging to the accused victim, commonly face no criminal charges. A woman’s beautiful body gaining her tremendous public support is as socially sensible as actress Emma Watson’s United Nations HeForShe speech.

While women’s breasts attract public sympathy and support, men’s genitals don’t. Highlighting that gender difference, the Roman historian Livy told of a contentious vote concerning honors for the victorious Roman General Paulus. The eminent Roman senator Marcus Servilius Pulex Geminus spoke in support of General Paulus and against the rabble-rousing Servius Galba (probably no relation to Douglas Galbi). The senator Servilius urged the gathered soldiers to pay attention to what he says, not what Galba says:

“You, centurion, and you, common soldier, listen to what the Senate has decreed about Paulus our general, instead of giving heed to the chatter of Servius Galba. Listen to what I am saying now instead of paying attention to him. The only thing he has learned is how to talk — and how to talk with slander and malice at that. As for me, I have on twenty-three occasions challenged and fought an enemy. I brought back the spoils from every man with whom I engaged in combat. I have a body decorated with honourable scars, all of them received in the front.”

It is said that at this point he took off his clothes and recounted the wars in which he had received the various wounds. While he was displaying his scars, he accidentally uncovered what should have been kept concealed, and the swelling in his groin raised a laugh among the nearest spectators. Then he went on:

“Yes, you laugh at this, but I got thus too by sitting on my horse for days and nights on end. I have no more shame or regret about this than about these wounds, since it never hindered me from successful service to the state either at home or abroad. I am a veteran soldier, and I have displayed before young troops this body of mine which has often been assailed by the sword. Now let Galba lay bare his sleek and unmarked body.” [6]

The swelling in his groin could have been his penis rising. A man riding has long been recognized as important domestic sexual service, except, perhaps, in today’s circumstances. Scholars, however, have tended to interpret Livy’s account literally. They generally regard the swelling in Servilius’s groin as a groin hernia from horseback riding.[7] This difference in interpretation isn’t significant. Spectators would laugh at Servilius’s public erection or his groin hernia. Spectators would be enthralled with or intimidated by a woman’s beautiful breasts. To quell mockery of his masculine body, Servilius asserted the military service of his sword.

Livy’s gender-critical perspective on exposing a man’s genitals and exposing a woman’s breasts has gone unrecognized amid greater social devaluation of men’s bodies. Men’s sexuality is currently so devalued that men are incarcerated for nothing more than having consensual sex and being too poor to pay ensuing state-imposed “child support” payments. Men are expected to have sex with women while having no reproductive rights whatsoever. A popular gesture in the general shape of an erect penis and its closely associated expletive are regarded as insults, rather than appealing propositions. Men continue to be vastly disproportionately wounded and killed serving their countries in war. Within such circumstances, social justice would be best served not by raising the public value of men’s war wounds, but by distributing the wounds of war more equally by gender and raising the public value of men’s sexuality.

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[1] Plutarch, Moralia, “On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander,” 331B-C, from Greek trans. Frank Cole Babbitt for the Loeb Classical Library, 1936. I’ve made some non-substantial changes to the translation for readability. Plutarch was a Roman historian of Greece. He lived from about 46 GC to 120 GC. Cicero, De oratore 2.249, records similar remarks to Spurius Carvilius from his mother. Cicero lived from 106 BGC to 43 BGC.

Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Coriolanus 14.1. observed:

Now it was the custom with those who stood for office to greet their fellow-citizens and solicit their votes, descending into the forum in their toga, without a tunic under it. This was either because they wished the greater humility of their garb to favour their solicitations, or because they wished to display the tokens of their bravery, in case they bore wounds.

From Greek trans. Bernadotte Perrin for the Loeb Classical Library, 1916. See also Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Antony 64.1-2.

[2] Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.256-65, from Latin trans. Anthony Kline, 2000. Ulysses is addressing the Greek soldiers besieging Troy. He seeks to persuade them that he, rather than Ajax, deserves Achilles’s arms.

[3] Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum (The War with Jugurtha) 85.3, 85.29-30, from Latin trans. John C. Rolfe for Loeb Classical Library, 1931. With this speech, Gaius Marius was seeking to be elected consul of the Roman Republic. He succeeded and was elected in 107 BGC.

Sallust was a Roman historian who lived from 86 BGC to 35 BGC. For similar statements, see Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 2.15.7, 4.1.69, 6.1.21. Quintilian lived from about 35 GC to 100 GC. For good review of the evidence on displaying wounds in ancient Rome, Leigh (1995).

Evans (1999) labels as a “gimmick” Roman men displaying their war wounds. In some contexts, such display could be a joke or a literary topos. Yet Roman men displaying war wounds even in those forms recognizes underlying social instrumentalization of men.

[4] Homer, Iliad 22.79-83 (Hecuba baring breasts to Hector); Aeschylus, Choephori 896-9 (Clytemnestra baring breasts to Orestes); Little Iliad Fr. 28 GEF, Euripides, Andromache 629-30 (Menelaus throwing away sword when he saw Helen’s breasts). See also Stesichorus, Geryoneis Fragment S13 (Geryon’s mother showed him her breasts in imploring him not to fight Heracles).

[5] Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae (The Learned Banqueters) 13.590d-e, from Greek trans. Olson (2010) pp. 411, 413, adapted slightly. Here’s an earlier (1937) Loeb Classical Library translation of Athenaeus 13.590d-e. Plutarch (Pseudo-Plutarch), Lives of the Ten Orators 849c-e has a similar account.

The accounts of Phryne’s trial in Plutarch and Athenaeus come from the Greek biographer Hermippus (fr. 68 K-A) from about 200 BGC. Hermippus’s account is adapted from that of Idomeneus of Lampsacus from about 300 BGC. Cooper (1995) p. 304. Hyperides lived from 390/389 BGC to 322 BGC. Additional texts of Hyperides have been recovered from the Archimides Palimpsest.

Quintilian, Sextus Empiricus, Philodemus, and Alciphron describe Phryne herself baring her breasts. Quintilian, Instituto Oratoria 2.15.9; Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 2.2; Philodemus, On Rhetoric 1.20.4; Alciphron, Letters of Prostitutes, Letter 4 (Bacchis to Phryne). Morales (2011) pp. 77-9.

The earliest known account of the trial is from Posidippus, The Girl from Ephesus, fr. 13, preserved in Athenaeus 13.591f:

Before our time, Phryne was far and away the best-known
courtesan there was; because even if you’re
younger than that, you’ve heard about her trial.
Even though they thought she did terrible damage to men’s lives,
she captured the court when she was tried on a capital charge;
and by taking the jurors’ hands, one by one,
she saved her life — although just barely — with her tears.

From Greek trans. Olson (2010) p. 417, with one significant modification. Id. translates τοὺς βίους as “people’s lives.” In context, that phrase almost surely refers to men. The earlier Loeb translation had “men’s lives.” I’ve restored that translation above. On the power of women’s tears, see, e.g. the Archpriest of Talavera on violence against men.

Cooper argues that neither Hyperides nor Phryne herself bared her breasts at trial. The crux of his argument is that the earliest account, that of Posidippus, doesn’t mention baring of breasts. He judges that Idomeneus invented the baring of breasts “to parody and ridicule the courtroom displays of Athenian demogogues.” Cooper (1995) p. 315. Yet across the subsequent more than two millennia, baring of Phryne’s breasts to gain favor in a court of law was widely regarded as realistic. Pro-woman discrimination in the administration of justice remains large and pervasive today.  Cooper concludes:

There are things that have more power to persuade than just rhetoric. … If that action {baring of Phryne’s breasts} really happened and was not the invention of biographers, as we have suggested, in disrobing Phryne, even if only verbally, Hyerides {if he disrobed her, rather than she disrobed herself} may have discovered something that was more effective and certainly more dramatic than all his best arguments.

Id. p. 318. Criminal law and the sex composition of prison populations make the persuasive power obvious.

[6] Livy, Ab Urbe Condita / History of Rome 45.39, from Latin trans. Alfred C. Schlesinger, Loeb Classical Library, 1951. The translation of Henry Bettenson is nearly identical. Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Aemilius 31.7-10 provides nearly the same account.

Marcus Servilius Pulex Geminus had been consul in 202 BGC. The debate about the honor for General Aemilius Paulus occurred in 167 BGC. Servilius was thus a senior citizen.

In both Livy and Plutarch’s account, Servilius disparages Galba for effeminacy.  Plutarch is more explicit. In Plutarch’s account, Servilius assails Galba as “a man without a wound to show, and whose person is sleek from delicate and cowardly effeminacy.” Aemilius 31.7, from Greek trans. Bernadotte Perrin, Loeb Classical Library, 1918. Servilius’s disparagement of Galba for effeminacy adds poignancy to the socially constructed imperative for men to show war wounds, rather than just show their genitals. Displaying dominant misunderstanding of gender and men’s lives, Colwell (2015) declares, “Servilius’ self-display reiterates, enforces and replicates ideologies of imperialism and militarism.”

[7] The leading commentary: “tumor inguinum: a groin hernia; cf. Cels. 7. 20.” Briscoe (2012) p. 746. Classical Latin authors commonly used the word inguen to refer to male genitals. See, e.g. Horace, Satires 1.2.26, 116, Epistles 1.1.36; Ovid, Fasti 2.346; Juvenal, Satires 6.370. Evans (1999) p. 88. Evans speculates:

Geminus’ {Servilius’} own diagnosis may well be the invention of the historian {Livy}. That it should be a cause of amusement is hardly surprising since this hernia was clearly longstanding and had never been treated. The hernia would have started the size of a golf-ball, grown to the size of a tennis-ball and, in a man of Geminus’ age plus the time he had spent on horse-back, the scrotal sack would almost certainly have been distended to nearly the size of a football.

Id. Women in ancient Rome appreciated large penises. A scrotal sack the size of a football might have been regarded as an impressive manly display. In context, the tumor inguinum in Livy’s story of Servilius’s speech is best understood as a figure meant to invoke comparison with a woman baring her breasts.

[image] Phryne displays her breasts to the jurors. Oil on canvas painting by José Frappa (1854-1904). Held in Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

A much more famous painting is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting in 1861 of Phryne being disrobed before the Areopagus (Phryné devant l’Aréopage). Morales declares:

The descriptions of Phryne’s trial, then, stage a repertoire of different viewing relations with different literary models and very different power dynamics. (We might note that Jean-Léon Gérôme’s famous Phryné devant l’Aréopage (1861) represents all of these different responses in the one painting.)

Morales (2011) p. 80. Gérôme’s painting shows Hyperides having torn off with a violent gesture all of Phryne’s clothes. With dark skin and a penetrating gaze, he stares fiercely at Phryne. She is completely nude, with very white skin. She meekly averts her face and covers her eyes. Darker skinned men in the audience, all wearing apparently identical red togas, respond variously to the sight of Phryne’s completely nude body. Gérôme’s painting projects an enormous load of racist and misandristic ideology upon ancient accounts of Phryne’s bare breasts being shown to jurors to win her an acquittal on a capital charge. The continuing prevalence of such racist and misandristic ideology can be seen at the origins of nineteenth-century social science and in today’s oppressive campus sex regulations and vastly disproportionate incarceration of men.


Briscoe, John. 2012. A commentary on Livy, books 41-45. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Colwill, David. 2015. “Displaying ‘what should have remained concealed’: disfigurement and militaristic ideology in the body of M. Servilius.” Presentation at the Classical Association Conference, University of Bristol, 11 April 2015.

Cooper, Craig. 1995. “Hyperides and the Trial of Phryne.” Phoenix. 49 (4): 303-318.

Evans, R.J. 1999. “Displaying honourable scars: a Roman gimmick.” Acta Classica: Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa. 42: 77-94.

Leigh, Matthew. 1995. “Wounding and Popular Rhetoric at Rome.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. 40 (1): 195-215.

Morales, Helen. 2011. “Fantasising Phryne: The psychology and ethics of ekphrasis.” The Cambridge Classical Journal. 57: 71-104.

Olson, S. Douglas, trans. 2010. Athenaeus. The learned banqueters. V. 6. Books 12-13.594b. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

fake rape: Lancelot as tool for the amorous girl's fantasy

damsel in distress: fake rape for inciting men

The time was evening in Chrétien de Troyes’s late-twelfth-century Arthurian romance Lancelot. The knight Lancelot needed lodging. He met a beautiful girl, elegantly dressed and bejeweled, courteous and well-spoken. This is what she said:

Sir, my house
Is nearby, ready to receive you
If you decide to use it.
But in order to enjoy my home
You have to sleep with me.
My offer’s conditional and these
are my terms. [1]

Men, unless they are clever, often have to pay for sex. Men deserve reparations for the historical injustice of devaluing masculine sexuality, as well as pay for their erection labor. The girl offered not sexual reparations, but reverse prostitution. Lancelot had to sleep with her in order to obtain the lodging he desperately needed. You know how the story goes: men are marginalized persons who are always oppressed.

The manlet Lancelot accepted the girl’s offer even though he didn’t want to sleep with her. Under the new meaning of rape, the girl raped Lancelot, because he didn’t want to sleep with her, except that it’s not rape because rape of men doesn’t count.[2] If you don’t understand, you need further college education. In any case, the girl brought Lancelot to a magnificent castle with high walls and surrounded by a deep moat. When they arrived, dinner was ready in the castle’s huge, stately hall. Burning candles illuminated a round table, a grand tablecloth, plates, gold-plated silver cups, and two bowls of wine. The girl gave Lancelot a scarlet cloak to wear. No one else was present. The girl and Lancelot ate and drank together. She sat beside him, not across the table.

After dinner, the girl made romantic arrangements. She instructed Lancelot to stroll outside in the night air while she made herself ready for him in bed. When Lancelot returned inside, he couldn’t find the girl who wanted to be his lover. Then he heard the girl screaming in another room. He went toward the girl’s screaming:

And saw, right in front of him,
A knight who had tumbled the girl,
Her clothes turned up, across
a bed, and was holding her down.
And she, thinking surely
He’d come to help her, cried
As loud as she could, “Help me,
Help me! Knight! My guest!
Unless you get him off me
He’ll dishonor me while you watch!
You’re the one I’m supposed
To sleep with — you promised! Can you let him
Take me like this, by force,
Right under your eyes?
Oh noble knight, please!
Hurry, help me, before
It’s too late!” The girl was almost
naked, and the knight was shamelessly
Pushing her down, and our knight
Felt deeply humiliated,
Seeing their bodies one
On the the other; he felt no desire
And not the slightest jealousy.

Like most men, Lancelot didn’t find rape erotically arousing. Like most men, he didn’t envy the rapist. The girl had coerced him into sleeping with her; he had no reason to be jealous of another man having sex with her. Yet, even before the grammatically monstrous and factually preposterous United Nations’ HeForShe campaign, Lancelot felt deeply humiliated. He deeply sympathized with what was apparently happening to the girl.

Apparent rape or claims of rape are potent tools for prompting men to violence against men. Lancelot saw two well-armed knights guarding the door of the room in which the girl apparently was being raped. Inside the room were four other men armed with sharp axes. Lancelot loved Queen Guinevere, not this girl. He valued his life: if he were killed attempting to rescue the girl, he wouldn’t be able to serve Queen Guinevere! Lancelot pondered what to do, and lingered, and pondered his lingering:

To stay right here would be shameful —
And even thinking such thoughts
Brings me dishonor. My heart
Would be black and worthless: by God,
It makes me miserable to have waited
This long, it’s a mortal shame
To have lingered here like this.

Lancelot then lingered further, pondering:

How can I hope for God’s
Mercy if I’m driven by pride?
If I don’t prefer an honorable
Death to a life of shame?
What honor could I possibly gain,
If the door had been left unguarded?
If these fellows stepped back and let me
Go in unchallenged? By God,
The lowest man among men
Could accomplish all that! I hear
that miserable creature calling
For help, over and over,
In the name of the promise I made her,
And cursing me for not coming.

Lancelot approached the room and gingerly poked his head in. The knights guarding the door savagely swung their swords at his head. Lancelot, however, quickly pulled out. Lacking Lancelot’s manly dexterity, the other knights were unable to stop. Their swords crashed into the ground and shattered. Under new campus sex regulations, men must develop the dexterity of the manlet Lancelot.

Lancelot then jumped into the room and began violently attacking the men. He clubbed them with his elbows and fists and knocked two to the ground. A third man swung at him and missed. A fourth landed a sword blow to his shoulder, which began to bleed profusely. Lancelot fought his way to the damsel in distress:

Our knight paid no attention
To his wound, leaping swiftly
Across the room and grasping
By the head the man who was trying
To force the girl. Our knight
Meant to honor his promise,
Before he was done. Desiring
Or not, he yanked the head back.
But the fellow who’d missed him, at first,
Came rushing over as fast
As he could, raising his ax,
Planning to split our knight’s skull
Down to the teeth. Knowing
How to defend himself,
Our knight dragged the rapist
In front of the blow, which fell
Right between the neck
And the shoulder, and cut them apart. [3]

Lancelot then wrenched the ax out of the man’s hands. Preparing to fight the remaining men, Lancelot jumped between the bed and the wall to get a strong defensive position behind the girl on the bed. He cried out:

Come on, all of you! Now
That I’ve got an ax, and space
To swing it, you couldn’t beat me
Even with another twenty
Or thirty to help you!

The scene was set for the sort of violence against men that made medieval men’s life expectancy much shorter than that of women. But the girl intervened:

The girl, who’d been watching, said,
“By God, knight, you’ve nothing
To fear, with me at your side.”
With a snap of the wrist, she waved
Away knights and men
And all. And at once, without
A word of protest, they left.
And then the girl added,
“My lord, how well you’ve held off
My entire household! Now come
With me: I’ll show you the way.”
Holding his hand, she led him
Back to the great hall.
He followed along, unhappy.

Followed along, unhappy? That’s far too typical of far too many men. Lancelot should have raged at the girl with righteous fury. Projecting her own erotic arousal onto Lancelot, she had set up a fake rape, gotten him seriously wounded, one of her household men killed, and other household men also wounded. False accusations of rape have been recognized as a serious problem throughout history, although dominant culture now denies that reality. Faking rape to set up brutal violence among men is even worse than false accusation of rape.

The story of Lancelot being duped by the amorous girl’s fake rape points to the end state of cultures unwilling to address adequately rape hoaxes. The girl led Lancelot to a luxurious bed with a coverlet of flowered silk. She lay on the bed and waited for him to join her. But resulting events were like every night in a sexless marriage:

He lay on the bed, slowly,
Carefully, like her still wearing
His shirt, so cautious as he stretched
Out on his back that no part
Of his body was touching hers.
Nor did he say a word —
As if he’d been a monk,
Forbidden to speak in bed.
He stared at the ceiling, seeing
Neither her nor anything
Else. He could not pretend
Goodwill. [4]

The girl finally realized that her fake rape had failed to advance her sexual fantasy. She said to Lancelot:

My lord, I think I’ll leave you,
And sleep in my own bed;
You’ll be more at ease, alone.
I can’t believe you find me
Delightful, or ever will.

What man would ever find delightful a woman who viciously faked a rape? In medieval Christian understanding, all things are possible with God. So it is that some prominent recent rape hoaxers apparently have acquired boyfriends and husbands. And men imprisoned for multiple murders have many beautiful women seeking their love.

After Lancelot’s stone-cold rejection of her, the girl continued to position herself to claim rape and promote violence against men. When Lancelot sought to leave her house without further delay, the girl proposed to join him:

“My lord, I’ll join you
For much of this journey, if you think
You’re able to safely escort me
Along the road, according
To our ancient rules and customs,
Here in the kingdom of Logres.”
Which customs were, in those days,
That a knight finding a lady
Or a girl, alone and unguarded,
Should sooner cut his own throat
Than do her the slightest harm
Or offer even the faintest
Thought of any dishonor,
If he meant to preserve his good name,
For if he shamed the young woman,
He’d be banished from every court
In the world. But when a knight
was her escort, that knight could be challenged —
And should he be beaten in battle,
Conquered by force of arms,
The winner, without any shadow
Of disgrace, could do as he liked
With the woman. [5]

Gynocentric culture forbids violence against women, constructs women as prizes for men to win, and encourages men’s violence against men. Men did as they liked with defeated men. That often meant killing them. Men in theory could rape captured women, but as in true for primates in general, most men aren’t interested in raping women. Better understanding of Roman men’s abduction of Sabine women to be their honored wives might advance understanding of the modern ideal of gender non-discrimination.

In this story, Lancelot lacked the courage to just say no to the beautiful, amorous girl who faked rape and then sought him to be her protector. Men must be more courageous than Lancelot. Men should just say no to women setting up violence against men. Men should just say no to women positioning themselves to be captured and to claim subsequently that their boyfriends or husbands raped them.

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[1] Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot ll. 945-51, from Old French trans. Raffel (1997) p. 31. All subsequent quotes from Lancelot are from id. and will be quoted by line numbers and pages. The subsequent quotes are from ll. 1068-85, p. 35 (And saw…); 1110-6, p. 36 (To stay right here…); 1117-30, p. 36 (How can I hope…); 1153-70, p. 37 (Our knight…); 1181-5, p. 38 (Come on…); 1186-99, pp. 38-9 (The girl…); 1218-29 pp. 39-40 (He lay…); 1254-8, p. 40 (My lord, I think I’ll leave you …); 1300-22, p. 42 (My lord, I’ll join you…).

[2] The text itself considers the question of whether Lancelot was being “forced” (the medieval French term also used for a man raping a woman):

Was he being forced?
Almost: he was forcing himself
To sleep with the girl; his promise
Called him, and bent his will.

Lancelot, ll. 1214-17, p. 39. In modern terminology, the text seems to be blaming the victim (“forcing himself”). The extent to which men are made to penetrate sexually another (“forced”) is widely suppressed in public discourse about rape.

Academic scholarship has extensively addressed rape with acute anti-men bigotry. Writing in 1997, a scholar of medieval French literature began a courageous essay on rape with some nearly unspeakable observations:

The following essay is a reflection on rape. More precisely, it bears on the ways in which the theme of rape has been handled in some recent scholarship — in a number of books and articles, and in a wide array of lectures and conference presentations that I have heard at academic gatherings in the past several years. (Every conference now devotes sessions to rape and sexual violence against women.) Some of this work is sound and provocative. But much of this scholarly trend is, in my view, plagued by a tendency towards naive, anachronistic, and inappropriate readings of literary works, high levels of indignation and self-pity, and a pervasive hostility to men.

Vitz (1997) p. 1. Since 1997, those problems have gotten worse. That scholarly trend has supported new, fascistic punitive-carceral initiatives even within the context of U.S. mass incarceration.

[3] Lancelot l. 1168 in the original Old French (edition here) includes the phrase Volsist ou non. Raffel translates that phrase as “Like it / Or not.” Above I used the translation “Desiring / Or not.” The latter translation seems to me to be more accurate and more contextually sensitive. Chrétien de Troyes was a subtle, complex writer.

[4] The girl in bed with Lancelot had a beautiful face (and there’s no indication that she was fat). Lancelot slept with her sexlessly to fulfill the letter of his promise:

And why? His heart
Had been captured by another woman,
And even a beautiful face
Cannot appeal to everyone.

Lancelot ll. 1229-32, p. 40.

[5] On women’s rape fantasies, Vitz (1997) pp. 7-18. Humane, liberal society should provide broad latitude for fantasies, including rape fantasies. Rape fantasies create social injustice when they are accompanied with specific actions that criminalize men or promote violence against men.

[image] Damsel in distress: “Destroy this Mad Brute” poster.  U.S. Army propaganda poster, 1917. Thanks to U.S. Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons.


Raffel, Burton, trans. 1997. Chrétien de Troyes. Lancelot, the knight of the cart. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Birge Vitz, Evelyn. 1997. “Rereading Rape in Medieval Literature: Literary, Historical, and Theoretical Reflections.” Romanic Review. 88 (1): 1-26.