Saint Barbara can help men resisting being pressured into marriage

Saint Barbara crushing her father

Men, particularly those who sleep regularly with just one woman, face considerable social pressure to marry according to law. Yet thinking men know that marriage is a rotten legal institution. Why should a man enter into a contract that a woman can terminate at will and subject him to the grotesque anti-men discrimination of family courts? Why would a man enter a contract that makes him financially responsible for any children his wife might birth as a result of her extramarital sex?

Despite the irrationality of the legal institution of marriage, men are pressured into marriage. Some will tell a man to “man up and marry her.” That’s offensive to men who are fed up with being told what being a man means. Others will claim that an unmarried man isn’t treating his girlfriend fairly. That’s unfairly judgmental. She and he should be the ultimate judges of fairness in their consensual relationship. Some unmarried men might hear, “you should make an honest woman of her.” That comment reflects the sordid history of treating men’s sexuality as corrupting women. Men who forthrightly state their rational opposition to marriage are a courageous example of honesty. Those men can justifiably seek honesty from their girlfriends. Men who marry while being unwilling to talk about the injustices of legal marriage are dishonest. They don’t deserve an honest woman.

In our benighted age of anti-men bigotry, men being pressured to marry might pray to Saint Barbara to help them resist the vicious stupidity. Barbara was a strong, independent woman living in the third-century GC somewhere in the area from present-day Turkey to Lebanon. Her father was a wealthy, illustrious man who worshiped the traditional Greco-Roman gods. Most importantly, Barbara was beautiful. Many men eagerly sought to marry her. Her father pressured her to marry. After resisting brutal torture, Barbara died when her father beheaded her.

Barbara categorically renounced her fathers plans for her to marry. In the ancient world, just as today, daughters’ wishes commonly prevailed over their fathers’ preferences. When Barbara’s father came to her urging marriage, she:

did not wish even to hear about the matter, lest some of it taint her heart. She thus rejected it as something discordant and absurd and angrily pushed her father away. “Don’t ever say a word to me about this again,” she said, “for then you will not be called ‘father’ any more as you will drive me to suicide.”

Barbara’s father respected his daughter’s command to him. Yet he seemed to harbor considerable resentment from her forceful rejection of his ideal of her getting married.

Barbara and her father’s relationship broke fully when Barbara unilaterally intervened in his construction project. Her father had decided to build a bath. He hired craftsmen, gave them detailed instructions, and paid them in advance. Then he left on a trip. Barbara subsequently came to the construction site and saw that the craftsmen were building two windows. She urged them to add a third window:Saint Barbara directing construction

when they said, “Your father ordered it this way,” Barbara insisted that they add one more window. As they hesitated to make the addition and presented their fear of her father as a reasonable excuse, the blessed maiden showed them three of her fingers, and said, “you should build three, three windows. And if my father should be displeased about it, I will take the responsibility.” The workmen yielded and fulfilled her command.

When Barbara’s father returned home, he didn’t understand why his bath had a third window despite his construction orders. He asked the craftsmen why they hadn’t adhered to his orders:

When they attributed the responsibility for this innovation to his daughter, he summoned her and asked her about it. Not only did she not deny it, but also insisted that it should have been built this way and this it was good that it was done so.

When her further questioned her in private, she explained:

Look, this is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; all of creation is spiritually illuminated by this {three from one} light.

Underscoring her independent thinking, Barbara earlier had spat on the faces of her father’s statues of traditional Greco-Roman gods. That’s the sort of rebellious spirit men need to resist the intense pressure on them to marry.

Barbara’s father went mad with rage at her actions. Fathers love their children dearly, even after being deprived of their children’s presence through anti-men family court bias. Barbara’s father, however, became unlike a father:

The father forgot that he was a father and was on his way to becoming a tyrant and murderer: he drew the sword that hung from his shoulders and rushed to kill Barbara with his own hands.

When Barbara’s father raised his sword against her, she was miraculous transported to a distant mountain. He still sought to find her and kill her. After she was betrayed by shepherds, he found her:

he started beating her angrily with heavy blows. Then, grabbing her by the hair and dragging her by force, he imprisoned her in a small hut, establishing guards and securing the door with seals. … He then brought her in, handed her over to the governor, making him swear by his own gods that he would not spare his daughter (oh, what a paternal heart this father had!), but would treat her with the utmost violence and kill her with the most grievous tortures.

After seeing Barbara’s elegance and beauty, the governor wanted to marvel at her, rather than punish her. Barbara resolutely rejected that special, female-privileged opportunity for reprieve.

Barbara subsequently suffered brutal tortures and death. The governor had her stripped naked, scourged, and whipped. Then he had her wounds rubbed with haircloth. Subsequent punishments were even worse:

the governor ordered those present to scrape the martyr’s sides with iron claws, and, in addition, to burn her already scrapped limbs with lit torches, and then to strike her honorable head with a hammer. … {the governor ordered) that Barbara be stripped naked and be paraded through the entire land, and that she be flogged with even more whipping.

Barbara’s father-turned-monster nonetheless felt the social pressure of men’s gender role:

he judged that it would be a sign of weakness and soft-heartedness, if he himself did not inflict the fatal blow with his own hands, as if he reckoned it a clear disgrace not to become an innovator in wickedness.

Acting apart from the love of God the Father and the example of Abraham’s restrained hand before Isaac, Barbara’s father beheaded her.

Barbara’s father failed in his attempt to force her to marry. Moreover, Barbara became a saint now venerated for more than a millennium. Men being pressured to marry can look to Saint Barbara for strength and inspiration. Even at the risk of enraging their mothers and fathers, men should seek the truth about marriage rather than following false gods. True love requires truth.

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Veneration of Saint Barbara became common in the eastern Roman Empire from the ninth century. The specific version of her life above is from Symeon Metaphrastes late-tenth-century Menologion, “Passion of the Holy and Triumphant Martyr of Christ Barbara.” This account is set about the early fourth century in Helioupolis, a Roman city in Syria (now Baalbek, Lebanon). The name of Barbara’s father is Dioskoros. He seems to have been a single father.

A thunderbolt killed Barbara’s father Dioskoros immediately after he killed Barbara. Metaphrastes called the thunderbolt “God-sent fire,” and Diskoros’s death, “divine justice.” As a result of that explosive action, Saint Barbara become the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives. With greater reason, Saint Barbara deserves also to be regarded as the patron saint of men being pressured into marriage.

The above quotes are from Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Passion of the Holy and Triumphant Martyr of Christ Barbara,” from Greek (on facing pages) trans. Papaioannou (2017) (cited by paragraph in Greek text and page of English trans. in id): 5, p. 157 (did not wish even to hear…); 8, p. 159 (when they said…); 11, pp. 161, 163 (When they attributed…); 13, p. 163 (Look, this is the father…); 13, p. 163 (The father forgot…); 16, p. 167 (he started beating her…); 24, 28, pp. 171, 175 (the governor ordered…); 31, p. 177 (he judged that…).

[images] (1) Saint Barbara crushing her father under her feet, with a man kneeling in supplication before her. Panel painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1473. Thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Saint Barbara giving new orders on her father’s construction project. Painting (oil on panel) made between 1470 and 1500. Held in Walters Art Museum (Baltimore), accession #37.777. Thanks to Walters Art Museum and Wikimedia Commons.


Papaioannou, Stratis, ed. and trans. 2017. Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Galbert of Bruges described cuckolding of eminent Walter of Vladslo

In early twelfth-century Flanders, Walter of Vladslo was an eminent peer, second in eminence only to the Count of Flanders. Yet according to Galbert of Bruges’s twelfth-century journal, Walter of Vladslo was also a cuckold. Men, unlike women, face the problem of biological parental uncertainty. As Galbert’s history makes clear, this parental knowledge gender inequality can have dire consequences for eminent men as well as ordinary men.

child - who is its father?

Walter of Vladslo’s wife deceived him by switching infants. Galbert of Bruges reported:

The father truly believed to be his son the boy, to whom the supposed mother, the wife of the aforesaid Walter, had earlier pretended dishonestly to have given birth. But the infant to whom she had given birth had died in childbirth. She thus replaced him with the shoemaker’s son, who had been born about the same time, and sent the dead child, to whom she had given birth, secretly to the shoemaker’s wife, giving her money so that she would say she had given birth to the dead child and would hide what happened from her husband.

{ Crediderat enim verum fuisse sibi filium pater, quem fraudulenter olim mater quasi uxor Walteri praefati peperisse dissimulabat. At infans, quem pepererat, statim in ipso partu obierat. Supposuit ergo filium sutoris, qui circa idem tempus genitus fuerat, et emortuum quem pepererat uxori sutoris clanculo submisit, dans ei pecuniam ut fateretur se peperisse illum emortuum et viro suo quod factum erat celaret. } [1]

The death of a child at childbirth would be for most parents a time of intense grief. Walter’s wife at such a time covertly engaged in a commercial transaction of baby-buying. She induced a shoemaker’s wife to be similarly mercenary in giving up her child for money. Both their husbands surely would have been horrified if they had known that they were married to such heartless women. Yet the forces of gynocentrism tend to suppress accounts of women’s bad behavior via name-calling and attempted shaming of those who describe and condemn such behavior. Women effectively are socially constructed as wonderful beings.[2] Men must turn to marginalized literature to encounter appreciation for women’s full humanity.

The cuckolding of Walter became the basis for a political alliance. Provost Bertulf was a leading member of the wealthy and powerful Erembald family of Flanders. Walter and Provost Bertulf allied themselves through marriage with Walter’s mis-attributed son and Bertulf’s niece. Galbert recounted:

When this stolen and adopted son had grown up and everyone believed him to be truly Walter’s son, the provost came along and married his niece, the daughter of his brother’s son, to the stolen son so that thanks to this marriage they would stand together more firmly in all circumstances, would be more daring, stronger, more powerful.

{ Cum crevisset ille furatus et adoptivus filius et omnes crediderant vere filium fuisse illius Walter, venit praepositus et dedit neptem suam, filiam filii fratris sui, illi furtivo filio uxorem ut firmiter ad omnem fortunam simul per illud conjugium consisterent, audaciores, fortiores ac potentiores forent. }

Galbert’s reference to the son as “stolen” apparently refers to the shoemaker having his son stolen from him from through his wife’s baby-selling. Galbert obviously and rightly condemned the behavior of the shoemaker’s wife. When Galbert referred to the political alliance constructed on deception as making the parties “more daring, stronger, more powerful,” he was negatively foreshadowing their subsequent evil acts.

Bertulf, with Walter’s support, participated in the betrayal and murder of the Flemish ruler Count Charles the Good. As his name suggests, Charles the Good was generally a well-regarded ruler of Flanders. Charles prompted his murder by seeking to reduce the power of the Erembalds. The Erembalds along with others arranged for knights to attack Charles while he knelt at prayer in church. They hacked him to death with broadswords. Walter initially aided the conspiracy’s leaders to escape. Yet Walter also helped to besiege a castle into which some conspirators fled. Bertulf ultimately was executed for this role in Charles’s murder.[3] No one dared punish Walter. Yet according to Galbert, God subsequently punished Walter by having him fall from his horse and die a slow death.

Walter’s wife further punished him with a postmortem humiliation and betrayal. Galbert explained:

After Walter’s death, his wife confessed publicly that the boy, to whom Walter had given to some burgher as surety for three hundred pounds, was not his true son but was adopted.

{ Igitur post mortem ipsius Walteri profitebatur publice uxor ejus, puerum illum non esse verum filium suum sed adoptivum, quem idem Walterus apud burgensem quendam posuerat in vadimonium pro trecentis libris. }

By revealing that her husband was a cuckold, Walter’s wife disgraced her husband’s reputation for her own selfish interests. Distancing herself from the treasonous Erembalds by revealing that the marriage alliance was deceptive would make her less politically vulnerable. Moreover, if the boy was not actually her son, she could refuse to repay the burgher’s three hundred pounds without incurring the social opprobrium of betraying her own flesh-and-blood son. A woman heartless enough to buy a baby as a husband-deceiving substitute for a son born dead probably would also be heartless enough to sell out her foster son.[4]

Cuckolding of men has evolved from evil actions of women to state-institutionalized processes for cuckolding men in paternity establishment. Modern DNA paternity testing offers the possibility of eliminating gender inequality in parental knowledge. Yet DNA paternity testing hasn’t become routine procedure. That failure reflects deep gynocentric hostility to men’s paternity interests. Promoting anti-men gender bigotry is being deceptively passed off as advancing gender equality.

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[1] Galbert of Bruges, De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum {The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders} 89, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 139, ll. 11-16, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 144 (with two small, non-substantial changes for readability). The subsequent two quotes from De multro are sourced similarly, with the translation spanning id. pp. 144-5. Earlier editions of the Latin text are freely available online.

Galbert of Bruges wrote De multro during 1127 and 1128 in response to the murder of Charles the Good on March 2, 1127. De multro is organized as a chronicle, with most entries dated with a month, day, and year. Entry 89, however, is an undated entry coming between entry 88 (dated September 17, 1127) and entry 90 (dated October 8, 1127).

Walter of Vladso’s wife cuckolded him in an unusual way. But the purchase or rental of an infant to replace a dead one is attested in at least two other eleventh- and twelfth-century documentary sources. Rider (2001) p. 291, n. 57. The more typical approach to cuckolding a man is for a woman to have sex covertly with another man and then attribute the pregnancy to her primary partner. The woman herself may not know who is the actual biological father, but she certainly knows that the father might not be her primary partner.

[2] Walter’s cuckolding wife is thus honored as a woman “with plenty of enterprise, self-interest, and sheer nerve … this astonishing woman.” She undoubtedly deserves to be memorialized in the history of “ambitious, tough-minded, daring women.” Partner (2009) pp. 120-1.

Galbert of Bruges and most of today’s academics have rather different approaches to recording history. Partner observed:

There is no pure recording, for us (secular, feminist, postmodern as we mostly are) anymore than for a twelfth-century notary (religious, patriarchal, premodern as he {Galbert} mostly was).

Id. p. 111. Despite the constraints of humans’ specific bodily capabilities (humans can’t smell all that dogs smell) and dominant ideology (academics who don’t successfully curry favor in the academic status market don’t gain prestige), reasonably objective judgments have always been feasible. For example, here’s a question that’s objectively tendentious and benighted:

Is it fair to speak of misogyny, or is Galbert no more misogynistic than other medieval writers?

Häcker (2009) p. 144. Unthinking ignorance of injustices against men is pervasive in current intellectual life, quite clearly, but academics functioning as apparatchiki for the dominant ideology cling to their bureaucratic ideals while public reason collapses and civilized life is gravely threatened. Cf. Partner (2009) p. 114.

[3] Bertulf subsequently became the violently condemned subject of the fabliau Du provost a l’aumuche. Cooper & Edsall (2009). Fabliaux such as De Berengier au lonc cul and La Saineresse served as vehicles for men’s sexed protest. Galbert’s account of Walter being cuckolded shows awareness of men’s vulnerability and highlights an important concern in literature of men’s sexed protest.

[4] Showing lack of appreciation for men’s vulnerability in relation to women, Ross entitled Galbert’s chapter on the cuckolding of Walter of Vladslo “God’s punishment of Walter of Vladslo.” Ross (1060) p. 262.

Echoing common denial of men’s victimization, Häcker doesn’t find cuckolding of Vladslo to be credible:

The story, as it is told by Galbert, does not seem credible. Why should this woman admit to having deceived her late husband without any apparent reason for such a postmortem confession?

Häcker (2009) p. 135. Partner explains credible motivation for the cuckolding:

The original child-swap was organized by the noblewoman and the cobbler’s wife .. the one so that she could secure the male heir so necessary for every landed family, and the other, one supposes, so that she could smuggle her child into high rank and wealth.

Partner (2009) p. 120. With respect to the postmortem revelation of Walter’s wife that she cuckolded him:

Plausible speculation comes easily: (1) Walter of Vladslo died surrounded by dangerous suspicions in a volatile political climate; (2) he had left his wife connected to the criminal and disgraced family of Bertulf through her “son,” and (3) this “son” was his father’s heir, but might well go down in the general disgrace of his wife’s kin. None of this was advantageous for the widow. So it looks like she decided to cut her losses, publicly disavow her blood tie to the “son” married into the Bertulf clan, and disinherit him at the same time.

Id. p. 121. Devaluing the burgher’s surety would be additional motivation.

[image] Giovanni de’ Medici as a Child. Painting (tempera on panel) that Bronzino made in 1545. Held in Uffizi Gallery (Italy). Thanks to the Yorck Project and Wikimedia Commons.


Cooper, Lisa H. and Mary Agnes Edsall. 2009. “History as Fabliau and Fabliau as History: The Murder of Charles the Good and Du provost a l’aumuche.” Ch. 10 (pp. 215-239) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Häcker, Martina. 2009. “The Language of Misogyny in Galbert of Bruges’s Account of the Murder of Charles the Good.” Ch. 6 (pp. 126-144) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Partner, Nancy. 2009, “Galbert’s Hidden Women: Social Presence and Narrative Concealment.” Ch. 5 (pp. 109-125) in Rider and Murray (2009).

Rider, Jeff, ed. 1994. Galbert of Bruges. De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis (CC CM) 131. Turnhout: Brepols.

Rider, Jeff. 2001. God’s scribe: the historiographical art of Galbert of Bruges. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, and Alan V. Murray, eds. 2009. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, trans. 2013. Galbert of Bruges. The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders {De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum}. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ross, James Bruce, trans. 1960. Galbert of Bruges. The murder of Charles the Good, count of Flanders, by Galbert of Bruges. Translated with introduction and notes. New York: Columbia University Press.

men more socially disparaged in cross-dressing than women are

Saint Pelagia of Antioch

Social constraints on men are tighter than those on women. For example, men are punished more severely than women for the same crimes, and men’s sexuality is much more harshly regulated. Societies exploit men as tools for producing goods and fighting wars. Social policing keeps most men within those narrow roles. Comparing social valuations of cross-dressing men and women in a rhetorical exercise of the sixth-century Roman sophist Choricius of Gaza and hagiography of Saint Pelagia shows tighter social constraints on men.

In Choricius’s rhetorical exercise, a general wore women’s clothing to defeat his city’s enemies. A prior general had recently suffered a terrible defeat for the city. The city was then besieged and in grave danger. Seeing no alternative, the second general dressed in women’s clothing and made a nocturnal ambush on the enemy. The second general thus saved the city and became a war hero. The city had a law that a war-hero be memorialized in a painting depicting him carrying out his heroic acts. That would mean memorializing the general in a representation of him wearing women’s clothes.

The general argued strongly against memorializing him in women’s clothing. He declared that a man wearing women’s clothing is “unseemly” and “completely inappropriate for me.” The general put on women’s clothing because that was necessary to protect his city’s women:

I saw that, since our strength had grown weaker and the enemies’ increased, the situation demanded some special contrivance from me; I was pondering how to rebuild the city after it was conquered and was considering the other wretched things that conquest usually causes, especially the most bitter thing of all, the customary excess of the enemy while they hold power in the city, when they outrage bedrooms, assault maidens, and do not spare the bloom of youth. I did not hesitate, you see, to appear as a woman to the enemy so that I might rescue the women from their excess, nor to dress unnaturally so that the youth might not suffer anything unnatural. [1]

Without suffering social disparagement, men typically can’t wear women’s clothing, or even clothing that mimics the freedom of women’s clothing. To wear women’s clothing, men need a special justification. Under gynocentrism, claiming to be protecting women serves as special justification for doing anything.

Women have much more privilege with respect to cross-dressing. Consider, for example, a tenth-century account of the life of Saint Pelagia. Pelagia was a leading actress-dancer in Antioch. She converted to Christianity and became an ascetic monk who lived in a small cell in Jerusalem. Pelagia as a monk became a man renowned for piety and working miracles. When Pelagia died, monks gathered from afar for her funeral:

When they approached the body and extended their hands to anoint it with perfumed oil, they saw a strange sight: a woman, who had been concealing her gender, and who like a man had performed deeds of men, and indeed obtained for her labors even greater benefit than men. [2]

Women commonly get greater benefits than men for the same labor. Women also have more social freedom than men. Pelagia was greatly honored as a cross-dressing woman:

Everyone began to strive equally, each trying to outdo the other, competing to attend the funeral, and vying just to come near the body and to even touch some part of it. In this way, with many candles, and even greater honor, the honorable body of Pelagia was buried, escorted and carried by holy and pious men.

Pelagia came to be widely regarded as a saint. As a woman, Pelagia had the freedom to dress as a woman or as a man without suffering social disparagement and shaming.[3]

The type of clothing that one wears is much less important than experiencing the human capabilities of being alive and having sex. Nonetheless, anti-men gender inequality in cross-dressing is telling. Men historically have been constrained to a relatively narrow gender role. More and more enlightened persons are condemning oppressive social constraints on men’s lives and advocating for men’s liberation.

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[1] Choricius of Gaza, Declamation 11 (“<The War-Hero>”) sec. 33-4, from Greek trans. Terry L. Papillon in Penella (2009) p. 227. The general described his wearing women’s clothing as “completely inappropriate for me” and “unseemly” in sec. 104-5, trans. id. p. 239. Robert Penella has pointed out that Choricius, in his Defense of Mimes, defended mimes cross-dressing on the stage. Choricius thus challenged Christian criticism of secular theater.

[2] Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Life and Conduct of Saint Pelagia of Antioch” para. 25, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) pp. 81, 83 (Greek on facing pages). The subsequent quote is from para. 26, trans. id. p. 83. The life of Saint Pelagia is set in the fifth century in the area of Antioch, Jerusalem, the Jordan, and Jericho. It apparently first appeared in Greek, and then spread to Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and then European vernaculars. Id. p. 289, introductory note.

The life of Pelagia affirms the goodness of men’s heterosexual propensity to gaze upon physically beautiful women. That’s a marginalized counterpoint to the gynocentric practice of condemning and criminalizing men gazing upon physically beautiful women.

[3] Women’s freedom in cross-dressing can also seen in the ancient life of Saint Eugenia. Eugenia revealed her cross-dressing to refute a false accusation of rape. She endured no disparagement or shaming for her cross-dressing. To the contrary, she was affectionately embraced and publicly honored. After serving as the abbot of a men’s monastery, she went on to lead young women in Christian devotion. For Symeon Metaphrastes’s life of Saint Eugenia, Papaioannou (2017) pp. 184-261.

[image] Pelagia before and after her conversion. Detail of illumination from the tenth-century Menologion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Ms. Vat. gr. 1613, image 98. Thanks to the Vatican Museum and Wikimedia Commons.


Papaioannou, Stratis, ed. and trans. 2017. Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Penella, Robert J., ed. 2009. Rhetorical exercises from late antiquity: a translation of Choricius of Gaza’s Preliminary talks and declamations. Cambridge: Cambridge Cambridge University Press.