Wynnere and Wastoure: reject gender subordination to be a winner

Anne of Austria, Queen of France

Wynnere and Wastoure {Winner and Waster}, an alliterative Middle English poem written in the 1350s, features the personifications Winner and Waster in debate. Their debate encompasses husbands’ gender subordination to their wives under the delusions of courtly love. In the Middle Ages, shrewd men recognized that gyno-idolatry is not only a sin, but also a waste.

Winner pitied those men who, like Waster, allowed their wives to dictate their spending. The situation hints of domestic violence against husbands:

“Now,” said Winner to Waster, “I wonder in my heart
at these poor, penniless men that buy precious furs,
saddles of silk, circled with sumptuous rings,
lest they anger their wives, whose wills they must follow.
You sell wood after wood in only a short time,
both the oak and the ash, and all that grows there.

Now it is auctioned and sold — my sorrow is greater —
and wasted all willfully, to please your wives.”

{ “Now,” quod Wynner to Wastour, “me wondirs in hert
Of thies poure penyles men that peloure will by,
Sadills of sendale, with sercles full riche.
Lesse and ye wrethe your wifes, thaire willes to folowe,
Ye sellyn wodd aftir wodde in a wale tyme,
Bothe the oke and the assche and all that ther growes;

Now es it sett and solde, my sorowe es the more,
Wastes alle wilfully, your wyfes to paye. } [1]

Today women spend about $2.30 for every dollar men spend.[2] That’s far more significant than the mythic “wage gap” widely featured in untruthful news media. To fill the gender spending gap, men must spend more. To overcome historical gender inequality, men must spend not according to their wives’ orders, but according to their own choices and desires.

Husbands spending excessively according to their wives’ orders benefits no one. Wives become ridiculous-looking, and husband don’t get more sexual satisfaction:

Those that had been lords in land had noble ladies.
Now they are foolish gals of the new fashion, so nicely attired,
with broad, drooping sleeves hanging down to the ground,
overlayed and underlined with ermine on every side.
It is as hard, I swear, to give them good handle in the dark
as to a innocent, simple wench that never wore silk.

{ That are had lordes in londe and ladyes riche,
Now are thay nysottes of the new gett, so nysely attyred,
With side slabbande sleves, sleght to the grounde,
Ourlede all umbtourne with ermyn aboute,
That es as harde, as I hope, to handil in the derne,
Als a cely symple wenche that never silke wroghte. }

Women buy expensive clothes and fancy adornments to please themselves. Most men simply prefer to enjoy women naked.

Men who attempt to buy women’s favor gain women’s contempt and increase their own risk of death. The woman-pleaser Waster objected to Winner’s truthful analysis:

It sits well for a man to provide for his beloved,
to follow her wishes to win her heart.
Then she will love him truly, like her own life,
make him bold and eager to smite with his sword,
to shun disgrace and shame where men are gathered.

{ It lyes wele for a lede his leman to fynde,
Aftir hir faire chere to forthir hir herte.
Then will scho love hym lelely as hir lyfe one,
Make hym bolde and bown with brandes to smytte,
To schonn schenchipe and schame ther schalkes ere gadird }

Women don’t love men for giving them stuff and being their lackeys. Women use certain men to get stuff. Women love charming jerk-boys. Study medieval women’s love poetry if you are ignorant. And men, value your own life. Women, particularly beloved women, are highly capable of inciting men to violence. Just say no to violence against men. Be confident in the knowledge that your masculinity is intrinsically glorious.[3] Make love, not war.

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[1] Wynnere and Wastoure ll. 392-7, 407-8, Middle English text from Ginsberg (1992), my modern English translation, benefiting from those of Gardner (1971) and Millett (2014). The subsequent quote is similarly from Wynnere and Wastoure ll. 409-14. This poem survives in one manuscript, British Library, Additional MS 31042 (written in the fifteenth century). The poem was probably authored in the period 1352-70. Millett (2014), introduction.

[2] See, e.g. Silverstein & Sayre (2009), Nielson (2013), Smith (2014). These and other sources indicate that women control roughly 70% of consumer spending. That spending share implies that for each dollar men spend, women spend 70% / 30% = $2.33.

[3] The Parlement of the Thre Ages, ll. 246-9, describes the experience of a man whose glorious masculinity was appreciated:

And then returned to the court that I came from,
with ladies fully lovely to embrace in my arms,
and to clasp them and kiss them and comfort my heart,
and then to dance with dear damsels in their chambers.

{ And than kayre to the courte that I come fro,
With ladys full lovely to lappyn in myn armes,
And clyp thaym and kysse thaym and comforthe myn hert,
And than with damesels dere to daunsen in thaire chambirs }

Old English text from Ginsberg (1992), my modern English translation. The Parlement of the Thre Ages was authored in the second half of the fourteenth century. It, along with Wynnere and Wastoure, are the last two items in British Library, Additional MS 31042. Ginsberg (1992), introduction.

[image] Portrait (excerpt) of Anne of Austria, Regent of France, 1643 to 1651. Copy of a lost painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Preserved under accession # INV 1794 in Louvre Museum, Paris. Via Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons. According to Wikipedia, “She {Anne of Austria} never lost her love for magnificent jewellery, and she especially loved bracelets, which emphasized her famously beautiful hands.”


Gardner, John. 1971. The Alliterative Morte Arthure: The Owl and the Nightingale:  and Five Other Middle English Poems in a Modernized Version with Comments on the Poems and Notes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Ginsberg, Warren, ed. 1992. Wynnere and Wastoure ; and, the Parlement of the thre ages. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS by Medieval Institute Publications.

Millett, Bella, trans. 2014. “Wynnere and Wastoure: Introduction and Translation.” Wessex Parallel WebTexts (online).

Nielsen Co. 2013. “U.S. Women Control the Purse Strings.” Newswire: Demographics. Apr. 2.

Silverstein, Michael J, and Kate Sayre. 2009. “The Female Economy.” Harvard Business Review. 46 (September).

Smith, Julia Llewellyn. 2014. “Womenomics: why women are the future of our economy.” The Telegraph (UK newspaper). April 27, online.

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