addressing gender inequality in love must be policy priority

The massive gender protrusion in paying for dinner dates remains remarkably firm. How many women take the initiative to ask men out so as to lessen men’s gender burden of risking amorous rejection? As men painfully understand, the question is seldom asked. Sexual feudalism should have ended hundreds of years ago.

Men historically have performed arduous feats to earn women’s love. The thirteenth-century minnesinger Tannhäuser explained what he was required to do to earn his beloved woman’s love:

My lady wishes to reward
my service and my loyalty.
Let’s thank her, all with one accord,
for having been so kind to me.
I need only to cause the Rhine
to flow no more through Coblenz land
and she will grant a wish of mine.
She’d also like some grains of sand
from out the sea where sets the sun,
then she’ll give heed to my request.
She wants a star, the nearest one
will do, it need not be the best.

My love is strong,
whate’er her song
I will not think she does me wrong,
her, my own,
to God alone
and to no other is this fair lady known.

If from the moon I steal the glow,
then may I have this noble wench.
And she’ll reward me well, I know,
if ’round the world I dig a trench.
If like the eagle I might fly,
then she would welcome my advances,
that is, if none could soar so high.
Or if I broke a thousand lances
within a day, as did the sire
of Parzival
to win the prize,
she’d gladly do what I desire,
‘t will cost my plenty otherwise.

My love is strong,
whate’er her song
I will not think she does me wrong,
her, my own,
to God alone
and to no other is this fair lady known.

If I the Elbe’s waters bound,
I’d be rewarded. Could I make
the Danube flow without a sound,
she’d love me well for custom’s sake.
A salamander I must bring
to her from searing fire and flame,
then she will grant me anything
that any loving knight might claim.
When I turn aside the rain
and snow, I’ve often heard her say,
and make the summer wax and wane,
then I shall have a lover’s pay.

My love is strong,
whate’er her song
I will not think she does me wrong,
her, my own,
to God alone
and to no other is this fair lady known.

{ Min frouwe diu wil lonen mir,
der ich so vil gedienet han.
des sult ir alle danken ir,
si hat so wol ze mir getan.
Si will, daz ich ir wende den Rin,
daz er für Kobelenze iht ge:
so wil si tuon den willen min.
mac ich ir bringen von dem se
Des grienes, da diu sunne get
ze reste, so wil si mich wern.
ein sterne da bi nahe stet,
des wil si von mir niht enbern.

Ich han den muot, swaz si mir tuot,
daz sol mich allez dunken guot.
si hat sich wol an mir behuot
diu reine.
sunder got al eine
so weiz die frouwen nieman, diech da meine.

Ich muoz dem manen sinen schin
benemen, sol ich si behaben.
so lonet mir diu frouwe min,
mac ich die werlt al umbe graben.
Meht ich gefliegen als ein star,
so taet diu liebe, des ich ger,
und hohe sweiben als ein ar,
und ich zemale tusent sper
Vertaete als min her Gamuret
vor Kamvoleis mit richer jost,
so taet diu frouwe mine bet.
sus muoz ich haben hohe kost.

Ich han den muot, swaz si mir tuot,
daz sol mich allez dunken guot.
si hat sich wol an mir behuot
diu reine.
sunder got al eine
so weiz die frouwen nieman, diech da meine.

Si giht, muge ich der Elbe ir fluz
benemen, so tuo si mir wol,
dar zuo der Tuonouw iren duz.
ir herze ist ganzer tugende vol.
Den salamander muoz ich ir
gebringen uz dem fiure her,
so wil diu liebe lonen mir
und tuot ze mir, des ich da ger.
Mac ich den regen und den sne
erwenden, des hoer ich si jehen,
dar zuo den sumer und den kle,
so mac mir liep von ir geschehen.

Ich han den muot, swaz si mir tuot,
daz sol mich allez dunken guot.
si hat sich wol an mir behuot
diu reine.
sunder got al eine
so weiz die frouwen nieman, diech da meine. }[1]

Just like celibate men, women who are unknown to any man should be respected. But men should not internalize as right their subservience to women. Tannhäuser’s lady is doing him wrong. Tannhäuser and his readers should recognized men’s subservience in love to women as a wrong against gender equality. They should denounce that wrong with more vigor than they denounce restrictions on schools instructing children on sexual orientation and gender identity prior to fourth grade.

Tannhäuser in the Codex Manesse

Men have too seldom protested against gender inequality in love. The early thirteenth-century minnesinger Neidhart raised a rare voice of men’s protest:

I have always been fonder of women than they are of me.
It does not suit them well
that I have to pay for it.
Alas, that love does not bring shared fidelity!
This has been revealed between me and a woman
who is not so inclined towards me as I am towards her.
And so my life is wasted.
It’s unjust that love is so unbalanced.
Earlier when
love was balanced,
love did not have a single crack.
No one ask me any more about it!
It will remain chipped from today until doomsday.

{ Ich was ie den wiben holder danne si mir sin.
daz ich des enkelten sol
daz enzimt in niht ze wol.
owe, daz diu hebe niht gemeiner triuwen phligt.
des ist zwischen mir und einem weibe worden schin.
diu ist mir niht als ich ir bin.
so get mir min leben hin.
ez ist ane reht daz liebe niht geliche wigt.
do diu liebe wach
hie bevor gelicher wage,
done het diu liebe ninder chrach.
niemen mich dar umbe mere vrage:
diu hat nü scharten hinnevür unz an den lesten tach. }[2]

Apparently suffering from internalized misandry, Neidhart went on to blame men for gender inequality in love:

Who is truly at fault?
We are lacking in two things:
that we men are not chaste, nor do we use fair scales
that may be balanced equally
between heart’s desire and love.

{ der die waren schulde hat.
zweier dinge gat uns abe,
daz wir man niht cheusche sin noch rehter wage wegen,
diu geliche trage
herzenliep gein der minne. }

Why can’t men have it all — heart’s desire and love? That question deserves at least as vigorous a conversation as why women can’t have it all.

Without vigorous policies to promote gender equality for men in love, heterosexual relations will remain chilly. A medieval poet prophetically described today’s calamitous love season:

Silent are the little birds
that used to put forth songs
and make for pleasant hours
in the woods.
The ground lacks grass,
the sun shines with reluctant beams,
and the days run quickly.

All power to serve Venus
lies torpid in our hearts.
Passion has departed from our chests.
Now heat gives way to cold.
Curse winter,
you who are accustomed to enjoying
pleasant hours of spring.

In every suitable place
the delight of conversation
with the female sex
has totally vanished.
For the season that has ended
may there be everlasting honor
and offering of gratitude.

{ Nam conticent aviculae,
que solebant in nemore
cantica depromere
et voluptates gignere.
Tellus caret gramine;
sol lento micat iubare
et dies currunt propere.

Ad obsequendum Veneri
vis tota languet animi.
Fervor abest pectori;
iam cedit calor frigori.
Maledicant hiemi,
qui veris erant soliti
amoenitate perfrui.

In omni loco congruo
sermonis oblectatio
cum sexu femineo
evanuit omnimodo.
Tempori praeterito
sit decus in perpetuo
et gratiarum actio. }[3]

Can loving women and men do anything other than study medieval literature and lament?

Tannhäuser in the house of Venus

Innovative policy initiatives can lessen gender inequality in love. The wise Greek lawmaker Solon established institutions equitably serving men’s needs. But men deserve better than state-run brothels. Men deserve better than being deprived of reproductive rights and being railroaded in anti-men sex-discriminatory family courts. Men deserve to be loved completely in the fullness of their natural being. No man should be oppressed under involuntary celibacy. No man should feel compelled to engage in abortion coercion. A society that does not support its men will not long endure.

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[1] Tannhäuser 10 (Codex Manesse), Middle High German text from edition of Siebert (1934) via Bibliotheca Augustana, English translation (modified slightly) from Thomas (1974). Thomas provides a diplomatic edition of the Middle High German. I’ve supplied Siebert’s text for ease of reading.

[2] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 24 (R24), “Now I mourn the flowers and the bright summertime {Nu chlach ich die blumen und die liehten sumerzit},” stanza 6, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). The subsequent quote above is similarly from this song, vv. 7.6-10. For some of Neidhart songs with English translations, see the lyrics to Ensemble Leones’s recording Neidhart: Minnesinger and His Vale of Tears (A) – Songs and Interludes. Here’s the Ensemble Leones’s recording of this song.

[3] Carmina Burana 3 additional, The Marner, “Long past now summer {Iam dudum aestivalia / Iam dudum estivalia},” stanzas 2-4 (of 5), Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). This poem closely follows in theme and poetic form Walther von der Vogelweide’s “The world was radiant {Diu welt was gelf}.” Id. vol. 2, p. 722 (note).

[images] (1) The minnesinger Tannhäuser. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, folio 264r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Tannhäuser in the house of Venus. Painting by John Collier in 1901. Preserved as accession # SOPAG:95 in the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library (Southport, Lancashire, UK). Via Wikimedia Commons. This painting is based on Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser (1845).


Starkey, Kathryn and Edith Wenzel. 2016. Neidhart: selected songs from the Riedegg Manuscript (Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, mgf 1062). Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Thomas, J. W. 1974. Tannhäuser: poet and legend, with texts and translations of his works. University of North Carolina Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures, no.77. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

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