Herzog, Don (University of Michigan)
Household Politics: The View From Early Modern England, University of Michigan – forthcoming book
Wasn’t the culture of early modern England chock full of misogyny? You betcha. (What time and place hasn’t been? Sorry, no points for suggesting today’s United States.) Mysogynus versified such sentiments in 1682:
Whate’re was left unfit in the Creation To make a Toad, after its ugly fashion, Of scrapings from unfinished Creatures had, Sure was the body of a Woman made: Yet there’s some finer Atoms daub’d upon, Which makes her seem so beauteous to look on.
Consider the thought that misogyny reigned across the board, that everyday life was so drenched in it that people couldn’t imagine or pursue alternatives, that men and women alike were blind to the suffering and injustice at stake. Let’s call this thought the big sleep thesis. It’s an ominous image of how ideology might work, in a way some call totalizing.
But the very appearance of such texts as Mysogynus counsels against the big sleep thesis. Why bother vehemently announcing something everyone takes for granted? Whenever we find people promulgating such a view, we should immediately infer that others doubted or denied it, or at least that the promulgaters think such doubts and denials a real possibility. So supporters of the big sleep thesis should search for settings where no one mentions an issue. But early modern England turns out to be stuffed not only with misogyny, but also with spirited rejoinders. Conflict, not consensus, was the order of the day.