Synopses & Reviews
In Land of Women, Lisa M. Bitel systematically recovers the almost-lost society that women and men created together in Ireland. Europe between the coming of Christianity and the year 1000 has been portrayed as a world where women were either subservient to men or in rebellion against them. Bitel argues, however, that the women and men of early medieval Ireland did not always submit to patriarchal ideals of institutionalized oppression. Bitel analyzes the social roles, both restrictive and empowering, played by women in Ireland between about 700 and 1100. She focuses first on sex, love, marriage, and motherhood. She examines the economic strategies that women developed and the social networks they built in the face of men's desire to restrict their mobility. In the process, she explains the often conflicting ideas about women expressed by the writers of medieval Irish texts - a small group of literate men vowed to a religion that has always been ambivalent toward the female sex - which derived from both Christian and secular Celtic heritages. She concludes by examining the violent and powerful images of women common in the medieval literature of Ireland, asking why men's texts consistently depicted women negatively when men and women interacted in a wide variety of ways. Ultimately, Bitel maintains, early Ireland hosted a set of gender relations every bit as flexible, contradictory, and complex as our own.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 287-304) and index.