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Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History.

Discussions of gender have until recently been mostly one-sided, with the major advances being made in the study of female gender. Male gender studies have been slower in producing a major impact on scholarly research other than in the area of male honor rituals or of homosexuality. Feminists have used the value-laden terms of patriarchy and male dominance, but few studies have actually tried to define what these have meant in a historical context. The collection of essays that Richard C. Trexler assembled has begun to address these issues. Because it is a collection of thirteen essays, not all of them can be discussed individually, but the important issues and insights that are elaborated should encourage readers to look at the full collection.

The essays explore signs and gestures as well as verbal language in the creation of gender identities and the institutions and social situations of dominance and submission. Sociobiology plays a role in some of the essays - though not all of them - and dominance includes the subjugation of other males as well as of females. The essays play with issues that have been barely touched upon historically and a couple of them deal with methodology in interesting ways.

The initial essay of Frans B. M. De Waal, an expert on primates, establishes a background for the volume. He describes the basic sexual interactions of male/male, male/female, female/female sexual behavior within the primate group and adds the variables of juvenile/adult and dominant/submissive. While the human imagination sees sexuality in all genital interactions, many of the sexual encounters are actually power struggles within gender and age groups. Sexual displays may have more mundane meanings to animals who do not benefit from the cultural substrata of sexual inhibitions. Culture, in other words, does go beyond socio-biology. Patricia Simons, writing on Renaissance portraits of fathers and sons, might have reflected more on De Waal's observation. Her emphasis on codpieces and suggestive knots of female girdles leaves out the totality of the portraits and the historical context.

Two of the essayists, Ramon A. Gutierrez and Cecelia F. Klein, have broadened the inquiry by looking into New World conquests. Historians will Gutierrez's find most disconcerting reading of early twentieth-century American Indian ethnography to prove the differences between sixteenth-century Spanish and Indian sexuality. Still, contrast with "the other" is very useful in these articles and that of Carlin Barton on the paradox of the effeminate victor in early imperial Rome.

Edward Muir's investigation of the evolution from feud to dueling in Italy offers not only a chronicle of changing behavior among male protagonists, but also a better model for explaining such profound cultural change. It is not simply the progress of courtesy and manners that Norbert Elias chronicled nor even the "performance of masculinity" that David Gilmore cites, but rather the double bind of preserving honor and also a patrilineage and family fortune.

Many of the essays speak to the symbols of gender, such as Linda L. Carroll's description of Machiavelli's parable of the Veronese prostitute or Helen Ostovich's reading of the male mentality of war-related rape in Henry V. In the latter essay, the wooing of Katherine of France is more brutal than romantic.

A fitting conclusion to these essays are two that investigate cross-dressing and gender blurring. Valerie R. Hotchkiss, for instance, has looked at the implications of women assuming male dress as disguises to get their husbands or lovers out of trouble.

While uneven as a collection, the freshness of the topic and some of the approaches make this a very valuable book.

BARBARA A. HANAWALT University of Minnesota
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Hanawalt, Barbara A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1996
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