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Feminism without Gender: <i>Piers Plowman</i> “Mede the Mayde, “Mede the Mayde, and Late Medieval Literary Studies

Feminism without Gender: Piers Plowman “Mede the Mayde, “Mede the Mayde, and Late Medieval Literary Studies

This article argues that an emphasis on gender has dampened the insights and energies of feminism in analyses of L’s PPl. Inquiries into gender as a social construction of power have long highlighted women’s dispossession, even erasure, in medieval representations. But such inquiries also have the potential to reinforce, or even naturalize, social conditions that privilege elite masculinity in those same medieval representations. Crocker proposes that we focus less on binarist notions of gender, and more on women’s vulnerability in L’s poem. As the shifting representation of “Mede the Mayde” affirms, women’s vulnerability is a constitutive social force in its own right: women’s lives were shaped by vulnerability, and the vulnerability of women’s lives critiqued social inequities. L’s emphasis on vulnerability, and his focus on modes of agency and expression traditionally associated with women — submission and compassion, for instance — shifts the grounds of ethics in this poem, thereby rendering an interventionist, feminist version of the human that is not defined by domination and governance, but by forbearance and endurance. (HAC)