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Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 30.1 (2000) 63-100

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"Whether man or woman":
Gender Inclusivity in the Town Ordinances of Medieval Douai

Ellen E. Kittell and Kurt Queller

In the mid-thirteenth century, the aldermen of Douai began issuing a series of ordinances for the regulation of the city's social and economic life. 1 They often addressed issues concerning particular groups--citizens, practitioners of a certain trade, those who brewed beer, and so forth. Typically these ordinances paired terms that explicitly specified both genders, such as borgois u borgoise, taneres u taneresse, cervoisiers ne cervoisiere, cils ne celes, or hom ne feme. 2

What makes such dyadic reference unusual is the status with which it invests both members of the dyad. The aldermen's routine use of gender-specific dyadic formulas reveals that the social and economic participation of women in Douai was perceived not as exceptional or "marked," but rather as the norm, virtually on par with that of males. And while dyadic usage in no way implies the existence of a golden age for women in this city, 3 its prevalence suggests nothing less radical than the claim that the city did not reckon its population in terms of patriarchally headed households, but rather in terms of workers. The constant reiteration of both genders renders implausible any assumption that one (the female) is conventionally subsumed into a household publicly represented by the other (the male). The prevalence of dyadic usage in the thirteenth century also calls into question, at least for the Douaisian experience, the argument that women's position in medieval society began to deteriorate seriously in the twelfth century with increased urbanization and with the spreading influence of institutions, such as bureaucracies and the universities, which tended to marginalize and exclude women. 4

There is no need to prove that women can be found at virtually all levels of Douaisian or any other society; this has been well documented by others. The present essay instead focuses on gender-inclusive usage in the [End Page 63] ordinances of Douai, providing a window on how one important town's aldermen perceived the status of men and women in their commune. Our analysis of dyadic reference in Douai's ordinances proceeds on two levels: synchronically, moving from one referential context to another within the thirteenth-century documents; and diachronically, charting the secular changes in usage from roughly 1231, when dyadic reference appears in the first extant ordinances, to 1403, the date of the first systematic overhaul of Douai's ordinances. First we will explore the thirteenth-century apogee of gender-inclusive usage, looking in turn at three major categories of dyadic reference: the generic dyads (hom ne feme [man or woman], cilz ne cele [he or she]), the borgois ne borgoise dyad specifically envisaging citizens, and the specific occupational dyads. 5 Then we turn to the ordinance of 1403 to examine the way in which French norms and practices ultimately come to displace gender-inclusive usage in Douai.

Both traditional and newer linguistic methodologies are needed to elucidate these developments. Traditional philological evidence can help establish correlations between the effacement of dyadic usage and the more general encroachment of Parisian French linguistic norms upon the predominantly Picard dialect usage characterizing the earlier documents. 6 Newer types of linguistic analysis such as universals, typology, and markedness theory, meanwhile, make it possible to discern the range of formal gender distinctions that can be expected, thus providing a matrix against which to assess shifts in actual usage patterns across differing contexts and time periods.

While gender-inclusive usage in Douai should greatly interest social, urban, and economic historians, as well as scholars of medieval women's history, this case study is also important for those interested in the social implications of current linguistic practice. The dyads represent, after all, the successful, explicit inclusion of the feminine gender in authoritative, official language use--an intensely topical, even controversial issue today. Most strikingly, the period of routine, unselfconsciously...


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pp. 63-100
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2004
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