‘For I am a woman, ignorant, weak and frail’: Feminising Death, Disability and Disease in the later Middle Ages
International Medieval Congress University of Leeds 3rd – 6th July 2017
The International Medieval Congress is the largest interdisciplinary medieval conference of its kind – attracting over 2,200 attendees from over 50 countries, and boasting approximately 1,700 individual papers within 580 academic sessions. Every year, the IMC chooses a special thematic strand which, for 2017, is ‘Otherness’. This focus has been chosen for its wide application across all centuries and regions and its impact on all disciplines devoted to this epoch. For further information on the Congress, see: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ims/imc/imc2017_call.html
**Should this session attract enough interest it will become a three-part series, with each session focussing more deeply on the individual themes of death, disability and disease. Within late-medieval society, to be valued was to look and behave according to the societal ‘norm’ – dependency was largely represented as a feminine trait, whereas to be independent was to be masculine. How then did medieval people respond to deviations from these gendered expectations as a result of death (or dying), disabilities and chronic diseases? This session will consider the feminisation of death, disability and disease through an interdisciplinary lens, in order to answer questions about the perceived ‘feminine’ dependency of the marginal ‘third state’ between being fully healthy and fully sick (i.e. to be dying, diseased or disabled). It will hope to consider the contradictory nature of female disease and disability which both engendered an elevated sense of holiness and, conversely, a sense of physical monstrosity; the female response to death, disability and disease as elements of daily life which were (largely) out of their control; the effect of death, disability and disease on medieval constructions of masculinity; and whether – if death, disease and disability dehumanise the body – is it even important to consider the effect of these states on an individual’s gendered identity? We welcome multi-disciplinary papers from all geographical locations, c.1300-c.1500, which engage with themes such as (but not limited to): representations of death, disease and/or (dis)ability; literature either for or by women dealing with the themes of death, disease and/or disability; the tradition of Memento Mori and/or the Danse Macabre; the gendering of ‘Death’ ; the Black Death’s impact on traditional gender roles; obstetric death; female piety and holy anorexia; the effect of chronic disease and/or disability on late-medieval constructions of masculinity; women and disease (as the developers of cures, writers of recipes, carers or patients, etc.); female use of disability aids and/or prosthetics; and self-inflicted disfigurement.