Hic Mulier vs. Haec Vir: Man-Woman? Woman-Man? What is going on?

The first writing I took a look at was part of a pamphlet that identified a fashion in the early 17th century I knew nothing about. Apparently to the horror of the king, the disgrace of religious officials and the confusion of "respectable" men in London, it had become somewhat fashionable for women to dress in attire that had been typically men's clothing, e.g. men's shoes, breeches, and doublets. The pamphlet addresses this "fashion" on two basic levels. The first address is the violation of natural law (God's Law). The second address is the violation of custom and the confusion that has been brought about.

The writer of this pamphlet roots his argument in the traditional values of natural law. He appeals directly to the biblical creation story that women were created by God "of a more pure and refined metal". As creations of God, being most perfect above all creations, it is the duty of the woman to dress as such. By dressing as a woman should dress, she exemplifies the purposes that her perfect creation has bestowed upon her: comeliness, virtue, the station of wife and mother. It is the nature of a woman to "draw men's souls unto you with that severe, devout, and holy adoration, that you shall never want praise, never love, never reverence." Casting off the graces God has bestowed upon them is an atrocity. These "Masculine Women" that the author addresses have violated the natural order and "have made Admiration an Ass and fooled him with a deformity never before dreamed of; that have made yourselves stranger things than ever Noah's Ark unloaded or Nile engendered."

Beyond the violation of God's natural order, the woman who dresses as a man has turned the social traditions upside-down. Women, for all their God-given virtue and perfection, seem to the author to be the anchors by which society is justified. Women, according to him, have maintained the traditions of the feminine dress throughout the ages in all countries. While the "Masculine Invention" as become "absurd" over time, the unchanging tradition of women has been the security of the society and the model of perfection. This new fashion of dressing like men makes the woman into a creature similar to man, and in his eyes, as worthless.

A pamphlet was written shortly after "Hic Mulier" as a direct response entitled "Haec-Vir; or, The Womanish Man". True to the polemic style, this responsive argument takes up the arguments of "Hic Mulier" of violating natural law and societal tradition. Curiously, the author's (I am hesitant to say "her" because I am not convinced that the writer was female) argument combines both of these traditions:
You condemn me of Unnaturalness in forsaking my creation and contemning custom. How do I forsake my creation, that do all the rights and offices due to my creation? I was created free, born free, and live free; what lets me then so to spin out my time that I may die free?
The author of this piece assumes the role of Hic Mulier (masculine woman) and defends "herself" with the argument that the clothes worn on the body are not violatons of natural law. To violate natural law is, to the author, to behave in a way that is not human: "To alter creation were to walk on my hands with my heels upward, to feed myself with my feetů" This is not a type of behavior to which the author subscribes. It is not the "laws of nature" theory that seems to have the author so worked up though.

"Hic Mulier" contends that by wearing the clothes of a man "she" is not violating societal traditions of dress as much as she is reestablishing them. The idea of gender-role dress seems to be, as much then as it is in conservative traditional views today, based on the supposition that what a man wears and what a female wears are very different. The author point's out that the traditional scope of female dress has been adopted by "Haec Vir", the feminine man. It is no longer the place of the female to be vain, attempting to look as pretty as possible; the males of society seem to have assumed that role from women. "Hic Mulier" seems to use this feminization of men as "her" defense: she has only found a suitable dress, different than the men's, in the clothes they have discarded. "She" goes on to say that to stick to traditional views for no reason other than their own sake is not the way of an intelligent person (this makes reference to the first argument: that to be a prisoner of tradition is not the action of an intelligent person, and therefore THAT would be a violation of Natural Law).

After reading these two essays together, and in light of a selection from Norton Topics Online (http://www.wwnorton.com/nael/NTO/17thC/family/mulierfrm.htm), it dawned on me that this may not be a debate between a man that thinks women should be in dresses and a woman that believes that women can where whatever they want. The Norton file suggests that both pamphlets may have been written by the same person. Why would this be? Logical arguments are given to both sides. Then I thought about what might be going on at the time that might bring about such traditionally besed arguments. So I thought about the Puritans.

In just a few years the Puritans would take over the country. Maybe these articles are subtle evaluations of the traditional thoughts of the times. The first article, though appealing to "natural order" did not sound like the evangelical ravings of a Puritan traditionalist. Though it claimed some biblical basis, it did not cite particular passages nor quote God as the reformers are wont to do. The second article had an interesting them of the intelligent human. It did not promote violation of tradition as a sense of rebellion but as a ntural progression. It implies that to root so firmly in tradition is dangerous.

This idea brought me back to the first article. The author did not seem to have anything good to say about men. The author's appeal, in this light, seemed less like a plea for women to cease trying to be like men and more of a plea for men to clean up their acts. Maybe the authors were the same man, or maybe it was two male authors working in tandem, but both articles seemed to have the same message: that society was not paying attention, consuming itself in unimportant subjects of debate and all the while dooming itself. The last lines of "Haec Vir's" essay pointed to this conclusion for me. "She" pleads with the feminine men to take back their vestments, become men again. If the men do this, then the women will take back their roles and things can settle down. This whole traditional gender-role argument, which by this point has challenged the very fabric of the patriarchal system, has become the source of societal strife. This strife will increase over the next two decades and result in the Puritan Protectorate. To me these articles work together to become not a cultural debate about the roles of women in society, but a forewarning of things to come if the men didn't watch theirs.

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