“Good Sex, Bad Sex: Women and Intimacy in Early Modern Spain.”

Hispania 87.1 (Spring 2004): 1-12.

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    American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Hispania. http://www.jstor.org Good Sex, Bad Sex: Women and Intimacy in Early Modern Spain Author(s): Lisa Vollendorf Source: Hispania, Vol. 87, No. 1 (Mar., 2004), pp. 1-12Published by: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and PortugueseStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20062968Accessed: 01-03-2015 19:52 UTC Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspJSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of contentin a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. This content downloaded from on Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:52:59 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Good Sex, Bad Sex: Women and Intimacy in Early Modern Spain Lisa Vollendorf Wayne State University Abstract: A witness discusses her sex life with inquisitors. A fictional character defends lesbianism. A widowed abbess recalls her unsatisfactory sex life. A nun defends women's right to touch their confessors. A defendant invokes menstruation as a way to avoid torture. All of these stories appear in documents from early modern Spain. This article examines the treatment of sexuality and intimacy in fiction, non-fiction, and Inquisition records. Analyses of a broad range of documents reveal what issues women deemed appropriate for public conversation, what personal information inquisitors wanted from defendants, and how sexuality was viewed both in and out of convents. Analyzing women's expressions of intimate matters, Good Sex, Bad Sex argues that women across class lines in early modern Spain perceived close links between femininity, intimacy, and authority. This examination of records of Spanish women's words delineates a road map for reconstructing the otherwise elusive history of female intimacy and sexuality. Key Words: Spain, women, sexuality, Inquisition, religion, Zayas y Sotomayor (Mar?a de), Valle de la Cerda (Teresa), C?spedes (Eleno de), Jes?s (Catalina de), seventeenth century Nearly three decades have passed since Foucault assumed the onerous writing of a histo ry of sexuality, and sex continues to intrigue us at the scholarly, popular, and, indeed, personal levels. In The History of Sexuality Foucault spoke of frank attitudes toward sexuality and a relatively fluid model of intimacy, making few distinctions between public and private before the eighteenth century. Georges Duby, Philippe Aries, Chartier, and their collaborators further delved into intimate matters in their five-volume series, A History of Private Life, building their collection around the basic assertion that, as societies changed and modern nation-states solidified, private thought, action, and emotion emerged as the bedrock of social interaction and personal identity. A History of Private Life employs varied textual, material, and artistic artifacts, providing passage into the intimacies of interaction and identity. Thus we read about memoirs, furnishings, plastic arts, and boudoirs in volume three, The Passions of the Renaissance. These glimpses into individuals' private worlds set the stage for understanding the histories of sexuality and intimacy yet provided little direct evidence of women and others whose lives differed from those of men of the dominant classes. Recent research has extended the work of Foucault, Duby, and Aries. As Thomas Laqueur's Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation demonstrates, issues that used to be considered inaccessible have been revisited in the past decade. In terms of gender analysis, scholars have turned their attention to topics as diverse as friendship, desire, motherhood, and breastfeeding.1 Scholars of early modern Spain have found that women's texts contain rich information about friendship, sexuality, and other intimate matters. Maria de Zayas, Mariana de Carvajal, Ana Caro, and their seventeenth-century cohort unapologetically built plots around female friendship and desire. Biographies of women religious frequently construct narratives that reject sexuality and express distaste for sex. Inquisition trials contain more lurid information and accusations about defendants' sexual practices, including masturbation, pollution (i.e., orgasm), and illicit affairs. The variety and frequency with which eroticism and desire appear in women's texts obligate us to include multitudinous attitudes and behaviors in our considerations of sexuality. An example of the layered information found in texts from the period appears in the Vollendorf, Lisa Good Sex, Bad Sex: Women and Intimacy in Early Modern Spain Hispania 87.1 (2004): 1-12 This content downloaded from on Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:52:59 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  2 Hispania 87 March 2004 statements of Mar?a del Ca?o, wife of the Moorish hermaphrodite Eleno/a de C?spedes. In the 1580s, the Inquisition put C?spedes on trial for bigamy and sorcery. The trial hinged on determining the sex of the defendant. When C?spedes's wife testified, she was asked numerous questions about the couple's sexual practices. When asked whether she had touched her husband's shameful parts, Ca?o responded that [ella] hab?a o?do decir que [?l] ten?a dos sexos ans? por esto como por haber o?do a otras mujeres que se gozaban con sus maridos alguna libertad ten?a ?sta gana y lo procuraba con cuidado de tentarle sus partes de hombre por ver qu? cosa era [... ] . 2 n mentioning her unsuccessful attempt to touch her husband, she revealed that women did indeed discuss sexuality openly. Ca?o simultaneously let inquisitors know that she felt similar desire and tried to act on that desire. Her simple answer to one question reveals much about sexuality and intimacy in Spain, providing glimpses into the thoughts, actions, and everyday lives of women. As these examples suggest, texts by and about women from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have opened up the most intimate matters for our consideration. One surprising aspect of Spanish women's texts from the period is the frequent mention of sexuality. The dearth of women's writing before the sixteenth century makes it difficult to know how early modern wom en's views on sex differed from previous eras. Possibly women in western Europe traditionally had liberal views toward sexual matters. Preceding the advent of the printing press and the Renaissance emphasis on the individual, few documents or social circumstances would have allowed for the expression or recording of such views. The mid-sixteenth century Council of Trent impacted discourses surrounding sexuality enormously: Post-Tridentine insistence on full confession, the extension of the Inquisition's power to try clergy for solicitation, and heightened regulation of marriage rituals brought sexual details to public and Inquisitorial attention. Without religious biographies, fiction, letters, and Inquisition or legal documents to guide us, we lack direct access to people's experiences of these intimate matters. While a single explanation for frequent discussions of sex in early modern women's texts might be hard to pinpoint, Foucault's assertion about open treatment of sexuality in the early modern period certainly applies in the Spanish context to women as well as to men. Indeed, what surprises readers today is not merely the inclusion of sexual details, but their explicit nature in prose fiction, trial records, spiritual biographies, and other texts. Detailed treatments of sex and the body provide opportunities to determine which topics women deemed appropriate for public and private consumption. By drawing on varied sources, we can compare the views expressed by those of various class, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Context of production must also be considered when deciphering issues of intimacy and sexuality. Women answering inquisitors' or confessors' questions about sex produced different discourses from those writing fiction or memoirs. Statements made by defendants, autobiographers, and even literary characters cannot be taken at face value: properly deciphering these discourses requires theoretical engagement with each text and its context. Scholars have yet to articulate a fully developed methodology of sexual history that attends to these questions of difference. By identifying women's strategies for discussing matters of sexuality and intimacy, this essay provides a starting point for that methodology. Women across class and ethnic lines used similar strategies for self-authorization. Notably, early modern women relied on cultural ideologies related to motherhood, menstruation, and sexuality to gain legitimacy in numerous contexts. The repetition of such legitimizing strategies in fictional texts, spiritual biographies, and Inquisition cases confirms the link between sexuality and authority, showing that women appropriated dominant beliefs about their sex and used them for personal and political advantage. The evidence of such strategies among women of varying backgrounds suggests that gender was a sufficiently decisive category of identity that women, notwithstanding class and ethnic lines, often experienced early modern Spanish culture in similar ways. Consideration of gender experienced through the lens of sexuality facilitates laying the foundations for a more complete history of women and intimacy in the Hispanic world. This content downloaded from on Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:52:59 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Early Modern Spain and Intimacy 3 Attitudes toward Sex Legal and other historical sources provide basic information about sexuality and gender relations. As James Casey summarizes in Early Modern Spain: A Social History, studies of parish records demonstrate that Spaniards in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often married earlier than some European counterparts: the average age of marriage was approximately twenty two, with men marrying slightly later than women. Spanish women enjoyed property rights that others in Europe did not. Dowry rights surpassed those of women in other nations, for example (27-28; 201-02). Moreover, women participated in the public sphere more than previously believed. In Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville, Mary Elizabeth Perry shows that women's participation in Seville's labor force included working in all-female businesses. Widows of guild members in that port city inherited shops, tools, and even the guild membership of their deceased husbands (15-17). This position of relative privilege had its limits. Women had to rely on men to represent them in the legal realm. If widows in Seville remarried, they lost their shops and guild memberships. Throughout Spain, women could sign contracts, but their signatures often were discounted. Early modern law stated that daughters could not be forced to marry against their will, but in practice parents often dictated the choice of partner for their daughters. Perhaps more than any other single factor, Fernando and Isabel's push for religious and ethnic homogeneity had negative repercussions for women, eventually leading to implementation in the mid-sixteenth century of the limpieza de sangre statutes. Of course, anxiety over female sexuality preceded the rise of the Spanish nation. David Nirenberg shows that concern about interfaith sexuality had been building since the massacres and mass conversions of Jews in 1391. Subsequent intensification of sexual control was articu lated in the fourteenth century, when Christian leaders began to segregate Jews from Christians and, by the 1440s, to speak of descendants of converts as different from natural Christians (Nirenberg 1088-92). Rife with anti-semitism, these attitudes maintained their hold on certain thinkers and politicians over the next 150 years, culminating with the codification of sexual and racial anxieties in the limpieza statutes, which restricted those of purportedly impure genetic make-up, prohibiting so-called nuevos cristianos from holding political office or enjoying other privileges of the old Christians. By tying ethnicity to blood lines, the statutes provided further justification for regulating female sexuality. Family honor now rested on female chastity more than ever before. Indeed, a family's very survival and status depended upon the ability to prove untainted Catholic heritage. Laws regulating prostitution and edicts prohibiting use of the veil speak to anxieties about female sexuality that resulted from increasing emphasis on ethnic (i.e., Catholic) purity in the sixteenth century. The combination o? limpieza with the tightening of restrictions on spiritual expression in Counter-Reformation Spain adversely affected women. Marriage, sexuality, and spirituality were governed tightly, provoking increased vigilance of daughters, wives, widows, and nuns.3 As suggested, the connection between women and their bodies emerges as one key to understanding intimacy in Counter-Reformation Spain. Again, the phenomenon was not entirely new. Nirenberg terms the role assigned to prostitutes in medieval times the incarnation of the sexual boundary between religions (1076). In late medieval and early modern periods, this role was extended to women in general. The limpieza de sangre statutes profoundly impacted gender relations, reinforcing the dominant view of women as vessels of man's seed and renewing pressure on women to present themselves as honorable and chaste. Rigid definitions of femininity appeared in many well-known texts, including Luis Vives's Instrucci?n de la mujer cristiana and Luis de Le?n's La perfecta casada. Women, associated with the home's domestic space, were expected to be obedient and silent. The only acceptable alternative to the life path of an obedient daughter becoming an obedient wife was religious life, where women?safely enclosed in convents?were protected and guided by male clerics and a paternalistic church. Dominant models of femininity within and outside the church viewed This content downloaded from on Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:52:59 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  4 Hispania 87 March 2004 women as requiring protection to keep them from the dangers of a predatory world and from their own proclivity to disobedience. Canonical Golden Age literature teems with examples of the dangers of female sexuality. Alternately critical and supportive of the policing of sexuality, many literary texts paint an overly anxious society. Male authors highlight and even criticize the extent to which masculinity and honor were imbricated in female chastity and containment. Playwrights including Lope and Calder?n depicted female characters as victims of suspicious, hypocritical husbands in the wife murder plays. Picaresque tales, chivalric novels, and Don Quijote depict the importance of legitimacy and lineage. Until recently, little was known about women's perspectives on issues related to sexuality and social control. Repeated regulations concerning female clothing suggest that women frequently disobeyed rules governing their attire. Perry's research on gender in Seville expands a growing body of scholarship on women's active roles in the public sphere. Recent attention to convents has yielded abundant information about active, engaged women who thrived in religious houses. Nonetheless, limitations still exist in our understanding of this formative period. Until the feminist writings of Santa Teresa, Maria de Zayas, and Sor Juana In?s de la Cruz were incorporated into the canon, scholars of early modern Spain and colonial Latin America relied on male-authored texts almost exclusively for their understanding of contemporaneous sexual politics. We now know that Zayas's direct engagement with physical and psychological domestic abuse offers a unique perspective on gender relations. Likewise, Sor Juana's forthright accusation of male hypocrisy in such texts as Hombres necios and La respuesta provides a counterpoint to an otherwise all-male canon. Unprecedented access to more nuns' texts than ever before opens up a world wherein nuns acted as spiritual and moral advisors to their sisters and to women beyond convent walls.4 Notwithstanding the incorporation of a handful of early modern women's texts, our knowledge of sexuality and anxiety in Inquisitional Spain remains extremely limited. That women disobeyed prohibitions on certain kinds of clothing does not tell us fully what they thought about such prohibitions. That women acted on their own behalf as guild members and seamstresses does not tell us how they managed to survive in the public sphere in a society that mandated their silence and enclosure. There are limits to what can be known about women's history without returning to the archives to rescue the hundreds, if not thousands, of women's voices recorded in texts as far ranging as Inquisition depositions, spiritual auto/biographies, letters, poetry, and fiction. Documents representing different arenas of textual production?the convent, the book market, and Inquisition tribunals?capture the revelatory potential of early modern women's words. From the religious context came Idea de perfecci?n, a mixed-genre text recounting the life story of Sor Catalina de Jes?s y San Francisco (1639-77).5 Written in 1693 by Sor Catalina's son, Padre Juan Bernique, Idea de perfecci?n blends spiritual biography and autobiography. The son, himself a priest, constructs a narrative that initially appears to coincide with standard hagiography. As an author controlling the representation of his mother's biography, he tries to present a seamless story of sanctity and piety for instructing others and glorifying his mother's memory. The imperatives of hagiography clash with the complex psychological challenges confronted by this priest-turned-author as he takes readers on a journey through his mother's life. The psychological complexity of both mother and son in Idea de perfecci?n directly relates to issues of sexuality and intimacy. The narration of Catalina Bernique's journey to becoming Sor Catalina develops these issues with varying degrees of self-consciousness. As Idea de perfecci?n tells it, the young Catalina's family forced her to marry against her will while she was in her teens. Catalina disliked marriage and sex so intensely that she prayed for her husband's death. One month later, he died. Rejecting familial pressure to re-marry, Catalina Bernique abandoned her role as mother of three and entered a third-order Franciscan convent, where she lived the rest of her life as a religious leader. Like many religious women, Catalina de Jes?s wrote at least two versions of her life story (her This content downloaded from on Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:52:59 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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