Mighty Maidenhood: Medieval Women and the Attempt to Break Free from the Curse of Eve [abstract]
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Throughout the middle ages, women were seen -- and condemned -- as daughters of Eve, representing the flesh and sexual desire. However, women were not left with Eve as their sole role model, since Eve has an exact opposite in the person of the Virgin Mary. Mary, like Christ, could serve to redeem her followers, and her purity could undo the effects of Eve's sin. For women trapped in their fleshliness by the sin of Eve, Mary provided a way out; by living as virgins they could affiliate themselves with the Mother of God, rather than following in the footsteps of the archetypal temptress. The decision to follow Mary, rather than Eve, did not remove women's fleshly nature, however. Rather, Mary herself was seen as fleshly but as embodying a redeemed and redeeming fleshliness, since she gave flesh to the Son of God. The decision to link themselves with Mary allowed women to enter a new category -- either as desexed "men," as in the cases of the transvestite saints, or as brides and mothers of Christ, represented in stories that are often surprisingly erotic, reinforcing these women's redeemed fleshliness.
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