Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern by A. Lynn Martin (auth.)

By A. Lynn Martin (auth.)

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48 If Flandrin is right in claiming that the French and especially French women mixed water with their wine, they were drinking a lot of water. The old French feudal epic Raoul de Cambrai put a nice twist to any patriarchal constraints on drinking by noblewomen. 50 Even though the villa that provided the fourteenth-century setting for Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron had cellars stocked with precious wines unsuitable for ‘sedate and respectable ladies,’51 women at the top end of the social scale, like the poor and Women and Alcohol 23 the peasants, drank, and some of the same types of evidence permit a certain amount of precision regarding the amount.

If men drank three times what women drank, women could still be drinking a substantial amount. Another factor that might help explain away the image of excessive consumption is fetal alcohol syndrome. Despite the long history of beliefs that alcohol harmed the fetus, the modern description of the problem did not occur until 1973, when two scientists, K. L. Jones and D. W. 148 The more important effects of drinking during pregnancy are (1) a significant decrease in the weight of the fetus, leading to increased and significant perinatal mortality, that is, mortality during the last five months of pregnancy and the first month after birth, (2) mental deficiency among the survivors, resulting in an average IQ of 70, and (3) abnormal physical and especially facial features.

48 Such were the opinions of the learned, and popular opinion concurred. 49 A specially made ale from Anthisne near Liège had a reputation for its procreative and aphrodisiac properties. 52 The growing popularity of coffee houses in London during the second half of the seventeenth century led to the complaint that, unlike ale and beer, coffee made men impotent. Tracts such as The Ale-wives Complaint Against 44 Alcohol, Sex, and Gender the Coffee-Houses (1675) and The Womens Petition Against Coffee (1674) blamed coffee for turning men into eunuchs.

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