In the tiny early-fourteenth-century village of Montaillou, perched on a hillside in the Pyrenees, men wore their misogyny on their sleeves. In testimony before the Inquisitor, who questioned them about an outbreak of heresy in the village and its surrounding communities, they were offhand in their reflexive denigration of women. Husbands called their wives “old women,” “old heretics,” and “old sows.” Male servants even dared to join in when masters hurled these epithets at their wives. One remarked that, like his master, he had called his mistress “Bad mother, devil!” Another, learning that his master's wife had disobeyed her husband, stated matter-of-factly to the master in the wife's presence, “Women are demons.”
One man, insulting a local woman, declared, “The soul of a woman and the soul of a sow are one and the same thing – in other words, not much.” A heretic priest or “goodman,” having married his pregnant lover to an unsuspecting shepherd to preserve his own reputation, announced to the new couple: “A man is worth nothing if he is not his wife's master.” The same goodman volunteered that the soul of a woman cannot be admitted to Paradise unless the woman is reincarnated, however briefly, as a man.
These examples can give only the flavor of an omnipresent misogyny in the mountain community, where men's grudging admission that a woman might be “good” or “kind” was reserved, if the testimony is accurate witness, not so much for wives as for mothers – or, failing that, for the memory of mothers.