Last week, regular readers were treated to an edifying display of the reasons why it’s important to make sure you read what’s actually there and not what you think is there. The commenter to Sarah’s Making It Real post also demonstrated how to obtain that rare mark of (dis)honor, being banned from Mad Genius Club.
Here’s a hint: when everyone who responds to you says you’re wrong, you just might be wrong. You might also have failed to communicate your point correctly – since you might not actually be wrong per se, but what you’re arguing isn’t what you think you’re arguing.
This sort of thing is the reason that renowned acronym RTFM came into being, although in this case it’s more RTFPost.
Now, some more general observations re: the craft and not making a giant international ass of yourself…
The phrase “idea of cleanliness will not be the same as yours” does not mean “they are all filthy”. It means their standard of clean isn’t the same as yours. In the context of “medieval housewife” unless we’re talking fairly wealthy there’s a good chance of a single-room dwelling with an earth floor that’s been packed down pretty hard, particularly if you’re talking peasant farmer’s wife. Depending on where you are and what part of the middle ages you’re dealing with, the dwelling could be part of a larger structure that houses all the family’s animals and winter could mean cohabiting quite closely with said family animals.
That doesn’t mean those families lived in filth. They knew they needed to keep things clean, but when you’ve got an earth floor and you’re sharing living space with your livestock, “clean” means mucking out the animal stalls daily, taking anything you do indoors (if you’re fortunate enough to have a chamber pot and don’t have to go to the outhouse or just plain out – and don’t use the animal stalls as a convenient already in use ersatz toilet) out as well, sweeping the floor to get rid of any nastiness underfoot, and the usual general tidiness.
If there was ample water, bathing might happen once a week (this was still the standard well into the 20th century, not least because if you don’t have hot water on demand, it takes a long time to fill a tub with buckets of hot water, so everyone uses the water and the last person in a large family gets grayish, rather mucky tepid water. But they still try to wash), even in winter when there was a real health hazard for women – long hair takes forever to dry, longer if you’ve got it in a braid, and until it’s dry it’s dripping on your clothes.
Clothes got washed possibly weekly – again, in winter this was an issue, and people didn’t have many changes of clothing to work with. A peasant farmer might have two shirts, one for Sundays (and washday) and one for regular wear – because cloth was expensive in labor if you made it yourself and in money if you didn’t. To get enough linen for a family’s clothing was a process that took a small farm about a year from planting to sewing the goods.
Once again, that doesn’t mean that the people living this way were filthy: they weren’t. They were as clean as their climate and technology permitted.
Which pretty much sums up most of humanity throughout history, when you stop to think about it. Every culture has its cleaning rituals, some of which include bathing for religious purity as well as general cleanliness. One of the reasons left-handers have faced centuries of discrimination is that where there is a lack of certain cleaning supplies for ablutions, it’s very common to use the left hand instead (most likely because most people are right-handed, so they use their right hand to eat). The inevitable human connection between our waste and “dirty” (which in this case is well and truly justified) followed, and hey look at that! Lefties are the devil’s children. Speaking as a lefty, I know this isn’t true. I’m much more evil than that.
And now I’ve managed to rant on for almost 700 words on general medieval standards of cleanliness and the practical difficulties thereof, and I haven’t even touched most of Ye Special Snowflake’s folly (claiming that having been to Portugal trumped Sarah growing up there was a particularly entertaining digression), I should probably call it and hope for something resembling sanity to mysteriously arise next week.