Margery Kempe gets well after her first frightening experience and with the help of her husband, she regains her position for a moment. Her husband is understanding and Margery “asked her husband, as soonas he came to her, if she could have the keys of the butteryto get her food and drink as she had done before" which he allows her to do. This is the beginning of the shift in traditional gender roles that will carry through until the end of the book. Now that she is well again, according to the rules of her society she should get her strength back, take care of her husband and children, and hopefully, give birth yet again.

Instead of following through with these expectations, Margery seeks her own path and the story of her quest for a “perfect" life free of sin begins. She commits the greatest “sin" against society and its gender roles, however, when she refuses to honor her marriage agreement and sleep with her husband as well as leave her children and husband for her own reasons. It is through these many examples of Margery’s disobedience to the narrowly prescribed rules of gender and society that tells the reader what was expected of women by presenting her as an orthodox example.

When thinking about gender codes in medieval society, it is necessary to look at the way gender might have been used by exceptional women as a tool. Since they lacked other powers, this might have been their only chance. One of the most blatant examples of Margery going against medieval gender roles takes place during her confrontation with the Archbishop. In some ways, it seems that only way Margery, or any other medieval woman who was in trouble with the Church (the center of male authority) could command attention for an argument, was by using her femininity to provoke certain responses. This overlypiteous female weeping sequence in which the reader can easily imagine Margery sprawled on the floor, looking helpless and much like a victim is followed by the true impact of her “performance". She dries her tears and is instantly ready with a sharp tongue to take on the questions of the bewildered Archbishop and does so gracefully and meaningfully.

What is so great about this is that they were expecting a very pathetic weeping female to weakly respond to their questions, but instead were greeted by the “old, pre-conversion Margery Kempe" who responds to the question by shooting them right back. For example, the first question she turns back on the male authority is when they ask her why she weeps so mournfully. Margery responds with a very quick and thoughtful, “Sir, ye shall will some day that ye had wept as sore as I." There is no response from the Archbishop nor any of his clerks to this and immediately, as if to strengthen himself, he asks the articles of faith. Margery s able to respond to this “male" authority knowledge and again, this has such an impact because of her hyper-feminine performance followed by her sharp wit.

Margery’s use of language and rhetoric is showcased again when the Archbishop says to her that he’s heard she is a wicked woman. Instantly, and apparently without thought, she responds with, “Sir, so I hear say you are a wicked man." Here, and in the conversations between her and the male religious authority, the distinct difference of her feminine manipulations are most apparent since this intellectual religious debate was preceded by her “weak-woman" performance and display of feminine vulnerability. While some may not think Margery is sincere about her faith, she is, at the very least, able to make an impact and perhaps this is what is most striking about her. She plays the martyr for just long enough to get her point across and does so using her femininity (and traits typically associated with females such as clothing, virginity, and weeping—at least for this period).

Despite any reservations one might have about Margery’s sincerity and her flair for the dramatic, it should be remembered that the modern reader can glean a great deal of insight into the lives of medieval women by showing someone who went against the codes. Although Margery had some faithful that respected her, she was often called a “heretic" and one must wonder how much this had to do with her decisions about how to live away from her husband and family versus what she was expressing about religion. Women were confined to a narrow domestic sphere and any deviation from that role might bring punishment—both from society and the Church.

Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Gender and Affective Piety in the Book of Margery KempeComparison of “The Book of Margery Kempe” and the Pardoner’s Prologue and TaleFeminist Analysis of the Prologue for the “Wife of Bath” (Canterbury Tales)