Monday, January 18, 2016

#FemFog Medievalism: Lessons Learned


Two ITM postings in one day! This posting began as a set of reflections on a public Facebook status update but I'm reposting it all here as a kind of archive (and it's especially appropriate for MLK Day). Brief context: medievalists were engaged in important conversations on social media this week in response to the discovery of distressingly anti-feminist blogs/blog postings by established medieval scholars. Here are some initial thoughts on where we might go from here.

[UPDATED January 28, 2016: For more context on #femfog conversations since this post was made, see Dorothy Kim's post on ITM, this curated archive of #femfog tweets by @OldBooksNewSci, and coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Jezebel (and read our note of thanks to Dr. Zuckerberg and our own affirmation of values).]


What can we (medievalists) learn from Frantzen-gate and Fulton-gate, and what proactive steps can we make to change the field (and our world) for the better?

Some initial thoughts:

1. EVERYONE is implicated. Gay men can be mysogynist, and women can reaffirm patriarchy (and white hegemony). Retired profs can be toxic—and so can grad students. You can be disadvantaged in one way but also exert power/exclude in others. We all need to be aware and look out for each other (male, female, queer, white, nonwhite, nontenured, tenured—everyone).

2. KUDOS to courageous people. Thanks to Dorothy Kim for launching an extended private conversation on the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship Facebook page about enduring harmful scholarly (i.e. medievalist) fantasies of whiteness. I will give some credit to Rachel Fulton Brown (author of one of the blogs in question) for at least engaging with the criticism she is facing and making some efforts to understand. (Meanwhile the stridently masculinist Allen J. Frantzen did not engage any of his critics and un-friended people on Facebook after his viewpoints started circulating. ‪#‎GYB‬)

3. INVITE unexpected voices into conversations. This applies to conference sessions, seminars, blogs, scholarly collections and journals. Nominate many kinds of people to your leadership structures, advisory groups, editorial boards, conference organizing groups. (On that note, check out this GREAT wide-ranging slate of candidates for the BABEL Steering Committee. If you consider yourself a BABEL-er, vote by Friday!)

4. SUPPORT the work (scholarship and labor, physical and affective) of marginalized people in your social spheres. The meaning of “marginalized” or “minority” differs from context to context, but in any case build structures to support people who find themselves “outside the advantaged majority.” Do not amplify the voices of toxic people and do not help to advance the careers of people who are jerks.

5. MORE DISCOURSE, not less. When toxic views are published, especially by established scholars who hold positions of power, we should all be willing to respond to such discourse with more of our own. The conversations this week were not just about “individuals” but their blogging as symptoms of much broader structural and cultural issues we need to address for the sake of our field and our society more broadly. I’m glad that men and women (such as Peter Buchanan and Carla Jardim) offered timely, thoughtful, and forceful blog posts in response to Frantzen. Both humor and earnest critique can be powerful weapons.

6. MORE ALLIES. We need more white people to address white supremacy and white fragility (thanks for instance to Monika Otter and Suzanne Edwards on the SFMS thread and thanks to Jeffrey Cohen for the strong response on twitter and through this posting here on ITM calling out Frantzen on his scholarly and public misogyny, and thanks to Karl Steel for his post on ITM earlier this morning). We need more men (gay/queer and straight) to speak out against misogyny. We need more white women to point out problems with mainstream feminism. Rhetoric “lands” differently depending on who is speaking, and at times allies can do really important work.

7. RECOGNIZE that there’s a lot of energy/time/labor involved in responding to and educating people whenever this sort of thing happens. It really should not just be the “usual suspects” chiming in when these sorts of things happen and having the burden of educating people. Senior scholars should be able to educate themselves.

8. EXAMINE your own behavior and practices. If you receive criticism for your rhetoric or behavior, think about how to meaningfully change how you do things in the future (this could apply to the classroom, conferences, personal interactions, online communication, etc.).

9. USE YOUR AWESOME POWERS for good. Make medieval studies (and the world) more open, aware, inclusive.

10. DECIDE today what you can do to transform the profession and the world. It might be scholarship, serving on a committee, organizing a conference, curating a conversation, mentoring a student/colleague. If we want medieval studies to thrive, then we are all in this together.

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