The Unbearable Whiteness of Medieval Studies

I’ve been demoted from snake to low-hanging fruit. As University of Chicago Divinity School M.A. student Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried argues in his recent Sightings piece:
Few academics today openly support the Milo Yiannopouloses of the world, so denouncing the new breed of public hate monger can seem less like a brave stand than a signaling of virtue. By picking low-hanging fruit and standing against the most obviously bigoted targets, protesting professors avoid addressing parallel problems in their own disciplines. Cue outrage. I’ll wait... Nothing yet? You do realize what just happened here? In one fell swoop, as befits a Viking, Dr. Seigfried renders both me and the colleagues who have been doing their bestto distance themselves from me these past several months ridiculous. I can’t decide whether I should be outraged or relieved. I rather enjoy being a snake, opening people’s eyes. Just call me Lady Wisdom.

But according to Dr. Seigfried, I am not the real problem. (In truth, I am no…

Studies “R” Us

Of the responses I have gotten on campus to my blogging about Milo, the most revealing of the stakes in our current culture wars came to the fore this week: I threaten medieval studies. I threaten lots of other things, too, I am told: our students, my colleagues, the culture of diversity and inclusion that they would like to foster. But worst of all, I threaten medieval studies.

I know this because, as one of our graduate students explained this past Monday on one of the campus Facebook groups, “[many] graduate students and faculty have tried to step up and address this [my endorsing (in her words) “a known white supremacist”--who dates only black guys, says “white nationalism is not the answer” (his words), and whom the actual alt-Right hates, not that that makes any difference to the way the Left or Right talk about him], including holding conferences and workshops.” (She is talking about the ones I mention here.)

Why the pressing need to shut me up? This is where things get interest…

“Just call me Medusa”

The graduate students in the Divinity School are not happy with me.

Mind you, the burden of the letter that they published in the campus newspaper last Friday was to make various demands of my colleagues in the Divinity School: to include students on the Diversity Committee at the Divinity School, to have more programming at orientation “to proactively combat current climate issues,” and to conduct annual surveys of the members of the Divinity School “to maintain transparency as we continue to define our institution in the future.”

But mainly, of course, they are upset with me. So much so that sixty of them--four anonymously--signed the letter. I guess they won’t be taking any classes with me. (Not that I have any slated for next year that they could take for their Divinity School requirements. My faculty appointment is in the Department of History; I only cross-list some of my courses with the Divinity School.) But neither does it seem that any of them knows anything about what I tea…


I’ve known my whole life that I was dangerous.

Okay, maybe not since I was a baby, but certainly since I was five. I told you about chasing my little sister down the hall for leaving her stuff on my side of the room. I didn’t tell you how my parents responded when I pushed her into the dividing wall and she ended up needing stitches in her head.

My father was a surgeon. He scooped my sister up and we all piled into the car to take her to the emergency room. My mother stayed in the car with my little brother and me while Dad and my sister went inside. They came out full of stories about how brave my sister had been under the needle--Dad did the sewing. Everybody ignored me. Except, of course, my sister.

She spent our childhood telling everyone the story about how brave she had been and how bad I was for pushing her. “Look,” she would say, pulling aside her bangs. “This is what Rachel did to me.”

And I believed her.

It got worse when I was eight. We were the new kids in the neighborhood…

Lady Wisdom's School for Snake Lords

You can see it in their eyes, the ones who have mastered the snake.

Steely. Concentrated. Able to take no for an answer. And to listen. 
It is there in their jaw and forehead, as well. Firm. Hard. Severe even. 
They stand tall, their shoulders back, chests expanding into the world. Confident. Dominant. Regal.
Like Mufasa at the beginning of The Lion King. Or Simba at the end. 
Capable of both justice--and mercy.
What does it mean when you see someone with this kind of face?

It's complicated, but it has something to do with the neurotransmitter serotonin. Higher levels of serotonin are associated with expression of dominance, with effects on both posture and face.

According to Professor Jordan Peterson (at 19:18): What [this kind of face] means is [a person] has integrated his aggression. I've seen this happen in my clinical clients. When they come in and they're too agreeable, they look like Simba looks later in the movie, when he is an adolescent. He's sort of like a…

Making Mary Visible

A taste of the argument to come in my forthcoming bookRead on...

Lord of the Snakes

Our primate ancestors lived in trees. For primates living everywhere other than Madagascar, there were snakes at the bottom of those trees. Snakes who, if they had been able to speak, would have called our ancestors “lunch.”

Lots of fascinating things happened in those trees.

Our male ancestors competed with one another for dominance, just like lobsters, with whom they (like us) shared ancient serotonergic systems. (That means our brains have lobster-like elements for detecting social hierarchies, pace the social constructionists.)

The better our male ancestors competed with each other, the more likely the females were to look kindly on them and choose them as mates. They might even offer them fruit. (Which put a premium on competing well long before Wall Street was a twinkle in our great-great-great-grandfather's eye, pace those convinced that capitalism invented competition.)

Sometimes, however, things got even more exciting. Maybe the snakes started climbing the trees. Maybe ou…

Here Be Dragons

“If you are not capable of cruelty, you are absolutely a victim to anyone who is.” --Jordan B. Peterson.

Time to grow some teeth...

To a Fault: Puppetry

Fault: Always believe that failure is a consequence of insufficient personal effort

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation that had negative impact on your life.
Basically, this fault is my life. It is hard to think of a particular instance in which it mattered more than others, when every time I fail, I tell myself it is my fault.

Just read my blog back a few years. I refuse to blame anybody or anything other than myself for my inability to fence better.

It isn’t my coach’s fault for not teaching me better. (He is an excellent coach and many of his students have gone on to become top-ranked fencers.)

It isn’t my teammates’ fault for not being there for me to practice with. (They are at practice much more than I am, in part because they live closer to the club, but also because I am lazy.)

It isn’t my opponents’ fault for having fenced longer than I have, although I do get envious…

To a Fault: Tea Party for One

Fault: Could be better at cooperating

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation that had negative impact on your life.
I don’t like people messing with my stuff.

My sister and I shared a room when we were little, and it drove me nuts when she would leave her toys and clothes on my side of the room. So much so that one day, when she refused to move her things, I chased her down the hall and pushed her just as we got to the end. She hit her head on the edge of a half-wall separating the dining room from the living room...and the rest was history. She got the scar to show off to everybody, and I got the reputation as the Bad Sister.

I think I was five, maybe six. She was three or four. I didn't mean for her to hit the wall, it just happened that that was when I caught up to her.

I like having my things just right. My toys. My furniture. My words.

I hate when other people come in and…