Fear and Trembling in the Cloister

Some things are hard not to take personally these days.

About a week ago, the Medieval Academy announced that its Officers were setting up a committee specifically to establish policies about how those of us attending the Annual Meetings of the organization are expected to behave. According to the notice posted on the Medieval Academy Blog, the institution of such policies is long overdue:
It has long come to the attention of members of the Medieval Academy of America that policies need to be established and formally registered concerning behavioral expectations for MAA Annual Meetings. The MAA encourages open discourse among colleagues of all disciplines and career stages, and does so anticipating healthy differences of opinion over a wide variety of scholarly issues. The openness of our discourse means that everyone, each individual person, needs to feel safe while engaged in the collaborative work of our annual meeting. Protection must be afforded for all members from negative or threatening actions, including verbal abuse, discrimination, bullying, and harassment of any type, including sexual harassment. The means of enforcing these policies are to be discussed by a newly-established Ad Hoc Committee, with suggested proposals for reporting and adjudication of formal complaints to be presented as part of its work. At some stage we will also need to have counsel vet the proposal before we post it and make it official policy.
You know very well I am going to get into trouble for writing about this, but let’s say it upfront anyway: Miss Manners would be appalled.

I have been attending meetings of the Medieval Academy since I was a newly-minted Assistant Professor, long before I had the security of tenure to say what I think. At no point in my decades of attendance at these meetings have I witnessed anything approaching “negative or threatening actions, including verbal abuse, discrimination, bullying [or] harassment of any type, including sexual harassment.” I am not saying that I am certain that no member of our organization ever suffered such attentions during that time, but at least in the sessions, cocktail hours, and dinners I have attended, everyone whom I encountered was fully capable of behaving like a civilized adult, without the help of a formal policy. I would be as surprised to find someone publicly picking his or her nose and eating the boogers as to hear that any one of my professional colleagues had been purposefully rude in this way.

As one of my academic colleagues put it when I shared the MAA’s notice on my Facebook page:
Gosh, I hadn’t known that the MAA meetings were characterized by duels with lance or sword, beating people up, calling them “sons and heirs of a mongrel bitch,” putting people with bad arguments in the stocks or the pillory ... What have I been missing all these years!
But why does it never strike these ladies [many of our senior officers in the MAA are in fact women] that they are being as touchy and as weak-kneed as the worst male chauvinist ever accused women of being? Don’t they see that they are walking illustrations of their own incompetence?
WWMS?* “Remember to laugh.”

I confess, I am finding it hard. I spent some time yesterday surfing the internet for articles about Milo and me, just to remind myself that it is not my imagination how angry many of my colleagues are at me. They are convinced that I have engaged in “violent doxxing and harassment” of one colleague in particular who spent a year and a half slandering me as a “white supremacist” for writing in favor of Western civilization and Milo. What did I do in return? Call her “Professor” and make her look silly. Oh, yes, and tag Milo on the Facebook share of my post.**

I keep hoping this whole kerfuffle is just going to go away. That it will be possible to go back to studying the Middle Ages for the sake of the material I love. That saying I love the Virgin Mary and the way in which medieval Christians wrote about her will not be taken as evidence that I care about whether she was white. That not caring whether she was white or brown or black will not be taken as evidence that I myself care more about race than goodness, beauty, and truth, when in fact I don’t care about race at all, certainly not in the terms my opponents imply. That it will be possible to study the humanities once again out of love, not hate. I still pray that it may be so.

But I am not sanguine.

When I received the notice about the ad hoc committee in my email, I wrote to the chair of the committee about my concerns:
I was greatly encouraged to see the announcement in this morning’s mailing from the MAA that there is going to be a committee set up to help us feel safe while attending the Annual Meeting. I have had serious doubts about whether it is safe for me to attend the meeting this year, as I very much want to hear [our mutual colleague’s] presidential address. But the on-going campaign among certain members of our Academy and medieval studies more broadly to label me as a white supremacist, racist, and misogynist for my political views makes me worry about whether I am going to be able to attend the sessions without fear of verbal abuse, discrimination, bullying, and harassment. I know that you have strong opinions on these matters, and I hope very much that your committee is going to be able to address what it means for us to maintain a community in which diversity of opinion is encouraged and fostered.
It has been two years to the week that my “Three Cheers for White Men” blogpost first came to the attention of the colleague who has accused me of doxxing and harassing her. Nor, it would seem, can anything my colleagues say in my defense change her mind about me. Just this past month she has taken exception on Twitter to the exchange that two of our fellow medievalists had on the American Historical Association blog about the degree to which medieval history as a profession and discipline is implicated in the development of white supremacist arguments. (Answer, according to my champion: not in the way many of my colleagues would seem to like to insist.) I understand that she is not going to change her version of our story, any more than I am going to change mine. What bothers me more is that so many of my colleagues seem willing to believe her larger argument, that our profession is riddled with white supremacism, rape culture, institutional violence, hypocrisy, and hate. Otherwise why would they feel the need to set up the ad hoc committee in the first place?

Surely they don’t need a whole committee just to deal with little old me!

Okay, that’s funny. What do they imagine that I am going to do? Pull out my foil and challenge my colleague to a duel? Show up at a session with a posse of my Random Laypersons and laugh at them? Regale Milo with stories about how silly academics can be? (Oh, right, I’ve done that already.)

Because that is what this is really all about: not bullying and harassment, but making jokes more often than not at our own expense, which is all Milo or I have ever done.***

Meanwhile, my academic colleagues call us names that justify punching us—or worse. Who do you think should not feel safe at the Annual Meeting?


*What would Milo say?

**Many of my colleagues in academia seem to think that linking someone’s professional faculty profile and photograph in a blogpost counts as “doxxing.” It doesn’t, unless they believe that something that can be found in literally seconds on the internet counts as “private.” One wonders why they have professional faculty pages in the first place if they don’t want others to be able to find them with a simple search or why they would include their photographs if they don’t want anyone to know what they look like. Certainly, they have had no qualms about linking me! (Waves at all the visitors from Eidolon. Hi, Donna!)

***No, Milo did not call for Leslie Jones to be harassed, anymore than I called for my colleague to be.  When I shared the fact that she was tweeting about me on my Facebook page back in September, I made sure to let my friends know that I did not want her harassed. In return, I was accused of calling for her to be raped. Meanwhile, in their tweets and Facebook posts, she and her friends have continued to insist that I am a white supremacist. Go here if you want my real opinion on such nonsense.

Image: Cloister of Saint-Michel de Grandmont Priory

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