More Sexism in Medieval Studies

I was attending a major national conference at the end of my MA year. In the evening, I was standing around chatting with several faculty members from my undergraduate institution. As we spoke, an eminent professor (hereafter Professor Seahorse) at my current institution, with whom I had taken several classes that year, walked behind me and ran his palm across my shoulder blades and down my arm to my elbow. He kept walking, and after a moment of puzzlement I convinced myself that there was nothing to it– after all, he was married, tenured, and several decades my senior. Surely he didn’t intend to be inappropriate.

Several years later, I’m now a PhD student at the same university, sitting with Professor Seahorse in a booth in a pub near campus (his “other office,” as he liked to call it), discussing a term paper that I’m writing for his course. By this point I’ve learned that Professor Seahorse has a reputation for inappropriate behaviour, and sometimes more, with female students. He blatantly objectifies the server to her face, addressing her as a “pouty-lipped love-goddess.” On another occasion where office hours took place in a pub, I was treated to a long account of how drunk he had been at his wedding, and how he had recoiled upon seeing his bride at the altar; she did not usually wear make-up, and her application of it on her wedding day was unskillful. This was an uncomfortable discussion, to say the least. Students should not be party to their professor’s marital dissatisfactions. What does one even say to a story like that?

One afternoon I was sitting with a classmate on the patio of a cafe next to the same pub. Professor Seahorse, who has clearly had a few, emerges from the pub and brazenly looks me up and down. “Oh… helloooo. Looking good. Oh, [classmate’s name], I didn’t even see you there. I was too busy looking at [my name].” Professor Seahorse blatantly checks me out one more time, pays another ‘compliment,’ and finally stumbles off.

Story signed by : Buddug

The story happened to me as a PhD student in the year(s) 2005-2009 around an academic institution in ‘Not in Belgium’

Sexism in Medieval Studies

I’m posting this today because, one of my communities, medieval studies, is in a bit of an uproar as sexual harassment cases are being shared publically for the first time. I’m currently looking for resources for creating safe space and building community culture around respect, support and safety. Because ultimately I think what needs to be built is a culture of intervention and support. Most of the time, bystanders don’t step in to help and the victim is left standing alone and told it’s not worth their time or energy or risk to their career to advocate for themselves.

This happened to me in 2006. Friends, family members, mentors told me to be quiet, that this senior professor, a man I was going to ask to be my supervisor, was probably drunk and didn’t remember the horrible things he shouted about me to a patio full of people, in front of an amassed group of colleagues when I was a 21 year old, first year Ph.D. student. I sat there and let him make fun of me and speculate about me sleeping with the male student I happened to be sitting with, and then worse, go on to accuse me of being no good at my work, tell me that I shouldn’t start a reading group because my language skills – in a class he had never taught me – weren’t good enough. He publicly humiliated me and plenty of people, male and female colleagues alike, sat there and said nothing. And afterwards, skepticism, excuses, apologia- phrases like ‘I wasn’t there, I can’t comment’ or ‘oh but he’s such a good scholar’, and , the worst, ‘but you should still work with him because he’s such a big name.’

This needs to stop. We need to tell students, junior faculty, all faculty that this behaviour is unacceptable. That if someone verbally attacks you, threatens you, touches you, assaults you, tries to sleep with you, it’s not okay. And there are people you can go to who will help you file the necessary paperwork and stand beside you when the perpetrator is handed their consequences.

I am angry, almost 10 years later, that I never filed a complaint. I had more than enough reason and more than enough witnesses and I didn’t say a damn thing on record.

And it is so much worse for so many women I know in medieval studies who were harassed by this man and many others.

If you have any suggestions, or just want to connect, please reply in the comments or e-mail SASSY to get my contact information.

Story signed by : Giselle Gos

The story happened to me as a PhD student in the year(s) 2005-2009 at an academic institution in ‘Not in Belgium’