Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sex, Gender, and One Angry Medievalist Blogger (NB: mostly non-medieval content)

One of my many research interests is the study of women and gender in the Middle Ages. About half the time I mention this to a non-historian, they often express the conventional perception that women were basically treated like chattel in the Middle Ages. Understandable: I'm sure I do something similar for interesting subjects with which I have only a passing acquaintance. In the field of History, the difference between the expert and the interested amateur sometimes boils down to a self-congratulatory impulse: in this case, the assumption that there is a huge divide between the way that women were treated in the Middle Ages, and the fully human status that women enjoy today. Yay, Us.

Then I read something like this, and I want to scream. Twice. First time, for what happened; second time, for the fact that the local laws appear to be letting them get away with it, at least in part. It's the second bit that brings home that the problem is not just one or two "bad apples," but an entire culture that allows this to happen, or at least quickly turns the other way when it does.

Jesus fucking wept.

[h/t to Twisty at ibtp]

9 comments:

Dr. S said...

Good Lord. Somehow I get the very, very strong feeling that what this article reports is only the tip of a very large, very ugly iceberg. It's the "she's 12 but has the body of a 20 year old" that gets me.

BTW, I get those "women were so repressed!" (or "oppressed") (or occasionally even "suppressed") comments a lot, being that I work on the Victorian period. Which also had more than its fair share of prostitutes, sex workers child and otherwise, &c.

Is it possible that nothing ever really changes, and that human beings are mostly foul? That's the dark question that rears its head when I read an article like this one.

medieval woman said...

Oh god - this is terrifying! I was also a little taken aback about the mother's comment: "She's 12 but she has the body of a 20 year old"...

Our work sounds like it might intersect a lot (I'm on the literature side of things) - let me know if you ever want to commiserate!

Michael said...

Why does the state even bother with laws to regulate the strip clubs? Apparently those laws don't have to exist because it's already illegal to run a brothel or a drug house or to allow rape, do they really need to be restated even more loosely? Speaking of medieval-ness, these are the reasons the old-fashioned types of punishment could come in handy. Just imagine what a hammer and some bamboo slivers could do to stop this kind of thing!

Susan said...

Yes, we've really made progress, haven't we? Yikes. But yes, as a historian of gender I always resent the ways people (including students) assume women are so much better off now. Time to assign everyone Bennett's History Matters!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Don't get me wrong, folks -- I'm not suggesting that women (at least the well-off ones) are not better off now then they were in [insert historical era here]. We are. Singleness as a legitimate life path. Birth control and other (albeit diminishing) reproductive rights. Freedom of contract. Not to mention the whole not-dying-of-sepsis-in-childbirth thing, which is pretty neat.

What I *am* saying is that the underlying gender constructs have changed very little in the past 600 years. The way those constructs manifest are generally (though not always) different, but the basic assumptions are quite similar. And until we start thinking about the Deep History of women, we as a society are likely to go on congratulating ourselves for accomplishments that are extremely superficial, and thus potentially ephemeral.

Belle said...

Gawd, don't you love those Texas stories? And it made the news; how many similar stories don't make headlines?

I noted to some students the other day the current income disparity; they were stunned. They really think that we've achieved equality in all things.

Christine said...

Your post has brought up an issue I have posted on recently and that is the integration of women's history into core curriculum. It would remove assumption types of responses about women's roles.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
I got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

While I found the mother's comment unsettling regarding the girl's age in relation to her body, what disturbs me more is "having a 12-year-old dancing in their establishment is not one of the things that automatically enables us to revoke their license,"