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Blogging Kalamazoo 2021: Session 286 - New Perspectives on Gender and Difference in Honor of Sharon Farmer (A Roundtable)

Thursday, May 13, 2021 - 13:31

Honestly, I added this to my schedule with no idea what the content is going to be. I was originally planning to do a bike ride in this time-slot, but I just got my second Moderna shot this morning and decided to take it easy. Roundtables typically involve multiple short presentations (we have 5 people on the panel) followed by discussion. I don’t think I’m going to try to take detailed notes [spoiler: I took detailed notes], but rather give an overall impression at the end. Hmm, but they’re testing the presentations before the panel and there are fancy purses. So maybe notes after all?

Session 286 - New Perspectives on Gender and Difference in Honor of Sharon Farmer (A Roundtable)

Nancy A. McLoughlin - University of California, Irvine

Begins by discussing how the honoree influenced her work and career. Studying “Illicit persuasion” and the female personification of vices with respect to male ecclesiastical authors. Motifs of gendered authority, including the feminine personification of the University. Sermons about how illicit lust causes men to do disastrous things. Use of the personified University as a contrast to female-personified vices. Alternate symbolic interpretations of David and Bathsheba in positive terms, rather than as an example of dangerous lust. More female personifications (the church, the nation) set up as “better” than the influence of actual women (mothers, queens). [I’m starting to lose the through-line.] We’re talking about discourse around crusades as ways of forming political connections among Christian rulers. Now we’re talking about the symbolism (as opposed to reality) of Saracens as Other. In all these high-level symbolic discourse, actual women have little presence.

Fiona Harris-Stoertz - Trent Univ.

Intends to discuss the contributions of the honoree to feminist scholarship, particularly from her earlier period. [This seems to be primarily a review of topics and works that Farmer has covered.] Focus on “difference” and on dissecting gender dichotomies. First monograph on veneration of S. Martin in three different communities. The very different ways in which a single symbol, such as a particular saint, can be interpreted and used. Relates this back to contemporary scholars and how they are shaped by their own communities. Participated in push-back against Georges Duby’s characterizing of medieval women as powerless pawns. Discussion of several articles taking this stance. Women’s persuasive power working across formal power structures, but also working within those structures contrary to misogynistic claims. [Losing the thread again.] “Subverting the dominant gender binaries.” Next topic of study is the poor people of medieval Paris. [I’m recognizing some book covers that looked intriguing in the bookroom, but not sufficiently in me wheelhouse to buy.] Within the study of poverty, gender is a less important category than other elements.

Kate Kelsey Staples - West Virginia University

[Oh, I think I have her book on daughters in London! Ah, yes, I blogged it here:] Plans to talk about contesting gender norms. Learned to discard modern assumptions about how economies work and modern prescriptive interpretations about the place of gender. Focus on women’s work within the household economy rather than looking only at women’s incursions into male-dominated roles. In working on London wills, exploring how the elite created opportunities for both sons and daughters, some of the gendered patterns in occupation led to seeking out alternate sources of data that told different gendered stories. Clerical authors often envisioned separate spheres for men and women: men were productive, women were reproductive. But this provides an inaccurate view and we must contest the filters of medieval authors to find the realities. In looking for the “exceptional” women who insert themselves in primarily-male roles, the nature of urban records can make them difficult to identify. But does this mean they are actually rare, or only that the usual types of records don’t reflect the actual work being done?  Is it an exceptionality of reality or only of how the women are categorized in contemporary records? Studies of Parisian merchant families, showing the significant work and influence of women within those families. Some fascinating details of specific examples. Sums up: despite these types of evidence, there is still a constant struggle to re-educate people around the traditional myths of women’s place in medieval societies. Ties this in with gendered differences in student evaluations in academia, which is more effective at demonstrating student bias than teacher effectiveness.

Anne E. Lester - Johns Hopkins University

Has put up slides about purses. Examples from Sens, France that survived due to repurposing as relic containers. Many described as “Saracen work.” These objects were ubiquitous in secular use, but primarily survive only when repurposed. [Many lovely slides of objects.] Now we move on to one specific intriguing object, made from two different luxury fabrics (description). This object is variously described in different inventories. Why was it made of two different fabrics? Not similar to the purses made of embroidered silk and velvet studied elsewhere. The textiles clearly have Eastern associations. There is a discussion of possible avenues by which it came to Sens. Might it have been used as a reliquary purse and brought back from crusade in that context? Or might it have been deliberately created as a patched-together object from fabrics that had independent meaning? Not only are we looking through the lenses of how medieval people discussed such objects, but we look through the lens of the 19th c. publications that may be our only easy access to them, unless given special physical access. [The talk now goes on to personal reminiscences of the honoree and becomes much harder to take notes on.]

Martha G. Newman - Univ. of Texas-Austin

[So far it’s primarily personal reminiscences about working on a book that the honoree edited: Gender and Difference. The talk is primarily about approaches to doing history, and especially an intersectional approach.] A suggestion that the natural outgrowth of this approach is to recognize the problems in using a binary approach to gender and the benefits of exploring the “elasticity” of gender categories and how they interact with other categories of difference. Distinctions between studying “representations” of gender and studying bodies and embodied experience. Insight from trans studies. [But I’m getting lost in the jargon a little.] Discussion of the transgender aspects of Engelhardt’s story of Hildegund/Joseph of Schonau. [See LHMP items tagged with this individual.]

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