Strange days, indeed, when, at the turn of the sixteenth year of the twenty-first century, we still find the need to defend our positions both as medievalists and as feminists. Recent postings to the MedFem Listserv and others have opened up concerted debate about privilege (whatever form that takes) and the lack of it – and how easy it is to become vulnerable to the abuse of privilege wherever it is bestowed. The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship has been mentioned on a number of occasions during this recent debate and is, no doubt, what one disgruntled senior scholar partly had in mind in his recent denigration of ‘feminists’ on Twitter and his webpage. As the new president of the society, therefore, I think it might be timely to reiterate and emphasise the raison d’être of SMFS and the specific areas of promotion and support to which we, as a group, are deeply committed.
The society’s stated aim is to promote and support interdisciplinary exchanges in the area of women’s studies, gender studies and feminist studies at all levels of higher education across the world. But it is also so much more, devoted to all kinds of intersectionality, including those connected to issues of race, class and sexuality. We can’t solve the type of deeply entrenched problems that have been aired so articulately during the last week by others far more eloquent than I, but we can help to combat them and to mitigate their insidious effects, especially in the context of younger or less experienced scholars trying to make their way through what sometimes seems like a quagmire of dangers and/or humiliations of various kinds. Sometimes the world can be changed one person at a time, especially if those who have been supported aim also to support others in turn. To use a medieval conceit: as feminists and as medievalists, we must refuse to pull up the drawbridge behind us when we’ve made it into the castle!
To this end, the society now has a whole range of initiatives to support scholars in all sectors of medieval studies and we are currently debating a series of new initiatives to add to the list, spurred on in part by the type of debates to which I’ve alluded above, but also driven by a recognition that, even (perhaps especially?) in 2016, we cannot become complacent about the dynamics in which we get caught up in our worlds of work.
SMFS now has an annual programme of events: we run an annual prize for the best graduate student essay (overseen by Linda Mitchell), with the winning essay appearing in the society’s academic journal,Medieval Feminist Forum; we run a biennial feminist first book prize, alternating with a best faculty essay prize (overseen by me); thanks to the generous donation of royalties to the society by Ruth Karras and Judith Bennett for their acclaimed Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, we are now able to offer an annual Foremothers’ Prize of up to $2000 (overseen this year by Katie Keene) for a graduate project not otherwise subject to funding. Additionally, many young graduate students and early-career researchers have benefitted from our robust mentoring scheme (organised by Laura Saetveit Miles), initiated each year at Kalamazoo. This scheme aims to forge a helpful, supportive and, ultimately, enduring academic relationship between less experienced scholars and more senior faculty to help promote and support work, publication, teaching and career paths etc.
In this capacity SMFS now has a strong profile at a number of international conferences, most notably those held annually at Kalamazoo and Leeds. In the latter case, the society has recently joined forces with the UK-based Gender and Medieval Studies (GMS) group to hold a jointly sponsored roundtable to debate issues of mutual concern, preceded by an open reception. SMFS also helps fund the annual GMS conference in the UK, facilitating graduate student travel to the conference from both sides of the Atlantic. Our conference team, chaired by Charles-Louis Morand-Métivier, is always happy to hear from anybody who would like to organise a conference session anywhere on behalf of the society. Spreading our profile (as recent discussions about the Berks conference have shown) is another society imperative. The more people we can reach, the more support we can offer. Together, we are far, far stronger than the mere sum of the parts. But it takes effort, capacity and commitment – and, as feminists, of course, we are not short of any of those – so do please join us in some of all of our activities and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. You can, of course, also glean further information from our website: https://smfsweb.org/ and please do consider subscribing to the journal, if you do not do so already. Costs are low, the quality high, and, importantly, the monies raised are poured back into the initiatives I am outlining here.
For those of you attending Kalamazoo, our events at that conference constitute another important forum for support: come and join us at the open meeting and reception on the Saturday, or join us for the annual banquet, where all kinds of informal mentoring and discussions take place. Most pertinently, this year (alongside its other sessions) SMFS is sponsoring and running a roundtable discussion on academic bullying, harassment and practices of exclusion – something that couldn’t be more timely, given what has materialised during this past week or so. Indeed, recent discussions present proof positive that this issue is urgent, pressing and of deep, deep concern to those of us committed to breaking down prejudice, the closed-shop of privilege and its abuses. If you are coming to Kalamazoo, we will hope to see you there. Meanwhile, keep up the healthy discussions on the list that maintain our connections. We can – and must – make things better.
Professor Liz Herbert McAvoy FLSW
President of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship
Professor of Medieval Literature
College of Arts and Humanities
219 Keir Hardie
Swansea SA2 8PP
Yr Athro Liz Herbert McAvoy FLSW
Athro Astudiaethau Rhywedd
Coleg y Celfyddydau a’r Dyniaethau
219 Adeilad Keir Hardie
Abertawe SA2 8PP
Tel: (01792) 602462