My loves, I have been remiss in writing for you because, well, I wrote a book. I don’t know if you have heard this but that is very hard. As a result, I have been doing a lot of work to see it safely out into the world and hopefully into your hands at some point. And lo, it is now out in the States, and will be out in the UK/Aus/NZ in March. The book, in question, is entitled The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society.
You will no doubt be unsurprised to learn that last night I went to the pub. There are several reasons for this, chief among them being that in the discomfort of summer, going to the pub is quite the best thing you can do with your time in London. Also, it is the best thing to do with your time when it is cold in the winter. Also, in autumn and spring. Anyway, the point is that conditions have been so miserable here that it has sort of been impossible to do anything except drink beer as a form of recreation, so I have been doing that.
This state of affairs made me think about medieval people, as I do, for a couple of reasons. One, I am very happy that I am not doing manual labour in a field bringing in the hay right now, as is usual for August for the majority of medieval Europeans. I cannot imagine having to do that now that we have 34 degree days for some reason. No thank you. Second, my sitting around enjoying many delicious beers made me think about how chicks rock.
I was at my local pub on Saturday just trying to have a nice time after a bad week. Trying to be hopeful and enjoy my new George Michael homage t-shirt. Things of that nature. While at said local, I got talking to someone else who claimed to also be a regular (lol, FALSE) and we had a nice time discussing NWA and Tupac. But then he started to ask me if I had kids. I said no, and then for half an hour he proceeded to tell me why I should have them, as I repeatedly stated that I have absolutely no interest at all whatsoever in being a parent. Ever. Anyway, I am sensitive to how cultural hegemony works and why people say these types of things, but that guy was on my mind when I made the mistake of logging on and saw two things making the rounds.
As I continue to pull myself out of the hole caused by finishing a book and recovering from COVID, I was reminded of something that I wanted to write about in January but just didn’t have the time or health to do it. I was made aware of it due to a particularly bonkers piece of Twitter lore which I am absolutely not going to unpack here, but it stayed on my mind because it displays an honest to god medieval attitude towards women and sex. So, without further ado I give you this exchange:
Every day I wake up with the grinding worry that some non-historian has had a very mad medieval history take, and every day that is true. Sadly, yesterday was one of those days once again as some basic wrote a bad take inThe New York Times about how the Black Death allegedly improved conditions for workers. This, of course, is something I have rebutted at length, both on here, and also in The Washington Post (because ya girl is fancy now). It is one thing to complain about how this is bad history that has been roundly debunked, as I do that all the time. However, today I want to talk a little where in medieval history we can look for good news.
So, I am like a week later than this than I wanted to be because I got really sick, but have you read “Who is the Bad Art Friend”? You should read “Bad Art Friend”. This will all make so much more sense if you just go read “Who is the Bad Art Friend”. If you do not want to go read “Who is the Bad Art Friend” I will do my best to recap one of the most bonkers pieces of writing that I have read in sometime for you so that the rest of this article makes sense, I guess. It is easier if you go read it though.
So, the other day I was over on my extremely good Patreon that you would like if you joined, having a chat in a video about my research methodologies and some books I have used lately. I gushed about one book in particular, Kim M. Phillips’s Medieval Maidens: young women and gender in England, 1270-1540, which absolutely rules. The book focuses on the idea of “maidenhood”, which especially for the aristocratic, was a phase of life was strongly correlated with the conception of a nebulous “youth” similar our own teenage.
This morning I started my day by treating myself to a long read with my cup of coffee. In this case, the long read in question was Emily Ratajkowski’s excellent, disturbing, and important “Buying Myself Back”, an excerpt from her upcoming book of essays printed in New York Magazine. It is in many ways a harrowing read (Content Warning – it recounts a sexual assault), but I bring it up because Ms. Ratajkowski so deftly describes the personal experience of something that I have been writing about a lot lately: the male gaze and women’s ability, or indeed inability, to assert themselves against a constructed “ideal”.