Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I decided, some time ago, that I wasn't truly going to abandon this blog for good, and I've been thinking of posting something saying as much ever since. But, for whatever reason, the time hasn't been right. There are several weighty issues I have to tackle as I re-think the role Ancrene Wiseass is going to play in my life and career, and I think the time still isn't quite right for a full explanation.

But recent events in the blogosphere have made me feel, for the first time in a good while, that I have something to say which actually merits posting here. It may also go some way to explaining one of the reasons why I'm currently in re-evaluation mode.

In case you haven't been following the latest blogging crisis, Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister have resigned their posts as blogger and tech support, respectively, for the John Edwards presidential campaign. Why? Because their efforts on Edwards's behalf were being consistently undermined by a particularly nasty specimen of humanity, Catholic League president Bill Donohue. Donohue seems to see no irony in pinning these women to the wall for making specific critiques of Church politics on their own blogs (not sweeping condemnations of Catholicism under the Edwards banner, as he'd have you believe) when he himself has said all manner of vile things about Jews, liberals, queer people, and women who don't know how to keep their mouths shut. If you're interested in just some of the details, you can look here.

Maybe he missed Matthew, Chapter 7:3-5 and Luke, Chapter 6:37-42?

Thanks to the acknowledged "liberal bias" of our media, Donohue managed to get himself plenty of airtime and column inches in which he bloviated about how horrible Edwards was for hiring these awful "anti-Catholics." Unfortunately, the witch-hunt approach paid off.

Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice gave an interview to Rebecca Traister of Salon in which she discusses Donohue's latest "victory," noting that

there is something about this man and his attacks on women that is frightening. There was a while when I refused to go on air with him [for television appearances] because -- you know I am a very strong person -- but I felt physically threatened by this man. He never physically threatened me, but I felt like I was in the presence of an abuser. So for a long time I just refused because it was too degrading to be in his presence. I got over it eventually and have done a few things with him since. I understand that he is so offensive that he does himself damage; as long as I can maintain my equilibrium with him attacking me in the most vicious ways possible -- that only does me credit and makes him look like the abuser that he is. But the glee with which . . . he has gone after these women marks him as an abuser.

There's no doubt in my mind that she's right. There's also no doubt in my mind that a fair number of people will read that paragraph and think that Kissling is blowing things out of proportion. "She herself admits he never threatened her physically! Why in the world would she have this outrageous reaction? I mean, maybe he sounds kinda like a jerk, but an abuser? Isn't that taking it a bit far?"

No. It isn't. And I know exactly what she means.

This is precisely the feeling that I and many other people--a large percentage of them women--got from the harasser I had to face down in a university hearing last term. And those few of us willing to speak out about this bully's behavior (which was, in fact, quite physically aggressive at times) had to listen to exactly the same stuff from people in the university administration who just wanted it to go away. "You can't legislate against people being jerks," they told us. "You needed to gain your voice as a woman and just confront him, one-on-one," they said. When we explained that common sense and the prickling hairs on the backs of our necks didn't recommend that approach, they quirked an eyebrow and consigned us to their mental "hysterical woman" file. One of them suggested that we should apologize to our harasser for not having "given him the benefit of the doubt" and "been real with him." Another wanted to discuss with us the trauma that had been inflicted on our harasser by us, his "accusers." And that was after a university investigation had substantiated our claims and he'd physically threatened a number of people.

No, you can't legislate against people being jerks. But you sure as hell can feel it when a dangerous, vindictive bully with no discernible conscience makes you his target. And, dollars to doughnuts, when you face up to somebody like that, you'll find very few people standing behind you--especially if you're a woman confronting a misogynist. They'll claim that you're out of line, thin-skinned and hairy-legged all at once, a troublemaker with a chip on your shoulder. They'll claim that you ought to apologize to the person who attacked you for "provoking" him in the first place.

So, Amanda, Melissa, and Frances, let me say to you what I wish more people had said to us: Good for you. You for fought the good fight and spoke the truth. You also realized when the fight was rigged and backed out so you could fight another day.

Good for you.