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much ado about… mary beard & groping scholars.

In mary beard and groping scholars on 08/21/2006 at 2:32 am

“vehemently non-gay male” ???

Posted by: Pepze August 18, 2006 at 01:34 PM
“Congratulations, Professor Beard, for being honest and understanding the powerful link between learning and eroticism. I, a vehemently non-gay male, once spent a whole night drinking with a notorious but brilliant Cambridge don who tried to grope me; but the knowledge and information I gained was immensely useful and could not have been provided publicly (it concerned spying in a foreign country). I knew what I was doing – although friends of mine were shocked at breakfast in the morning to see me bleary-eyed with him at the high table – and had no regrets. If we accept the rules of the game, there is little harm in it, and as this example is intended to show I don’t believe it is a “female harassment” issue. “

so it was, that a controversial remark by a certain respected professor Mary Beard took on a life of its own and led to, among other things, the above forthright missive by Pepze. For those of you not in the know Prof. Beard is an acerbic sharp tongued sharp witted observer who writes from both sides of the academia. A professor in classics at the University of Cambridge and professorial fellow at Newnham College she is also classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement and much admired by us here at brainwashcafe. But even we were a bit non-plussed to hear what Mary had apparently said…

A PROFESSOR has said that she yearns for the days when male dons spiced up tutorials with their “groping” of students. Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, stunned fellow academics with her fond recollections of female students putting up with the fumblings from older professors to get inspirational teaching. She wrote: “It is hard to repress certain wilful academic nostalgia for that academic era before about 1980 when the erotic dimension of pedagogy which had flourished since Plato was firmly stamped out.”
She made the remarks as she criticised colleagues for failing to record that the respected Latin scholar Eduard Fraenkel was a notorious groper. She said that this side of Professor Fraenkel’s character had been omitted from biographies, even though “any academic woman older than her mid-forties” would be ambivalent to it.
Professor Beard, 51, said that a female tutor used to warn students that although they would learn a lot from Professor Fraenkel, they would probably be “pawed about a bit”. Professor Beard’s remarks have been criticised by academics and student leaders but she remained unrepentant. She said she was sorry if she had given an impression that she was in favour of male sexual harassment but said that other academics had acknowledged the link between “pawing” and teaching. In an interview she said: “It is impossible not to feel sisterly outrage at what would now be deemed persistent sexual harassment and the abuse of power. On the other hand, it is also hard to repress certain wistful nostalgia.

and there it was, in blck and white not only that, in what may have been just be the worst analogy in history, she seemingly blissfully equated ‘smoking’ with ‘groping’…

“I do feel nostalgia but that is different from saying that is how I want it to be. The best comparison I can make is with smoking. One looks at Humphrey Bogart movies with rings of cigarette smoke and we have a wistful nostalgia for it. That doesn’t mean I think smoking should be allowed in public.”

The world stopped. If true, it meant that anything was possible. Faces pale, we rushed to research. Say it ain’t so Mary, we muttered expecting the worst…
Alas, shame on us, for doubting Mary. Shame on blogsphere, for spreading much of the malignant misrep. God knows we love bloggersville, but in this case much too haste, too soon… what better than to quote Prof Mary Beard herself on this ‘controversy’ ;

“…What the questioner (whom I shall not name and shame) was referring to was a review I wrote in the TLS of a new Dictionary of British Classicists. In this I pointed out that it was very odd that the entry on Fraenkel (Professor of Latin in Oxford from 1935-1953) made no mention of his notorious “wandering hand” – clearly documented by (inter alias) Warnock herself in her autobiography. ..
I did not for a minute suggest that this diminished his status as a classicist. Classical scholars come equipped with all manner of sexual virtues and vices. And, by and large (there are, of course, some limitations), sex can be separated from scholarship. In fact I stuck my neck out to say that most women over their mid-forties (eg me) were likely to feel ambivalent about Fraenkel’s behaviour. One can’t help deploring the abuse of male power. But one also – honestly — can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for that, now outlawed, erotic dimension to (adult) pedagogy.
What I objected to was the bowdlerization of the biographical tradition. When it is relatively widely known how Fraenkel spent his evenings with his female students, why does that have to be blotted out from the authorized version of his life? Why bother with the pretence that he was devoted solely to his wife? Or why not, at least, be prepared to see that devotion as part of a more complicated set of relationships? Don’t we need to remember our intellectual giants warts and all?”

Indeed.

http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2006/08/keeping_sex_out.html#more

(thanks Giorgio:))