Editors' Note: New Feminist Voices in the Heroic Age
© 2021 by Melissa Ridley Elmes & Carla María Thomas. All intellectual property rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2021 by The Heroic Age.
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§1. This special issue of The Heroic Age concentrating on new feminist voices rose out of the ashes of "Frantzengate" and the 2016 U.S. election with its attendant misogyny and misandry. Melissa Ridley Elmes approached Larry Swain, HA general editor, at the 2017 International Congress on Medieval Studies and pitched the idea of having an issue devoted exclusively to graduate students and early career researchers working specifically with feminist approaches to Anglo-Saxon studies as a counter-measure to the toxic masculinity at the heart of the field. Larry agreed immediately to host the project at The Heroic Age, and after conferring with his editorial team greenlighted the issue. Melissa then reached out to Carla María Thomas to co-edit the issue, knowing and having long admired Carla’s ongoing commitment to mentoring junior scholars as well as her editorial and scholarly strengths.
§2. This special issue was conceived as an opportunity for junior scholars not only to be published in an established, open-access, peer-reviewed digital journal but also to receive ongoing mentoring in the development of their work for publication. The articles in this issue were selected for their promise of original and exciting scholarly contribution, and then were peer-reviewed through an ongoing process, undergoing several rounds of revision based on reader feedback to arrive at their completed and published state. The review process was handled on an open model, with the authors knowing their readers and able to reach out to them directly with any questions or concerns they had regarding suggestions for revision. By retaining the rigor of peer-review while also offering personalized and ongoing support, this issue demonstrates attention to scholarly generosity and an editorial ethic of holding one another up and improving our work through collaboration, rather than the traditional "tear-it-down" gatekeeping that double-blind peer review can (and too often, perhaps, does) default to, particularly in fields that are dominated by traditional, largely white and male, scholarship.
§3. From the outset, our goal was that our authors have a positive editorial experience regardless of whether or not their work ultimately appeared in the issue. We offered equal critical attention to every submission regardless of its initial quality, and for the submissions made in timely fashion, let our authors take the lead in deciding whether to continue to revise to publication or to decline to revise further and seek to place their work elsewhere. In cases in which the submissions required too much revision to be publishable in this issue due to timing, we offered specific recommendations for what needed to happen in order for the work to be publishable elsewhere.
§4. This special issue thus represents a labor of love for the profession and (we hope) a model of scholarly generosity as much as it does excellent emerging feminist scholarship in early medieval studies. It was made possible by a relatively smaller number of submissions than a more prominent journal might have received, permitting the close editorial approach at the heart of the endeavor; by the rolling submissions process and open timeframe to publication offered by an independent, open-access, digital journal not beholden to traditional publishing schedules and costs; and by an editorial team that valued the feedback and mentoring process as much as the final product. This special issue of the Heroic Age represents the best of what can happen when traditional scholarly journal practices--peer-review and editing toward a polished final article--are coupled with modern open-access digital publishing practices.
§5. The two articles that appear in this special issue, which will be released on a rolling basis this summer, cover a lot of ground. In her article "Ic ane geseah idese sittan: The Woman and Women Apart in Old English Poetry," Alexandra Reider examines the dearth of female interaction and the concommitant emphasis of female solitude in the corpus of Old English poetry. She identifies and examines three ways in which female interaction is "not-described": that women do not speak to one another; that if two are mentioned they are rarely, if ever, both named; and that they are described in ways that set them apart from one another even if they are intended to be together in a scene. Reider concludes that "To adapt a refrain from Silicon Valley, the lack of female interaction in Old English poetry is not a bug; it’s a feature" and charts the forms this women’s solitude takes in a number of Old English texts, concluding with a discussion of the limitations and blind spots that remain for scholars interested in the subject of female friendship in early English culture. Reider’s article demonstrates how close attention to the text both for what is, and what is not, represented within it continues to offer avenues of greater awareness of, and to yield important insights into, the women of Old English literature.
§6. Margaret Sheble tackles the subject of Norse women’s agency in the medieval sagas and in modern media representations. Beginning with a theoretical framework constructed on the idea of the "colonized woman," a form of internal colonialism in which conquering men subject conquered women to their ideologies and will, Sheble demonstrates how women in select Norse sagas, and even more so in their modern television, film, and video game counterparts, develop agency through language, arguing that through language "these women are shown as fighting against a ‘foreign’ enemy, displacement, and general patriarchy" and making the larger overarching claim that "Such an analysis is important in consideration of modern society’s continuous struggle with gender equality as seen through the #MeToo movement, where women’s testimonies are bringing rise to a greater movement of resistance and change against unbalanced gender power dynamics." Sheble’s article offers a model for examining how early medieval texts that are traditionally used to uphold white patriarchal views of the world are transformed into opportunities to critique that worldview in modern media; how, in turn, that critique can be brought back into reading the source texts and locating previously ignored moments where women’s agency does, in fact, exist in the literature; and how to identify and advocate for the relevance of early medieval studies to contemporary feminist concerns.
§7. Together, these articles yield important and overlooked insights into the actual presentation of women in Old English and Old Norse texts, as opposed to the understandings--and misundertandings, and diminishing, and ignoring--of women in such literary environments that we have received through a largely male-dominated body of scholarship. They enter into discussions about subjects that until recently have largely been absent from published critical inquiry into the early Middle Ages either because they weren’t considered important for scholarship purposes or because they "didn’t exist": women’s friendship, women’s language, and women’s agency. Clearly, as Reider’s and Sheble’s work in this special issue shows, these subjects are important to modern understandings of the medieval and its misappropriation, they do exist, and they are more than ready to be explored. We hope that these articles raise new questions about and avenues of research into, and that they ignite a renewed and vigorous critical attention to, the subject of women in early medieval literature and its afterlives--of women in the literatures and cultures of the Heroic Age.
Melissa Ridley Elmes & Carla María Thomas