(Once again, I’m using this blog as a platform to do some of the discussion for the #survivephd15 course run by Dr. Inger Mewburn.)
My thesis (in all it's six-month in glory) is actually the combination of a few elements of my life that have converged: gender, popular culture, and late medieval literature. So, in short: here is what combines to make a medieval PhD (in my case).
1) I am curious about gender because the 'rules' about gender didn't make sense to me.
I have an older brother, who was my absolute idol when I was younger. We did a lot together but we were also treated slightly differently by our parents. Tree climbing was not acceptable for me, nor was seconds at dinner. Later, when puberty hit me like a ton of bricks, more rules became apparent. It felt as though all the rules changed overnight - how to interact with boys, how to hold yourself, what to say, how to present yourself.
In both cases, I noticed the rules because I wasn't always good at following them. And I became increasingly curious as to why the rules were the rules, and what the point of them was.
I spent a lot of time reading, and I spent a lot of time on the internet. And when I discovered feminism, it gave a lot of these rules a name: patriarchy. But, more importantly, it also opened up my mind to all of the ways in that the 'rules' are constructed, and what purpose they might serve. As I read more and more books from varying time periods, I realised that the system had changed over time. So I now realised that the rules that I'd chafed against weren't universal, or constant over time, and that they were made in lots of different ways.
2) I am curious about popular culture because it isn't 'just a film/tv programme/magazine.'
I am a feminist. I am also a lifelong pop culture junkie. I am a pop culture junkie even though pop culture has the potential to be all sorts of other things that make me deeply uncomfortable.
I could (and can) still consume media which I know are questionable. But that lens of feminism doesn't get switched off when I watch TV or listen to music. And - and this is the key point - once that lens was on it made me realise that the 'rules' around gender weren't just made by my parents or teachers or dress codes: they were also made on my TV and at the cinema in the music I liked.
4) I am curious about the medieval period because I’m an accidental medievalist.
This element is the hardest to explain. Unlike most medievalists I know, I didn’t ‘discover’ the period through popular media. I was aware – dimly – of the period, but I didn’t have a specific interest in it.
When I went to university, I was on a very traditional, medieval-heavy course. Which included medieval romances. And I was hooked: I loved their complexity, I loved their humour, I loved discussing them.
By the end of my second year, I wanted to do an MA. And in my MA I did a fantastic Gender and Sexuality module. It was like these three strands (gender, popular culture, late medieval period) suddenly came together perfectly. The module never felt like work; the essay wrote itself.
Evidently, I wasn't satisfied with that one essay. Because now my two lifelong curiosities are all wrapped up with another that I only discovered in my second year of university.