Notable Female Intellectuals

This is a compilation of a four-article series that I unfortunately titled “Beautiful, Intelligent, and Learned.” But I rarely talked about the beauty aspect of it. It wasn’t generally my intent for beauty to be seen as physical beauty. I only wanted to feature women who were doing work that improved the world. A better word would have been “grace,” but I feel certain that would have been as misunderstood too.

I have long gotten into trouble by using idiosyncratic language. (Usually, the words I used were exact in their definitions, but I was using less-common definitions.) If I say I have a crush on Kory Stamper, it means I want to discuss grammar with her over tea, not that I want to date or have sex with her. You will notice in the Kory Stamper article that I also refer to having a crush on Peter Sokolowski, and have never been particularly attracted to men in a sexual way.

I’ll think I can leave it at that. If people read all my work, they will certainly understand. That’s especially true given that I’ve been very open about my vow of celibacy eight years ago. (Friends will note that wasn’t a huge sacrifice given that I’ve never been much interested in sex.)

Salima Ikram

Female Intellectuals: Salima Ikram

Ladies and gentlemen: Salima Ikram. She is professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. So in addition to being really smart and learned, she’s really cool. I discovered her on a mediocre documentary Egyptian Secrets of the Afterlife.

Originally Published: 13 October 2011

Melissa Harris-Perry

Female Intellectuals: Melissa Harris-PerryLadies and gentlemen: Melissa Harris-Perry.

I know her from MSNBC news shows where she is often an analyst and sometimes a guest anchor. And as I’ve stated before, I wasn’t that taken with her at first. But like many things (from movies to food to people), those I like best I often started out by not liking.

She was on The Last Word last night. As I watched highlights of the show, I was impressed, as usual, by the historical context she put current events into (in this case, Herman Cain’s sexual harassment problems). I was impressed, as usual, by her insights into these events (in this case, she noted that the sexual harassment charges may actually improve Cain’s standing with Republican primary voters).

Dr Harris-Perry is Professor of Political Science at Tulane University and the author of such books as Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.

Originally Published: 1 November 2011

Barbara J Fields

Female Intellectuals: Barbara J FieldsWhen I first watched Ken Burns: The Civil War 20 years ago, like most people, I was very taken with Shelby Foote’s southern charm and great storytelling. But this last week when I watched the series again I was blown away by Barbara J Fields, the historian at Columbia University. She speaks more incisively about the Civil War than anyone else when it comes to its broader meaning. Certainly, Foote is still the best when talking about the war on the micro-scale — about individuals caught up in it. But I’m not really interested in that anymore. In that way, the war was a catastrophe. It is only in the broader context that all that suffering means something.

In Her Own Words

Here is Fields talking about exactly that:

I think what we need to remember, most of all, is that the Civil War is not over until we, today, have done our part in fighting it, as well as understanding what happened when the Civil War generation fought it. William Faulkner said once that history is not “was” it’s “is.” And what we need to remember about the Civil War is that the Civil War is in the present as well as the past. The generation that fought the war, the generation that argued over the definition of the war, the generation that had to pay the price in blood, that had to pay the price in blasted hopes and a lost future, also established a standard that will not mean anything until we have finished the work. You can say there’s no such thing as slavery, we’re all citizens. But if we’re all citizens, then we have a task to do to make sure that that too is not a joke. If some citizens live in houses and others live on the street, the Civil War is still going on. It’s still to be fought and regrettably, it can still be lost.

I’d never thought about this, but we are at war with each other. And this is why the claims of Romney that raising the top tax rate is “class warfare” are so offensive. There is a class war in this country, but it isn’t found there. But then, I don’t suspect that Romney and his ilk see many homeless people.

Barbara Fields is a great intellectual. And is also a very compassionate person.

Originally Published: 9 May 2012


In 2011, Fields gave a speech at the 150th anniversary of the South Carolina Low-country Sesquicentennial Observance. Unfortunately, I can’t embed it. But you can see it on C-SPAN.

Originally Published: 9 May 2012


I have come to see Ken Burns: The Civil War as a fundamentally racist documentary. I don’t think that Ken Burns is any more racist than I am or than pretty much any American white person is, and a majority of American blacks. It’s almost impossible not to have to deal with subconscious racist thoughts bubbling up from time to time when we live in a society that is based on racism and still is so overwhelmingly racist. But a big chunk of the racism in The Civil War comes from Foote and the way that he completely removed slavery from his narrative of the war. It was just “War Is Hell!” from him. And again, I don’t think he was especially racist. But it’s people like him who keep the poison flowing.

Two years ago, I wrote an anniversity post for the Thirteenth Amendment. And I still think this is true and sadly sums up so much of what is wrong in this country:

I keep remembering this line from Ken Burns: The Civil War. When poor southern soldiers were asked why they were fighting, they replied that it was because the northern soldiers were there. Well, first: they weren’t northern soldiers, but the soldiers of all of them. Second: isn’t that typical that the elites could convince poor southern whites to fight and die for an institution that doubtless made them poorer than they would have been?
Originally Published: 8 December 2017

Elizabeth Warren

Female Intellectuals: Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren has been on my mind for a long time. I think most people know that she’s a Harvard Law School professor, an expert at bankruptcy law, and the reason we have the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — something so good it makes Republicans apoplectic. And, of course, everyone knows that she’s running for the Senate in Massachusetts against Scott Brown. If she loses it will greatly reduce my opinion of that fine state.

What most strikes me about Warren is her combination of erudition and empathy. Even after this evil political campaign, she still radiates sensitivity — especially compared to the plastic Mr Brown.

A week and a half ago, one of Bill Maher’s “New Rules” was that “Elizabeth Warren has to stop dressing like the ‘before’ woman in a beer ad.” It is a funny line. But it is hardly fair. For one thing, I think that Warren is very attractive. But more to the point, what does Bill Maher (at 56 years old) want? He mostly dates women who are in their twenties. (Note: well below the creepy line.) Warren is 63. And I think she has more important things to do than worry about what 20-year-old boys (and Bill Maher) think of her looks.

Originally Published: 16 September 2012


The the most recent poll shows Warren ahead of Brown by 6 points. It’s too early to tell, but this is good news.

Originally Published: 17 September 2012

2 thoughts on “Notable Female Intellectuals

  1. As a resident of Massachusetts, I’m fortunate to have Elizabeth Warren as one of my Congresspeople (I also have Edward Markey and Joe Kennedy).

    People have talked about her running for president. I personally hope she does!

    • Agreed! I think her strong stances against crummy behavior by big banks and monopolies would appeal to many Americans. They certainly appeal to me. And unlike many who talk about going after financial corruption, she has a track record of actually doing it.

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