CAAS Workshop — Beyond Content Warnings: Sexual Violence in the Secondary and Post-Secondary Classroom Workshop

Saturday, October 12, 8:00am-10am at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States in Silver Spring, MD.

Organized by David Wright and Dani Bostick

Abstract:

As the #MeToo movement has recently shown in an unprecedented way, sexual violence is everywhere in our world. Despite its prevalence, the topic of sexual violence is often rendered invisible in the classroom. The invisibility of sexual violence in the classics classroom is problematic since it obscures a common theme in ancient world and reinforces the cultural dynamics that contribute to the underreporting and normalization of sexual violence. This workshop will gather educators of all levels to address these topics.

 

Sexual violence is omnipresent in ancient literature and history, from the rape of the Thetis to the rape of the Sabine women. Sometimes ancient texts will sidestep discussion of the rape by calling it an “abduction” or by using a euphemism (γάμος can also indicate rape). Other times, instructors will internalize ancient ideas about rape and downplay the significance of this sexual violence: “The rape of the Sabine women wasn’t really rape.” Or instructors will fail to acknowledge the complex power dynamics of situations like sexual relationships between enslavers and the enslaved. Text books and commentaries often fail in this regard as well. Figures like Leda, Europa, and Io are considered Zeus/Jupiter’s “lovers.” Translators often use terms like “ravish” or render rape scenes consensual (McCarter 2018). There is also a lot of victim blaming in antiquity (e.g., Hdt. 1.4) or claiming that women are “liars” (as in the myth of Phaedra); These harmful and untrue narratives are repeated in contemporary rape culture. In reality, only 8% of rape claim are found out to be false. If these topics are not properly addressed, it could lead to students internalizing these regressive ideas about consent.

 

There are many reasons teachers prefer to avoid conversations about sexual violence in the classroom. For starters, sexual violence is a highly-stigmatized, uncomfortable topic. Few other types of trauma are cloaked in such frequent silence. The average age of disclosure for child sexual abuse, for example, is 52. Many survivors of this type of abuse and other forms of sexual violence never disclose. Educators also avoid this topic out of fear. Coverage of trigger warnings invariably includes the message — overt or implied — that discussing traumatic situations can harm students and make them so uncomfortable that they need to leave the classroom. Teachers of secondary students may worry that parents or administrators will complain or that these discussions are outside the bounds of their curriculum.
It is important for educators to be able to navigate this topic effectively since it is so prevalent in ancient history, literature, and art, and sexual violence and the abuse of power at its root are already familiar realities for many students because of personal experience, social media, news, and other modern rape narratives. It is also crucial for educators to be aware of the range of experiences: classrooms will be comprised of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Instructors need to make sure they do not reinforce harmful narratives of perpetrators and bystanders while simultaneously creating a safe environment for victims. Talking about sexual violence can help provide students a context while providing a deeper understanding of the ancient world.

The purpose of this workshop to equip attendees with tools for teachers of high school and college students to talk about this aspect of ancient art and literature in the classroom safely and effectively.

 

Topics will include: basic considerations & background on trauma/sexual violence (how to keep the conversation safe); inadequacy or harmful nature of materials; comparanda of practices from other disciplines; and the value and effective implementation of content warnings.

 

 

Select Bibliography

Beek, E.A. 2016. “Ovid’s Afterlives: Mythical Rapes and Rape Myths,” Eidolon.

Hong, Y. 2013. “Teaching Rape Texts in Classical Literature,” Classical World 106.4: 669-667.

James, S. 2014. “Talking Rape in the Classics Classroom: Further Thoughts,” From Abortion to

            Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom (Ohio State University       Press), 171-182.

McCarter, S. 2018. “Rape, Lost in Translation,” Electric Literature.

Richlin, A. 1992. “Reading Ovid’s Rapes,” in Pornography and Representation in Greece and

Rome (Oxford University Press), 158-179.

Thakur, S. 2014. “Challenges in Teaching Sexual Violence and Rape: A Male Perspective,” in

From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom

(Ohio State University Press), 152-170.

 

 

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