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Gender Studies

Spotlight! Ericka S. Dunbar

Routledge Focus Series: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible

Ericka S. Dunbar’s book in the series is Trafficking Hadassah: Collective Trauma, Cultural Memory, and Identity in the Book of Esther and in the African Diaspora. It was first published in 2022 and is one of our best sellers. The book expounds how Africana female bodies have been and continue to be colonized and sexualized, as well as exploited for profit and pleasure. It shows how this contributes to adverse physical, mental, sexual, socio-cultural, and spiritual consequences for girls and women, and links present-day systemic violence to the canonised template in the book of Esther. 

How do you reflect back on writing your book? 

Writing my book was a process that I deeply value and appreciate. Publishing this book felt like a full circle moment. The topic is one that I started researching and writing about in seminary. I didn’t imagine then that I’d go on to do PhD work and that my senior project would inspire my dissertation, but that’s my story. The process allowed me to explore questions that had been with me since I was a little girl and to amplify the voices of women who taught me about sexual exploitation, rape culture, and intersectionality from their lived experiences. They transformed how I understood and interacted with the biblical text, so I was honored to share the impact of my engagement with these brave and resilient women with the world.

What has been the response to your book?

Extremely positive. I am pleasantly surprised that it was as well received in church settings as it has been in the academy. One of the most meaningful experiences I have had was people disclosing that the book gave them the courage to tell their own stories and inspired them to do more to transform rape cultures. 

How and where are you now and what are you doing or working on at present?

I am well. I am an Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Baylor University (Waco, Texas, USA). I am currently working on a book on migration in the Bible. I recently offered a keynote at a Migration and Food Needs Symposium where I assessed a few stories in the Hebrew Bible that depict a nexus between food insecurity and migration. These stories illuminate that there are benefits and negative consequences of migration. Moreover, an intersectional lens exposes that not everyone experiences migration and food insecurity in the same way, or to the same extent, and that women often experience disproportionately negative physiological and psychological consequences because of migration. Again, these consequences intersect with food insecurity and with rape culture (such as when they result from being trafficked and sexually exploited in order to resolve food insecurity). 

Do you have any advice for authors of future publications in this series?

The world needs to encounter your voice and unique engagement with religion and the Bible. Do the work! It’s a rewarding experience to publish a book that works towards transforming toxic cultures. 

What topics in the area of rape culture, religion and/or the Bible would you like to see a book on?

Perhaps a book on eunuchs and sexual exploitation.

Do you have a shout-out to anyone working in this general area? Please shout about them!

Rhiannon Graybill. I appreciate her latest monograph, Texts After Terror: Rape, Sexual Violence, and the Hebrew Bible. 

Ericka’s book is available from Routledge. It is out in paperback. Like the eBook version, this costs just under £16. 

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Conference: Gender and Religious Exit, Moving Away from Faith

Tuesday, 28 November 2023 at 9:00–17:30 

Please use this form to register to attend the online symposium: Registration – Gender and Religious Exit (onlinesurveys.ac.uk)

Organisers:
Dr Nella van den Brandt, Coventry University, UK 
Dr Teija Rantala, Turku University, Finland 
Dr Sarah-Jane Page, University of Nottingham, UK 

From the conference organisers:

There have always been reasons for people to move away from a religious tradition, community or movement. Religious traditions are instrumental in providing individual members with a perspective on the world, a community and a relationship with the divine. Religious communities socialize their adherents regarding behaviour, embodiment and emotions. When people move away from their religion, their experiences may pertain to all or some of these aspects and dimensions. Leaving religion is thus a varied and diverse experience.

The one-day online symposium Gender and Religious Exit starts from the premise that motivations for moving away from religion range from experiencing cognitive or emotional dissonance to social marginalisation to a critique of power relations. The notions of ‘moving away’ or ‘religious exit’ should be considered in a layered and nuanced manner: they raise questions about what exactly individuals consider to leave, and what elements of behaviour, embodiment and emotions remain part of their environments, lives and futures. 

Moving away from religion can thus involve complex processes and negotiations of all areas of life and understandings of the self. An intersectional perspective and analysis of leaving religious is long overdue, since notions and experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race and dis/ability are central in shaping identity and the self. The multidisciplinary symposium invites scholars to investigate the variety of contemporary dynamics of leaving religion in the lives of individuals and communities.

During the opening plenary session, research findings will be presented that emerged from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie funded two-year qualitative research by Dr Nella van den Brandt (Coventry University, UK) on women leaving religion in the UK and the Netherlands. Keynote lectures on gender, feminism, apostasy and non-religion / leaving religion in various national and cultural contexts will be provided by Dr Julia Martínez-Ariño (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands) and  Prof. Dr Karin van Nieuwkerk (Radboud University, the Netherlands). During parallel sessions, we will further look into current international and intersectional perspectives on moving away from religion.

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The Bible and Violence Project: Meet Joseph N. Goh

Picture of Joseph N. Goh credited to Puah Sze Ning

Joseph N. Goh (he/they/any) hails from Sarawak, Malaysia, and joined the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia in January 2016.  Currently a Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies, Goh’s first single-authored monograph entitled Living Out Sexuality and Faith: Body Admissions of Malaysian Gay and Bisexual Men (Routledge 2018) was based on his doctoral project. It analyses and theorises the self-understandings of gay and bisexual men of various ethnicities, classes, ages and faiths on their gender and sexual identities and practices, and their performances of religiosity and spirituality. His second book, Becoming a Malaysian Trans Man: Gender, Society, Body and Faith (Palgrave Macmillan 2020), was the first dedicated academic volume on Malaysian transgender men, and won the ‘Ground-Breaking Subject Matter Accolade’ in the IBP 2021 Accolades in the Social Sciences category of the ICAS Book Prize 2021 competition. His third sole-authored volume, Doing Church at the Amplify Open and Affirming Conferences: Queer Ecclesiologies in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan 2021), was the first in-depth theological study of a series of Christian conferences in Asia by and for LGBTIQ-affirming churches, communities, organisations and individuals. Goh has also co-edited several anthologies with Robert E. Shore-Goss, Hugo Córdova Quero, Michael Sepidoza Campos, Sharon A. Bong and Thaatchaayini Kananatu. He is a member of the Emerging Queer Asian Pacific Islander Religion Scholars international group (EQARS), and sits on the advisory board of the Queer Asia Book Series (Hong Kong University Press), as well as the editorial boards of the Queer and Trans Intersections Series (University of Wales Press) and QTR: A Journal of Queer and Transgender Studies in Religion (Duke University Press).

Goh, along with his collaborators, was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity and Inclusion Award (2018) and Pro-Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award (2022) for the development of the Understanding Gender Inclusivity in Malaysia training module at Monash University Malaysia, which serves to create greater awareness of the issues, needs and concerns of LGBTIQ people in the interest of equity, diversity and inclusion. With research interests in LGBTIQ studies, human rights, sexual health, theology, spirituality, religion, and qualitative research, Goh’s two present projects focus on the complex and controversial operations of SEED Malaysia, the first transgender-led community-based organisation in Malaysia, and the manifold spiritualities of Malaysian Christian transgender women.

Goh’s contribution to The Bible and Violence Project is a book chapter entitled ‘A Triptych of Biblical Violence Towards Gay and Transgender Christians: The Case of Malaysia’. Cognisant of the multifarious ways in which the Bible continues to be weaponised against people of diverse genders and sexualities in his home country, Goh argues that there are three parallel and mutually interactive dynamics in the production of Christian violence against LGBTQ Malaysians: (i) official Bible-based ecclesiastical pronouncements against gender and sexual diversities; (ii) scriptural de-legitimisations of gay and transgender people as personally experienced in churches and faith communities; and (iii) insidious practices of conversion therapy. He demonstrates how non-affirming Malaysian Christianity galvanises and preserves the vulnerability of LGBTQ Malaysians, branded as ‘sexually broken’, with far-reaching consequences beyond the immediate use of the Bible as ‘sacred’ arsenal.

Goh owns a personal website at https://www.josephgoh.org/

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Q&A with Joachim Kügler about his new book

There is a new volume in the Routledge Focus series ‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’! The title is Zeus Syndrome: A Very Short History of Religion-Based Masculine Domination, and the author is Joachim Kügler, who has featured earlier on the blog as one of our 2019 activists (see here).

Tell us about yourself. How does this book fit into your work more widely and how did you come to write this book?

I am a professor of New Testament studies with particular interest in religious history and topics of gender. Alongside this, I am also an ordained priest of the Catholic Church, and I am upset and outraged about the many scandals of clerical sexual abuse. This book has grown out of a decision to use my academic skills to find some answers to how such abuse happens – not only in the Church but in multiple social spheres. My first step was to go to the Egyptian and biblical source materials that I knew and to investigate the intersections of masculine domination, sexuality, and religion. I try to inform readers beyond the inner circle of academia to better understand what is going on and why. 

What is the key argument of your book?

The key argument is that we have to overcome masculine supremacy if we want to create a new kind of sexuality that serves as a language of love. As long as sexual activities and symbolisms primarily reflect and promote dominant masculine power and the submissiveness and subordination of women and of men who are symbolically feminized, we will continue to see rape culture phenomena at the core of our social interactions.

Please give us a quotation from the book that will make readers want to go and read the rest.

My quotation is on the perils associated with sexuality: “Penetration in particular is often deployed as a body-sacrament of masculine domination, and as a means to subjugate women (and men). But the generalized demonization of sexuality cultivated by Christianity under Platonist influence is no solution; it is even part of the problem.”

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New Book: ‘Boys Will Be Boys, and Other Myths: Unravelling Biblical Masculinities’ by Will Moore

Book cover of 'Boys will be Boys and other myths' by Will Moore

The Shiloh Project caught up with Will Moore, to discuss his new book Boys Will Be Boys, and Other Myths: Unravelling Biblical Masculinities, with SCM Press.

Hi Will, tell us a bit about you. 

Hello! My name is Will Moore. I’m an ordinand (training to be a priest!) in the Church of England at Westcott House in Cambridge, and will be beginning a PhD in September with the Cambridge Theological Federation and Anglia Ruskin University, focussing on constructing a trauma theology of masculinities under the supervision of the fantastic Dr Karen O’Donnell. I’ve also studied for previous degrees with Cardiff University. And, of course, I should say that I’m the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and Other Myths: Unravelling Biblical Masculinities, published by SCM Press.

How did this book come about and how does it relate to your work and interests and passions more widely? 

During the final months of my MTh degree, I completed my dissertation which focussed on using queer theory and theology to resolve a seeming tension of divine masculinities, particularly looking at God and Jesus, in the Bible. (A much-reduced version was later published with the Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies.) During this time, the coronavirus pandemic began and I was stuck inside my university home for more than I had planned. Having been captivated by masculinity studies, and with my final dissertation completed earlier than expected, I let my brain keep on thinking and I continued to write. I knew the insights of masculinity studies needed to break into the popular and accessible Christian imagination, as feminist theology had done in recent decades, and I thought this might be the perfect opportunity for where such a process could begin. 

My previous work has been mostly focussed on gender, sexuality, and violence, and how they intersect with the Bible and Christianity. Some of this has taken a particularly academic shape, but as someone working in and with the Church, I have always valued theological work being accessible and meaningful for Christian communities. This book, then, combines my commitment for academic rigour as well as theological accessibility with my research interests.

Can you tell us more about the title, and about “unravelling biblical masculinities”?

The title ‘Boys Will Be Boys, and Other Myths’ sets the structure and main argument of the book. Each chapter uses a biblical man (from Adam and Moses to Jesus and his disciples) as a springboard for conversation around masculinities, in the biblical worlds as well as for modern readers. It tackles myths of masculinity such as men’s presumed entitlement to power and authority, the necessity to endure without any sign of vulnerability, their inability to express emotion or talk about mental health difficulties, and a reluctance to show intimacy towards other men. Such myths of masculinity seem to persist through so many times and cultures.

What is clear throughout this book is that masculinity, or more accurately masculinities in their plurality, are not and cannot be clear cut. They are slippery, messy, and tangled up in so many other wider conversations. As such, the subtitle ‘unravelling biblical masculinities’ acknowledges that there are no definitive answers to understanding masculinities in the Bible and modern world for Christians. This book is simply an attempt to begin to ‘unravel’ and untangle some of the key characters, themes, issues, and interpretations that are on offer – this unravelling is certainly not exhaustive. Instead, I hope my contribution is the beginning of a wider conversation on men and masculinities at a grass-roots level for Christians and church communities. 

What are the key arguments of your book? 

As well as tackling myths of masculinity outlined above, the central claim I make is that masculinities are just that: a plurality of gender performativities (as Judith Butler would have it). Within that plurality, there is so much breadth and diversity. We can see that in the societies around us, as well as even in the biblical texts. There is no singular way to be a man that is coherently proposed in the Bible; rather, we find that God takes, uses, and adores men just as they are. Therefore, the claim that we should enact a ‘biblical’ or ‘Christian’ masculinity or manhood is a tricky and dangerous one to make, for masculinities in the Bible and Christian living are too complex and intricate to be pinned down to one particular way of being. If we acknowledge this, we are invited to read scripture again and see the flawed, troubled, and trying men in our Bibles staring back at us and reflecting much of what it means to be men today too.

Image of Will Moore
Will Moore, author of ‘Boys Will Be Boys and Other Myths’

Who is the book for and what would you like your readers to take away from reading your book? 

My book aims to be as useful to undergraduate and postgraduate university students looking into the application of gender studies in theology and biblical studies as it should be for Christians, church leaders, and intrigued spiritual wanderers. It’s a broad readership to try to cater for, but I hope my book contains as much scholarly insight as it does personal stories, popular culture, and humour!

I have always said that not everything in this book will please everyone, but I hope that each reader has something that they can take away. In honesty, I expect that this book might shake up at least one myth or misconception about masculinity or the Bible that the reader might hold – it might not give them the solution that they are looking for but will perhaps provoke them enough to search further.

What activities do you have to promote the book? 

I’m excited to say I have lots of speaking and media appearances coming up to talk about the book which you can find on my website or Twitter, but I’m most looking forward to the two wings of my book launch. One will be held in St John the Baptist church in Cardiff on Fri 9th Sept at 7pm and another in Cambridge (and on Zoom) on the 5th Oct at 7pm. I will be in conversation with a different set of scholars and practitioners at each event and I can’t wait to meet others intrigued in the book. Copies will also be available to buy on the nights. Free tickets for both events can be reserved on Eventbrite (see links here and here). 

Give us a short excerpt from the book that will make us want to go read more! 

This is from my introduction:

 “Phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ have reverberated around the walls of school halls, family homes, locker rooms, and courts of law for far too many years in British society, with their justification wearing a little thin. In a country where seven times more men are arrested for crimes than women, unhealthy traits found in modern masculinities have caused men to inflict violence on those close to them as well as their surrounding communities. Yet, simultaneously, an inward bound violence to manhood and men themselves is being perpetrated, where three times as many men are committing suicide than women. Toxic masculinity in modern Western society is a poison which, whilst infecting those who encounter it, is crippling the very hosts that keep it in circulation. Men truly have become their ‘own worst enemies’.”

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to begin my PhD in September, as well as continue my ordination training for two more years before beginning ordained ministry. I hope to keep following my two-fold calling of ministry and theological education – who knows in what form! This book coming about was such a surprise to me, that I can honestly never guess what’s in store next.

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Bye Bye Binary: God as Mother-Bear

Sara Stone is a first-year PhD student at the University of Glasgow looking at blame-shifting in the Hebrew Bible. Her MLitt dissertation, also looking at blame-shifting in the Hebrew Bible, has recently been published as a book chapter in: Zanne Domoney-Lyttle and Sarah Nicholson (eds.), Women and Gender in the Bible: Texts, Intersections and Intertexts (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2021, see here). 

Sara can be found on Twitter: @wordsfromastone. Her earlier Shiloh post (on shifting blame in Genesis 3:12) can be found here.

Images of God as a maternal deity are sprinkled throughout Jewish and Christian writings, such as God as birth-giver (Isa. 42:14), God as a comforting mother (Isa. 66:13) and God as nursing (Hos. 11:4).[1] However, Hosea 13:8a depicts God as mother-bear – ‘I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs and will tear open the covering of their heart…’.[2] Hosea 13:8a portraying God as a ferocious mother-bear is a verse that contrasts with the usual depictions of a calm and compassionate mother. 

The purpose of this post is to explore what the description of divine ‘mother-bear’ entails, its significance, and to consider some of the ramifications of overlooking Hosea 13:8a. Ultimately, I argue that Hosea 13:8a is a verse that takes the traditional images of ‘feminine’ (i.e., soft, nurturing and gentle) and adds them to (‘masculine’?) images of violence, strength and power – an all-loving, fierce and ferocious mother-bear. 

‘God as Mother-Bear’ is a striking image that breaks down the typical ‘mother’ stereotype which culture-bound preconceptions dictate, and the imagery used further blurs the gender binary that society has established, particularly regarding parental roles.

Hosea 13:8a is not the only place where the description of a mother-bear appears in the biblical text; it occurs three other times: at 2 Samuel 17:8, 2 Kings 2:24 and Proverbs 17:12. Notably, in all instances where the depiction of a mother-bear appears, it is a portrait of rampaging fury – including in Hosea 13:8a. 

Initially, when the idea to examine Hosea 13:8a first came about, I intended to explore how commentators had previously interpreted the verse. However, I was surprised to discover that little has been mentioned about the arguable significance of ‘God as Mother-Bear’. There were a couple of comments regarding the idea that Hosea 13:8a is a portrayal of God’s rage (see Stuart, 1987: 204; Davies, 1992: 291), but nothing substantial; and in a lot of other commentaries, the image has been overlooked altogether.[3] The silence surrounding God’s illustration as mother-bear raises the question of why interpreters find the imagery so insignificant, and what are the benefits of highlighting the significance of the imagery now?

So, what does the depiction of a mother-bear entail? In pre-modern times, the Syrian bear was fairly common (see King, 1988). We can also assume that the ancient Israelites were aware that the bear was a dangerous animal, due to references to it in the biblical text.[4] Notably, one may see that Amos 5:19a – ‘as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear’ – is equivalent to the idiomatic expression ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. When bear imagery is utilised in the biblical text it points to violence and power and is usually in conjunction with a lion. Hosea 13:8a is no exception to this as Hosea 13:8b depicts God as a lion – ‘…there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild animal would mangle them’. Allegedly, the lion is less of a threat than the bear, because the behaviour of a lion is more predictable (see King, 1988: 127). 

Indeed, Hosea 13:8a depicts the mother-bear (God) as profoundly attached to her bear cubs (the people). But because God is bereaved of human gratitude, he turns in rage on those who have ‘robbed [her] of her cubs’ and withheld thankfulness. Virginia R. Mollenkott (2014: 50) states that the image in Hosea 13:8a projects internal ripping and tearing, and captures the bitter sensations associated with fragmentation and alienation from the ‘Source of our being’. In other words, when one allows oneself to become ungrateful for the gift of life and liberty (as Hosea 13 describes), one proverbially feels torn to pieces. 

Mollenkott (2014: 51) also notes that the bear is associated with the constellation Ursa Major – a constellation that never sets. Therefore, the imagery used in Hosea 13:8a could also be associated with the constant watchfulness of God-the-Mother-Bear. So, ‘God as Mother-Bear’ can depict his/her/their omnipotence and be understood to connote God’s omniscience, alongside being proverbial for his/her/their rage. 

While there is not a wealth of scholarship about what it means to be described as a mother-bear in the Bible, I argue that the significance of the imagery used in Hosea 13:8a is compelling. The Bible is hugely patriarchal and has been used time and time again to reinforce gender role stereotypes, historically and currently. The image of God as Mother-Bear is an image which breaks down the stereotypes that are usually associated with how a woman, particularly a mother, should behave. 

Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1992: 164) notes that the concept of parental roles tends to assign attributes and behaviours according to ‘gender lines’ and gender binaries. For example, culture-bound preconceptions encourage a person to think of ‘the father’ as authoritarian and punitive and ‘the mother’ as compassionate and/or nurturing. So, it is unsurprising to see that interpreters have the tendency to label the passages in which God expresses compassion and nurture as ‘mother passages’, and passages where God expresses judgement or pronounces punishments as ‘father passages’ (Frymer-Kensky, 1992: 164). 

But it is not the biblical text that assigns these rigid categories: it is the gendered thinking of the reader, or the set of assumptions determining parental roles that does so. However, Hosea 13:8a does not fit neatly into the stereotypical boxes of what is considered a ‘mother’ passage or a ‘father’ passage; it does not fit neatly into traditional gendered thinking. 

Maybe this is one factor contributing to the oversight of Hosea 13:8a. Does the verse sit uncomfortably for interpreters, so it is easier to bypass the verse than to engage with it? It is worth remembering when questioning the oversight of Hosea 13:8a that the biblical text has been subject to centuries worth of patriarchal interpretation.

Where feminized metaphor is concerned, the depiction of an infuriated female God has never achieved the same popularity as the gentler, more sentimental imagery of God as a ‘loving and self-sacrificial’ Mother (Mollenkott, 2014: 51-52). Centuries worth of patriarchal interpretation of the biblical text continuously associate female God images with the stereotypical feminine image of nurture and supportiveness – imagery which better fits the culture-bound preconceptions of gender norms. 

However, Frymer-Kensky (1992: 164) notes that God-as-parent transcends gendered thinking, because the same parent is ‘both judgmental and compassionate, punitive and emotional’. In other words, God is beyond the culture-bound preconceptions that we have created for ourselves. Yet, we are insistent in making passages regarding God-as-parent ‘black and white’ so that they can fit into a neat little binary box. God-as-parent transcends the gendered thinking behind parental roles, and Hosea 13:8a blurs the gender binary which culture-bound preconceptions have assigned. 

Indeed, our culture-bound preconceptions have assigned the father as punitive and the mother as nurturing. In Hosea 13:8a, however, both these parental qualities are exhibited together. The ‘mother-like’ nurturing quality is expressed through the image of a female-bear protecting her young, and the ‘father-like’ punitive quality is expressed through the gruesome image of God the Bear ‘tear[ing] open the covering of their heart’. 

Caroline W. Bynum (1982: 225-226) states that, ‘fathers feed and console, as do mothers: mothers teach, as do fathers; the full range of such images applies both to God and to self’. This reiterates the idea that God is capable of being both mother and father, he/she/they can possess multiple parental qualities. 

Ultimately, Hosea 13: 8a portrays an image illustrating the fury of God. However, by looking at the verse in more depth, we can see that the verse can show us more than simply describing the rage of God. It is a verse that can break down stereotypes, blur gender binaries, and illustrate that God can be both mother and father simultaneously. Hosea 13:8a takes the traditional images of ‘feminine’ (i.e., soft, nurturing, and gentle) and adds them to imagery of violence, strength, and power – portraying God as an all-loving, fierce, and ferocious mother-bear.

References

Bynum, Caroline W. (1982). Jesus as Mother. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Davies, G. I. (1982). The New Century Bible Commentary: Hosea. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company/London: Marshall Pickering.

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. (1992). In the Wake of Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

King, Philip J. (1988). Amos, Hosea, Micah – An Archaeological Commentary. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 

Mollenkott, Virginia R. (2014) [1984]. The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Stuart, Douglas. (1987). World Biblical Commentary: Volume 31, Hosea – Jonah. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


[1] The title of this post took inspiration from an episode of Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness (2022) on Netflix, titled ‘Can we say Bye-Bye to the Binary?’.

[2] Biblical quotations follow the NRSV.

[3] This post is based on an essay I wrote as part of my MLitt degree. Due to various factors, I have been unable to go back and recall which commentaries overlooked the image of God as mother-bear at Hosea 13:8a. On reflection, noting which of the commentaries overlook the bear would have been helpful as part of my research and for this post.

[4] For example, 1 Sam. 17:34, 36-37; 2 Sam. 17:8; Amos 5:19; Is. 11:7; Prov. 28:15; Lam. 3:10; Rev. 13:2.

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Terror in the Bible: Rhetoric, Gender, and Violence

Dr Robyn Whitaker is Coordinator of Studies – New Testament at Pilgrim Theological College and Senior Lecturer within the University of Divinity. She specialises in the Book of Revelation with particular attention to the visual culture in which the text emerged and the visual rhetoric of biblical literature. Robyn frequently writes on issues relating to gender, sexuality, politics, and the Bible in popular and mainstream media outlets. Here she discusses her new book, which she has co-edited with Dr Monica Melanchthon.

We are thrilled to have Terror in the Bible: Rhetoric, Gender, and Violence out in print with SBL press. This volume of essays builds upon the iconic world of Phyllis Trible, whose Texts of Terror was ground-breaking for naming the terror of gendered violence in the biblical text and reclaiming women’s voices and perspectives in the text.

Our volume emerged from a conference organised by the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies in 2018. We asked speakers to reflect on the state of biblical scholarship and what has changed in the almost 40 years since Texts of Terror was published. Some presented readings of texts not covered in Trible’s book including passages from the New Testament. Others re-examined some of the passages she addressed but with new perspectives. To those conference papers we added further essays from those unable to be present that day.

What has emerged is a wonderfully diverse collection of essays that engages intersectionally with the issues of gendered violence in the biblical text. These intersectional lenses bring economic concerns, caste, ethnicity, domestic violence, and queer perspectives, to name a few, into conversation with more traditional feminist hermeneutics. For example, Jione Havea writes letters that explore Pasifika perspectives when it comes to daughters’ land rights;  Karen Eller reads Numbers as a queer Australian; Gerald West draws upon African women’s experiences; and Monica Melanchthon reads Judges from the perspective of the Indian caste system. Others take more historical approaches. Adela Yarbro Collins traces the evidence for women’s leadership in early Christianity and describes the silencing of such women and evidence for them as a kind of terror.  Several essays also give attention to the roles men play in these stories as either perpetrators, bystanders, or allies with implications for contemporary men to consider.

As the volume took shape, we asked Phyllis Trible if she would consider writing a foreword. I will be forever grateful she said yes as her work informs so much of the book and many of us feel indebted to her.

As one of the editors, it was a rewarding experience to work with both well-established scholars and to incorporate the work of emerging scholars.  Not only do these essays demonstrate the kind of insights that can emerge from being intersectional, they also break down the divide between biblical scholarship and justice-making by reading the text with an eye to contemporary issues that plague society, such as domestic violence or economic slavery.

My hope is that those who often find themselves on the margins of “traditional” biblical scholarship or the church may find something of their experience reflected in these essays. No volume is ever perfect though. I’m conscious that we do not have the voices of indigenous Australians nor those who work in the area of disability. Both would add enormous value.

I end with a quote from the introduction to the book:

“This book challenges readers to recognize how the Bible and its interpretations can reinforce the structures that underlie and renew systems of violence – systems that marginalize, dehumanize, and subjugate. While it seeks to raise awareness and engender resistance among those who are victims of violence, it also, on normative grounds, questions those who perpetrate  and perpetuate violence. In doing so, this book is a modest but critical endeavor that seeks to assign political participation and agency to biblical studies and interpretation, rarely recognized or allowed an interventionalist role in everyday life.”

Please note, you can order paperback and hardcopies of the book from SBL press (there is currently a discount for SBL members).  The ebook is available for free download to make it as accessible as possible.

Terror in the Bible: Rhetoric, Gender, and Violence, ed. M. Melanchthon and R. Whitaker  (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2021)

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Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean – New Book!

Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean

Sara Parks, Shayna Sheinfeld and Meredith J. C. Warren have a new book, Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean. It is an engaging and accessible textbook that provides an introduction to the study of ancient Jewish and Christian women in their Hellenistic and Roman contexts. The book has a virtual launch on the 13th December, and those interested in finding out more can register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-launch-jewish-and-christian-women-in-the-ancient-mediterranean-tickets-204368731377 We caught up with them to ask them to find out more.

Congratulations on your new book! Thank you for taking the time to be part of our interview.

Thank you for letting us tell you more about it! This is something that we’ve developed in collaboration over many years of research and feedback from our students, and we really believe it will be a warmly welcomed resource in a broad range of classrooms and communities.

Tell us about yourselves. How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

Sara Parks is Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies (New Testament) at Dublin City University, Ireland. Sara’s recent book Gender in the Rhetoric of Jesus: Women in Q argues that Jesus’ earliest sayings point to a respect towards women in varieties of early Judaism, which eroded as Christianity developed. Sara just finished a Leverhulme working on the intersection of misogyny and anti-Judaism in early Christianity.

Shayna Sheinfeld is currently a Fellow at the Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan, USA. She’s working on a book called Big Tent Judaism that examines diversity in Jewish leadership by challenging androcentric ideas of authority in both ancient sources and contemporary scholarship; she includes women, enslaved, and other marginalised people, as well as marginalised sources, in her work. She has also organised two conferences on gender in antiquity through the Enoch Seminar, one volume of which was recently published as Gender and Second-Temple Judaism.

Meredith Warren is Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, UK, where she is Director of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies and editor in chief of the open-access Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies. She has written often on food and taste in antiquity, for example, her 2020 book Food and Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean. She has also written about Rape Culture and Revelation for both an academic audience and for the Shiloh Project blog and the #SheToo podcast, and is working on an article on slut shaming the Samaritan Woman.

So we are all working on different aspects of gender and ancient Mediterranean religion, especially early Judaism and early Christianity. But the book really started almost 10 years ago, when we were all graduate students together. Sara had pitched a module called “Reading Women in Greco-Roman Judaism and Early Christianity,” not expecting it to be accepted because there were so many post-grads and only one or two teaching slots per year. But the module was approved! Together we pooled our collective expertise in Greek and Roman religions, the early Jesus movement, early Jewish literature and religion, and later antiquity. Our powers combined resulted in a really great class and we got invited to teach it again the next year. We’ve all been teaching versions of it whenever we can ever since. But setting it up those first years was really difficult because there were no text books or set readings then, just sourcebooks, and these were too compartmentalised, treating either Judaism or Christianity or Greek and Roman religions. We had to compile our own collection of sources, activities, and readings about method and gender, basically from scratch.

Then in 2015 we were all attending the SBL in Atlanta, and Meredith was approached by Routledge Press asking about her future book projects. Instead of mentioning her own next monograph ideas, Meredith was suddenly inspired to pitch a co-authored textbook on ancient women, with Sara and Shayna (which was a surprise not only to them, but to Meredith herself)! We had a contract not long after, and we likely would have had the book done a bit sooner if we hadn’t had a couple of other monographs and a pandemic in the meantime.

The origins of the textbook in a spirit of collaboration stuck with us as we completed it. Shayna managed to get some money to hire student research assistants at one point, and she used them for our book rather than her own research; Sara used some of the Leverhulme funding to hire an indexer for it; and Meredith used some research funding from Sheffield to hire a PhD student to work on the images and copyrights. The only reason this book exists is because we did our best to reject the isolation and competition that is so typical in academia, and instead to be conscious of trying to create a collaborative community, not just with each other, but on down the line. Each of those decisions—to share rather than hoard whenever we’ve gotten a leg up—is now going to result in a wonderful teaching resource.

What are the key goals of this book?

We had a few main goals, aside from creating a resource for teaching about women and gender in ancient religion. We also wanted to approach the question of methodology directly in the introductory chapters. This arose from our own experiences where none of us was exposed to using theory or made to articulate our own methods until late undergraduate or even Masters work. We wanted to be deliberate about promoting conscious use of methods as early as possible, which is how we teach. So we set out to include a variety of approaches, in an accessible way, up-front, and then give students examples and chances to practice them in every subsequent chapter. This is part of our aim of decentralising the historical-critical method as the only way to do proper scholarship, which some people maintain. We wanted people to see it instead as just one tool in a big toolbox with lots of other ways of learning about antiquity and interpreting textual and material evidence.

We included methods from a variety of fields because we wanted the textbook to be interdisciplinary, and readily usable for colleagues in a number of disciplines. This resource is not only meant for theology or biblical studies departments; it’s for any department within arts and humanities. We’ve designed it so there’s no previous knowledge of the time-period or of gender theory required. We wanted it to be not only accessible to students, but also to diverse instructors.

Another thing that is really important in all our work is to treat Judaism, Christianity, and ‘pagan’ women together, rather than tidily separate from one another, as if everyone weren’t mixing and talking to each other in antiquity. When we treat, for instance, female protagonists of novels, women rulers, or women religious leaders, we don’t separate them out using anachronistic concepts based on contemporary canons and categories, but instead divide them by other types of proximity, whether geographical, temporal, or generic. We always want to help our readers see just how blurry the boundaries are, perhaps especially where someone has tried really hard to draw a firm line between things.

What ideas emerge in the book that will be of particular interest to Shiloh readers?

We do talk about sexual violence and rape culture in the book (with ‘difficult topic flags’), and cover sexual violence against men as well, using some research by Shiloh Project members. We also approach the material in the book in a way that I think will resonate with a lot of Shiloh readers. We try to take an intersectional approach, and encourage our readers, and in particular any students using the textbook, to practice looking out for the multiple ways that power, gender, status, and race intersect in the evidence we have from antiquity. We use the Samaritan woman in John 4 as a recurring example to demonstrate how various methods might be used, from Marxist to queer to post-colonial criticism, encouraging people to think about women’s lives and gender as social construct in a way that isn’t isolating and that is reflective of the multiple facets of ancient (and contemporary!) identities. We include examples of non-binary figures from antiquity where we can, from rabbinic discussions of six different genders and Greco-Roman ‘one gender’ (rather than binary) models, to the figure of the Gallus priest in Roman religion, to the common idea found in antiquity of women ‘becoming men.’

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

 We hope they will appreciate just how diverse religion in antiquity was, and how many different ways there were to participate in religion. We hope readers will see the interrelatedness of Judaism, Christianity, and other religions of the ancient Mediterranean, and see how common trends, for example in types of leadership options for women, changed in sync over the period. We want our readers to think more broadly about where they look for evidence–not only in canons, and not only in written texts–and to pay more attention to marginalised experiences wherever we can find them in antiquity. We want them to imagine alternatives to the normative expectations of elite men from the various traditions. We also want readers to feel enabled to think directly and speak explicitly about their positionality and their use of methodology to approach their own research, and to perhaps apply the methods we explore in the book to other corpora, other time periods, and other geographies.

Give us one quotation from your book that you think will make readers want to go and read the rest.

P 232: Some texts and artefacts (like coins) from the ancient world include descriptions of sexual violence when they use symbolic women to “think with.” Sexual violence against these women-as-symbols acts as a means of reinforcing what the author is presenting as “correct” behaviour. The authors either use the image as a trope to describe misbehaviour being “punished” (sexually, and by a man), or they picture the violent acts to illustrate one entity’s submission to another (using a female symbol of submission and a male symbol of authority). When such texts fall within biblical canons, they pose a problem for people who hold that canon as sacred; responsible and ethical interpreters of scripture ask whether these texts condone—or even encourage—sexual assault and gendered violence. One might think that a fictional Babylon pictured as whore, or a fictional nation of Israel portrayed as an unfaithful wife, are obviously not “real women,” and therefore using violent imagery against them is acceptable as it is only being done symbolically. This view misses several important points. Just because these women might be literary fictions and “flat” characters with which ancient authors are tackling other issues doesn’t mean that the choice of women as the “sinners” and sexual violence as their “punishment” has any less impact on ancient and contemporary readers. In fact, the choice of these literary symbols tells us dreadful things about the ancient societies where these narratives took shape, as well as—importantly—those groups that up to today continue to adopt, use, or accept such literary representations without questioning them.

Plus the activity box that accompanies this section:

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Teaching about sexual violence in digital learning environments

Today’s post is by Dr Samantha Keene and Professor Jan Jordan, who both teach criminology at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Given New Zealand’s sudden shift to a hard lockdown this week, their post couldn’t be more timely. And with the continued use of online and blended learning in higher education institutions globally, we are sure many of our readers will find their reflections valuable.

Teaching about sexual violence in digital learning environments

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the higher education landscape. Widespread lockdowns have seen academic staff forced to rapidly pivot their face-to-face teaching to online modes, often with little preparation and/or training in digital pedagogy. The perceived ‘success’ of academics’ tireless transition to online delivery modes may see these ways of delivery becoming a permanent fixture on university course offerings. Thinking ahead, then, this commentary provides reflexive insights into our experiences delivering a final-year undergraduate criminology paper, titled ‘Sexual Violence’, in an online learning environment during COVID-19. Shifting from face-to-face to online teaching brings unique challenges, and it is important for academic staff to identify and share the diversity of resources, tools and best practices we employ in our teaching to overcome these hurdles (Danis, 2016). It is our hope that sharing the concerns we had about delivering this paper digitally, as well as the strategies we employed to do it, will be of benefit to others teaching sensitive material in online learning environments.  

As COVID-19 cases exploded internationally, Aotearoa/New Zealand adopted a ‘go hard, go early’ strategy to halt the spread of the virus (Baker et al, 2020, p. 198). On 25 March 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a State of National Emergency and imposed a strict nationwide lockdown that placed all non-essential workers in self-isolation. The lockdown announcement was unprecedented, and in response, our institution required all courses to be shifted to online delivery.

Designing courses for online delivery is not something that occurs overnight; rather, it requires substantial consideration and preparation, making the task more ‘frontloaded’ than face-to-face teaching (Danis, 2016, p. 1477). Online teaching requires a minimum level of technological ability and skill, and educators must also learn and und­­­erstand the social dynamics of digital learning and teaching in their new online classrooms. Haggerty acknowledges that the onus on academics to establish and maintain their presence in their online classrooms ‘is often the one aspect of online learning that academics are most concerned about in regard to the time it takes to provide a quality, facilitated learning environment’ (2015, p. 197). The requirement for faculty staff to immediately shift our teaching online, then, was a daunting prospect.

As criminologists, we were particularly apprehensive about the prospect of teaching online due to the sensitive nature of much of our course content. Students in criminology classes are regularly exposed to material that can be challenging, sensitive and/or distressing (Whitehead & Parker, 2017). Teachers of criminology courses, therefore, have a moral duty to adopt an ethics of care in teaching that minimises possible student distress following exposure to course content (Dalton, 2010). This ethics of care for students in our courses predates the pandemic. 

In one of our courses (CRIM324: Sexual Violence), we situate critical examinations of sexual violence within a broader sociocultural landscape of patriarchy, gender inequality and rape culture. The topics include justice system revictimization of victim/survivors, women’s objectification through pornography, and technologically facilitated sexual violence. In reflecting a feminist commitment to hearing the voices of women who are often silenced, we also include case studies and qualitative material as complements to academic research. We attend to issues of both victimisation and resistance in our teaching for the course, thereby allowing us to view women ‘not just as vulnerable victims but as strong and agentic – even when they suffer violence’ (Hollander, 2016, p. 87). We also recognise and include material on masculinity and male sexual victimisation, as well as on ways to involve those of all gender identities in rape prevention.

In this course, we endeavour to foster a learning environment that is safe, empathetic, supportive and validating of victim/survivors of sexual violence. In recognition of the chronically high rates of sexual violence in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and the subsequent number of students in the course who will have lived experience of trauma, it is important that we are proactive about centring the needs of victim/survivors in our teaching from the beginning (Bedera, 2021). As instructors, we do this in several ways. In our first lecture, we directly acknowledge the presence of victim/survivors in the classroom and we explicitly validate their experiences. In preparing students for the course, we are honest about the nature of the course materials. We acknowledge that some content will likely be confronting, triggering and/or distressing, and that this may be amplified for some students more than others. In recognising the various ways that student distress may manifest, we provide suggestions for addressing their emotional needs. All students are given information about free, or low-cost, specialist health and support services available at the university and in the wider community. We make this list as current, comprehensive and accessible as possible to encourage students to make use of these services. Lastly, we provide space throughout the course for students to visit us during private student consultation hours. We signal to students that these hours are confidential and safe spaces for them to meet with us and discuss any issues that the course may raise for them. We take care to clarify that, while we are happy to provide a listening ear, we are not trained therapists. We offer to assist students in contacting specialist support if that is their wish.

As teachers of sensitive subjects, then, it is especially important that we recognise, and appropriately respond to, teachable moments when they surface as they can provide important scaffolding in our construction of safe and trusted learning environments.

Student disclosures of trauma have been common in our experience, as others teaching similar content have also observed (see Branch et al., 2011). Students feeling able to make disclosures of trauma to their teachers requires a high level of rapport and trust to have been built between the student and teaching staff. Disclosures of this nature are unlikely if students do not feel such safeguards exist (Bedera, 2021). Most of the rapport and trust we have with students is built through our in-person interactions with students. Alongside the supportive environment fostered within our classroom, our usual requirement for students to attend lectures, rather than accessing recorded lessons, enables us to read the room during lecture delivery. Teaching in a face-to-face context provides opportunities for assessing student reactions to challenging content via non-verbal cues, such as through their body language and facial expressions. When we teach sensitive or challenging content, we are highly attuned and responsive to students’ reactions to the content they are hearing. This helps identify when, and if, a shift in teaching approach may be required in the interests of student safety. Face-to-face delivery also helps us identify ‘teachable moments’ as they arise through in-class discussions. As educators, our ability to swiftly respond to teachable moments relating to sensitive issues can help build trust and rapport with students, thereby influencing the classroom environment as a whole. As teachers of sensitive subjects, then, it is especially important that we recognise, and appropriately respond to, teachable moments when they surface as they can provide important scaffolding in our construction of safe and trusted learning environments.

Given our ethics of care and our duty to minimise student distress, we had several reservations about delivering this paper in an online environment. As feminist criminologists, we are acutely aware of the emotionally involved and challenging nature of doing sexual violence research (Jordan, 2008; Keene, 2021), so we were concerned about our students engaging with heavy content in complete isolation. We were also concerned about student privacy whilst engaging with sensitive lecture material in their homes. We were conscious that students may not have private spaces to view course materials, and we wondered how students would participate in conversations when others in their household, such as flatmates or family members, may overhear them.

From an equity perspective, we were also concerned about students’ access to digital technologies and internet capabilities in their homes. While several financial assistance packages were made available by the government during the pandemic, these were rarely extended to university students specifically, except for some temporary measures (Ministry of Education, 2021). Universities across Aotearoa/New Zealand stepped up to provide financial assistance for students, such as hardship grants and loaned laptop schemes. However, we were aware of students in our course who struggled to access hardship supports in a timely manner during the lockdown. We questioned how we could redesign the course content to best meet the needs of students with limited access to digital capabilities and to ensure they were able to complete the course successfully. Beyond concerns about students managing the course content, we knew, as feminist criminologists, that lockdown environments would result in increased levels of family and sexual violence across Aotearoa/New Zealand. We also expected that victims’ access to support services may be limited or, in some instances, unavailable due to lockdown restrictions. In sum, we expected students would require more support than ever while completing this course.

Our expectations soon proved to be correct and we were confronted with high levels of student stress and distress, much of it stemming from the shock and anxiety triggered by the sudden lockdown. Nicole Bedera (2021) contends that instructors teaching the topic of sexual violence need specialist subject expertise, and they should be reflexive and responsive to students’ needs in their teaching. We were fortunate to be assisted in the delivery of this paper by two highly experienced tutors who had extensive knowledge of sexual violence-related issues, as well as professional experience as sexual violence prevention educators. Having the assistance of such skilled and competent assistants on our course gave us the confidence and assurance we needed to ensure that the paper could be successfully redesigned and delivered safely in a solely digital and COVID-anxious environment.

We knew how important it was to create an environment where students trusted us and felt able to communicate with us about the challenges they were experiencing during the course.

So how did we proceed with delivering a paper on sexual violence in this fully digital environment? Drawing on the first author’s prior experience with online teaching, we replaced the traditional lecture format with weekly, pre-recorded video modules for students to engage with in their own time. Each module consisted of between five and eight pre-recorded video lecture segments that, as well as the usual PowerPoints, were accompanied also by links to supplementary materials, such as YouTube videos, news media items and TED talks so that students could further develop their learning at their own pace. To reduce the intensity of the course content and address attention span issues, we made the modules shorter than traditional lectures. This reduced the intensity of the course content, gave students the option to skip content they may find distressing, and reduced the amount of streaming broadband required for engagement.

Although creating these pre-recorded video modules and sourcing appropriate YouTube videos greatly increased our workload, course evaluations indicated that students particularly appreciated the adaptations we made to the course structure for delivery in a fully digital environment. For example, student evaluations noted that ‘the delivery of content with a mixture of lecture material and supplementary external video clips kept me engaged’, and ‘I valued being able to choose when I could sit down and watch lectures based on when I felt I was in a good head space to receive such sensitive information’.

In recognition of the significant disruption that the lockdown was having on our students, we also scaled back assessment requirements by reducing essay word limits, reweighting assessment percentages and removing mandatory tutorial attendance requirements. We knew how important it was to create an environment where students trusted us and felt able to communicate with us about the challenges they were experiencing during the course. We worked hard to be as ‘human’ as possible, despite the distance between us and our student cohort. We regularly provided video updates in place of written announcements to enhance our digital presence. We communicated with students via Blackboard more regularly than we would during face-to-face delivery. This proved effective, with student evaluations identifying the ‘constant communication and support offered throughout the course’ as a specific aspect that stimulated or helped them to learn.  

Alongside our constant communication through video and written announcements in the digital environment, all staff involved held regular ‘drop-in’ sessions which, when students attended, dually functioned as both learning support and pastoral care check-ins. In the absence of building in-person rapport, we introduced students to our pets and provided them with a glimpse into our home lives, letting them get a ‘feel’ for who we were as their teachers. Further, we ensured that we remained up to date with what support services were available for them at the university, and we kept informed about how support services were operating in the community during lockdown. We communicated this information regularly to students through multiple online channels in a further attempt to build the trust and rapport we were used to developing through our face-to-face interactions with students.

Faculty staff involved in administering academic workloads should recognise and take into account the increased workloads arising from pastoral care work done by academic staff teaching courses on gender-based violence.

Teaching courses about gender-based violence can be emotionally challenging for students, but they can be just as emotionally challenging for academic staff involved in their delivery (Bedera, 2021; Nikischer, 2019; Sheffield, 2012). In the online environment, the emotionally laborious nature of teaching sexual violence content was exacerbated by our need to be constantly visible and present, and we certainly do not wish to understate the added workloads we experienced teaching this course online. However, the duty of care to our students in this paper took precedence for all of us involved in teaching it. This ethics of care needs to be evident throughout tertiary institutions so that staff teaching sensitive material are listened to and supported regarding both students’ needs and their own. Faculty staff involved in administering academic workloads should recognise and take into account the increased workloads arising from pastoral care work done by academic staff teaching courses on gender-based violence.

As we reflect on our experience delivering a paper on sexual violence in a digital environment, we acknowledge that, to be delivered safely, the course required teachers with a unique set of skills and expertise. Both our own and our tutors’ knowledge and expertise in the topic of sexual violence meant we were able to foresee the possible needs of our cohort and plan rapidly for the delivery of this paper in a fully online learning environment. With student safety and wellbeing at the forefront of our thinking, we managed to deliver a fully remodelled online version of our course that received resoundingly successful student evaluations. We encourage others who are planning the delivery of online courses about sensitive topics to make use of the expertise of scholars and practitioners working in these fields – from course conceptualisation and design through to facilitation and delivery. By drawing on the expertise and insights of those working in the field, future courses can be developed in ways that safeguard and protect student safety and wellbeing in online environments to the best of staff abilities, ultimately enabling students to flourish through their academic studies.

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank our postgraduate student tutors, Sophie Beaumont and Jahla Tran-Lawrence of Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, for their teaching support. Their commitment to trauma-informed teaching and their expertise in issues of sexual violence helped ensure CRIM324: Sexual Violence was taught safely to over 100 students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAMANTHA KEENE is a Lecturer/Pūkenga in Criminology at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Samantha’s research interests include issues of gendered harm, violence against women and girls, and the criminal justice system’s responses to women as victims and survivors. She is currently publishing on issues relating to the influence of contemporary pornography on gender-based violence, consensual/non-consensual rough sex, and the rough sex defence.

JAN JORDAN is an Emeritus Professor in Criminology at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. She has been actively involved in numerous studies over the years aimed at understanding how victim/survivors experience police reporting processes, as well as exploring narratives of victimisation and survival.  Currently she is completing two books focused on how our patriarchal legacy is evident in the tenacity of rape culture.

References

Baker, M. G., Kvalsvig, A., & Verrall, A. J. (2020). New Zealand’s COVID-19 elimination strategy. Medical Journal of Australia, 213(5), 198-200 e191. https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.50735

Bedera, N. (2021). Beyond trigger warnings: A survivor-centered approach to teaching on sexual violence and avoiding institutional betrayal. Teaching Sociology. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X211022471

Branch, K. A., Hayes-Smith, R., & Richards, T. N. (2011). Professors’ experiences with student disclosures of sexual assault and intimate partner violence: How “helping” students can inform teaching practices. Feminist Criminology, 6(1), 54-75. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557085110397040

Dalton, D. (2010). ‘Crime, law and trauma’: a personal reflection on the challenges and rewards of teaching sensitive topics to criminology students. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, 2(3), 1-18. https://doi.org/10.11120/elss.2010.02030008

Danis, F. S. (2016). Teaching domestic violence online: A step forward or a step backward? Violence Against Women, 22(12), 1476-1483. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801215626810

Haggerty, C. E. (2015). Supporting academic workloads in online learning. Distance Education, 36(2), 196-209. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2015.1055057   

Hollander, J. A. (2016). Teaching about gendered violence without disempowering women. In K. Haltinner & R. Pilgeram (Eds.), Teaching gender and sex in contemporary America (pp. 85-92). Springer International Publishing.

Jordan, J. (2008). Serial survivors: Women’s narratives of surviving rape. Sydney: The Federation Press.

Keene, S. (2021). Becoming a sexademic: Reflections on a ‘dirty’ research project. Sexualities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720986915

Ministry of Education. (2021). Advice for tertiary students. https://www.education.govt.nz/covid-19/advice-for-tertiary-students/

Nikischer, A. (2019). Vicarious trauma inside the academe: understanding the impact of teaching, researching and writing violence. Higher Education, 77(5), 905-916. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-018-0308-4

Sheffield, C. (2012). ‘Always ready for summer’: Reflections on the emotional cost of teaching about violence against women. Transformations, 22(2), 21-35,153-154.

Whitehead, S. N., & Parker, M. M. (2017). Criminal justice: Calming, critical thinking, and case studies: The politics, pitfalls, and practical solutions for teaching criminal justice in an online environment. In R. C. Alexander (Ed.), Best practices in online teaching and learning across academic disciplines (pp. 75-91). Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University.

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Writing the History of Sexual Harassment: The Avisa Project

In recent days there has been a flurry of reports on the depressing ubiquity of sexual harassment and sexual and gender-based violence. In France there is a project, the Avisa Project, taking a look at the long and horrible history of sexual harassment.

Today’s post about this project, which is likely to be of interest to supporters of the Shiloh Project, is by Armel Dubois-Nayt of the Université de Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines.

We would especially like to congratulate Louise Piguet (whose presentation is mentioned below) for successfully defending her doctoral thesis. Wonderful news, Dr. Piguet!

The Avisa Project

Avisa is the eponymous female character of a sixteenth century narrative poem, Willobie his Avisa (1594), who successfully rebuffs a series of persistent and aggressive wooers. The Avisa Project is named after her and was launched in September 2020 by two French universities: the University of Evry and the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin. One aim of the project is to identify, collect, and examine behaviours in times past that can be classified today as sexual harassment. What can we discern about how harassment was experienced, exposed and resisted by the women and men who endured it? How did they challenge sexual harassment, be that in in court, or through creative modes of expression?

The project is currently funded by the MSH-Paris Saclay and offers webinars, held every two months, giving scholars and PhD students from different disciplines (literature, history, the history of ideas and the sociology of film) the opportunity to present their findings and work in progress.

The first term has been dedicated to designing the bilingual French and English platform, which will continue to present collective research. It will contain a searchable glossary of the French and English terms and phrases used to identify, document and report this type of sexual violence. Alongside this, the platform will assemble information about all of historical, literary and filmic victims and survivors of such crimes. In time, the platform will develop into a corpus database of all works analysed, with up-to-date bibliographies, and other research information on the topic. The site will also advertise forthcoming events and summarise findings of prior project activities.

So far, the webinars since December, have focused on words (i.e. the vocabulary of sexual harassment) and images (i.e. the visual depiction of sexual harassment). Recurring in both focus areas are markers of masculine domination and female victims.

In the first webinar, Guillaume Peureux discussed Idylles (1605), poems by Jean Vauquelin de la Fresnaye (1536-1607), in which the terms harceler and harasser appear (both translate into English as “harass”). Peureux revisits Idylles in the light of a recent controversy in France (2018), which was initiated by the candidates for the agrégation (i.e. the high level competitive exams for teachers), and centred on how texts depicting sexual violence should be taught in class and whether focus on sexual harassment constitutes anachronistic reading of early modern literature.

Next, Chloe Tardivel presented  on two explicit cases of sexual harassment from 14th-century court records from Bologna: those of Margarita (in 1351) and Maria (in 1373). Neither case, however, was tried for the sexual violence involved but for the physical violence and injuries that followed the women’s resistance. This paper illustrated how historians can recover cases of sexual harassment even in the absence of a law that recognises the offence.



Archivio di Stato di Bologna, Comune, Curia del Podestà, Giudici ad maleficia, Libri inquisitionum et testium, boîte n° 219, registre 1, fol. 30.

Rejane Vallee discussed the corpus of films identified as dealing with sexual harassment on the IMDb.com website, the content of which is supplied by anonymous contributors. On this website, 750 films appear under the category “sexual harassment,” a figure far below the 5400 entries under the word “rape,” and the 1151 entries under the word “stalking.” It is, however, higher than the 661 films listed under the category “sexual assault.” The corpus covers films between the years 1899 and 2021, 40 different nationalities, and 16 different genres. It also raises a series of questions, starting with the criteria applied by contributors to categorise films as containing sexual harassment, which appears to have changed considerably over time.

Brigitte Gauthier looked at social fracture and harassment in South African cinema. Hence, sexual harassment in South African university contexts might be seen to be debunked in Steve Jacobs’s film Disgrace, adapted from J.M. Coetzee’s complex novel of the same name. The film portrays but does not resolve themes of sex and sexual violence cast against a background of racialised violence and territorial fights. Gauthier mentioned that South Africa has implemented new laws regarding sexual harassment in the film industry to fight the “embedded” harassment processes in an industry that capitalises and thrives on female beauty. Local filmmaker and member of Sisters Working in Film and Television (SWIFT), Tiny Mungwe, has encouraged people to take the pledge against sexual harassment by using the #Don’tLookAway Mzansi Facebook profile frame (Mzansi is another name for South Africa).

In the second webinar, Susan Baddeley looked at words used in 16th-century French and English to describe acts that we would today classify as sexual harassment. She showed that the words we use in the present – namely, (English) harass and (French) harceler – were not then generally used in the same way. They did, however, in the past, too, describe repeated and hostile attacks, which explains how these terms acquired the meaning they hold today. An intuitive search, from synonym to synonym, through various lexical databases (FRANTEXT, EEBO-TCP, LEME) yielded a few terms (such as attempt in English, attoucher in French) which could be construed as having this meaning, among other meanings. One term however, stood out, and referred to “sniffing around (a potential sexual conquest)”: this is the French verb mugueter. Although several dictionaries attempt to play down this meaning, the fact that others coyly include the word (but not the definition), and that translators tend to under-translate or even omit it, speaks volumes about the true meaning of the word at the time.


The Taymouth Hours, London, British Library MS Yates Thompson 13, fol. 177

Louise Piguet investigated the extent to which we can apply the present-day notion of sexual harassment to 17th-century French society. She took the case of Madame Guyon (1648-1717), and considered how the practice of “controlled anachronism” (Paul Veyne) can help us use her spiritual autobiography to shed some light on domestic abuse in late 17th-century high society. In her autobiography, Guyon recalls a violent past of constant surveillance, attacks, pressure and unwanted sexual intercourse with her husband. This would be labelled today as marital rape but, at the time, it was depicted by the victim as part of her conjugal duties. Piguet concluded that if self-sacrifice on the altar of wifely obedience was in this specific literary genre a major trope to demonstrate a woman’s forbearance and holiness, it can still prove useful material for present-day social history on sexual harassment.

Armel Dubois-Nayt analysed the historical case of sexual harassment of Elizabeth Tudor by Thomas Seymour between 1547 and 1548, which was placed in the limelight by a recent documentary on Channel 5 (2017). Dubois-Nayt examined the confessions of Elizabeth Tudor’s governess and treasurer, as well as a hand-written note on the back of a letter dated 9 June 1548, by the princess herself, on which the case is built. She then turned to and confronted the gender-prejudiced treatment of these texts by generations of historians, going on to propose an alternative philogynist version of events, underpinned by texts such as Willobie his Avisa (1594).

The next seminar will be held on 2 April 2021, and will welcome three speakers. Anne Rochebouet will survey courtesy in medieval fiction, with a view to determine how behaviours associated with courtly manners and courtliness fit with our assumed conceptions of medieval misogyny.

Line Cottegnies will discuss harassment and the battle of the sexes in Mary Astell’s philosophy.

Fanny Beure will talk about the ambiguities of the acts of loving conquest pictured in Hollywood musicals.

For more information about the project see: https://avisa.huma-num.fr/s/avisa/page/accueil

We look forward to Avisa and Shiloh collaborations.

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