Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
I very often find that my personal and my academic lives overlap in significant and often bitter ways. I suspect this is not unusual; my experiences are the foundations of my interests. But occasionally, it all just strikes quite close to home, and I don’t know what to do with the anger.
Having been forced to re-experience the helplessness that is the product of a controlling, manipulative, and emotionally abusive past relationship this afternoon, I was not well predisposed to sit through two academic papers. However, the author of one paper is a person especially dear to me, as an academic supervisor, and damn-near a parental figure, and really wanting to hear his paper, I went regardless of my ill-ease and agitation.
Both of the papers were provocative and intelligent. The first was an analysis of the concept of “beggarhood” and charity-giving in the Roman Republic. The second, my supervisor’s, was on the battered woman of Ezekiel 16, and drew a comparisons with spousal abuse and the autobiography of a slave-woman in the ante-bellum American South, Harriet Ann Jacobs. Quite complementary papers, giving voices to the muted.
Let me give you a short extract from the lengthy tirade Ezekiel launches against Israel, personified as an adulterous woman, with which the second paper was concerned:
Ezekiel 16:26 You played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. 27 Therefore I stretched out my hand against you, reduced your rations, and gave you up to the will of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You played the whore with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29 You multiplied your whoring with Chaldea, the land of merchants; and even with this you were not satisfied. 30 How sick is your heart, says the Lord God, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore; 31 building your platform at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square! Yet you were not like a whore, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Gifts are given to all whores; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from all around for your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings: no one solicited you to play the whore; and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; you were different.
35 Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38 I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39 I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42 So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm, and will be angry no longer.
The rage and violence that fuels Ezekiel’s misogynistic and pornographic tirade is not something that has been eradicated from today’s society. Women are still accused of whoring (be the infraction real or imagined), are beaten, shamed, humiliated and left helpless and voiceless. Just this week five women in India were publically stripped, beaten, and forced to eat shit.
Here, have some source material: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8315980.stm
But it’s not just India. The Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (2002-3) found that 57% of women interviewed had been assaulted physically or sexually, and most of these women experienced that violence at the hands of their current partner: http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/statistics.html#police
So really, this paper was dealing with nothing of the sort concerning “quaint” biblical society. These are real issues, old as patriarchy.
And yet. The responses after the paper were mind-blowing. For my part, I spewed forth a mulch of ideas, quite incoherently, so excited was I to hear a paper that really addressed something I care about. As opposed to say, the 45 minute discussions of exactly which year a certain coin was minted that usually dominate these seminars.
“Surely we can just say this isn’t the case any more, that was their society then, and now all that has changed, so we can forget about it” was one particularly astute response.
But the response that tore me in half was that of an extremely eminent scholar who is very well-loved by the department.
He made a comment that the exegetical tradition deals with all these issues, and that this part of the bible is nothing that hasn’t been treated before, and indeed throughout the millennia. Perhaps this is correct. I haven’t read the last two milennia’s publications on that passage. Perhaps I should. But I have read a hell of a lot of exegesis, and I know that feminist scholarship has important and innovative things to say about women in the bible, generally and specifically. I can point you to a hundred feminist articles, commentaries on the bible, monographs and more. Upon my supervisor answering that feminist scholarship felt that the violence of the passage had not been dealt with sufficiently, Prof. Eminent Scholar replied:
“Well I would suggest that feminists don’t read exegesis.”
Oh no. Really? Feminists don’t just read exegesis, they fucking write it.
At this point the discussion was pretty much terminated, and I got out of there before I participated in some violence myself.
This is the department in which I work. I love it. Or I thought I did. But to have this most respected scholar so flippantly deride the efforts of the scholarship to which I so aspire… It made me want to leave. To be made, once again, to feel helpless and ridiculous in the unwavering and relentless tide of male monologue… It hurts.
I’m so tired.