Thursday, December 16, 2004

Rape and Reason

Last week I gave "my" lecture on the founding of the Roman Republic. We read about the rape of Lucretia from Livy. In the story the prince of Rome rapes the chaste wife of one of his commrads while her husband is away at the battle front. It was this event that precipitated Brutis’ over-through of the king; setting up 500 years of republican government in Rome. I maintain that the Roman Republic was the inspiration for our own constitution. I always discuss Lucretia’s response to her rape with my students. Several days after the discussion I recieved an e-mail. I present it and the "back-and-forth" that followed. The names and phone numbers have been changed or omitted for the privacy of all involved. I hope you find the ideas interesting.

E-MAIL #1:

"A conversation came up with Suzzy after Parent-Teacher Conference or I would have addressed it then.

Suzzy mentioned that you posed a question to the class as part of a
discussion on class material. She stated that question was whether or not the student would rather be raped or killed. I don’t know the entire context of the discussion, but this question to me seems totally inappropriate for any classroom discussion with the exception of a college level women studies class. And please correct me if I’m wrong or if the question was stated differently. Given the information that I have, however, I have several concerns.

First of all, this is not a question that should be posed to any woman except in a safe environment such as a college level women’s study course where the woman knows what she is getting into or in a support group for rape victims. I can tell you that if this question was posed to me outside of these contexts, I would be enraged. Being raped is a woman’s worst fear and to be asked to contemplate it is unthinkable. And to ask my 15 year old to contemplate such a question is unfathomable. As a mother, this is the last thing I ever want her to have to contemplate at any age.

Second, this is not a question that should be asked in mixed company. To ask a male if he would rather be raped or killed, what does he have to compare it to. And how does it make a female feel to be asked to discuss such a private matter with them. Rape is historically a crime against women, not men. And how do you know that this isn’t sending a message to the males in the class that it’s okay to rape someone, because it is better than killing them.

Third, how do you know that someone in the class hasn’t been molested or raped or have a family member who has been. Because I can tell you that Suzzy does have family members who have been through just such a devastating experience. And she knows what they have had to endure and how it has affected their lives and others as well. This question only serves to remind her of how evil men can be.

Lastly, if you ask Suzzy a question expect to hear her opinion and have the courtesy to respect that opinion. My understanding, and again correct me if I’m wrong, is that you disagreed with her opinion and attempted with other class members to change her opinion. In the end, she was told that she needed to rethink her opinion. What type of classroom environment is this? School should be a safe place for children to learn and explore issues and be granted the right to their own opinions whether they differ from the staff or not.

I trust that if other parents are aware of the discussion, they have responded in a similar manner. If not, then take this as my concern with the discussion and lack of respect for my daughter’s opinion. I do not want this issue to become a class discussion or a discussion with my daughter. I also don’t expect there to be repercussions. If you would like to discuss it further, you can contact me by email or at ### ###-####.


E-MAIL #2 (my first response)


Thank you for your comments. Our class did discuss the very question you mention in our study of the Rape of Lucretia, a Roman girl, whose rape and subsequent suicide lead to the over through of the Roman monarchy and the establishment of the worlds first republican government. I believe thinking about the terrible consequences of rape is something that young people need to do long before they get into college classes. I also feel that you and I should discuss this in person rather than over e-mail. I would be glad to speak with you about
it, in detail, at your earliest convenience.

Teacher X


"..Mr. Teacher X,

The reason I contacted you by email is multifold. First, we both have hectic schedules. You teaching classes and me in counseling sessions. So this was the easiest means of communication. In addition, it allowed me the opportunity to calm down a little and think about how I wanted to respond to the issue. I would be more than happy to discuss this further with you, but I have no
intention of debating this issue. I suggest we schedule a time that works with both our schedules. Since I work in Salt Lake City, it will have to be by phone. I'm usually available from 7 - 9am."

E-MAIL #4 (my second response)


Thank you for your patience. Let me begin by assuring you I do not want to debate with your position. I appreciate being able to share my point of view and I am sure you will treat it with the same respect you justly insist I give to Suzzy’s and your own positions.

First, let me deal with the setting of our classroom discussion: Please let me refer to our class disclosure (Suzzy has the entire document in her notebook). From paragraph one: "The student will be introduced to the great ideas that constitute the world dialogue and shown the tools which will allow him to enter into it. This HONORS program recognizes the value of and the need to prepare students to complete a college degree and build a foundation for a lifelong education; therefore activities and standards will attempt to approximate those followed in a university setting." And from paragraph two: "Students will be required to use the basic tools of learning; thinking, questioning, speaking, memorization, reading, criticism, note taking and creative writing." And under point #9 it reads: ‘in-class activities and discussion."

Next, let me deal with the exact passage from Livy which we were discussing that day: The overall context is that injustice will not be born by a free people and when a king or prince acts unjustly it is the obligation of the people to overthrow him. After brutally abusing Lucretia, Sextus rides away, ". . . proud of his success. The unhappy girl wrote to her father in Rome and to her husband in Ardea, urging them both to come at once with a trusted friend -- and quickly, for a frightful thing had happened. . . . Tears rose to her eyes as they entered, and to her husband’s question, ‘Is it well with you?’ she answered, ‘No. What can be well with a woman who has lost her honor? . . . My heart is innocent, and death will be my witness. Give me your solemn promise that the adulterer shall be punished -- . . . The promise was given. One after another they tried to comfort her. They told her she was helpless, and therefore innocent; that he alone was guilty. It was the mind, they said, that sinned, not the body: without intention there could never be guilt. ‘What is due to him,’ Lucretia said ‘is for you to decide. As for me I am innocent of fault, but I will take my punishment. Never shall Lucretia provide a precedent for unchaste women to escape what they deserve.’ With these words she drew a knife from under her robe, drove it into her heart, and fell forward, dead" (Livy, The Early History of Rome, pg 99) The question which comes to me is: why didn’t Lucretia listen to those who loved her when they pleaded and argued that she was innocent? The answer is because they had never thought the situation through with her - she believed, wrongly, that she was "unchaste". The discussion that this question led to has the purpose of getting the students to think through this important concept.

I would now like to speak to the five concerns in your e-mail.

First - that the question was posed somewhere other than a college "women’s study course".
— I wish no child would ever have to contemplate the horror of rape, but the monsters who perpetuate these crimes do not take age or level of education into consideration. Far too many teenagers will face sexual abuse long before they get to college - many will never take a woman’s study course. I believe it is important that they have thought about it before they are confronted with it. All of us need to know that being a victim of rape does not mean we are unworthy to live. I feel this is a valuable thing to be discussed with young people before they , like Lucretia, are destroyed by a misconception of their ignorance.

Second - having this discussion in mixed company.
— I do not intend to compare sexual abuse on a gender specific basis but young men can be raped and sexually abused. They also can be forced to bear unnecessary guilt for someone else’s crime. Both girls and boys can be cowed into silence by misunderstandings of worthiness or responsibility. Rape is not a vulgar or "dirty’ subject about which we should blush or feel shame, it is a terrible reality with which all must be prepared to deal. In our lesson it was made very clear that Sextus was evil in his acts and as just reward for his perfidy he lost his kingdom and was killed by his angry subjects.

Third - could someone in my class have been molested or raped?
— I assume that my students - male and female - have or will face this terrible situation. It is for this extremity that a discussion of Lucretia can prepare them. They need to think about their attitudes toward rape victims. I have actually had a young lady come to me after this discussion and thank me. She said she had been raped and this was the first time anyone had told her she was still clean (chaste).

Fourth - that I disagreed with Suzzy’s opinion:
— I did. Disagreeing with someone does not show disrespect. The purpose of discussion is to present and even change opinions. I am pleased that Suzzy challenged my ideas, and I gave her every opportunity to express her disagreement. She was eager for me to reconsider my position, I remain eager for her to reconsider her’s. I am pleased that Suzzy has discussed her feeling with you, and if that discussion has clarified her stance, I believe it has been a good thing for her.

In your last paragraph you mention your feeling about other parents’ concerns and restate your believe that I showed a lack of respect for Suzzy’s opinion.
— I have had other parents speak to me about this discussion. Many have expressed their gratitude for opening a door to family discussions and clarification. This is surely my intention, and an important reason for studying history.
— Finally, I once again stress that disagreeing with someone’s opinion does not show disrespect. In fact the opposite is, in my belief, the case.
It is not my intention to debate with you or change your opinion, just to clarify mine to you.

Respectfully yours,

Teacher X"


Layton Lancer said...

I have had this discussion with you many times and I have never had such strong objections as this mother, but then again she and I are different people. It was sensitive to me, however, because I have been raped before and have felt like what Lucretia had described. I'd rather have been well educated about Rape , as you try to teach your students, then have had it happen. I certainly would not want to be dead now that I know the truth: I'm not guilty. At the time that I was going through it I DID want to be dead though. I think this is a really necessary question to consider, and even though I may have disagreed with you to begin with but you never once treated me with disrespect. I agree with your answers to the mother of this student.

A_Shadow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
A_Shadow said...

I have to also agree, you've done it again, and as masterfully as always. It seems to me that if the parent were as understanding as they were trying to show, that they would have caught the meaning in the first place. But I can understand a misunderstanding, if you understand. I hope it's resolved peaceably, I would dread the thought that you would have to change the subject from learning because someone's uncomfortable. I can understand that if it were something, but in History it is also full of the deaths of countless millions. Should we also not learn of the Black Plague or any of the innumerable wars? Because something is ugly, evil, or distasteful when learned about gives you no excuse to not learn it. And there are plenty of women that are raped before college that it be important to them now. You should be given the opportunity to experience a situation before hand, learning how to deal with it, not necessarily experience rape, but know how to deal with it. It's the same reason "Health" and "Sex Ed" exist, right?

In short, I whole-heartedly agree with Lysis and his responses.

Aeneas said...

Two thoughts came to mind while reading this post. First, understanding the context of a question is as important as understanding the question itself. Clearly the mother did not have the benefit of knowing the tradgic history of Lucretia nor her lesson to the world before she raised her concerns. If my "child" came home and said that her teacher had asked her whether she would have rather died then be raped, I might have felt a little warm beneath the collar as well. However, once I came to understand the context of the question, as Lysis has explained, my concerns would turn to support. I appreciate the fact that the mother in this case did ask for clarification.

Second, there are too many, even in our own modern-day social circles, that still agree that it is better for a women to die rather than be raped or a young man die rather than lose his chastity. I have actually heard such comments from parents and leaders. The lesson of Lucretia is as important as ever. I think as a parent of two going on three, I would allow my kids to learn about the rape of Lucretia so long as they were over the age of 14, depending on the personal maturity of my child.

An interesting and important discussion.

wzdt said...

THe Holidays just began (I live in Canada) and I'm looking to read a good novel over the break. I'd like to read something dealing with Ancient History (Cleopatra, Caesar, Atlantis, etc...), maybe something dealing with Greek Mythology (Jason and the Argonauts, etc), or even something dealing with the philosophs of the enlightment period. Id prefer something that is historically acurate, but it's gotta be interesting as well. Whatever the case if you know/have read of any good history books, please let me know (keep in mind I'm only 17)

Movies will do too, but they should be historically Accurate. Don't worry about expense, seeing as how I work at blockbuster i can rent any movie for free

A_Shadow said...

I think that I can understand and see where one would come from when avoiding certain issues because they might offend you. But I'm of the opinion that knowledge is power and thus you shouldn't be kept from it because it might make someone feel uncomfortable. Now don't take that to an extreme, I'm merely talking about circumstances where a conversation would make someone uncomfortable. I don't see why being prepared is a bad thing. It basically goes as far back as Machiavelli, but it's more common sense, you can work now, or you can work later. Essentially you'll pay for it at some point, so why not on your terms with less "interest"? For example, taking classes to defend yourself and prepare yourself mentally and physically to deal with rape shouldn't be a bad thing. In the end it could be the thing that saves you. I'm talking along the lines of self-defense more than just coping. Of course it's a tragic thing, but it needs be done. No one should like it, and those that do are likely to be put away for something they act on. But to avoid something because it makes you uncomfortable, could in time, prove a great folly.

And it seems to me that if there are people out there that feel they are less than a victim in the circumstances of being raped, then they very much need to hear that they are not.

As for learning about it before a certain age, or whatnot, I suppose that is up to the parent, and who am I to decide otherwise? Just let it be known that there are amle number of rapes long before the child even reaches middle school. It's not something like puberty that can be touched on a year or two before it happens. It doesn't descriminate with age, or gender as the news would show you.

Lysis said...

Dear WZDT, thanks for checking in at the Agora, and for your question. I’m always eager to give my opinion! Some of the best historic fiction on the ancient world is by Mary Renault. I really like her: The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, two novels that tell the life of King Thesis, “founder” of Athens. My personal favorite by Renault, The Last of the Wine tells the story of two friends living in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. To give Roman History a try - I really recommend I Claudius and Claudius the God & His Wive Messalina by Robert Graves. Graves was a member of J. R. R. Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’ literary group know as the Inklings. So much great writing out of one group of friends! Recently, I also really enjoyed The
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. It is about the battle of Thermopylae and life as a Spartan Warrior. Pressfield wrote the book behind the popular movie Bagger Vance - I think it’s about golf. His book on the Peloponnesian War, Tides of War, did not impress me. It’s not that I’m a big fan of Alkibiades- but having the story narrated by his murderer was a little too much for me. Pressfield has a new one out on the Alexander. I might try it myself this Christmas. As for movies. You’ve got to see Troy! Remember when attending a movie - you are only looking at an illustration, no movie could ever do the Iliad justice; still this one is fun and should be out on DVD in January. I also really enjoyed Alexander the Great. Again, it is impossible to tell the life of any man in three hours - let alone this man. Still, I did really enjoyed the section about his youth and the sets and such are wonderful. Don’t be afraid to read some of the ancient literature. Hippolytus or Media by Euripides; Antigone, by Sophocles; and The Eumenides by
Aeschylus are all great, and since they are plays they only take a few hours to read. Be sure to get a good translation, and if you don’t know a lot about Greek Mythology, read the introductions! Most things by Penguin Press are very readable! Good luck. We’d love to hear what you think about these when you’ve read them!

Rumpole said...

I have so many thoughts on this subject that I don't know where to begin. Though it may be long and boring, please also allow me to respond to "Parent" as if I were Lysis. However, please understand that because my job doesn't depend on it as Lysis' does, I probably won't exhibit as much tact.

1. College level course on "Women's Studies" - there are a couple of things in our current society that seem to be equated here that I don't understand. It seems that people believe that only those who have attended university are "educated". I certainly do not intend to suggest here that university is a waste of time; on the contrary, it can open many doors that otherwise would remain closed. However, I know of many examples of individuals that have not attended university that are some of the most "educated" people I know.

Secondly, why should a subject like this be confined to a class on "woman's studies"? It appears that "Parent" has assumed that only women are capable of broaching such a subject. Baloney! The underlying assumptions beneath such a comment lack such reason and thought from someone who thinks themself as "educated" that I am mystified! And what defines a safe environment? Are we to accept that a "women's studies" class is a safe environment? Where can I apply for "safe environment" certification? I only wish that every experiece we have could occur in a vaccum.

Possible victims - Questions are not typically posed as "innocent" If Lysis will allow me a little license, the offend student commented frequently during the discussion. That tells me that as "Parent" suggested, the offended student probably did have family members involved in such a crisis. Is it healthly to bury those issues and not resolve them, or should they be worked through and resolved? It can be argued that only one who is "qualified" ought to conducted such a disscussion. I will address that topic below.

15 year old too young to contemplate - While I am a firm believer that we all grow up too fast, rape has affected many that are far younger than 15. If for no other reason that to teach that the victim bears no responsibility, and should carry no burden of guilt, the discussion is a worthwhile one.

How evil men can be - So that there can be no misunderstanding, men have committed great evil. However, men have not cornered the evil market! Especially in today's climate it is easy to make men the brunt of societies ills, and again, there are evil men, but there are also evil women! I would prefer not to make this a discussion on gender, but "Parent" has framed it as such.

Why have we not heard more about the female soldier that committed many of the attrocities at Abu Grab (sorry about the spelling)? What about the school teacher from Washington that had the sixth grader impregnate her? Don't make it a gender issue. Simply acknowledge it for the evil that it is. There are still many great men in the world. It is troubling to me that their existence has to be pointed out.

Finally, I understand Aeneas' concern about the possibility of such a discussion causing a parent to become "warm beneath the collar". Context is critical in such a discussion. As a parent I don't want this discussion coming from just anyone (see "qualified" - above). Great trust is placed in our educators to conduct such a discussion.

This is where the greatest failing of "Parent" occurred. While interested enough to send an e-mail, or even to make a phone call, "Parent" never took the time to meet with Lysis face to face. This I do not understand. I am not a school teacher. If I were, I would want every parent to know me. I am a parent. I want to know all I can about every single teacher that works with my children. Especially because of a discussion that evoked so much emotion, I cannot understand "Parent's" refusal to meet with Lysis.

I could go on but I have rambled long enough. Thanks, Lysis, for another thought provoking post!

Silver Lining said...

I am going to risk life and limb here and say somewhat in response to Rumpole, that I think Parent did seek for some context. This is not to say that Parent is correct in her arguments, but she asked in her first e-mail to be corrected if the situation was different etc. As to failing because Parent won't meet with Lysis in person, at least Parent seems willing to discuss the matter. Parent may very well have a schedule that makes it difficult to meet in person with the teacher. It is far better that Parent be willing to hear Lysis than that she simply lecture him and end it.

Context of an issue is extremely important, and I for one would be interested in hearing more about the context of the issue in the classroom. I hope that the point that evil behavior and over indulgence lost the Roman Prince his rule and ushered in a philosophy of people running and checking their government was not lost on Lysis' students. That seems appropriate for a history course and for the world we live in.

Medicine said...

I always discuss Lucretia’s response to her rape with my students.