I am really disturbed by the number of papers that imply that the Wife of Bath is responsible for Jankyn’s violence, that she deserves to be hit, and that she shouldn’t “allow” him to treat her this way. I’m now examining my teaching-conscience, wondering if something I said or the way I presented the Wife’s Prologue prompted such attitudes, or if the students really believe this.

Students should feel free to disagree with me; I don’t want to get pious papers that just parrot my own words or pay lip-service to politically correct notions. The papers I’m complaining about show flaws in logic and insufficient attention to the text. The fact that my skin is crawling over some of the statements (most, though not all, from female students) has nothing to do with the grades they’re getting. I just need to vent, before I go into the classroom and calmly, thoughtfully, make students think about the likely effects of a twenty-something man hitting a forty-something woman over the head.

5 thoughts on “Was it something I said?

  1. It's worth remembering that they've grown up hearing that women are also responsible for being raped.They need to learn that women don't force men to beat or kill them or rape them.

  2. Gah. Yeah. Having grown up in free-to-be-you-and-me, take-back-the-night, our-bodies-ourselves times, I forget what the modern world is like. How did that backlash happen, anyway? Gah. Gah. Eeesh.

  3. When I taught Oroonoko last year, I was freaked out by the number of students who argued that Imoinda made a "choice" to be "unfaithful" to Oroonoko with the king (never mind that he would have killed her AND Oroonoko if she hadn't agreed to it (and of course he wasn't able to sleep with her anyway)), and that she is therefore somehow undeserving of O's love. Even though she let him CUT OFF HER HEAD rather than be raped at the end of the story.There was just something icky about the whole thing. And these are the same students who get mightily pissed off about how Milton makes Eve responsible for the Fall.I don't know. Sometimes there's this weird undercurrent of a *kind* of empowerment narrative, that You Shouldn't Let Someone Treat You That Way!, which comes up a lot and does wind up seeming to justify violence. It's weird. On the one hand, yes, good, understand that you should get out of a bad relationship. On the other hand, no, everyone who's in a bad relationship isn't in it just because she (or he) didn't stand up for herself (or himself)! Fie.This is a long and rambling comment. I'm supposed to be commenting on students' drafts right now.

  4. Hmm. There's also the problem of students assuming that "The Wife of Bath" is an independent entity who can deserve/not deserve things. Can you push them into thinking about whether -Chaucer- positions her as blameworthy, and what the surrounding culture might have said about the matter?Sometimes the past is a great place to start demonstrating that shitty ideas are shitty, and also socially constructed.

  5. I think we had a similar discussion when we read Othello – from the way the class was discussing the story, you'd have thought that if she DID cheat on Othello, it would have been okay for him to murder her. So it's justifiable since he *thought* she was cheating on him? Wait a second, when does cheating on someone call for a sentence of DEATH?While you don't want them to parrot your sentiments, showing them some logical points and asking them to think about it will probably do them some good in the long run. Such as asking them to explain "what other course of action did she have?"

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