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University literature courses containing material that could be triggering for rape and sexual assault survivors

(56 Posts)
GlitteringTree Fri 31-Mar-17 13:30:55

I have NC for this
A lot of great literature contains descriptions of rape or allusions to it.
Statistically, many students who will be required to study it are likely to have experienced sexual assault or rape, but will be expected to respond to it analytically in essays and exams.

I was wondering how people think universities should deal with the difficulties that might arise from this in a sensitive way that would not require courses devoid of the literature in question?

WobblyLegs5 Fri 31-Mar-17 14:53:30

I have a little degree and am a survivor of csa. It wasn't triggering imo. If anything was triggering I guess I would have spoken to my tutor or dsa to skip that class or something. I also studied gender & violence modules, psychology modules that covered the ptsd I was living with at the time & chose to work with abused children and adults. Pressumabley if other survivors find these things difficult they choose a different path, or work on it in therapy or something. Rape is everywhere in life, personally I find it harder when people pretend it's not, makes the problem bigger. If there is scenes glamorising sexual violence then it needs challenged at the time. Which should be everyone's job not just survivors

WobblyLegs5 Fri 31-Mar-17 14:53:48

Ha! Literature degree!

StoatofDisarray Fri 31-Mar-17 15:30:20

Agreed, Wobbly. I also have a literature degree and am a survivor of child abuse and multiple rapes. When I was a student (30 years ago), I occasionally found myself having to study material I found upsetting (a particular scene in a Pat Barker book springs to mind), but I dealt with the fallout from that tutorial by seeing the college counsellor afterwards, and talking it through with her. I think that was the best way to deal with it, because, as PPs have said, rape and sexual violence is referenced with tedious regularity on the TV, in books and films, and one needs to develop coping mechanisms.

I would never have asked to have the book dropped from the curriculum just because it upset me. If I had done, I would have removed the opportunity for my fellow students and I to discuss AS A GROUP what was - quite rightly - a tough, realistic scene in a book that dealt with rape alongside many other related subjects.

Also, I didn't use the tutorial as an opportunity to explore my own feelings about the book as a rape survivor (tempting as that was), because I didn't want to monopolise the class and make people who hadn't had the same experiences as me feel as though they had less right to their own response to the book. Not sure if I should have said anything about having been raped myself - but I guess that's a different question.

WobblyLegs5 Fri 31-Mar-17 15:51:36

I don't think I'd feel the focus should be on survivors needing to cope exactly, more that I think it's dangerous to hide rape & pretend it doesn't happen just to be 'nice' bc hiding rape let's rapists rape more, it hides victims & silences them, it hides how to get help, it hides survivors ensure reality. Anything that's ignorant about rape or glamorises rape needs challenged, but hiding that doesn't challenge anything

venusinscorpio Fri 31-Mar-17 16:00:05

I need to dig the article out, but apparently in the US law faculties are being encouraged to avoid talking about rape in some universities for this reason. Students who may one day practice criminal law or make policy absolutely need to discuss rape. This is very dangerous. It can't be invisibilised to save people's feelings. And I say this as a rape survivor.

StoatofDisarray Fri 31-Mar-17 16:08:18

Wobbly oh, I totally agree. Sexual abuse thrives on secrecy and shame.

venusinscorpio Fri 31-Mar-17 16:08:23

I've also been on an online feminist space where a man claimed (and I believe he was being quite serious) that he had had to listen to a rape survivor describe her experience in detail in a talk, and he felt it was a trauma for him comparable to being raped itself. Even though he said he had never experienced anything of the sort. Fuck that shit.

MercyMyJewels Fri 31-Mar-17 16:54:42

When I was at Uni, one of the students ran out of a narrative fiction lecture on Nabokov's Lolita. The professors were at a bit of a loss as to what to do but I believe it continued to be on the reading list. That was 30 years ago though, I have no idea if it is on it now. There was quite a few difficult texts on the reading list I think

MercyMyJewels Fri 31-Mar-17 17:02:55

I did go to see Irvine Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares, and I did leave the theatre because the rape scene was so barbaric

VestalVirgin Fri 31-Mar-17 21:39:59

I think descriptions of rape from the rapists point of view should be removed, and rape-apologists swiftly kicked out of any discussion.

Those two things have, in my opinion, no academic merit whatsoever, so I don't even have to know whether rape survivors find those things especially triggering.

It'd be no loss anyway.

WobblyLegs5 Fri 31-Mar-17 21:54:36

Marabou stork nightmares is vile, but the author is sicko

Lolita is important literature though, and most don't appear to understand it (or they just watch the vile films that are nothing like the book, & miss the point entirely). It's written from the pov of the abuser to show how manipulative abusers are. It illustrates the self justifications, the dismissing, the down playing, the victim blaming, but nabakov put tones of clues the whole way through that he is an abuser & that she is a child. They are glaringly obvious imo -but I have been that child- but most definately obvious with in a lit class where it's being analysed. That should definately continue to be taught. Although they needs to start including pale fire as it's awesome.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Sat 01-Apr-17 00:31:04

Completely irrelevant but Pale Fire is a terrific book.

OlennasWimple Sat 01-Apr-17 10:50:20

University is absolutely the place for difficult issues, surely? The place where we learn to engage critically with difficult concepts, including relevant texts?

I'm always wary of banning anything from universities.

MiladyThesaurus Sat 01-Apr-17 11:11:38

Why literature courses in particular?

I have to teach about sexual violence and not through fiction (and a whole range of other horrible topics). I could try to sanitise the module instead but then I'd have to wilfully ignore a horrible but very real everyday experience for large numbers of girls and women worldwide. That seems worse than teaching about it. I sometimes use quotations from the women affected because it does matter that their stories are heard.

TBH I always feel awful during and after teaching these sessions because it's just a horrible topic (whether you've been directly affected or not). But it really is important to discuss and to explore why girls and women are so often subjected to sexual violence. Brushing it under the carpet is not going to help.

I do put the slides up in advance so students will know that I'm going to talk about sexual violence, and I do warn the students that a great deal of the module deals with awful situations so they really should be checking the slides in advance if they're likely to have a problem with anything in particular.

Dervel Sat 01-Apr-17 11:16:02

There is an easy compromise here, back when I did an English lit degree we had core modules you are required to take and then made up the rest from a choice of optional ones. Shift anything that might be triggering off core modules, move it onto optional ones and ensure there are enough credits to complete a degree without anyone being triggered. Simples.

WobblyLegs5 Sat 01-Apr-17 11:44:02

My lit degree, not that long ago, was the same. For the first 2 yrs only one of my 3 modules were literature based. In third & fourth all had to be literature but the only compulsory module was the dissertation

MiladyThesaurus Sat 01-Apr-17 11:50:57

You cannot shift 'anything that might be triggering' into options rather than core classes in many degrees. It's not simple at all.

Students are likely to have experienced sexual violence (and many other potentially 'triggering' things) because it is, sadly, such a common experience. The fact that it's so widespread means that it should not be shunted off into options (which implies that we don't really need to think about it if we don't want to).

Will we shuffle racism off to the side too? Or domestic abuse? Or anything else that might upset someone?

MercyMyJewels Sat 01-Apr-17 11:55:12

Wobbly

I hadn't read Marabou Stork Nightmares before seeing the play. I had read Trainspotting and had enjoyed it so just trotted along to the theatre with friends. But yes, that was the last Irvine Welsh book that I read.

I agree with you about Lolita. I remember talking to the profs and they were genuinely in dilemma about it. The woman had been sexually abused obviously. (Although I must assume she hadn't actually read it yet before going to lectures. )

BasketOfDeplorables Sat 01-Apr-17 11:59:31

I agree Milady.

Sexual assault is a common experience. I have experienced it, and I think possibly the only way to really understand it is through literature (or other art forms). It's the only way to get inside an experience like this. This is useful for people who haven't experience it, and also for people who have to process feelings they might not have dealt with.

However, I wouldn't use a book to address my own feelings in a literature class, because the class isn't therapy. I would give myself time to think through those things outside of the class. If I found my feelings made this impossible I would speak to the tutor about this, as this would be a special consideration. In the same way that if I had suffered a recent loss of someone I loved and the book was dealing with death.

WobblyLegs5 Sat 01-Apr-17 12:01:51

I've never been able to read or watch Irvine Welsh ever again either. Although I hated trainspotting the film I loved the play & acid nights I think. Read marabou stork nightmares as a v young teen. V much stuck in ptsd hell at that point & binned my copy.

It bugs me lolita isn't read properly though. It puts people off nabakov altogether & he is easily one of the best writers of all times. Too many people see the films I think, the name lolita has come to mean something it's not. (Not unlike frankenstine, a rise by any other name speach are misunderstood & misused. Or descaretes reasoning on existance- that I've seen mis used by tra's as it happens!)

MorrisZapp Sat 01-Apr-17 12:06:12

Somebody walked out of a Lolita lecture when I was at uni too.

I don't agree with censorship but I wish to god I'd never read that book. I can't wash my brain of it, even decades later. I hate being told that I've failed to understand Great Literature because I thought it was horrible.

Maybe I was the wrong age or something. If people are so keen to teach Lolita to eighteen year olds I'd prefer it to be on a list with options, not compulsory as it was in my day.

I'm not a rape victim, just a person.

WobblyLegs5 Sat 01-Apr-17 12:10:13

I find it pretty horrid too, but I think it's an important book to see through the self justifications and manipulations and lies abusers tell themselves. I guess because I knew some of my own abusers spouted through same rubbish, groomed me in the same way he grooms her. It's a difficult read but the abuser talk is there the whole way through so it's clear nabakov was showing the peadophile for the liar be is rather than saying it's all ok and she persued him- as the crappy films and the way the term lolita is used.

AgentCooper Sat 01-Apr-17 12:25:47

At the uni where I work (in Mod Langs) there is a Comparative Literature course with one elective module on Balkan literature and theatre. Given the history of that area, there's no way you're not going to encounter references to some horrible stuff. One student, after a particular lecture, told the convener that she wouldn't be continuing as she had PTSD and one of the novels covered had triggered horrible memories. She was able to switch to another. Completely to her credit, she said she had thought she could handle it but now realised that she couldn't.

It's hard because a lot of enduring literature and theatre deals with traumatic events - and if you're doing a course about Eastern Europe or colonial Africa or Spain during the civil war, you know awful things will come up. And I don't think these courses should be censored. But in the event that it's needed, I do think it's fair that students should be able to switch modules or courses.

BasketOfDeplorables Sat 01-Apr-17 12:27:08

Is there a better example of the unreliable narrator than Lolita? I can't think of one, but I probably don't enjoy books using that device as much as others. I should probably challenge myself a bit more in this respect, but the little time I get to read is purely recreational now. A literature degree is different - you should be pushed further than self selection allows.

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