Shame

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, by Richard Westall, Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, by Richard Westall, Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Summer is the time for conferences and I’m speaking at 3 this year. Last Friday was the Gendered Emotions in History conference at the University of Sheffield and I compared some historic examples of child sexual abuse (CSA) with things that people had told me in my research. I’ll talk a bit more about the other two conferences later.

So the two historic examples I talked about were the life of Saint Frances which I’ve talked about here and the ancient Greek practice of pederasty. Pederasty is an example of CSA that is utilised now to argue that attitudes have changed and thus can change again. Paedophiles use this argument to justify present day abuse.

So what was pederasty in Athenian Greece? It was an arrangement between an adult male citizen and a boy. Sometimes a sexual relationship it was primarily about educating the boy to take up his role as a citizen. The ideal age of the boy was 16 and the abuse of young (pre-pubescent) children was illegal. There was an awareness even at the time that sexual activity in the pederastic relationship was a negative experience for the boy.

The following are 2300 year old quotes about pederasty.

‘there is no real kindness; he has an appetite and wants to feed upon you’

Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus 370BC

“A boy does not even share the man’s enjoyment of sexual intercourse as a woman does: he is a sober person watching one drunk with sexual excitement. In view of all this, it is no wonder if he even develops contempt for his lover.”

Xenophon, Symposium VIII, 360BC

Bloch (2001) argues that many such arrangements were for the political or financial benefit of the father of the child. She points out that to the Greeks being penetrated ‘like a woman’ was seen as shameful and any male who experienced this, and this was known, was banned from participating as a full citizen and indeed could be prosecuted. What Bloch argues here, and the quotes reflect, is that pederasty was not emotionally beneficial for the boy and was likely to feel shameful.

One of the key emotions people, particularly men, have spoken of regarding sexual abuse is my research is shame.

‘I realise I have carried a lot of shame around with me since the abuse.  I am currently working on reframing and healing the shame I feel about being gay as it links with the abuse by a male teacher.’

‘with same sex abuse I think there’s so much shame around it that people (especially the victims) don’t speak out about it as much’

‘You are taught shame at a very early age with sexual abuse’

In Ancient Greece, they didn’t have the same concepts of hetero- and homo- sexuality as we do today but they did define an active and a passive partner with being passive seen as shameful for a man. In Athenian Greece it could literally mean that you were not legally a Citizen, a real Athenian man. I think this connects with modern ideas about masculinity – what a man should be. Child abuse shakes the foundation of that. How can you be a man and be a victim?

Hopefully it is clear, when it is written in this way, that abuse does not affect one’s right to be male. You should not be blamed or punished (even by yourself) for something that was not your fault. It also shows the clear differences between homosexuality and paedophilia – including age, consent and harm. Attitudes have indeed changed over the years about abuse but the fact that it is harmful to the child has not changed.

 

References: 

Bloch, E. (2001) ‘Sex between Men and Boys in Classical Greece: Was It Education for Citizenship or Child Abuse?’, Journal of Men’s Studies, 9, 183–204 https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

The picture is of Lord Byron, the poet, who was abused by his mother’s maid between 9-11 years old.

 

 

May 2018 Research Update

Time to Listen Wilhemena Barns Graham
‘A Time to Listen’ by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham 

I’ve reached an important point in my research – the data gathering bit is finished and next I will analyse it all. There are 141 survey responses and 21 interviews. I will transcribe every interview (those that were recorded) which is taking me 5 hours/ish for each hour recorded. I’m aiming to get that done by the end of June. Thank you so much to everyone who took part.

It has struck me, whilst doing these interviews, what fascinating, wise and intelligent people my research participants are. There is a phenomenon called ‘post traumatic growth’ – which is not to suggest that trauma is a good thing because it’s not – but that trauma can lead to wisdom and a different perspective on life. I’m not ignoring the negative effects of course and that will all be part of the thesis, as well as the need for properly funded mental health services – but it is really clear to me the difference between the traditional idea of what an abuse ‘victim/survivor’ looks and acts like, and the people I have been talking to. That’s the difference between a stereotype and reality.

I have also been working on, with my supervisor, an academic article which is due for submission at the start of next month, based on people’s comments about #metoo and the perpetrators of abuse. Whilst writing the article I came across the quote above from Maya Angelou and it really sums up the point of the article as well as what people have been telling me over the last 5 months. I found the painting on Art.uk and it is entitled ‘A Time to Listen’ – let’s hope it is!

 

 

1 in 6

I found this a very moving video – and SO important.

I’m interviewing men who have experienced abuse at the moment and this video really brings home that it can happen to anyone, is so destructive – and that we need to work together to end it.

It’s not just fight or flight…

Smith, Thomas Stuart; Study of a Rabbit; The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/study-of-a-rabbit-127657
Study of a Rabbit, Thomas Stuart Smith

Recently a group of men who gang raped a woman in Pamplona had their conviction reduced from rape to sexual assault, despite the fact that they raped their victim. There is no question about this as they filmed it on their phones. The reason why their convictions were downgraded was because the victim didn’t fight, but was ‘passive or neutral’ according to the police reports. This has lead to many demonstrations and anger over this apparent judgement of the victims behaviour.

It also ignores the fact that there is another response to violent attack than fight or flight – there is also freeze or ‘tonic immobility’ to give it its formal name. Ignoring, for now, the fact that this victim blaming attitude goes right back at least as far as the Bible (read Deuteronomy 22:23-27) let’s look at the evidence for this third reaction to fear and violence.

Like in animals there is evidence that humans can sometimes freeze when faced with danger, literally be unable to move. Moller (2017) et al, interviewed 298 women who had been victims of a sexual assault. Of those 70% reported significant tonic immobility and 48% reported extreme tonic immobility – so nearly half could not move at all during the assault. They also found that the women who had experienced this were more likely to develop c-PTSD and/or severe depression.

So it looks as though the ‘freeze’ reflex is very common and I’d argue it may even be more common in children where, even more so than adults, fight or flight may not be options.

Going back to the Pamplona case it did inspire the nuns of Hondarribia to send out the following message.

Db7vebEXkAAXTmu

Amen.

 

References

Möller, A., Söndergaard, H.P. & Helström, L., 2017. Tonic immobility during sexual assault – a common reaction predicting post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 96(8), pp.932–938.

 

 

 

Research Update April 2018. Victorian government corruption and Catholic Saints

Gadsden, Judith; Field of Flowers
Field of Flowers, Judith Gadson

I’m right in the middle of fieldwork at the moment, which means that I am arranging interviews and then actually doing them. The next job is transcribing them, typing out everything that was said, which takes much longer than you’d think! I’m also applying to talk at some conferences and I’m going to submit an abstract to a journal to see if I can get the research published. If accepted the article wouldn’t be published until next year so you have to start planning ahead really early on!

I’ve just done a presentation for the Sheffield Gender History group about my PhD side project. As part of background reading about laws relating to childhood sexual abuse I read about the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, which aimed to raise the age of consent to 16 for girls. The author of the paper, Gorham, commented that MPs were reluctant to pass this law because they might fall foul of it themselves, as many visited brothels owned by a woman called Mrs Jeffries. So I’ve have been investigating Mrs Jeffries and her connections to MPs and other VIPs of 1885. This is what my talk was about and I’m hoping to turn it into an article in due course.

Another talk, which I’m due to give in June at a Gendered Emotions in History conference, is about the different emotions reported by male and female participants in my survey and if there are any parallels between them and historical examples. I’ve been reading about Francesca Bussa, who was married at 12 or 13 in 1397 and after the wedding night refused to speak or eat. She only recovered after being inspired to do good works but continued to punish herself shockingly throughout her life; eating only 1 meal a day, whipping and torturing herself. She cut off her own hair and complained of being tormented by demons. She also did some amazing things – performed miracles, opened her home to the sick and founded a monastery for women. In the end she was canonised and is now known as Saint Frances. I don’t want to minimise her significance to Catholics but there is a clear link between her early marriage and the onset of symptoms of self harm. Many female participants in my research have described a sense of disconnection between the body and mind, which I think has parallels with the story of Saint Frances.

As you can probably tell I am doing lots of things at the moment! Luckily the PhD gives you time to explore different avenues and decide which are the most fruitful.

References

Bell, R.M., 1985. Holy Anorexia, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gorham, D., 1978. The “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” Re-examined: Child Prostitution and the Idea of Childhood in Late-Victorian England. Victorian Studies, 21(3), pp.353–379.