My History of Witchcraft lectures have been the most graphic in nature of my entire U of M career. Images of naked womyn appear in just about every lecture, and the occurrences of images depicting rape or other representations of violence against womyn do not fall far behind. Most of the images are historical artifacts from Early Modern Europe or are based off the time period. We’ve been taught that they are an accurate representation of attitudes towards the female body and womyn of the time period.
My professor makes an effort to contextualize each picture and provide us with the critical framework needed to analyze how each depiction describes social factors that help explain the witch hunts of Early Modern Europe. I get that these images aren’t meant to recreate or relive negative attitudes towards womyn, rather enrich our education by analyzing sources we have from the past. However, after each lecture, my criticism grows against the necessity to constantly be presented with pornographic and violent images in order to gain the aforementioned academic pursuits.
I think that the constant viewing of these images is having an inverse effect on how much empathy we have for the depicted womyn and the amount of contempt for Early Modern Europe assumption about womyn. It’s a pacifying effect. It’s not just that we lose the “shock value” of seeing 17th century porn, but we also lose the conception of the subjects as people for two reasons: (1) the original authorial intent of the images is meant to do so, and (2) more potently, we’re distanced from the reality of horrors that witch hunts created when we can see such painful images without even flinching.
I began to think of this class in the context of other Womyn’s Studies classes, where the content discusses similar events and phenomenon in which violence against womyn is prevalent. I hardly see atrocious images in classes- I think, under the assumption that it is out of respect for the student and for the dignity of such womyn who would be subjects of imagery. So, does the distance of a couple hundred years remove those assumptions?
It’s disturbing to me to feel less and less of my face cringing and heart cracking when I see images that suggest or explicitly show violent acts. I’m curious – is there a justification for these repeated viewings?
(Stock photo courtesy of sxc.hu)