>The small groups in my literature class were discussing Old English ‘elegies,’ and I asked them to think about the different uses of space and geography in three poems. As I was going around from group to group, the train of conversation in one group inspired me to ask them, “Are the spaces in these poems gendered?” (Two poems have women speakers in fairly circumscribed spaces, seemingly put there by others; the other presents a male speaker exiled, it seems, at sea and by indirect circumstances. I thought it was a no-brainer.) I had the following odd conversation with a student as a result (note, I’m paraphrasing both of us):
Student: Well, it’s not gendered, really. Just different things happen to the women characters.
Me: How is that not gendered, then.
Student: It’s not because they’re women. They just happen to be women. And they’re in different spaces. [This, by the way, could be a fair enough argument, but I wanted to push her to defend it. Thus, my next questions….]
Me: So isn’t that gendered? Why is that different things happen to the women characters than to the male speaker?
Student: Well, because women just happen to be the people who were raped and pillaged in this poetry.*
Me: Um. And how is that not gendered????
Lucky for me, the student next to her was rolling her eyes and trying to get a word in edgewise, so I said, “Why don’t I let someone else take it from here?”
*Note: actually, no one is raped and pillaged in these poems, but I decided that wasn’t the salient issue at this point.