Cultivating a Critical Classroom for Viewing Gendered Violence in Music Video
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Cultivating a Critical Classroom for Viewing Gendered Violence in Music Video

Appropriate Courses and Level

Though this exercise was originally designed for a first year course in women’s studies that emphasizes representations of girls and women, it is also entirely appropriate to students considering matters of gender and sexuality in the fields of media studies, communications, sociology, political science, and cultural studies. This teaching activity is part of a unit entitled “Framing and Re-framing Violence” where we introduce a feminist language for understanding sexual violence. We discuss cultural discourse as well as practical and activist strategies to resisting sexual violence. Since the course is focused on representation, we ask our students to use their newly acquired feminist language to critically view a music video.

Appropriate Class Size

Optimal for classes of twenty-five to thirty-five students in order to facilitate small group discussions. The exercise was developed for a large lecture class (seventy-five students) with weekly seminars (twenty-five students).

Learning Goals

To identify and critically analyze the connections between representations of gendered violence and rape myths or rape narratives;

To highlight how discourses of post-feminism and neoliberalism perpetuate misconceptions surrounding gendered violence;

To encourage students to confront, challenge, and resist gendered representations of violence through creative uses of critical reading skills.

Estimated Time Required

This activity is structured around a fifty-minute seminar, but can be adapted to longer or shorter class times. Success of the exercise depends, however, on a fair amount of preparatory activities, which are discussed in the “preparing for the activity” section below.

Required Materials

Handout (see below);

Appropriate technology to show an online [End Page 63] music video (computer, wireless Internet, projector).

Rationale

This exercise is designed to teach students about the ways that myths and misconceptions of a rape culture are deployed in popular culture (Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth; Patterson and Sears). We observe that much of students’ framework for making sense of sexual violence is derived from popular culture (including celebrity culture and entertainment media), which regularly reproduces what Sarah Projansky calls “rape narratives.” Although modern North American society recognizes that violence against women is “bad,” rape narratives continue to circulate the message that women ought to be held accountable for their victimization while individual abusers (and the broader patriarchal rape culture in which abuse occurs) are not obliged to modify their behavior (Patterson and Sears). This exercise draws attention to the existence of such narratives in popular culture and provides a set of strategies that may be used to confront, challenge, and resist their circulation.

The matter of violence against women is an ongoing concern to feminist scholars, who argue that violence is best understood in cultural terms. This means that individual acts of violence against women are not simply isolated outbursts but practices that are structurally enabled by a rape culture (see Brownmiller; Donat and D’Emilio; Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth). Susan Brownmiller, for instance, argues in her groundbreaking book, Against Our Will, that rape is not fueled by sexual desire, but rather is an expression of masculine power. In the wake of Brownmiller, feminist scholars have conceptualized rape as part of a continuum of gendered violence that includes nonconsensual sexual activities, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and incest, all of which are enabled by hegemonic gender roles and related patterns of domination and subordination. Despite the enormous efforts on the part of feminist scholars and activists to challenge the patterns of male domination that enable widespread gendered violence, recent statistics are clear that sexual violence continues to be a part of many of our lives.1

One explanation for the persistence of a rape culture—that is, a culture that implicitly condones sexual violence against women—is that sexual violence is concealed beneath myths and misconceptions that direct attention away from both its frequency and its severity. Predominant among such social myths is the insistence that women are often partly responsible for the violence done to them (i.e., victim-blaming). These myths become particularly forceful within the context of domestic violence. As Patterson and Sears point out, domestic violence is generally...