Nowadays, the roles that women play have a huge effect on how the whole world continues to spin on and on. There are even full-fledged groups of activists that choose to speak out about issues involving gender, race, sexuality, and varying combinations of the three.
On Wednesday February 5, 2020, the Women Gender and Sexuality Studies Department hosted a discussion regarding the question of feminism in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in the Upchurch University Center Wilson Chamber. This talk was the first of the Women Gender and Sexuality Studies Speaker Series for the Spring 2020 semester.
Women Gender and Sexuality Studies is a Minor at Longwood University that mainly focuses on women’s issues in society that affected by a multitude of factors such as race, class, ethnicity, age, and sexuality.
Melissa Kravetz, the co-director of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies commented, “We usually do [the discussions] five times a year, two talks in the fall and three in the spring, but we are doing six this year. They always happen on the first Wednesday of the month.”
Jesse Goldberg, a visiting assistant professor of the English & Modern Languages Department, served as the event speaker, giving a discussion titled “What about Sycorax? Gender, Violence, and Justice in Shakespeare's “The Tempest”.
Before the discussion began, Goldberg gave everyone in attendance a handout with Miranda’s ‘Abhorred Slave’ speech from Act 1 Scene 2 of the play. In addition, the back of the handout had a bibliography with books and articles about topics related to those discussed in his speech.
While he admitted to not being a Shakespeare scholar specifically, Goldberg’s solid interest in the interpretation of the female characters in “The Tempest” primarily fueled his discussion.
After summarizing the play’s plot, Goldberg noticed how Miranda’s speech has often been taken and given to Prospero by directors. He also noticed how students connected empowerment to Miranda’s speech since there is an elevation of a female voice that appears to be an empowering moment.
However, Goldberg points out that this moment would make Miranda a colonizer like her father since she also bashed Caliban due to race and how Sycorax (Caliban’s mother) is detested for her race and magical ability while Prospero’s character is not, adding diversity only to the oppressors.
Goldberg analyzes colonization in the play through a black abolitionist feminist lens, meaning feminism that thinks beyond equality between men and women and pushes further conversation about justice for race as well as gender.
The subject matter of this discussion was layered with an honest look at the often ignored brutality that people from different cultures experience. Kravetz also mentioned, “I think honestly an exposure to discussion of Women Gender and Sexuality Studies isn’t something students are getting in their everyday classes. I don’t think students are exposed unless they’re in a club, or they seek it out.”
At one point, Goldberg elaborated on Kimberlé Crenshaw coining the term intersectionality, which means thinking of human differences simultaneously impacted by positions of power in society.
He also made the comparison of how teachers are their own versions of Prospero in terms of having a sense of control over what their students learn, and he prides himself on teaching people to unlearn things like oppression and instead encourages for people to imagine a world without violence and the colonization of oppression.
Overall, this presentation offered commentary on William Shakespeare's The Tempest in order to introduce attendees to traditions and articulations of feminism which do not hold equality as the absolute mindset for thinking about gender, but as one of the many factors that need to be considered for it.
Kravetz further said, “Jesse is clearly engaged with black abolitionist feminism; I think the talk was less about 'The Tempest' than it was on black abolitionist feminism. He even calls it a radical view, and I don’t see that much on campus at all."
She continued, "It’s refreshing to see someone who is a true activist through his teaching and this discussion, but he’s mostly looking at 'The Tempest' through the lens of black abolitionist feminism. I found it as a very refreshing stance that I feel that is kind of lacking; race ethnicity is totally lacking on this campus. We are activists through our teaching.”
Melissa Kravetz will be speaking about Women’s Health in Germany at the second Wednesdays with Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies event on March 11, 2020.