Understanding the Body: The Necessity of Animal Vivisection in Pre- Modern English Medical Research

By Walter E.

Knowledge of the human body was at an interesting crossroad in Pre- Modern England. After the fall of Rome, little was done towards advancing medical understanding, leaving the English with only Greek traditions of medicine (Kiple 25). It would not be until William Harvey’s discoveries in the late 16th century that a new resurgence of medical research and experimentation would occur. Vivisection on live animals was, at the time, a viable way to test theories of anatomy and determine how certain parts of the body functioned. Animals were seen as tools, and, rather than “wasting” a human life, animals provided a means for decreased distress in cases of failure.To our eyes, pictures and accounts of these experiments come off as cruel torture; however, they would in the end prove crucial to modern understanding of the human body.
 
 
Harvey’s discovery of blood circulation, one of the greatest medical discoveries, was based on animal experimentation (Kiple 25). These experimentations would prove crucial to understanding how large amounts of blood moved through the body. Obviously, the same experiment would not yield the same results on a corpse. Even with the death of an animal, the relationship between living and dying would be able to be better understood. Since live animal experimentation involved specific skills and the presence of an audience to confirm any found results, the affirmation of any experiment proved to be crucial since results on animals would vary widely (Guerrini 395).  This visual conformation would allow other scientists of the time to look at Harvey’s findings and try to determine their own.
 
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Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke started with similar experiments. Starting with larks, they would pump the air out of the bird until it died. Eventually they would move on to other animals (Guerrini 395). Hooke’s attempt at this process on a dog is well documented. Hooke wrote down accounts of the experiment. Hooke was able to display the dog’s thorax by cutting away the ribs and diaphragm (Hooke 539). The dog was able to last an hour with Hooke pumping air into the lungs with a pair of bellows. Hooke noted that, “upon ceasing this blaft, and fluffering the lungs to fall and lye still, the dog would immediately fall into dying convulsive fits” (Hooke 540). While the correlation between air and lungs seems obvious now, this was a major discovery in human medicine.   
 
 
Boyle noted that the animals felt distressed. However, he did not linger on the treatment of his experiment animals (Guerrini 397). This disassociation with how the animals felt was one of the many instances where the separation between humans and animals was clear. It is interesting that the purpose for these experiments was to discover how the human body worked, and even if the animals functioned similarly to humans, the separation was still present. What determines the value of human to animal life? If animals functioned in similar ways to humans, then why must there be this constant separation. It could be argued that since these experiments were on animals, then relating them to humans shouldn’t be allowed. However that is not the case. These discoveries found in animals led to the modern understanding of the human body. Even with the lack of attention to the well being of animals and an almost barbaric bout of vivisections, science would not have been able to advance without the presence of these tests. While the argument of what constitutes “human” continued to be challenged throughout the 16th century and beyond, the idea that bodily organs functioned in a universal sense could not. 
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Walter is a junior at Ball State University. He studies English with a concentration in creative writing. 
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Image: Mouchy, Emile- Edouard. Physiological Demonstration with Vivisection of a Dog. 1832. Wellcome Library, London. The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Guerrini, Anita. “The Ethics of Animal Experimentation in Seventeenth Century England.” Journal of the History of Ideas 50.3 (1989): 391- 407. JSTOR. Web. 27 March 2014
 
Hooke, Robert. “An Account of an Experiment Made by Mr. Hook, of Preserving Animals Alive by Blowing through Their Lungs with Bellows.” Philosophical Transactions (1665- 1678) 2.1 (1666): 539-540.JSTOR. Web. 27 March 2014. 
 
Kiple, Kenneth F, and Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. “Experimental Animals in Medical  Research: A History.”Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research. Ed. Ellen Frankel Paul and Jeffery Paul. London: Transaction, 2001. 23-48. Print. 
 
 

The Body & the Pen: Finding Synthesis between Art & Medicine

By Walter E., Tiffany M., Colin N., and Paige Z.
During the early modern period in England, science and art came together to compare the bodies of animals and humans. Discoveries from vivisections and dissections, which later shaped scientific drawings and textual descriptions, revealed that human and animal anatomies were more similar than previously believed. These early artistic displays of scientific examinations were important to the present and future, as those recordings set up a foundation on which later scientists could refer when documenting accurate representations of their work. Scientists of the time, including Edward Tyson, a founder of comparative anatomy, set the stage for further scientific and artistic blending for later scientists.


Until this point, medical practice was rooted in the Humoral Theory, a model utilized by Galen. The belief was that the human body was comprised of four parts (or humors): Blood, Phlegm, and Black and Yellow bile. Humors allowed medical surgeons like William Harvey and Edward Tyson to explain how the lungs and circulatory system operated, among other bodily functions. Yet continued use of vivisection and dissection began raising questions about the accuracy of previous theories; and scientists began to pinpoint the similarities and differences among human and animal biology, human and animal anatomy, and the degree to which humans could use body fluids and humors differentiate themselves and claim natural superiority. Though, while these methods of research seem antiquated in the 21st century, they were essential to the advancement of modern medicine and social advancements due to the aforementioned answers unveiled by these examinations. While science and art are often thought to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, with science as absolute thoughts and art showing free-thinking creativity, we have found a means of synthesizing of the two. In our research we have concluded that art and science cannot be treated as separate entities but instead that one lends to the other in that each helped progress the other to become more accurate in both rendering and execution.


The Future of Performing Humanity

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.52.54 PMWe’re excited to introduce readers, faithful and newly added, to the testing site of the updated Performing Humanity.

In the coming months, we will be assessing  the new site as an alternative to this platform.  We’ll be sharing reviews on summer films in the field, as well as articles on museums and art exhibits. As new content rolls in, we invite you to share feedback and suggestions so we can shape a site that showcases your work, and fits your needs and interests.

By the new year, we’ll have finalized the decisions and will be hosting collaborations with scholars, authors, and artists (including History Carnival in January 2015). We hope that you’ll join us by continuing to share your own ideas and contributions.

Have favorite articles from PH? Never fear! Our old site and its archives will remain available to you. We will also continue hosting our “Emerging Voices” series, which is also viewable through the RSS feed at the bottom of the new site, until it concludes in early November. You don’t need to miss a thing.

Thank you for reading!


John Dee & Ursula Kemp

By: Erik P.
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My semester long research project was focused on the question of witchcraft and what laws and social polices were made against them. But while researching witches, I also encountered a man named John Dee (1527-1608-9), who was a natural philosopher, occultist, and a widely respected scholar who was called “The Queens Conjuror” (Ankarloo 153). Well known for his book Monas Heiroglyphica, he worked for many years  to speak the language of God (Peterson). In his text, he claims event to have been at the peak of a twelve day mystical state that would revolutionize “astronomy, alchemy, mathematics, [and] linguistics” among many others topics (Peterson).
How did such a man, who performed occult magic literally in an attempt to speak with Angels and learn the language of God, avoid the persecution and accusations of witchcraft that women performing the  same magic experienced (Ankarloo 153)? This question drew me  to contextualize this disparity using the case of a woman who was executed because she was accused of being a witch. Ursula Kemp of St. Osyth was hung in 1582 (Serpell 57) and, according to James Serpell, the accusations against her included “a malicious tongue, loose morals and a harmless friendship with two cats” (57). This was sufficient to justify Ursula’s death; yet Dee, who publicly documented and discussed his efforts, was spared from such punishment.
In order to understand why this occurred, we can look at the time period’s social norms. John Dee was a man; he was very well educated and respected. His work was centered around Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and his book De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres, or, Three Books on Occult Philosophy (Ankarloo 150). For Agrippa, the occult was meant to perfect knowledge and philosophy by understanding the first cause of existence, which is beyond human comprehension (Ankarloo 148). Dee sought this aim and believed that the world was ending (Ankarloo 153). To save mankind, Dee’s work, including the Monas Heiroglyphica, attempted to bridge the “terrestrial and super celestial and ascend true wisdom by means of divine revelations from angelic intermediaries and messengers” (Ankarloo 153).
There were religious objections to this kind of work. Augustine and Aquinas were unequivocally against it occult magic (Clark 219). What Dee, and others like him, did to justify this work was to say that their magic is aimed at Angels and not at demonic power; but Dee and his peers were aware they were skirting a line (Clark 219-20). What Dee and his peers had to protect them were wealthy patrons who supported their work (Ankarloo 153).
As for Ursula Kemp, she was a victim of her community’s suspicion of older, lonely women who took care of cats. As Serpell points out, anyone in possession of a cat, or seen taking care of one, was in danger of being labeled a witch; these animals could be ‘familiars’ or animals with the spirit of a demon (57-8). As for wealthy people owning pets, such as cats or dogs, Serpell says, “they were quite literally above suspicion” because of their ranks (58). These communities targeted older, impoverished women; and what makes it harder to accept this cruelty is that these women were alone and took care of these animals to ease their solitude (Serpell 58).
During this research, I often found that women like Ursula and men like John Dee were separated as two different topics. It is of interest to me, and possibly others, to bring to light what made John Dee so valuable and women like Ursula Kemp as an easy target. By bringing these two people together, we can further quantify how Early Modern culture functioned within law and social practices.
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Images Cited: “Frontispiece” in John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564). Reproduced at Esoteric Archives,http://www.esotericarchives.com/dee/monad.htm.
Ankarloo, Bengt, Stuart Clark, and William Monter. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The period of the Witch Trials. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. Print.
Clark, Stuart. Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1997. Print.
Peterson, Joseph H. “John Dee: MONAS HIEROGLYPHICA (‘THE HIEROGLYPHIC MONAD’).” Esoteric Archives. Web.
Serpell, James. In the Company of Animals: A Study of Human-Animal Relationships. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Sodomy Then & Now: “Unnatural” Sexual Practices

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 6.40.49 PMBy Kali E.

What was sodomy in Early Modern England, and how does it relate to homosexuality today? In order to understand the laws and social policies regarding sodomy in in the past, we must first understand the difference between definitions of sodomy then and sodomy now. Sodomy today, as critic Bruce Smith describes it, is “a precise bio-legal term that denotes one particular sexual act” (3). However, in Early Modern England, the term sodomy meant much more than just same-sex sexual acts. According to critic Katherine Crawford, it included “masturbation, several forms of same-sex sexual behavior, bestiality, non-procreative sex (oral or anal most commonly) between a man and a woman, or any form of sex in which conception was impossible” (4). It was more broadly used as a religious offence, a category covering a wide range of transgressive acts including any activity that challenged the “nature” of the church-state authority. Sodomy came under secular state control through the Buggery Act of 1533. This act sentenced anyone found guilty of sodomy—particularly men—to death. The laws against sodomy and other forms of sexual deviance during this time emphasized that those who acted outside the “prescribed” social standards were less human and more animal-like than those who obeyed. For example, in his book, Smith details a journal entry from a man, Henry Hawkes, who traveled to Mexico in the sixteenth century. The journal entry relates some of the sexual practices of the Mexican natives, with Hawkes reporting that the natives “‘are soone drunke, and given to much beastlines, and void of all goodness. In their drunkenness, they use and commit sodomie'” (3). Hawkes believed that what he saw the nativeswas a crime, referring to it as “beastlines” and equating sodomy with the actions of animals.
 
According to Smith, “For us, sexual activity is a psychological and sociological phenomenon. […] the Renaissance was a period of transition, a time when sex as a moral preoccupation was changing into sex as a subject for self-reflection and intellectual analysis” (10). We have to understand that sexuality for them was much different than it is for us. No one in that time would refer to himself as a “homosexual,” “gay,” or “straight.” Those identities of sexuality simply did not exist. Critic Alan Bray notes that “To talk of an individual in this period as being or not being ‘a homosexual’ is an anachronism and ruinously misleading. The temptation to debauchery, from which homosexuality was not clearly distinguished, was accepted under the common lot, be it ever so abhorred” (16-17).
 
Essentially, people during the Early Modern era were fearful of what they didn’t understand. They thought any kind of sexual act outside of the social “norm” to be unnatural and bestial; any kind of sex that wasn’t specifically for procreation, did not fall within that social “norm.” Critic William Naphy states that “in practice even procreative sex could be considered unnatural if it was any position other than the missionary (face-to-face, man on top, woman on her back)” (103-104).
 
Bruce Smith also brings up the argument that “we need to investigate not just what was prohibited but what was actively homoeroticized” (13). He argues that there is a “disparity” between the punishments of law and the apparent “tolerance” displayed in the visual arts and literature. The picture displayed is an engraving from 1506 by Marcantonio Raimondi. Smith comments on the piece in his book. “What are we to make of a culture that could consume popular prints of Apollo Embracing Hayacinth and yet could order hanging for men who acted on the very feelings that inspired that embrace?” (13-14).
 
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Kali is a Senior Creative Writing major at Ball State University. Her specific interest is creative nonfiction writing. She also served two years as the Secretary of Spectrum, Ball State’s LGBTQSA.
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Image: Raimondi, Marcantonio. Apollo and Hyacinth. 1506. Engraving. Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Legion of Honor. Web. 29 April 2014. <http://art.famsf.org/marcantonio-raimondi/apollo-and-hyacinth-19633036327&gt;.
 
Bray, Alan. Homosexuality in Renaissance England. London: Gay Men’s Press, 1982. Print.
Crawford, Katherine. The Sexual Culture of the French Renaissance. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
Naphy, William. Sex Crimes: from Renaissance to Enlightenment. Tempus Publishing, 2004. Print.
Smith, Bruce. Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.

Public Law & Perceptions of Bestiality

By Emily C.

Prior to the Buggery Act of 1533, the church and its courts handled cases of bestiality, or sexual relations between humans and animals. As Susan Amussen notes regarding English law, “Ordinary law enforcement was local, not national; most punishments were imposed by the quarter sessions and assizes” (11). Therefore, punishments for any criminal activity varied according to location, severity of the crime, and other situational factors. In terms of bestiality, English attitudes were ambiguous at best. Erica Fudge suggests that unwed young men were often the perpetrators of this crime, although there recorded cases against women do exist (22). The church expected young men to wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse. In reaction to the strong body policing, men turned to the only other available option within their rural communities: farm animals.

The Buggery Act of 1533 changed the relatively laid back public perception of bestiality. It made bestiality “a felony without benefit of clergy, and anyone convicted of the offence would ‘suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their goods, chattels, debtors, lands, tenements, and hereditaments’’’ (Fudge 20). The law revealed the many anxieties regarding bestiality and the potential half-animal, half-human offspring such relations could produce. Such anxieties were largely religious in nature. But religious officials were not so much concerned with the safety and well-being of the animals (as they did not think that animals had souls at all) as they were with policing human bodies. Many in early modern England considered bestiality a “species pollution” (Thomas 150). In a colonial world, lines between animal and human became sufficiently blurred. As Fudge notes, “The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time when many of the previously held assumptions about humanity were coming under threat. Colonists were bringing back stories of monstrous races which appeared to confirm medieval ideas, and which upset many of the establish perceptions about the final work of the Creation” (22). For the first time, English people had access to the unknown, and they brought back stories of the odd places, often misconstrued and inaccurate narratives. That fed into anxieties about bestiality and the product of animal-human relations, many of Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 6.32.44 PMwhich were the stars of the stories in question. Would a human still be human if he mated with an animal? These anxieties accelerated the criminalization and strong public stance of bestiality, though it was not actually that common. As Courtney Thomas remarked, there was “… [a] discrepancy between the low number of people actually prosecuted for the crime and the comparatively high number of printed materials decrying bestiality as an oft-committed violence” (151). There were several cases of bestiality documented, but not as many as the religious extremist pamphlets would lead one to assume.
As a result of these churning times, the English regarded bestiality as the ultimate sin; unable to comprehend how humans could blur the human-animal divide. Throughout my research, I have returned to this question: did this shift in public perception and opinion happen because bestiality, being a hideous sin, created such a strong negative reaction (along with other sexual crimes like sodomy and masturbation)? Or because religious influences, motivated by extreme anxiety about the growing world, forced the issue? If religion had not been present in policing sexuality (i.e. not allowing church members to engage in masturbation, sodomy, and bestiality), some of the people persecuted for bestiality perhaps would not have done so. After all, it was an extreme form of deviance that happened in situations where there was no sexual reprieve for young unwed men. The church, by policing bodies and sexuality, encouraged what they aimed to destroy.
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Emily  is an English literature student at Ball State University. She hopes to go onto graduate school to pursue being a librarian.

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Image: “Half Dog, Half Human.” n.d. “Monstrous Acts: Bestiality in Early Modern England.” Jstor.org, Aug. 2000. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.

 

Amussen, Susan. “Punishment, Discipline, and Power: The Social Meanings of Violence in Early Modern England.” Journal of British Studies 34 (1995): 1-34.

 

Fudge, Erica. “Monstrous Acts: Bestiality in Early Modern England.” History Today 50.8 (2000): 20-25.

 

Thomas, Courtney. “‘Not Having God Before His Eyes’: Bestiality in Early Modern England.” Seventeenth Century 26.1 (2011): 149-73.

 


Law & Deviance: Defining Human Value(s)

By Emily C., Kali E., Sam I., Lisa K., and Erik P.

Our understanding of law and social policies in Early Modern England became clearer as we examined the legislation that intended to identify and punish sexual or religious deviants. With an eye to legal policy, the following research series focuses on intersections among bestiality, sodomy, lycanthropy, witchcraft, and fairies. Our collective research shows that the presence of these seemingly disparate categories of deviance ties figures in each group together, insofar as each threatened English communities’ social conventions and their perception of what constituted a wholly human body under law.

This collection of research looks at the following deviancies and what questions arise. For example homosexual and bestial acts, both considered sodomy under English law, were punishable by death because they violated religious expectations linked to human sexuality. These acts were “unnatural,” as they could never result in the birth of children; worse, they could result in the production of prodigies, or of human/beast hybrids. Laws on lycanthropy resembled sodomy to some extent; but differed in that the deviance was considered a mental rather than physical illness. Still, like sodomy, it could warrant the death penalty.

Laws on witchcraft and the occult were complicated because some figures identified were charged while others were not. For example, John Dee was a prominent philosopher, but also an Occultist. While others of less educational or social status were punished for similar activities, John Dee was free to do as he pleased. Similarly, people could be accused of associating with fairies. In this time period, fairies were thought to be ‘devil spirits,’ often termed familiars, with the ability to corrupt the human soul. Those accused of interacting with fairies were, by definition, corrupting their souls and threatened the sanctity of their human bodies.

What all of these research topics have in common is that a social minority  posed some sort of threat to what was considered mainstream. Our research aims to clarify why, how, and to what extent did these laws  effect the people they targeted.


Regan & Goneril: The Bestial Daughters of Lear

By Lauryn W.
Shakespeare uses animal comparisons in King Lear to explore how Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril, “sink below the level of beasts” in their actions toward their father (Taylor 532-533). Lear breaks the law of primogeniture when he divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, who claim to love him most. As a result, Regan and Goneril are able to function beyond the laws of coverture, performing injustices upon their father.
After Goneril, Lear’s eldest daughter, denies her father of his wishes, Lear compares her to a creature of prey, hoping to receive more compassion from her younger sister: “O, Regan, she hath tied Sharp-toothed unkindness like a vulture, here” as he indicates his heart (Shakespeare 2.4.134). According to Alan Dent, “the Vulture […] hates us living and loves us dead”, thus Lear’s reference to Goneril as a vulture not only serves to implicate her as bestial, but also indicates her ill feelings for Lear (149). Feelings that she allows to show only after she has married and been given her part of the kingdom.
Regan is also implicated as inhuman, though since few direct animal references are made toward her, inferences must be drawn from her actions to denote her bestial nature. In Act 3 Scene 7, as Cornwall attempts to pluck a second eye from Gloucester’s head, one of his servants interferes: “Hold your hand, my lord!” (Shakespeare 3.7.72). For this outburst of defiance against Cornwall, Regan kills the servant, stabbing him from behind with a sword. In this instance, Regan uses the element of surprise in order to commit the murder, just as a cat would in attacking its prey. However, Regan’s motives for attacking are not defensive or used as a survival tactic as an animal’s attack would be. Instead, Regan is motivated purely by her brash anger toward the situation.Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.11.47 AM
Prior to his misfortunes at the hand of Cornwall, Gloucester, like Lear, also alludes to Regan and Goneril’s animalism, foreshadowing his fate. In speaking to Regan he says, “I would not see thy cruel nails / Pluck out [Lear's] poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister / In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (3.7.55-57). Regan’s nails are referred to as “cruel”, meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “destitute of kindness or compassion.” As both kindness and compassion are traits of humanness, calling Regan’s nails “cruel” strips her of her humanity. Gloucester’s more blatant reference to Goneril’s “boarish fangs” depicts Lear’s eldest daughter as a vicious animal unwilling to be merciful toward anyone, even her own family. This passage denotes both sisters, as Taylor states, “are the diabolically evil beasts of Shakespeare” (533).
Shakespeare’s King Lear is driven greatly by the idea of bestial man, particularly when the actions of Lear’s two elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, are called into question. Both daughters turn their father away, denying him the rights a former king and father are entitled to. Regan and Goneril’s denial of Lear goes against the laws of primogeniture and coverture, as both women were given halves of their father’s kingdom and took majority control. As each one of Lear’s requests are denied by his fiendish daughters, his patriarchal position depletes, and he too is stripped of his humanness as he descends into madness.
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Lauryn. is currently a senior at Ball State University in Indiana, majoring in Creative Writing and double minoring in Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies.
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Image: Earlom, Richard. King Lear, act I, scene I. 1792. Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection.Folger Shakespeare Library. Web. 26 April 2014.
Bibliography:
“cruel, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 20 April 2014.
Dent, Alan. World of Shakespeare: Animals & Monsters. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1972. Print.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Grace Ioppolo. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2008. Print.
Taylor, George Coffin. “Shakespeare’s Use of the Idea of the Beast in Man.” Studies in Philology 42.3 (1945): 530-543. JSTOR. Web. 5 Feb 2014.

BAREFOOT GRANNIES: A Special Project to Promote Reproductive Health

By Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa (Guest Collaborator and ICOD Action Network Founder & Director)

In February 2014, our team started a journey to capture extraordinary stories about girls, women, and communities whose lives had been broken down after being forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation. Our journey took us to some of East Africa’s most remote communities where health and social services are almost entirely broken. It’s been a journey that has helped bring unique stories about these communities out to the world. It’s been a journey that has inspired us to work harder to end Female Genital Mutilation and build safer communities for girls and women.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 2.45.51 PMWe recently launched another unique model called the Barefoot Grannies to create sustainable change in communities where we work through grassroots activism.  The Barefoot Grannies is a federation of 8 grassroots organizations comprised of 219 grannies in Northeastern Uganda’s Karamoja region working to end Female Genital Mutilation and promote women’s reproductive health and girl-child education. The grannies are leading efforts to change their communities’ perspective about women’s rights and ensure equal rights all women no matter where they live.

Education is key to producing a sense of human value for oneself and for others. Through technical support, resource allocation, mentorship, leadership training, and network building, we are building this sense of value and aiding the federation into producing exceptional grassroots leaders capable of moving their communities forward. We have worked with grassroots organizations for the past 5 years and achieved amazing results, we are glad to be working with the Barefoot Grannies to build safer communities for girls and women in Northeastern Uganda.

There is much left to be done. Anyone interested in assisting our project should seek information on The Barefoot Grannies Campaign.


In this special post, Performing Humanity is working in collaboration with the ICOD Action Network to spread awareness about world-wide women’s health issues and to assist in fundraising for victims of female genital mutilation. In line with our mission to explore political, linguistic, and philosophical issues surrounding definitions of humanness, we view human rights and women’s health issues as deeply embedded in social attitudes regarding Otherness.

Thank you to ICOD representative for joining us. Readers can locate further information via CHASING THE CUT – a documentary film about Female Genital Mutilation in East Africa.


“The Rape of Lucrece”: Female Silence in the Face of Male Domination

By Colleen T.
In Renaissance society, men held a position of power over women. However, male anxieties about women gaining an independent voice in society reflected the fear that women would no longer be under male control. To prevent this, men developed ways of dehumanizing and Othering women to ensure that they remained inferior. In Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, Tarquin accomplishes this as he rapes Lucrece, dehumanizing and silencing her, ultimately showing the ways that men in Renaissance society could control female independence with dominant and animalistic behavior.
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Interestingly, as Sara Quay says in her article, “Feminist scholars have been especially interested in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ because of the extent to which Shakespeare develops Lucrece and explores the impact the rape has on her” (3). Despite Tarquin’s success in dehumanizing and raping Lucrece, she spends almost half of the poem speaking independently. In an attempt to stop Tarquin, she uses rhetoric to persuade him not to ruin his own honor or set a sinful example for future generations: “wilt thou be the school where lust shall learn? / Must he in thee read lectures of such shame? / Wilt thou be glass wherein it shall discern / Authority for sin, warrant for blame” (617-620). Strategically, she attempts to prevent the loss of her own honor by showing concern for his instead.
 
However, as Katharine Eisaman Maus’ article mentions, the poem has an “insistent concern with the relationship between sex and power” (66). The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare describes what happens when Lucrece tries to regain power and stop Tarquin from raping her: “Challenged, he tells her, drawing his sword, that if she refuses him he will kill her and a slave, making it appear he caught them in bed together, whereas if not she can keep his violation a secret” (Dobson n.pag). He threatens her reputation, using violence and domination to silence her. He then takes Lucrece’s chastity, the quality of humanness which serves as her only real social power, allowing him to dehumanize her and assert his superiority as a man.
Despite Lucrece’s opinionated, educated, rhetorical voice throughout the poem, she still allows Tarquin to silence her in many ways. Rather than blaming Tarquin for her rape, Lucrece remains silent, and instead blames many other factors. She blames Night for her rape when she says, “[v]ast sin-concealing chaos […] O hateful, vaporous, and foggy Night, / Since thou art guilty of my cureless crime” (767-772). She blames the Night’s darkness for concealing the beast within man. She also blames Opportunity and Time, saying, “O opportunity, thy guilt is great: / ‘Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason; / Thou sets the wolf where he the lamb may get; / Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season” (876-879). She implies in these lines that men are not expected to control themselves if they have the opportunity to rape a woman, as Opportunity makes it simple for the man who “plots the sin.” Worst of all, Lucrece blames herself, not for losing her own honor, but for losing her husband’s; she says to Collatine, “Yet I am guilty of thy honour’s wrack” (841). To rid her husband of this shame, Lucrece finally decides to kill herself, allowing Tarquin’s actions to permanently silence her.
Although Lucrece challenges Tarquin’s power through her rhetoric in the poem, she allows him to silence and dominate her through his animalistic, violent behavior, ultimately making this a poem reflective of male dominance and female silence the face of it.
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Colleen is a recent graduate of Ball State University with a major in literature and a minor in creative writing.
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Bibliography
Image: Faithorne, William. The fates decree, that tis a mighty wrong. 1665. Folger Shakespeare LibraryDigital Image Collection (LUNA). Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/detail/FOLGERCM1~6~6~266617~117887:The-fates-decree,-that-tis-a-mighty>
Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells. “Rape of Lucrece, The.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference, 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Maus, Katharine Eisaman. “Taking Tropes Seriously: Language and Violence in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece.” Shakespeare Quarterly 37.1 (1986): 66-82. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.
Quay, Sara E. “’Lucrece the chaste': The Construction of Rape in Shakespeare’s ‘The Rape of Lucrece.’”Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 3-17.
Shakespeare, William. “The Rape of Lucrece.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems. Ed. Colin Burrow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 237-338. Print.

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