Queering the Bible – Pt.1

In the second of our student work showcases, we’re delighted to introduce the work of Ruby Johnson, who is studying towards a Bachelor of Arts here at the University of Auckland. Ruby is one of our leading members of Hidden Perspectives NZ, and has been actively involved over the past year, helping us organise and host events.

Ruby’s essay comes from one of her courses this year, THEOREL 101G: The Bible in Popular Culture. She chose to look at the biblical character of Delilah, who is often (mis)presented in pop culture as a dangerous femme fatale. Ruby applies a queer critical analysis to Delilah’s biblical persona, using pop culture images in art to explore this theme in more detail. Read – and enjoy.

Hedy Lamar Delilah (Paramount 1949)
Hedy Lamarr as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (Paramount 1949)

Straight Queers? Delilah and the Power of Non-Normative Female Sexuality

Ruby Johnson

The character of Delilah as described in Judges 16 has become an archetypal figure of dangerous femininity, generally ascribed the characteristics of a femme fatale. Cultural afterlives of Delilah reflect this, presenting Delilah as a duplicitous and seductive figure who leads Samson to his doom. Paintings by various artists play further with this image, showing Delilah as not only sexually seductive, but also in some sense a figure of maternal care towards Samson. Does a close examination of Judges 16 support the images given in these afterlives? Arguably it does not, and a critical eye towards Judges 16 and the images springing from it is necessary to get a better picture of why this characterisation of Delilah is so persistent. From here, we can begin to look at what the sexualisation of Delilah represents in terms of gender politics, and begin to look through what I think is the most appropriate lens for criticising Delilah’s cultural afterlives – a queer critical analysis.

Judges 16 provides scant information about Delilah, her background, character, or indeed even her motivations (Blyth, 2011). She is introduced simply as a woman of unspecified origin, living in the Valley of Sorek whom Samson has fallen in love with (Judges 16:4). Notice, we aren’t told whether Delilah reciprocates this love- already her agency doesn’t appear to be of particular concern. We are told then that Delilah is offered eleven hundred shekels by the Philistines in order to find out the secret of Samson’s strength so that they can defeat him (Judges 16:5), and immediately following this we are given a description of Delilah trying to get this information out of Samson (Judges 16:6-15)

The typical narrative given in cultural afterlives of this story is that Samson and Delilah are in a romantic and sexual relationship and that Delilah coldly betrays Samson for ‘hard cash’. Where is the real support for this version of events though? We only know three things: that Samson ‘loves’ Delilah; that Delilah is asked to help subdue Samson and is offered financial inducement; and that Delilah does indeed assist the Philistines. There are a lot of gaps here left to fill and questions left unanswered. Does Delilah love Samson back? Are they actually in a sexual relationship? When the Philistines ask for Delilah’s help, is she actually assisting them because of the reward offered, or does she simply want rid of Samson too? Samson has already been shown to be unpopular with the people of Gaza to the point of them wanting him dead (Judges 16:2). It is entirely possible that Delilah sympathises and wants him gone for similar reasons and the fact that we aren’t told about Delilah’s ethnic origins further compounds this.

The details that have been proffered to “fill in” these gaps appear to serve another agenda apart from just fleshing out the story (Blyth, 2011). Western narratives about women typically seek to fit them into the “mother/whore” dichotomy, whereby they are sorted into those who are pure and those who are impure. The idea that Delilah is a dangerous, seductive, sexually promiscuous woman frames her as the latter and largely absolves Samson of any blame in a way which would not be possible if Delilah was presented as demure and virginal. Samson is the hero of the story and if a woman is to stand against him, then she needs to be shown in the most uncharitable light possible.

Gustave Moreau, Dalila
Gustave Moreau, Dalila (c.1896)

The painting of Delilah by Gustav Moreau (‘Dalila’, c.1896; see above), tellingly exhibited under the original title of ‘Biblical Courtesan’, is a good starting place when looking at how Delilah is portrayed in art. She sits reclining in luxurious surrounds, with one bared breast and jewels adorning the other bare areas of her skin – her shoulders, arms, and legs (Exum, 1996). Both the former title of the painting and the way Delilah is dressed show her to be a prostitute; the idea that she accepts money for sexual services has already been planted and it can further be assumed by the viewer that such a woman would willingly take money from the Philistines in the same way she would take money from a client. ‘Samson and Delilah’ (c.1609-10; see below) painted by Peter Paul Rubens similarly shows Delilah bare-breasted, with Samson lying in her lap in a state of undress suggestive of them having made love (Exum, 1996). The crone in the background represents the character of a brothel madam, and again makes the suggestion that Delilah is a prostitute, who, in betraying Samson, is merely performing another service for payment.

Rubens, Samson and Delilah (c.1609)
Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah (c.1609-10)

Another feature of Rubens’s painting is the sense of tenderness Delilah appears to convey toward Samson. She rests her hand gently on his back as he sleeps, her eyes fixed on him in a sort of lovingly maternal gaze (Exum, 1996). This stands in stark contrast to the idea that she is coldly betraying Samson and serves as an interesting blurring of this “mother/whore” dichotomy. There is a palpable angst here about female power; the idea that a woman’s maternal tenderness brings out vulnerability in an otherwise invulnerable man, and an acknowledgement that women, while marginalised in the public sphere are capable of hurting men intensely within the private sphere.

Solomon_Samson_and_Delilah
Solomon Joseph Solomon, ‘Samson and Delilah’ (1887)

Solomon Joseph Solomon’s ‘Samson and Delilah’ (1887) furthers this anxiety by displaying the scene almost as if it were a castration; a crazed looking Delilah gleefully dangling Samson’s severed manhood in front of him. Indeed, the entire story of Samson and Delilah reeks of castration anxiety and the idea that in a moment of male vulnerability, a vengeful woman with a razor can render a man permanently impotent. Regardless of how much power men wield over women physically and socially, a man who loves and lusts after women will always be in some sense emotionally and sexually at their mercy.

Carol Smith (1997) puts forth the idea that power is itself the theme of Judges 13-16 and that Delilah’s story should be viewed through this lens. The central idea of the story, that an otherwise invulnerable man can be brought low by a woman who is his lesser in the gender hierarchy, is just one example of power dynamics at play; the Philistines hold power over the Israelites, and their gods Dagon and Yahweh struggle for dominance. Delilah’s story is remarkable precisely because it shows that she accomplishes what the Philistine men were unable to in subduing Samson. The later “filling in” of details in the story actually enhances this narrative; by making Delilah a sexually seductive prostitute, artists and storytellers have played on male fears of emasculation and humiliation by a socially inferior yet irresistible woman.

Smith’s power-based analysis of Delilah’s story brings to mind Cathy Cohen’s ideas about “queerness” as way of viewing the world in terms of overlapping structures of power and the ways in which individuals resist these structures (Cohen, 1997). While “queer” has typically been construed to be synonymous with “LGBT”, Cohen argues that such an understanding places all heterosexual people on one side of a power structure in a way which may not represent reality for some of those people. For example, a single mother who has children by two different men may be heterosexual and therefore not “queer” in a traditional sense, but she is still likely to be victimised and looked down on for her perceived sexual morality. In this sense, she is still marginalised in her relationship to the power structures of gender and sexuality and is therefore still, in a very real sense “queer”. It is the non-normativity of a person’s gender or sexuality and the relationship to power stemming from this which makes one “queer”, not necessarily the person’s sexual object choice.

Cute S&D
A heteronormative Samson and Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 classic movie

The framing of Delilah as a prostitute, and therefore a sexual deviant, functions similarly to “queer” her. While the sexual encounters in her afterlives (we must remember – there is still no actually mention of her sexuality in Judges 16 itself) are explicitly heterosexual, Delilah’s implicit status as an “impure” woman still excludes her from the respectability of hegemonic heterosexual power. She will never sit on the “mother” side of the “mother/whore” divide. In their use of sexual seduction for personal gain, prostitutes are a symbol of everything that undermines male authority; the most powerful man in the world can be brought to his knees by his bedwarmer. Delilah’s sexuality is, in this view, simply her way of resisting marginalisation and leveraging the form of power which she has as effectively as possible.

S&D poster
Desirable but dangerous Delilah

Ultimately, instead of being viewed as a figure exemplifying the duplicitous and fickle nature of women, Delilah can be viewed as a figure of feminine agency. In a story which otherwise revolves around almost comically exaggerated physical strength, her afterlives represent the interpersonal dimension of power and how even those who are marginalised are able to resist by application of the forms of power which society allows them. Delilah, rather than being seen as tragically slandered by her association with the femme fatale, should be celebrated as a figure whose afterlives, however unintentionally, queer heteronormative power dynamics – she did, after all, lay low the Bible’s most masculine of men.

 

References

All references to the Biblical text are from the NIV.

Blyth, C. (2011). Cultural representations of Delilah… a whore or more? Retrieved from https://aucklandtheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/cultural-representations-of- delilah-a-whore-or-more/

Cohen, C.J. (1997). Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics? GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 3(4), 437-465. doi: 10.1215/10642684-3-4-437

Exum, J.C. (1996). Plotted, Shot and Painted. London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Smith, C. (1997). Samson and Delilah: A Parable of Power? Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 76, 45-57.

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Queer (Mis)Representations in Advertising

As our academic year comes to an end, we thought it would be a good idea to share some of the wonderful academic work done by student members of Hidden Perspectives NZ, who enjoy integrating queer theory and issues around queer identities into their course assignments.

Starting us off is HPNZ member, Bloom, who is an international student at the University of Auckland, originally hailing from Thailand. Bloom has just completed a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Sociology, and  intends to continue her studies next year, taking an Honours degree in Development Studies. She eventually hopes to work in areas of social justice and advocacy back in Thailand. She wrote the essay below as an assignment for one of her Sociology papers last year, and kindly agreed to let us share it here on the HPNZ website. We hope you enjoy it.

NB: This essay includes discussions of homophobia and biphobia, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and sexual abuse.

“Hot Lesbians” in Ads Are Slowly Killing Us!

by Bloom

Lesbians and bisexual women are becoming more visible than in the past thanks to the legalizing of gay marriage and the outlawing of homosexual discrimination in many countries.  Because of this, straight people may assume that we are now in a ‘safe zone’ right?  Hell no! This is not the case. There is one thing which is slowly killing us:  the mainstream media.  The media turns us into hypersexualized ‘hot lesbians’ in advertisements rather than respecting us as ‘ordinary’ human beings.  In this article, I will analyse how advertisements exploit our image to sell their products for straight men and women.   Then, I will address the consequences of portraying us in this light.

Lesbians and bisexual women are becoming more visible than in the past thanks to the legalizing of gay marriage and the outlawing of homosexual discrimination in many countries.  Because of this, straight people may assume that we are now in a ‘safe zone’ right?  Hell no! This is not the case. There is one thing which is slowly killing us:  the mainstream media.  The media turns us into hypersexualized ‘hot lesbians’ in advertisements rather than respecting us as ‘ordinary’ human beings.  In this article, I will analyse how advertisements exploit our image to sell their products for straight men and women.   Then, I will address the consequences of portraying us in this light.

For (Straight) Men: “Hot Lesbians” In Ads Are “Eye Candy”

Che men's mag
Ché Men’s Magazine

Advertisers use the ‘hot lesbians’ motifs in advertisements aimed at straight men for products including food, alcohol, and sports gear. This depiction of ‘hot lesbians’ services a male erotic fantasy and reflects heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is society’s sexist system that privileges men over women and heterosexuality over other sexualities.  It creates and sustains rigid binaries of gender and sexuality.  It instructs every aspect of life and encourages us to conform to gender and sexual norms.  According to heteronormative gender scripts, men should be active and tough, treating women as their sexual objects of desire.  Meanwhile, women are expected to be passive and to serve men physically and sexually.  Homosexuality and bisexuality are seen as deviant within these heteronormative frameworks.  However, homosexuality and bisexuality are still acceptable in some cases, as long as they remain subservient to heterosexuality. In other words, lesbians and bisexual women are ‘fine’ as long as we are objectified as ‘fun threesome sex toys’ for straight men.

Unsurprisingly, commercials aimed at men commodify us as the straight guys’ ‘eye candy’ to attract more men to buy their products.  Images of ‘hot lesbians’ reflect heteronormative ideals; the women are typically toned, thin with blonde hair, big boobs and curves. Often, they are objectified, particularly in print ads for perfume and fashion, where their full faces are not shown, but instead the camera focuses on their naked backs, legs or buttocks.  The ‘lesbians’ in these advertisements pose in an extremely erotic and sexual manner, typically kissing and caressing each other.  Their postures and behaviours are designed to arouse their (target male) audience, rather than each other.  This is the same sexual framework often used in soft pornography.

Carl jr
Carl’s Jr. burger ad

So, for example, in one advert for fast food, two ‘sexy lesbians’ are used to sell a particular cheeseburger brand. The camera focuses on the models’ breasts and buttocks, objectifying their bodies as ‘pieces of meat’ for male consumption. Consequently, straight men are invited to see lesbian or bisexual women as a source of their erotic pleasure – a fairly common phenomenon, going by research carried out by Pornhub on top US porn search terms (see Khazan 2016).  Similarly, a study carried out among New Zealand high school boys suggests that most believe lesbianism and female-bisexuality to be nothing more than a ‘performance’ for someone else’s viewing pleasure.  As one participant commented, “I think sometimes it (girl on girl practice) is not a sexual thing. It is just to get us turned on.”   In Thailand (my home country) most Thai men think lesbians and bisexual women are “sexual objects” too.  The depiction of ‘hot queer chicks’ is not just popular on the mainstream media, but also on mainstream pornographic websites.  For instance, if you’re on Google’s Thai version and you search the word ‘lesbian’ (Thai: เลสเบี้ยน), it’ll offer you hundreds of Thai porn websites.

sexist-nikon-lesbian-advertisement
Nikon ad

For (Straight) Women:  “Hot Lesbians” Are Just a Fashion

As well as being used to sell products to men, images of ‘hot lesbians’ are also used in ads as a ‘cool’ selling point aimed at straight women. In other words, our sexualities are manipulated by advertisers as a ‘fashion’ for straight women to turn guys on.  Linking this to heteronormativity, the image of ‘hot lesbians’ is promoting a new way to objectify women’s bodies.  Under this sexist cultural system, straight women are encouraged to value their sexuality and beauty as the only ways to be recognised in this patriarchal society. To put it simply, becoming sexual commodities for straight guys is the only way for straight girls to become ‘hot’ and to achieve any social or sexual power. Straight girls consume the ads’ products because ‘girl on girl’ sexual behaviour becomes a ‘style’ that will attract male attention. In the advertisements, ‘hot lesbians’ are often depicted as conforming to certain social notions of perfect feminine beauty: they are typically sexily-dressed, toned and slim. But the sexual behaviour they show towards each other (kissing, holding hands, touching each other) is not intended to fulfil their own sexual desires, but rather serves as an act to satisfy straight male fantasies.

lesbian hoover
Samsung Navibot vacuum cleaner ad

This ‘girl-on-girl’ phenomenon has also become a popular trend among straight girls in college in the US.  According to Yost & McCarthy (2012), this is ironic, ‘because they’re engaging in sexual behaviour, which is supposed to look like they make sure no one think they’re actually lesbians, it’s just turn men on  in a party’. Young women who took part in their survey described two girls kissing as ‘just funny’ or ‘because I want the guys to look at me) (Yost and McCarthy, 2012).

Lesbians & Bisexual Women Are the Victims of this ‘Hot Lesbian’ Phenomenon

Straight men view queer women as their ‘threesome sex toys’, or a source of cheap entertainment.  Meanwhile, straight girls re-appropriate our sexualities as a cool trend to turn boys on.  Our existence as lesbian or bisexual women is therefore seen by straight people as ‘fake’. One result of this is that lesbian and bisexual women are far more likely than straight women to be the victims of sexual harassment and assault (Human Rights Campaign 2017). They are also more likely than straight women to attempt suicide and self-harm, or engage in drug or alcohol abuse (see e.g. LGBTI: National LGBTI Health Alliance 2016). There are multiple factors for why this is, including stigma and discrimination, which are not helped by degrading portrayals in advertising and the media.

As a Thai woman, I have personally felt harmed by the widespread images of ‘hot lesbians’ from Thai mainstream porno websites.  After coming out as queer, I suffered all sorts of harassment and discrimination both at my home and work in Thailand. My family and colleagues thought I was just ‘seeking attention’. My parents even blamed me for not being a good role model for my younger siblings:

“Shut up! Don’t tell anyone that you’re gay! You’ve already ruined our family’s face. I’m now ashamed by you”

“I think….you should be fixed, Bloom.”

It was hell.  I was even inappropriately “touched” by a family member.  I was extremely traumatized.  Because these things happened to me, I was too terrified to spend time with my first girlfriend publically.  This caused me to experience fear, trauma and loneliness. I almost attempted suicide by jumping out of the 2nd floor of my house.  At one stage, I tried drugs to ease my emotional pain.  All of these things happened to me because mainstream society treated me as a ‘sexual object’.

Hey! Media! Stop It! That’s Enough!

I will make this bloody clear: we are NOT ‘toys’ for straight guys. Our sexualities are NOT objects to be used to sell commodities to straight girls.  Our desires are part of who we are as normal human beings.  Depicting us as ‘hot lesbians’ for straight people’s entertainment is unacceptable. Real-life lesbians and bisexual women are being humiliated by this; it is an extremely disrespectful depiction.  As a bisexual woman, I’m writing this article to speak on behalf of every lesbian and bisexual woman who has felt the impact of this media influence; I’m urging every mainstream advertiser to please, please stop portraying us as ‘hot lesbians’ on your TV ads, posters, and billboards. We already live in a heteronormative world that is slowly killing us.

 

References

Human Rights Campaign. 2017. “Sexual Assault and the LGBTQ Community.” Human Rights Campaign. https://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-assault-and-the-lgbt-community.

LGBTI: National LGBTI Health Alliance. 2016. “The Statistics at a Glance: The Mental Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People in Australia.” http://lgbtihealth.org.au/statistics/.

Khazan, Olga. 2016. “Why Straight Men Gaze at Gay Women.” The Atlantic, 8 March. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/03/straight-men-and-lesbian-porn/472521/.

Yost, Megan R., and Lauren McCarthy. 2012. “Girls gone Wild? Heterosexual Women’s Same-Sex Encounters at College Parties.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 36 (1): 7–24. DOI: 10.1177/0361684311414818.

A note from Bloom

I am truly thankful to Carisa Showden for all of her help, support and great advice on polishing this article. Thanks to Caroline Blyth for putting this article on the blog and supporting my Rainbow International Student Rainbow Initiative, “Queer Global”. Lastly, thanks to my lovely Kiwi sister, Caitlin for helping me polishing my article. I’ve learnt a lot about English writing skills and techniques from her, not to mention learning how to speak like a Far North Kiwi XD.

Khob Khun Ka! (means thank you in Thai !!)

My Queer Research – with Jo Henderson-Merrygold

Throughout the semester we’ve hosted a series of research seminars exploring queerness and research. For our first session, in March 2017, we welcomed our visiting scholar Jo Henderson-Merrygold to share a bit about her research and what motivates her to do it. She’s currently undertaking a PhD in Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK, and her work focuses on developing genderqueer and trans* reading strategies. She is also co-director of Hidden Perspectives in the UK.

You can find out more by following Jo on Twitter – @Jo_H_M or checking out her profile page at the University of Sheffield.

Content warning: Jo’s paper covers topics including sexual themes and violence.

Goodbye…

Back in early January, as part of our MA Work-Placement Module, we started working for Hidden Perspectives, and to say that the time has flown by would be somewhat of an understatement.

Over the course of our four-month placement we have worked vigorously to build up HPNZ’s online presence and, not only have we learned a lot during the process but, more importantly, we have had a blast doing it! Of course, the placement hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows … frantic emails to each other over colour-schemes, gif/emoji choices and Word-Press’s temperamentality have occurred more than we’d like to admit! But, despite these predictable hiccups along the way, we feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to work for Hidden Perspectives. We’re so proud of all the work we’ve done and we can’t wait to see HPNZ flourish in the future. Oh, and those hiccups? Well, they served as valuable learning curves that we’re now grateful of – they have definitely made us more committed and determined to work harder to ensure that HPNZ’s online presence is as fab as it can be!

Since it feels like the end of an era for us (dramatic we know), we wanted to take this opportunity not only to say THANK YOU for giving us the chance to be a part of such a ground-breaking project, but to also say THANK YOU for your unwavering support across all the online platforms we’ve worked so hard to build. So, without further ado – this blog post is dedicated to all the work we’ve done for HPNZ. We hope you enjoy our overly nostalgic post.

Twitter

Find us at: @hperspectivesnz

A good part of our placement has been spent working on HPNZ’s social media platforms. One of our favourite parts has been our time, let loose, on the HPNZ Twitter. You know all those GIFS of cats and excitable children that suddenly appeared on your timeline? Yep – that was us! Oh, and all those Tweets about latest blog posts, events, and advertisements of HPNZ’s Instagram that started flooding in? Yep – you guessed it, that was us too! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to Tweet from the HPNZ account as it’s allowed us to advertise the work we’ve done on other platforms and it enabled us to engage with you guys. On a more serious note, working on the HPNZ Twitter has allowed us to advertise important events coming up and we’ve been able to, at times, RT interesting and important news which is relevant to the HPNZ motto of “bringing the arts and humanities out of the closet”. One thing that this experience has taught us, for example, is how to be meticulous in understanding what is suitable to be promoted on our platform – something we’re sure will be useful in the future.

 Instagram

Find us at: @hiddenperspectivesnz

If you didn’t already know from the numerous Tweets where we shamelessly advertised it, HPNZ now has an Instagram account! One of the best parts of our placement has undoubtedly been setting up the projects Instagram account. We’ve posted on the Instagram account A LOT. We’ve Instagrammed pictures from Auckland Pride and the launch event and we’ve also promoted our blog posts on there. Although our following on here is still relatively small, we’ve built the foundations to make HPNZ’s Instagram an engaging platform which will showcase all the project’s great work. The HPNZ Instagram account is something we’re eager to see grow.

WordPress

Find us: https://hperspectivesnz.wordpress.com (here)

Check out our sibling project’s blog too:  https://hiddenperspectives.org

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this site, and that’s right – we set it up! Our biggest achievement of the placement has undoubtedly been setting up the HPNZ WordPress blog and our posts on it. We’ve learned how difficult it can be to create a website when you have a particular vision in mind but are confined by things such as available themes, colour palettes, and layouts. We now understand just how much work goes into a post: how long it ACTUALLY takes to edit when technology can be (at times) very unpredictable! From setting up the blog, we’ve gained skills in web design which has been very interesting and something very different from our usual discipline – we’re sure these skills will be invaluable for the future too. We also got the chance to learn about the fantastic students and staff involved with HPNZ when we edited the blog posts and it’s been great to see others sharing our enthusiasm for the project. Most recently, Mel also produced an amazing blog post for Hidden Perspectives UK about Sarah Laing’s graphic memoir “Mansfield and Me”. You should definitely check this out (if you haven’t already!) >> http://bit.ly/2qGHorj.

We’ve done a lot of work backstage too – for example, we’ve designed what we’re hoping will be the future logo of HPNZ. We won’t bore you with the tales of the multiple admin tasks and emails though. Instead, we’d just like to, for one last time, say THANK YOU. We hope you’re just as proud as us of all the work that’s been done so far for HPNZ and we hope that, like us, you can’t wait to see what’s in store next for the project.

Thank you / whakawhetai koe

Rachel and Mel

Introducing…

*drum roll*

…It’s another introduction! We hope you’ve been enjoying our interviews with the people who have been involved with Hidden Perspectives over the past few months – we’ve certainly enjoyed getting to know them and are incredibly grateful for all their help so far.

In today’s blog post we will be introducing Harriet, so let’s meet her:

1) Hi! Please tell us about yourself – who you are and what you do

Hiya, I’m Harriet – a third year undergraduate student at the University of Auckland. I study a BA in History and Religious Studies. harriet nz

My academic interests reside specifically in the Protestant Reformation; I’m particularly interested in the ambiguous legacy left for gender relations by Martin Luther. I’m fascinated by how his conceptions of womanhood (present in his treatise On the Estate of Marriage) helped shape the gendered norms and roles that exist in Western society today.

I’m also heavily involved in a student-led movement called Thursdays In Black which is aimed with ending sexual violence.

2) What interests you about the project and why

The idea of fostering an inclusive and empowering community for LGBTI+ students where we can meet likeminded people and share our academic interests and insights with each other excites me.

3) Why do you think the project is important right now?

Because despite the fact that New Zealand is a very progressive place in terms of LGBTI+ rights, being a young queer person can still be really tough. It’s especially difficult when there is a lack of visibility of other young queer people and can make the process of coming to peace with yourself a turbulent one. As students, our university communities play a core role in our lives and for there to be a visible (and vibrant) project specifically for queer students is immensely reassuring and comforting.

4) What do you hope to get out of being a part of the project?

I hope to have productive and insightful discussions, become more empathetic and learn from others.

5) Why is it important to bring the arts and humanities out of the closet?

Because queer students and academics have a unique set of experiences which inform their work and worldview. Having these out in the open would bring enrichment and diversity to our university campus.

6) What are your hopes for the future?

That diverse sexualities and genders are both normalized and celebrated rather than stigmatized.

Introducing…

This week we’re very excited to introduce the ever fabulous pioneer behind HPNZ … Caroline Blyth!

Hi! Please tell us about yourself – who you are and what do you do?

Hello! I’m Caroline and I’m a senior lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Arts. I’m originally from Scotland and came to New Zealand six years ago to work at the University. My research and teaching here focuses mainly on gender, sexuality, and religion. I’m particularly fascinated by representations of gender, sexuality, and religion in pop culture, and the ways that religions play a role in perpetuating and challenging harmful cultural attitudes around gender and sexuality.

What is your role in Hidden Perspectives NZ? 

I got involved in Hidden Perspectives NZ after learning about the fabulous (and original) Hidden Perspectives project at the University of Sheffield. I wanted to start something similar at Auckland and was able to do so when I took up the role of Student Equity Liaison for the Faculty of Arts. Working with the brilliant Chip Matthews and Zoe Henry (who are both in the Arts Student Development and Engagement Team), we decided to launch Hidden Perspectives NZ – a student-led project which provides a safe and inclusive platform for queer student voices in Arts. We hope that through this, we will build a social and academic community where together, we can celebrate the diversity and inclusivity (the queerness!) of the Arts.

Why do you think Hidden Perspectives is important?

When I was a student (many moons ago), there was no visible queer presence on my University campus – any LGBT groups that existed stayed in the background and so you had to actively go in search of them. As a young queer woman, who was still trying to work out who she was, I simply didn’t have the confidence to seek out these groups, and so found campus life quite an isolating and lonely experience. I don’t want any student in Arts at Auckland to feel like that – to feel that they can’t be themselves, or to feel that there’s no one around they can talk to. So a major focus of HPNZ will be to make our queer community both visible and welcoming. One of the students at our HPNZ launch made a poster that said ‘I love Hidden Perspectives because I know I’m not alone’. That, for me, sums up why the project is so very, very important.

What are your future hopes and plans for Hidden Perspectives NZ?

My dream is to see our HPNZ community continue to grow in size and visibility. Already, people in the Faculty of Arts and beyond are starting to learn about it and we are getting some really positive feedback from staff and students. Our contact list and Facebook group are growing at a healthy rate, and we are seeing more engagement through our social media presence, which is really heartening. We already have a fantastic core group of students who are involved in planning and advertising our events, and I hope more students will take on this role, as we want HPNZ to be as student-led as possible. In terms of future events, I just hope that they continue to be as successful as they have been so far! We have lots of things planned this year (movie screenings, social events, seminars) and if we can sustain the high levels of interest and engagement we’ve seen so far, then I will be very happy.

What have you learned from your involvement in Hidden Perspectives NZ?

I’ve met so many wonderful students through my role in HPNZ, and they’ve really inspired my commitment to this project. Aotearoa is becoming an increasingly tolerant society towards diverse genders and sexualities, but young queer people still face a lot of challenges – the students I’ve met are both resilient and committed to positive change, and I’m learning a huge amount from them.

Introducing…

Following on from our last post, we would like to introduce you to another student involved with Hidden Perspectives in anticipation of this week’s launch event. Introducing… Lara!

Hi! Please tell us about yourself – who you are and what you do?

Hey, my name is Lara, I am a student (of many things) and a Freelance Journalist. I’m also a Lesbian.

What interests you about the project and why?

I want to create a more engaging academic space for Queer-related content and ideas.

Why do you think the project is important right now?

Because we still live in a society where certain members have less than full and equal rights under our laws.

What do you hope to get out of being a part of the project?

I hope to gain some experience in events, engaging in wider issues and networking.

Why is it important to bring the arts and humanities out of the closet?

Because the Arts and Humanities is a vibrant and diverse faculty in itself, whereby we need to engage further with the diversity in our subjects just as much as the diverse array of subjects on offer.

What would you like to see on the HPNZ blog/social media?

I would like to see appropriate papers or web seminars.

What are your hopes for the future? 

That we can all be equitable and free, no matter who we are.

Please share with us anything else you’d like to tell us about…

I’m very interested in my own personal culture, something which drives my understanding of the wider human condition.

Introducing…

In anticipation of our official launch on the 16th, we’d like to start introducing  you to fellow members/advocates of our sparkly new project. Kickstarting this is… Nevin.

Hi! Please tell us a little bit about yourself…

Hey, hey – I’m Nev! I’m currently doing my Masters in documentary film production and  I also hold a Bachelor of Theology degree. My main interest is the history of the early church and expressions of queer sexualities in scripture and the contemporary media.


What interests you about the project and why do you think it’s important right now?

In my opinion, having a platform where students and professors can come together and share their opinions on the same level is pretty unique. It begins to subvert some of the more superficial power-dynamics on campus and encourages equal field of discussion. It surprised me that the Faculty of Arts has taken this long to create a group specifically catering to LGBT interests. It’s long overdue for voices/opinions to be more visible around campus!

 

Why do you think that it’s important to bring the arts and humanities out of the closet?

It’s a bit of a stereotype that the Faculty of Arts caters to LGBT students, our interests, and aspirations.  Providing a visible academic/social platform would make students more comfortable and inspire a larger number to explore subject matter that is traditionally outside the interests/scope of the mainstream.

 

What would you like to see on our blog/social media and what do you hope to get out of being a part of the project?

Being a film student, I’d love to see a bit more queer engagement with mainstream film/media in general as more often than not our community tends to look to the indie/art-house or we are relegated to predominant walking/talking stereotypes. Bringing a queer perspective to the superhero/sci-fi/fantasy genres begins to open the space for alternative ways of viewing as well as increasing the potential for more accurate portrayals on screen. Being a part of the project, I’d love to see more student-driven/forum events happening where there is substantial time and space to open up for a good conversation about less mainstream ideas.

 

What are your hopes for the future?

I’m hoping that my documentary receives interest from a few international film festivals next year. I’d love to present something as part of the Hidden Perspectives program once production has properly kicked off!

 

Introducing our UK recruits!

The build up to the launch of Hidden Perspectives has been exciting for all involved and we are eagerly anticipating the launch event next Thursday – hope to see you there! Our partner project in Sheffield has been working closely with us and we are delighted to have Jo Henderson-Merrygold, a member of the Sheffield project, here in New Zealand with us at the moment. We have also been fortunate enough to have two MA student interns from the UK working with us alongside their studies. Melanie Smiley and Rachel Davies are currently managing our website and social media.

So let’s meet them:

Hello! Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?

Rachel: Hello! I’m Rachel Davies and I’m an MA English Literature Student at The University of Sheffield. I completed my undergraduate degree at Sheffield this summer Rach photo HPand, as I loved my time in the City as well as in the School of English so much, I have decided to stay on to complete my Masters. I am interested in revealing ‘hidden’ narratives in Literature and have pursued this line of interest since the start of my time at University. So far in my MA I have continued to explore this area in my assessments and so working with Hidden Perspectives New Zealand has given me the chance to broaden this research even further. My first undergraduate essay discussed allegorical homosexuality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and my last undergraduate essay explored the hidden homosexual narratives in Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier alongside Katherine Mansfield’s At the Bay and Bliss. My work has so far explored ‘hidden’ narratives in a multitude of genres and periods and for my MA I am focusing on researching these narratives more specifically within the Hellenistic era.

Mel: Hello! I’m Mel and I’m studying an MA in English Literature with the hopes of getting into publishing somewhere down the line (probably after I’ve managed to get the travelling bug out of my system). It’s my fourth year here in Sheffield in the UK, as I completed my BA in Language and Literature with the University in 2016. I’m really excited to be working with Hidden Perspectives and to be a part of bringing the arts out of the closet! My main interest is in looking at the way literature has been used as a tool to portray trauma.

How did you get involved with Hidden Perspectives? Tell us about your internship.

Mel: Work experience is a key part of landing a job with any publishmel photo HPing company and so I was keen to take part in the work placement module on offer with the Sheffield MA programme. Hidden Perspectives stood out to me because the workload included event organising, writing and editing articles, website management and the opportunity to get involved with the new Hidden Perspectives’ launch in New Zealand. Experience in these areas is invaluable, particularly with how competitive publishing can be. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity and to be able to take part in setting up a brand new venture for Hidden Perspectives abroad. However, I was somewhat disappointed this opportunity didn’t involve an all expenses paid trip to New Zealand…

Rachel: As part of the MA programme this year we were able to select a work placement module for the second semester. We were given a plethora of options and asked to defend our first choice in a 200 word statement. I consider myself very lucky as Hidden Perspectives was my first choice. I’m very excited to be able to take part in a placement which not only provides me with the chance to continue my academic research but also gives me invaluable work experience. During my internship, I am hoping that Mel and I will be able to successfully set up and manage both the Hidden Perspectives’ blog and Social media and also manage events for the UK project.

What else are you working on at the moment? What are your hopes after your MA and this internship?

Rachel: During my first term I have taken two modules – ‘The Analysis of Film’ and ‘Love, Death & Destiny: The Ancient Novel’. For ‘The Analysis of Film’, I analysed how the contemporary romantic-comedy (500) Days of Summer subverts the conventions of Classicism by looking at how gender is constructed and portrayed in the film. For ‘Love, Death & Destiny’, I investigated why homosexuality is a marginalised narrative within Hellenistic novels and focused on Longus’s work Daphnis and Chloe. I am hoping to continue working with Ancient Greek Literature for my Dissertation and I am thinking of applying for my PhD within the next few years to continue interrogating homosexuality in the ancient novels.  

Mel: I have recently completed a module called Confession where I have explored different literary forms of confession throughout history, beginning with St. Augustine. I had an assessment at the end of this where I decided to study the diaries of Anne Lister and explore how they have shaped the discourse of lesbian history. The diaries were written in the nineteenth century and explore Lister’s sexual identity as a lesbian in explicit detail. Her diaries have had a massive impact on studies into female sexuality and gender and have been an invaluable resource for lesbian history today. After researching such a powerful female figure and seeing how far the discovery of her sexuality went towards discrediting the once common belief that lesbianism didn’t exist at this time, it is easy to see how important it is that we bring more pieces of art out of the closet and away from the normative gaze. I think uncovering these lost narratives and challenging a history that only caters to one identity is crucial and I’m really excited to be a part of it.

Rachel, what interests you about Hidden Perspectives in New Zealand?

I think Hidden Perspectives’ research is incredibly important and its platform provides a voice for challenging the norm. The NZ branch of the project is very relevant to my research interests in that it looks at bringing the ‘arts and humanities’ out of the closet. It is important that students feel as though they have a safe space to discuss issues of sexuality, gender, class and race, which is what this project specifically aims to do. Working on Hidden Perspectives New Zealand is going to be an exciting venture for me and will hopefully improve my skills in social media and networking.

Mel, what are your hopes for the future of Hidden Perspectives?

My current hopes for the future of Hidden Perspectives are that me and Rachel are helpful additions to the team and manage to run things smoothly! Aside from this however, I hope it continues to build in strength and picks up an even larger following online, in Sheffield and with the new team in New Zealand.

I’m very grateful for this opportunity and thank you for having me!