Warning: contains images of rape portrayed through the lens of the objectifying pornographic male gaze
When I reflected on the discovery of a rape fresco from ancient Pompeii that depicted Leda and the swan, I did not mention that the image of the rape of Leda by Zeus along with related images of Zeus raping Europa as a bull and raping Danae as a shower of gold are favorite themes in the history of western art up to the present day. Myths of rape not only give artists permission to paint or sculpt naked women but also to normalize rape as an aspect of culture. In the imagination of western artists, noble or immortal women are portrayed as passively accepting and even enjoying being raped. The fact that these women are understood to be icons of female beauty delivers the message that female beauty invites rape.
I am beginning to understand my university education as brain-washing. I was 17 years old and in my first semester of college when I was shown images of Zeus raping women on a large screen in a darkened auditorium while being told that I should pay attention to perspective, brush-work, and detail. I understood that in learning to appreciate great works of art I would be considered intelligent and sensitive by other intelligent and sensitive people whose ranks I hoped to join. I learned what I was being taught. I was not told was that my “education” was grooming me to accept rape as part of high culture and as beautiful.
Call me anything you like, but don’t ask me ever again to “appreciate” or “admire” art that celebrates rape.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Greece. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parilament of World’s Religions.