Editor's Note: Guest blogger Ashley Myers '19 of Winchester, Massachusetts, is majoring in English with a concentration in fiction writing, and minoring in Classics and Psychology. She is the president of Cadenza, the literary magazine on campus, a member of Relay for Life, and an editor-in-chief and writer for the Odyssey Online. Writing is her passion, and she wouldn't want to pursue it anywhere other than Conn.
I would imagine I’m not alone in the childlike excitement I feel when my various courses seem to intersect. It’s a “wow” moment that reminds me why I chose a liberal arts education—I have the incredible opportunity to take a wide range of classes and see how they relate to one another, almost like magic.
This past spring, I found a multiplicity of common threads among three of my classes, “Intro to Film Studies,” “Ancient Comedy,” and “Beauty Stand Still Here”. The largest thread being the role of women, a key theme that we explored in film, plays, novels, and epic poetry. In Professor Reich’s class, “Intro to Film Studies,” there were two films in particular that stood out to me as being focused on women: “Mulholland Drive” and “Before the Rain.” The women in the former are sexualized and used by men, while those in the latter are similarly used, but moreso for comfort and servitude, rather than sexual gratification. In this class, I learned how to detect misogyny by analyzing the formal elements of the films, instead of skimming what was explicit on the surface. The lighting, the framing, the sound; it is all purposeful and can speak to the overall argument of a film.
Inequality was also an issue we discussed in Professor Papathanasopoulou’s class, “Ancient Comedy.” The Roman playwright Plautus, often wrote non-speaking roles for women or cast them as prostitutes being bought by lustful men. In his comedy, “Pseudolus,” a boorish pimp, Ballio, boasts of beating his slaves, one of whom is a mute woman of desirability to a young Athenian. She is solely there to be a possession, not to have a defining personality or her own thoughts. “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes, a playwright of Ancient Greece, does the opposite, giving women a voice while challenging their domestic role. The women go on a sex strike to coerce the men into ending the war in favor of peace. They take over the Acropolis and reveal they’ve been listening to the men talk of money and war and have opinions that they have not vocalized until now. Yet, at the end of the comedy, the female embodiment of peace is still objectified, as she represents the land being divided up among the men.
Speaking of Aristophanes, he sparked the first of my “wow” moments of the spring semester. Shortly after reading Aristophanes in “Ancient Comedy,” we read Plato’s characterization of the Greek playwright in his text, “Symposium,” for Professor Myers’ class, “Beauty Stand Still Here.” I am an English major and a Classics minor, “Beauty Stand Still Here” falling under both of those categories was fortuitous. It was a wonderful, compelling class that delved into the significance of beauty, time, eternity, and more in works by Homer, Plato, Augustine, Dante, Goethe, Mann, and Woolf. In Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” a completely different kind of woman from those encountered in the aforementioned films and plays is represented. Mrs. Ramsay is arguably the main character of the novel, though we get several perspectives due to the free indirect discourse style. Yes, Mrs. Ramsay is revered for her immense, incomparable beauty, but she is more than her appearance, she is the glue that holds all of the other characters together, their own personal lighthouse to guide them.
It was fascinating to study women in so many varying mediums, as well as from vastly different periods in time—from Ancient Greece and Rome, to post-World War I, all the way to Macedonia in the 1990s.
If you haven’t been doing so already, I urge you to tease out the common threads among your classes to get the most out of them. Perhaps, in doing so, you might see that some of those threads are woven into the complex fabric of society today.