Marilyn B. Skinner
For students of women and gender in antiquity, the “Feminism & Classics” conference series has become one of the principal opportunities to present new discoveries in a constantly expanding field of research. Inaugurated in 1992 with an event hosted by the University of Cincinnati and followed by meetings at Princeton University (1996), the University of Southern California (2000), and the University of Arizona (2004), these quadrennial scholarly gatherings are frequently also the venue where tensions emerging from the intersection of feminism and classical studies are first recognized, formulated, and debated. Interrelationships between personal experience, professional identity, and the critical “voice”; the actuality of perceived historical continuity in structures of oppression; weights to be assigned to race, ethnicity, class, and gender as objects of inquiry in Greco-Roman studies; application of queer theory along with feminist theory to broaden perspectives on ancient gender ideology; acculturation of the next generation of feminist classicists—these issues, which have preoccupied classicists during the past decade, were all initially broached at “Feminism & Classics” conferences. Such occasions accordingly tend to be acutely forward-looking in theme and objectives, taking cues from what is currently happening in the field and projecting developments well beyond present horizons.
The organizing committee of “Feminism & Classics IV” chose its theme, “Gender and Diversity in Place,” to reflect two burgeoning trends in the discipline of classical studies. One is an increasing tendency on the part of students of literature to bring material culture into conjunction with textual data. The old divide between archaeology and philology is breaking down; graduate students are amassing expert training in both areas, and literary or historical discussions consequently appeal to the evidence of artifacts or topography to bolster interpretations. The other trend is a growing awareness that physical and social environments radically shape configurations of gender and affect women’s lives in distinct ways.
In our Call for Papers, therefore, we solicited proposals for panels, workshops, and individual presentations exploring notions of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality as they were defined in particular areas of the ancient Greek- and Latin-speaking world and its border regions. Because areas of intense cross-cultural interaction, such as Greco-Roman Egypt and the Near East, seemed especially fertile grounds for the exploration of the intersection between ancient conceptualizations of gender and ethnicity, we invited contributions from specialists in those areas as well as from trained classicists. We sought submissions from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and welcomed proposals employing a spectrum of methodological tools. The resulting program combined an impressive temporal and geographical range—from Linear B inscriptions to Coptic papyri, from marriage customs in Magna Graecia to law in Dura-Europus—with a fascinating diversity of approaches.
To give readers an impression of the breadth, energy, and intellectual ferment of the conference, we have posted on this web page a selection of its plenary session panels, workshops, and individual papers. We have chosen Diotima as our site of publication because we believe the topics addressed by the various presenters may be of interest to specialists in all areas of research on women and gender, as well as the general public.
Two plenary session panels lead off these proceedings. Historically, papyrology has been a comparatively small subdiscipline within the field of classical studies. The three presentations included in the panel “Papyrology, Gender, and Diversity” demonstrate the singular importance of papyrological finds for social historians seeking to understand the day-to-day experience of ancient women in Egypt and the Near East—cultures less documented in the literature than those of Rome and Greece, because they existed at one remove from it. The second panel, “Changing Lenses: The Politics and Discourse of Feminism in Classics,” again raises a persistent issue at “Feminism & Classics” conferences: the place of feminism in the scholarship and pedagogy of Classics and related disciplines. Four speakers and a respondent take up the question of whether feminism, as both a tool of critical analysis and a political stance, is losing its edge within our field, replaced by broader (and less controversial) preoccupations such as “gender” and “masculinity.”
Workshops are another traditional feature of “Feminism & Classics” conferences. Presenters hand out materials on the subject to be addressed, give a brief talk explaining key points, and then facilitate audience discussion. Scarcely a year before the fourth conference took place, the United States Supreme Court had handed down its historic decision in Lawrence v. Texas declaring the unconstitutionality of state sodomy laws and, in the process, overturning the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick ruling that defended criminalization of homosexual conduct on the basis of precedents going back to antiquity. Since the majority opinion in Lawrence cited historical research grounded upon Michel Foucault’s investigations of Greek and Roman sexuality, it seemed timely to offer a disciplinary workshop on “Classical Perspectives on Gay Rights and the Constitution.” The two papers in this session, which was, not surprisingly, heavily attended, investigated the historical background and ramifications of Lawrence and traced the links between research on the construction of sexuality in antiquity and current legal opinion on the rights of homosexuals.
In a second workshop, two knowledgeable instructors shared their experiences dealing with gender issues in the classroom. In “Sacred Cows,” TammyJo Eckhart relates how she presented literary and visual materials on Greek masculinity, including evidence for such sensitive practices as pederasty, and how undergraduates responded. Eckhart’s essay suggests practical ways to defuse the gender tensions surrounding the classroom discussion of masculinities that are identified by Barbara Gold in her more theoretical paper (6–7). Under the same rubric, Batya Weinbaum describes her attempts to acquaint students with the ancient world using feminist-oriented pedagogical approaches. Both papers should give teachers of courses on women and gender in antiquity many new ideas for effective classroom interaction.
Finally, a handful of session papers are included here. Their common bond is marginality: locally specific gender arrangements at mainland Pylos and Cretan Knossos in Bronze Age prehistory; the legal and economic position of women living in Dura-Europus, a settlement on the frontiers of the Roman world; the theme of exile in Ovid’s poetry, foreshadowed in the plaints of his abandoned heroines long before he himself was relegated to Tomis, a Greek colony on the shore of the Black Sea; and two papers on female rituals at Epizephyrian Locri in Magna Graecia, famous even in antiquity for the special part that matriliny played in determining nobility and the centrality of bridal cult to religious life.
Although these papers are still works-in-progress, they have been peer reviewed anonymously and carefully read by members of the Editorial Board of Diotima. We appreciate the advice and encouragement generously supplied by all those readers. We also owe much to Stoa co-editor Anne Mahoney for invaluable technical advice at the beginning of this project. Finally, our deepest thanks to Editor-in-Chief Ross Scaife for his initial invitation to consider publishing these proceedings and his co-operation and assistance throughout. In allowing the participants of “Feminism & Classics IV” to disseminate their ideas to the widest possible audience, Diotima continues to be an invaluable resource for all students of women and gender in antiquity.