Visiting professor gives lecture about consent in the Bible, on college campuses as part of Women’s History Month

Photo and story by Emily Blalock / Contributing Writer

Visiting professor Rhiannon Graybill gave a lecture, entitled “Fuzzy, Messy, Icky: The Edges of Consent in Biblical Narratives and Rape Culture,” in the Student Union Parliamentary Room on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

The event was sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies and the National Women’s History Month Committee.  Almost every seat in the room was taken by students, faculty and members of the community.

Lisa Gasson-Gardner, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, began the event with a moment of silence in honor of those who died in the recent attacks on Christchurch in New Zealand.

Following the period of remembrance, Philosophy and Religious Studies professor Rebekka King introduced Graybill.

“Rhiannon Graybill is an associate professor of religious studies and the Program Director of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Rhodes College.  She holds a Ph.D. in near eastern studies from the University of California of Berkeley. She’s a scholar of the Hebrew Bible whose work brings together Biblical texts and contemporary critical and cultural theory.”

Graybill is also the author of “Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets.”

Her talk was about the modern conversation that surrounds consent, especially on college campuses and using the Bible as a way to point out problems that can arise in these conversations.  She introduced her lecture by providing an outline of the key points that she wanted to discuss, including her problem with the definition of consent.

“In my talk today, I want to explore the problem of consent, as it figures in and around rape culture,” she began. “In order to do feminist readings of rape stories, we have to think critically about consent. My second goal in this talk is to begin a process of thinking about sexual violence in the biblical text that, instead of relying on consent, centers the fuzzy, the messy and the icky.”

She then explained why she intentionally chose these terms to focus on.

“Fuzzy means the ambivalence that surrounds many situations of sexual violence, an ambivalence that sometimes extends to the memories of survivors,” she said. “Messy identifies the aftermath of sexual violence, and the ways that defy a tidy resolution, or the way that survivors stories can’t always fit into a neat and preordained script about sexual violence that centers on suffering and then recovery.”

Finally, she explained her use of the word “icky.”

“All of this messiness and fuzziness creates something icky. Thinking about sexual violence beyond a narrow framework of consent is icky because it questions the queer line between sex and rape. Icky involves creeps, and gross guys, and sketchiness, and weird things that happen at parties which may or may not be rape,” she said.

She explained that the idea of consent often used on college campuses is sometimes described as something like a traffic light, green meaning go and red meaning stop. The problem with this idea, she said, is that situations are often not that simple.

“Instead of relying on a theory of traffic signals, what I’m going to do in this talk is take up the fuzzy, the messy and the icky to complexify our understandings of rape in the Bible and rape culture more generally,” she said.  “I think very strongly that if we want to get to the root of sexual violence and address rape culture, we have to think about how it’s implicated in religious traditions.”

She used three examples of Biblical stories that involve sexual violence, including the story of Dinah found in Genesis 34, the story of Tamar found in 2 Samuel 13 and the story of Lot and his daughters found in Genesis 19.

She used these stories of sexual violence to highlight the idea that social and political situations, in both a historical and modern sense, can change the meaning of consent.  For example, she said many women feel pressured to say yes because they feel that the consequences of saying no are too much.

“Consent discourses neglect intersectional analysis, especially concerning race, sexuality and disability. The right to say no has historically been denied to many categories of people. This persists today,” she explained.

Grayhill brought her lecture to a close by clarifying that she is not trying to abandon the notion of consent, but that she thinks consent, as we think about it now, is not enough.

“Rape and rape culture remain challenging, sometimes heartbreaking, matters, in the Biblical text, and even more so in the world.  And pushing back against consent discourse, my aim has not been to reject consent itself, which plays an important role in contemporary understandings of sexual encounter and sexual violence but to summon us as feminists to think beyond the limits of consent. Consent discourses flatten and erase the fuzzy and the messy and the icky,” she said.

Nataly Morales, a freshman Interior Design major, attended the event for her Religion and Society class. She said that what stood out to her the most was the title of the lecture.

“It’s just the title of it and just the biblical rape, that you really don’t think about it. I wasn’t honestly thinking about it. It’s something that you really don’t hear. You hear about the good stuff about the Bible, most of it, and you kind of avoid that side of it. So I thought it was really interesting,” she explained.

The event was free and open to the public, and the lecture was followed by a Q&A session.  Audience members were also invited to a reception at the Boulevard Bar and Grill from 5–7 p.m.

To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email

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