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Brutality and Resistance: Portraying Gendered and Sexualized Violence in Literature and Film

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Organizer: Kristin Pitt

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The history of literature and film is strewn with the brutalized bodies of women, queer people, and trans and non-binary people. Sometimes condemned, sometimes celebrated, such violence can occupy a central place in the meaning-making of the artistic work, but it might also serve only to reveal the character traits of perpetrating villains and rescuing heroes. This seminar aims to explore the effects of gendered and sexualized violence in literature and film and to theorize our approaches to its study. Are there ways to incorporate violence into literature and film that are more ethical or effective than others, and by what measures? Are there ways to analyze violence in literature and film that are more productive than others, and by what measures? Possible questions to consider include:
  • What, if anything, can literature or film do to end or reduce gendered and sexualized violence?

  • Does the aestheticization or sexualization of gendered violence in literature or film necessarily constitute the promotion of gendered violence?

  • How do literature and film defamiliarize gendered and sexualized violence, and how to they normalize it?

  • What is literature and film’s relationship to such contemporary movements as #MeToo and #NiUnaMenos? To past movements advocating an end to violence on the basis of gender or sexual orientation?

  • In what ways might the representation of gendered or sexualized violence serve as a call to action to bring about its end, or in what ways might it numb our individual or collective response to brutality?

  • How might depictions of sexualized or gendered lead to a greater understanding of the survivors and victims, and how might it be deployed to further erase the experiences of those subjected to violence?

  • How does our own study of literary and cinematic violence participate in the commodification or celebration of gendered and sexualized violence, or resist it?


All time periods, genres, modes, forms, theoretical approaches, and linguistic and cultural traditions welcome. For questions or more information, please contact Kristin Pitt at kepitt@uwm.edu .

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