My freshmen read four texts as a whole class (more or less one each quarter). This year, the selections we have read so far (including what we are currently reading) are:
- The Odyssey by Homer
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Some things just seem to keep coming up.
In The Odyssey, Penelope is required to stay 100% faithful to Odysseus or give up and remarry, even though he may be dead. Even though he spent 10 years in Calypso’s bed.
In Of Mice and Men, Curley’s nameless wife isn’t allowed to as much as talk to the men. Even while Curley is at a prostitution house.
We’re only in Act I of Romeo & Juliet. Already, we see Rosaline, the nurse and Juliet’s* virginity being addressed and conflated with child-bearing and marriage. Even as Romeo is encouraged to get over his love sickness by sleeping with someone. Anyone will do, really.
I’m proud of my students for having intelligent conversations about this. I’m happy they can find parallels from these books to the double standards they see all around them in their own lives. Them being able to see this and talk about it makes me happy for the future they will help create.
But I’m ready to read a classic novel with my freshmen that doesn’t have a sexist double standard as a recurring part of the book.
Up next: To Kill a Mockingbird. That doesn’t have anything in it that’s a double standard between the genders or races, right?
*This is the only time I don’t use the Oxford comma. It doesn’t happen often, and I’m kind of saddened by the need to omit it here. I do love me some Oxford comma.