By Harry Rowe | Staff Writer
Dr. R. Marie Griffith, the John C. Danforth distinguished professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke to the Baylor community and public Tuesday about the long battle for sex education, and how it relates to the current #MeToo movement. She drew similarities from past events and related them to the current political and social climate surrounding sexual misconduct.
This year’s talk was part of a two part lecture series for the Charles Edmondson Historical Lecture Series. The series was titled “The Culture Wars in American History,” and the idea is explored in her newest book — Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.
“We have a sort of system and a method that we use for the Edmundson lectures,” said Dr. Barry Hankins, a chair and professor of history at Baylor. “When we hire a new professor, they get a turn at setting a lineup of people in their field; they get to choose five or six and the department votes on it. We get a bio of what they’ve written and where they teach.”
Griffith began her talk by thanking Baylor for its wonderful southern hospitality, as she had attended breakfast with several graduate students and felt welcomed into the community.
“Thank you all for your hospitality during my time here,” Griffith said. “I’ve really greatly enjoyed my visit.”
Griffith spoke about battles in the taboo sexual realm during the mid-20th century. She reflected on how issues such as race and sex split the Christian community. A burning hot issue during the mid-20th century, according to Griffith, included the forbiddance of interracial marriage — a long battled issue that dated back to slavery.
“This reality reminds us, if we need it, that anxieties about gender have been deeply interwoven with racism at every turn,” Griffith said.
Griffith explained this fear was largely used to pass segregation in law. Already, a split had been formed in the Christian community, many of whom were in the south. Restrictions on interracial marriages were made into law and at least 41 states had them enacted in the mid 20th century.
Griffith also talked about the battle for sex education, which had even further divided the religious right and polarized matters relating to the topic. However, her talk was largely altered by the recent news of accusations against Brett Kavanaugh relating to the Supreme Court’s senate hearing. She recalled the numerous scandals that have happened in recent memory, specifically Anita Hill’s accusations toward Clarence Thomas in 1991 and Bill Clinton’s incident with Paula Jones in 1994.
“Both of these cases expanded the nation’s interest in sexual harassment and fostered discussion of women’s’ rights, workplace boundaries and the reach of the law,” Griffith said. “But far from uniting Americans in a shared commitment to dignity for female workers, these events tore further asunder norms of civility toward women’s’ rights and resulted in an intensely partisan discussion, split by really divergent aims.”
Sexual scandal had become weaponized for both sides during those two scandals, according to Griffith. This largely can be seen today in the Kavanaugh case. History appears to have repeated itself. Griffith’s solution to the division, which she knows can’t be solved overnight, is to recognize and acknowledge the fears society has about the matter at hand.
“Finding a way to live together, despite our deep differences, really demands participation in the larger project of reckoning and engaging and willfully empathizing with others in our common humanity if we’re going to rouse a deeply fractured nation to build a bearable piece,” Griffith said.