On the final day of UN Women’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, we profile Rhiannon Graybill, an Assistant Professor at Rhodes College, who works closely with fellow academic activists Beatrice Lawrence and Meredith Minister on gender-based violence. Look out for their forthcoming edited volume Rape Culture and Religious Studies: Critical and Pedagogical Engagements (Lexington Books).
Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?
My name is Rhiannon Graybill and I’m an assistant professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. At Rhodes, I am also the director of the interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies program.
What’s your involvement with gender activism? Does your work intersect with gender activism? How?
I’m involved in gender activism in a number of ways. One of my major goals as director of Gender and Sexuality Studies is promoting scholarly work and campus awareness around gender. At Rhodes, I’ve organized events on feminism and surveillance, sexual violence on campus, and abortion activism, and I’m now working on a trans film festival event. The program also sponsors an undergraduate research symposium and a faculty scholarship group.
I’m also involved in gender activism in my research. My book, Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets is about masculinity, but to me this is always a feminist concern. Are We Not Men? uses feminist and queer theory to think about the male bodies of prophets and to understand the ways in which prophecy transforms masculinity and embodiment. My next book is a study of queer feminist readings of biblical women.
I also work specifically on sexual violence, especially in collaboration with Meredith and Beatrice. The three of us met at the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, when we were part of Teaching and Learning a Workshop for Pre-Tenure Religion Faculty. We not only got along really well, but we realized we were all deeply concerned about sexual violence on campus, and working to address it in different ways. We started collaborating, beginning with a workshop for our peers at the Wabash Center and coordinating some on-campus activities (I organized a workshop for my colleagues about teaching about rape in the Bible and classical literature). Then we put together a couple of publications, one for Teaching Theology and Religion and one for the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. We also organized a panel at the AAR/SBL Annual meeting in 2016. Now we’re co-editing a volume entitled Rape Culture and Religious Studies: Critical and Pedagogical Perspectives with Lexington Books.
How does or could The Shiloh Project relate to your work and activism?
I’m so excited about The Shiloh Project! These issues are so important, and we need as many people working on them and talking about them as possible. It’s also really exciting to me to be able to be involved in international conversations around these issues, as I’m mostly familiar with the U.S. context. We have some peculiarities to our system, like the way that Title IX (the federal law about equal access in education that’s used to justify a lot of sexual violence policies) works. Thinking globally helps us gain perspective, as well as think about possible alternatives. I’m also really interested in The Shiloh Project’s work on popular culture, as well as spiritualism and transphobia. I can’t wait to see what you all produce!
How are you going to get active to resist gender-based violence and inequality?
This is the time to do it! Things have seemed pretty terrible on a gender front in the U.S. lately, but in a funny way I’m heartened by the outpouring of sexual harassment and assault allegations in the media and politics. I think it’s possible this might lead to some change. At the very least, people in authority are beginning to hear what we’ve been saying for decades – longer than that! I also think popular culture provides an interesting, if complicated, feminist space. I’m going to keep studying and teaching about it; I think teaching students is one great avenue for feminist activism.
Follow the links to read more of Rhiannon’s work on sexual violence: