“Fuck Zeus,” Ms. Lynne Said in Fourth Period English
And Tommy tittered. Sean sat up at the sound. The rest of us looked at Ms. Lynne in her checkered shirt and Catwoman glasses, too stunned to respond.
“I’m sorry?” Suzie said.
Ms. Lynne sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t have dropped an f-bomb, but Zeus was an a-hole.”
Tommy tittered again. In a minute he’ll be drooling, I thought, but even the wastes of space at the back of the class were listening after the “a-hole.”
“But, like, he’s a god,” Mason said with his Harvard mouth. “He can do whatever he wants. Isn’t that, like, the point?”
“That is absolutely not the point,” said Ms. Lynne in her smart skirt, and I thought Mason was going to cry, like he wouldn’t get in an Ivy now that Ms. Lynne had corrected him. “The point is I’m supposed to teach this trash, the message of which is nothing other than it’s ok to rape people if you’re powerful.”
She sat on the edge of her desk. Tommy was waiting for her to say fuck again. Later, he’d tell everyone about it in the locker room and we’d all remember that wonderful word rolling off her strawberry lips.
Her small black boots swinging, Ms. Lynne went on, ticking points off her fingers like she didn’t need them anymore.
“He came to Europa disguised as a bull. So not only do we have no problem teaching children about rape, but bestiality seems to be fine as well. He raped Leda as a swan, so there’s that again. Then Hera, who’s his half-sister.” She squared her glasses. “Danae he raped in the form of golden rain.”
“Do you mean to say,” Tommy said, “that was the first golden shower?”
Ms. Lynne had no time for Tommy. “I mean to say that Zeus used every means imaginable to violate women. As did Hades and Poseidon and Odin. Every mythology has its misogyny. Cassandra was raped. So was Persephone and Philomena. Even Medusa with her stone-face and snake-hair, so don’t tell me that how a woman dresses has anything to do with it.
“Look,” Ms. Lynne said, rising up off the edge of her desk with her short black hair and small hoop earrings. “All our beginnings go back to brutality. All our myths are of men. It’s a curricula of cocks,” she said, “ taught to boys who think with them. I’d rather we not read about masculinity and mythology that undermine equality, and that teaches boys to take what they want.”
I would have taken anything she told me to right then. Her face looked like she’d seen something none of us could understand, sitting there in our young clothes wearing our hormones all over us. None of us knew then the kind of men we’d grow up to be. Mason only wanted to know if this was going to be on the test. Tommy wanted Ms. Lynne to say fuck again, and Sean was already slipping back to sleep.
Instead she said, “So we won’t be reading this trash. I don’t care what the school board says, and college entrance exams can kiss my ass. Fuck Zeus and the bull he rode Europa on.”
Looking back, we should have felt fear instead of longing for Ms. Lynne, still in her first year teaching, her skin only slightly older than ours. But I had read ahead to see how these stories ended, so I already knew what would happen next. Mr. Strickland, walking out in the hallway, heard the f-word, and stopped to listen. A few minutes later he stuck his flat-topped head in the doorway and asked could he see Ms. Lynne in his office, and a few minutes after that Coach Crowder came in and asked what today’s lesson had been. In his coach’s shorts and thick neck he looked like a bull, so Mason said Greek Mythology and Coach Crowder said he knew all about Zeus and Chlamydia. While he waited for us to laugh, we read about Europa and Leda and how they were strewn among the stars as some kind of reward for being raped.
Ms. Lynne did not come back. She must have cleared her desk out at lunch, around the time we were wondering what had happened to her that she saw misogyny in every story. We watched her out the sixth period window carry her things to her car: a lamp, a leather journal, a snowglobe that held a small world inside. She could have been crying, but for a brief moment she looked like Atalanta or Hippolyta, a woman warrior, bruised but not beaten under the golden sun.
Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Review and Brevity, among others.