Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered

Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered

Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered

Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered


In recent years, members of legal, law enforcement, media and academic circles have portrayed rape as a special kind of crime distinct from other forms of violence. In Framing the Rape Victim, Carine M. Mardorossian argues that this differential treatment of rape has exacerbated the ghettoizing of sexual violence along gendered lines and has repeatedly led to women's being accused of triggering, if not causing, rape through immodest behavior, comportment, passivity, or weakness.

Contesting the notion that rape is the result of deviant behaviors of victims or perpetrators, Mardorossian argues that rape saturates our culture and defines masculinity's relation to femininity, both of which are structural positions rather than biologically derived ones. Using diverse examples throughout, Mardorossian draws from Hollywood film and popular culture to contemporary women's fiction and hospitalized birth emphasizing that the position of dominant masculinity can be occupied by men, women, or institutions, while structural femininity is a position that may define and subordinate men, minorities, and other marginalized groups just as effectively as it does women. Highlighting the legacies of the politically correct debates of the 1990s and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the book illustrates how the framing of the term "victim" has played a fundamental role in constructing notions of agency that valorize autonomy and support exclusionary, especially masculine, models of American selfhood.

The gendering of rape, including by well-meaning, sometimes feminist, voices that claim to have victims' best interests at heart, ultimately obscures its true role in our culture. Both a critical analysis and a call to action, Framing the Rape Victim shows that rape is not a special interest issue that pertains just to women but a pervasive one that affects our society as a whole.


According to fbi statistics, the incidence of rape often increases at times when the incidence of other crimes is on the decline. For instance, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report of 19 September 2011 announced that “while [DC] saw a moderate reduction in 2010 violent crime levels, reports of forcible rape jumped 25 percent” (Skomba and Chen 2001). Similarly, in spring 2011, the New York Police Department reported “a significantly lower homicide rate and a decrease in the overall crime rate” for 2011 but a dramatic 24 percent jump in rape complaints from the year before (see Huffington Post 2011; Johnston 2011). These statistics show two things: first, that rape remains a significant social issue, and second, that it is often singled out as a special kind of crime that may even be conceived as distinct from other forms of violence such as homicide or mugging. the statistics pertaining to violence in society thus sometimes remain unaffected by the high incidence of rape, which is treated differently for ideological reasons. Although it would be inconceivable to offer “overall crime rates” that did not include murder or gang violence (which mostly affects men), it is conceivable to cite “overall crime rates” that exclude rape. in other words, when statistics reflecting the rate of violent crimes that include rape are not offered alongside those that single out rape, we know the crime of rape is not weighted similarly to other crimes.

Rape may be a ubiquitous phenomenon, but because it mostly affects women, it is not seen as a crime that concerns the social body as a whole (unlike violent crimes that predominantly victimize men). It is the event women have to fear, experience, avoid, and deter and whose pervasiveness, feminists argue, has shaped women’s bodily comportment whether they are conscious of it or not (Bartky 1988; Cahill 2001; Young 2011). Victims often blame themselves when they are raped, and they are routinely blamed when it occurs. Bestsellers published by conservative commentators such as Katie Roiphe and Christina Hoff Sommers outline the myriad ways that women and their misconceptions . . .

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