Academic journal article Outskirts

Beyond the Spectacle of Suffering: Representations of Rape in Online Anti-Rape Activism

Academic journal article Outskirts

Beyond the Spectacle of Suffering: Representations of Rape in Online Anti-Rape Activism

Article excerpt

Introduction

From vigilante street politics, to consciousness raising, speak outs, and now online spaces, the mediums through which representations of rape are transmitted by anti-rape activists have transformed over time. Historically, rape has been depicted as something feared by all women; as something that can only be legally addressed, not fought (Marcus 1992). As a result, women have been positioned as vulnerable to men's violence and powerless to stop it (Heberle 1996; Marcus 1992). Accordingly, representations of women in early anti-rape activism portrayed women as vulnerable and fearful of the possibility of being raped, or as battered, suffering women who had already been raped (Gavey 2010; Marcus 1992; Brownmiller 1986). In addition, these representations of rape were coupled with assumptions that perpetrators of rape are predominantly strangers (Estrich 1987). However, projects such as consciousness raising in the 1970s, revealed how prevalent rape and sexual violence was, as many women disclosed that they had experienced some form of sexual violence in their life time (Bevacqua 2000). Against the normative narrative, most of these rapes were committed by a partner, family member, or acquaintance, rather than a stranger in a dark alley. Nor were they necessarily violent. In the 1990s terms such as 'date rape' and 'acquaintance rape' began to enter activist discourses that attempted to shiftperceptions about who commits rape and what rape looks like (Gavey 2010). In addition, the use of rape as a tactic during armed conflict came to the forefront of international public dialogue, further broadening the discussion regarding the contexts in which rape occurs.

Yet, despite these significant conceptual shifts in the ways in which rape is represented by anti-rape activists, popular discourses about rape continue to undermine feminist efforts to challenge attitudes. Although rape is considered to be abhorrent by the vast majority of society - as Bevacqua (2000) suggests very few people would actually admit to being 'pro-rape' - myths and negative attitudes about rape persist. For example, women continue to be blamed if they are raped because of how they are dressed, the assumption that women purportedly lie about being raped remains popular, and certain women, such as married women or women of colour, are still considered 'unrapeable'. As a result, a particular 'authentic' victim-survivor subjectivity and narrative continues to dominate sociopolitical representations and assumptions about rape. These largely uniform accounts of sexual trauma, suffering, and victimisation depict the horrors and suffering experienced by rape victims, but, as a result of this focus, these depictions obscure the diverse spectrum of actual experiences and responses. A wider acceptance of this variety of experiences is needed to challenge a culture which condones rape (Heberle 1996). To address this, Buchwald et al (1993) suggest that finding platforms to speak out has the potential to affect change by putting faces to violence, and highlight the widespread experiences of rape. Alcoffand Gray (1993) however, caution this that 'speaking out' may not necessarily be socially or politically transformative in and of itself. Rather, they suggest it may reinforce the pre-theoretical narrative of sexual victimisation.

This article thus examines the ways in which online anti-rape activism has expanded the scope of for challenging the deeply entrenched myths and assumptions about rape through various modes of representation. To do so, I draw on concepts of 'counter-publics,' (Warner 2002, Fraser 1990), to highlight how the ways in which rape is represented in these online spaces challenges the boundaries of public discourses. I also utilise Sharon Marcus' (1992) concept of the gendered grammar of violence, which argues that women and men perform according to certain scripts that sustain the threat of rape, to demonstrate the extent to which these campaigns disrupt the spectacle of women's sexual suffering, vulnerability, and victimisation. …

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