Expanding the Language of Rape and Resistance
Media accounts of sexual violence are pervasive, which makes covering them properly all the more important. How the media choose to frame such narratives impacts discussions about rape and rape culture in society. In her new book Rape and Resistance, Professor Linda Martín Alcoff (The Graduate Center, CUNY) argues that the limited language used in public coverage defines “who can be victimized, who can be accused, which are plausible narratives, and in what contexts rape may be spoken about, even in private spaces.”
The experience of sexual violence is complex, and sharing that experience can be equally tangled. Alcoff believes it’s more critical than ever to correct the language used to describe sexual violence. “One of the confounding aspects of rape is the way in which many people around the world persist in repudiating the significance of the harm and misplacing the blame,” she writes.
Tantamount to victim blaming or victim silencing, though, is the fact that the language of sexual violence does not encompass all experiences. “The result is that sometimes we want easy answers, quick solutions, protections we can rely on (we think). We want to know who ‘the bad people’ are so we can punish them and protect the population from them,” Alcoff said in an interview, before proposing a question that gets at language’s underlying ideologies. “What if the problem is more systemic, structural, cultural?”
Rather than establish a one-size-fits-all lexicon, Alcoff proposes that victims’ accounts be decentralized and understood on a local level so that context figures more specifically in their telling. In keeping with that mission, Rape and Resistance expands the current linguistic framework in order to construct an understanding that more accurately reflects myriad variations of assault, harassment, and other forms of sexual violence.
Alcoff will be a featured speaker in “#MeToo and Epistemic Justice,” a conferenced hosted by the Philosophy Department at The Graduate Center. That event takes place Oct. 5-6.