Rape culture is a provocative topic in Malaysia; the public discourse on it is plagued by gender stereotyping, sexism, misogyny, and rape myths. Recent literary works aimed at Malaysian adolescent girls have interrogated rape culture more pointedly as a means of addressing gender-based violence through activism and education. In this article, I discuss two short stories, “The Girl on the Mountain” and “Gamble” as retellings of Malaysian legends and feminist responses to the normalization and perpetuation of rape culture in this society. Through the emphasis on female agency, consent, and gender equality, these two stories reflect the subversive power of Malaysian young adult literature in dismantling rape culture, while affirming the significance of the folktale as an empowering tool for community engagement and feminist activism.
Sharifah Aishah Osman
Student Activism against Rape Culture
In this article, I report on an action project undertaken by a group of young women (aged 18 to 20) to foster public discussions about the prevalence of rape culture on their university’s campus. Students proposed this action project during a book study of a young adult (YA) novel that focused on rape culture and sexual violence. Discussions during the book study resulted in the women creating a video designed for university orientation events that addressed common misconceptions about issues such as consent, relationship violence, sexual coercion, and victimhood. Using case study and narrative methods, I recount my experience of witnessing unexpected activism in my classroom. Framed within critical literacy research, I consider the outcomes of making space for student activism and I discuss implications for practitioners.
The discursive shift during the twenty-first century from “no means no” to “yes means yes” clearly had an impact on contemporary American teen films. While teen films of the 1970s and 1980s often epitomized rape culture, teen films of the 2010s and later adopted consent culture actively. Such films now routinely highlight how obtaining a girl’s “yes” is equally important to respecting her “no.” However, the framework of affirmative consent is not without its flaws. In this article, I highlight how recent teen movies expose some of these shortcomings, in particular how affirmative consent remains a highly gendered discourse that prioritizes verbal consent over desire.
Responding to Rape Culture in 13 Reasons Why
Cameron Greensmith and Jocelyn Sakal Froese
Using Lauren Berlant’s concept of cruel optimism, we address the ways in which rape culture, as depicted in Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why and the first two seasons of the Netflix adaptation, shapes girls’ agency and attachment to possible futures. We take seriously the ways in which social and institutional structures in 13 Reasons Why produce girls’ livability as tied to everyday forms of sexist violence, which supposedly grant them access to what they think of as the good life. Bound up in these cruel attachments is a more limited set of options than may appear available: girls are called upon to endure daily violence in hopes of achieving this fantasy or to choose alternative paths, such as slow death or even suicide.
I met Roxanne Harde, the guest editor of this Special Issue, at the Second International Girls Studies Association conference in 2019 when I attended the panel discussion, “Representations of Rape in Young Adult Fiction.” I recall Roxanne’s passion vividly and, indeed, the enthusiasm of all three presenters as they discussed a variety of texts in superb presentations that aligned well with Ann Smith’s notion of feminism in action in their seeing “a fictional text not only as a literary investigation into issues of concern to its author but also as the site of educational research” (2000: 245). Their papers pointed to the ways in which the analysis of how rape culture is treated in Young Adult (YA) literature, film, and the print media can take scholars and activists so much further into the issues, and, at the same time, noted the ways in which rape culture in all its manifestations as a global phenomenon has inevitably led to its becoming an everyday topic of YA fiction.
In 1983, Andrea Dworkin addressed the Midwest Men’s Conference in Minneapolis. She discussed the rape culture in which we live, noted the similarities between rape and war, and, following the title of her talk, asked for a “24-hour truce in which there is no rape.” And she asked why men and boys are so slow to understand that women and girls “are human to precisely the degree and quality that [they] are” (n.p.). Every sexual assault begins with the dehumanization of the victim. And sometimes, after the violation, after the pain and the fear, comes the institutional dehumanization visited upon the victim who seeks medical or legal help. Two recent memoirs bring to the surface rape culture, evident in the young men who raped these girls and the systemic dehumanization they suffered when they sought justice. Chanel Miller’s Know My Name (2019) describes the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, when she was just out of college and still living at home, by someone she met at a fraternity party. Although the case against her rapist was as strong as possible–there were eyewitnesses and physical evidence was collected immediately–he was sentenced to only six months in the county jail, and she was repeatedly shamed, her humanity denied by the judicial system. Lacy Crawford’s Notes on a Silencing (2020) describes the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, when she was 15, by two boys, students at her New England boarding school, including an account of how school officials refused to do anything other than label her promiscuous and protect the boys. The ways in which she was silenced by St. Paul’s, which disregarded her health and future, and denied her humanity because she was only a girl, were profound. In both cases, the promising future of the perpetrators was prioritized over the humanity of the girls by many institutions, including the judiciary and the press. Crawford was raped just seven years after Dworkin made her plea to that men’s conference, but Miller was assaulted twenty-five years after, making perfectly clear that rape culture has become only more entrenched.
Survivor Resistance in Rape Culture
Gay, Roxane, ed. 2018. Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. New York: Harper.
Possession as Rape in Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Contemporary Young Adult literature is a favored genre for exploring sexual assault, yet rarely interrogates the social structures underpinning rape culture. In its representation of heterosexual relationships, Young Adult paranormal romance offers insight into the processes and structures that uphold rape culture. Genre tropes normalize abusive behavior and gender ideals, demonstrating the explicit and implicit construction of rape culture, culminating in the depiction of supernatural possession analogous to rape. Here, I reflect on power, control, rape culture, and girlhood in a textual analysis of Nina Malkin’s Swoon, Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush, and Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Covenant. A constructive reading reflects implicit cultural discourses presented to the girl reader, who can apply this to her own negotiation of girlhood.
Gilmore, Leigh, and Elizabeth Marshall. 2019. Witnessing Girlhood: Toward an Intersectional Tradition of Life Writing. New York: Fordham University Press.
A Discourse Analysis of Media Coverage
Lyndsay Anderson and Marnina Gonick
In September 2013 student leaders at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, used a chant about the rape of underage girls as part of an Orientation Week activity for new students. The incident garnered national and international media coverage. In this article, we analyze and critique a selection of Canadian media articles published in the weeks after the rape chant was used. We draw on feminist analysis of post-feminism and the sexualization of youth cultures to show how, in their struggle to make sense of the incident, the media critique reiterates harmful discourses of youth, gender and sexuality while undermining deeper understanding of rape culture.