Girls and Young Women Resisting Rape Culture through YouTube Videos

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 McGill University chloe.garcia@mail.mcgill.ca
  • 2 McGill University ayesha.vemuri@mail.mcgill.ca

ABSTRACT

Sexual violence continues to be normalized in modern society through heterosexist jokes and problematic portrayals of female sexuality. A number of young female activists use YouTube as a technology of nonviolence to share their thoughts about rape culture and how it can be transformed. We performed a thematic analysis of 10 videos produced by young women and girls to investigate what they identify as rape culture and how they use videos to communicate their messages. We argue that they offer meaningful insight into the institutions that contribute to the normalization of sexual violence, including schools and universities, the media, and legal and political systems. We believe that stakeholders interested in dismantling rape culture can use these videos to educate themselves and others about the concerns voiced by women and girls, who are, arguably, the population most affected by sexual violence.

Several scholars (boyd 2012; Nakamura and Chow-White 2012; Thelandersson 2014) studying social media platforms recognize that they are double-edged tools: while critical sociopolitical activism can emerge here, these same sites can also help maintain systems of oppression and privilege. This is especially true in the context of rape culture, defined by Emilie Buchwald and colleagues as “a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent” (1993: ix). Online, women and girls are primary targets of sexist jokes, trolling, sexually explicit marketing ploys, and other forms of misogyny that condone sexual violence and perpetuate harmful perceptions of gender (Fileborn 2014; Henry and Powell 2015; Powell 2015; Salter 2013). However, a growing number of women and girls are using social media such as blogs and YouTube for free critical expression about gender, identity, and sexuality (Muise 2011; Rossie 2015; Wood 2008). Here, social media is harnessed as what Jonathan Bock (2012) describes as a technology of nonviolence, serving as ways in which young women and girls identify oppressive structures, persons, myths, and stereotypes that contribute to rape culture, and as tools for warning others. For example, vloggers such as Laci Green and Franchesca Ramsey produce educational videos, garnering millions of views, about sexuality-related topics, including rape culture and how it persists today.

Despite the popularity of these YouTube videos, little academic inquiry has focused on how these vloggers and other girls and young women are conceptualizing rape culture and teaching others about it on YouTube. While scholars like Sarah Banet-Weiser (2011) and Lindsey Wotanis and Laurie McMillan (2014) have studied how girls and young women use YouTube as a mode of self-expression and gender performance, only a paucity of literature analyzes this platform to understand how young women communicate about rape culture. Douglas Kellner and Gooyong Kim observe, “There is little academic research to investigate the transformative roles of YouTube in terms of its pedagogical as well as political potentials” (2010: 7). In this article, we respond to this gap by analyzing the main themes in 10 videos about rape culture produced by young women and girls, and by briefly discussing possible implications for policy and pedagogy.

Girls and Women Online

Several researchers examine social media as sites for the formation of counterpublics (Fraser 1990) wherein marginalized groups subvert established social and discursive norms through technology (see Keller 2016; Salter 2013). Sophie Sills and colleagues describe how these counterpublics fight the “matrix of sexism” (2016: 942). First, they offer online users opportunities to educate themselves and/or others about feminist issues “in ways that are accessible, user-oriented, and able to be widely disseminated” (943). Carrie Rentschler holds that “online sites can serve as a key source of feminist education and activist terminology beyond the classroom” (2014: 67). Second, these spaces become communities of support where users feel relatively safe and connected. Rentschler describes how users on the photoblog Hollaback! warn one another about unsafe spaces, and create a community of listening and support for each other. Third, Sills and colleagues (2016) describe counterpublics as sites where women and girls can seek out informal avenues for justice and retribution, often unattainable through formal legal processes. For example, Anastasia Powell (2015) and Michael Salter (2013) argue that online sites provide many victim-survivors with the opportunity to tell their stories, gain support, and access informal modes of justice. Overall, counterpublics in social media sites offer alternative knowledge networks where women and girls can inform and support each other (Mitchell and Hart 2015).

Despite its potential for community formation and knowledge exchange, YouTube is also an unregulated platform where sexual violence against girls and women takes multiple forms from trolling to rape threats. Female video producers on YouTube navigate particularly difficult waters as counterpublics operating in a largely corporate site. Banet-Weiser notes that “[YouTube has a] ‘double function’ as a platform for both commercial and vernacular creative content” (2011: 278). Thus, counterpublics formed here are influenced by an algorithm that promotes popular, commercially subsidized voices rather than average video producers (Caron et al. 2016).

Although significant scholarship analyzes online feminist activism by girls and young women, most of these articles focus on Twitter and Tumblr (Kingston Mann 2014; Rentschler 2014; Thelandersson 2014). Less attention has been dedicated to analyzing girls and young women’s online videos. While some examples of work analyze the performance of gender (Banet-Weiser 2011; Rossie 2015; Wotanis and McMillan 2014), the construction of identity and authenticity (Hall 2015; Holmes 2016), and vlogs as a form of testimonial making (Powell 2015) in YouTube videos, fewer studies examine their potential to teach and promote social change.

Learning through Videos

Media scholars have long agreed that media affects consumers’ sexual attitudes and behaviors (Brown and L’Engle 2009; Peter and Valkenburg 2006), and, in many cases, perform an educational role (Kammeyer 2008). Recognizing this, some researchers and organizations have argued for the combination of sexuality education, media texts, and critical media and digital literacies in schools (Bragg 2006). For example, as Sara Bragg (2006) points out, the school program Media Relate (Grahame et al. 2005) successfully taught sexuality topics through media education. Today, Planned Parenthood and Media Smarts offer media-based learning resources such as lesson plans and YouTube videos to help educators address sexuality with youth. Similarly, numerous universities have harnessed YouTube’s popularity and accessibility to promote positive messages about sexual consent (see, for example, Concordia University’s Get Consent1 series).

YouTube offers a decentralized and user-centric platform for learning, peer-to-peer teaching, and a “participatory model of pedagogy” (Kellner and Kim 2010: 16), providing rich opportunities for education beyond the classroom; for them, “dialogues and discussion among UTers [YouTubers] are vivid moments of learning-by-doing, learning-as-process, and learning-as-communication within the public sphere of Internet media” (13). Straightforward, accessible, and informal, YouTube has also become a popular communication tool for young women and girls to share experiences of sexual violence, and protest oppressive social structures. Using this conceptualization of online pedagogy and YouTube, we regard videos produced by young women and girls as an excellent means of teaching and learning.

Poststructuralist Feminism and Cultural Studies

Poststructuralists and poststructuralist feminists deduce that sexual discourse—how we talk about sexuality—both empowers and weakens individuals and communities (Fine 1988; Foucault 1990; Jones 2011). Media, however produced, sends important messages about sexuality that are either actively or surreptitiously marketed, consumed, and reproduced by audiences, leading, we believe, to a hypersexualized society, and, arguably, a rape culture. Our conceptualization of anti-rape culture vlogs as sites for the formation of feminist counterpublics and as technologies of nonviolence includes the belief, following Jordan Fairbairn and colleagues (2013) that young people not only internalize and reproduce these discourses but also respond to them.

From a poststructuralist feminist perspective, analyzing texts produced by girls and women can offer opportunities to discuss the patriarchal and heterosexist ways in which society portrays women, their bodies, and their sexual desires (Weedon 1997). Elizabeth St-Pierre asserts, “Since women are usually on the wrong side of binaries and at the bottom of hierarchies, feminists have troubled [the] structures that often brutalize women” (2000: 481). Rape culture, too, often means that women and girls are denied their voice on important issues related to their human rights, sexuality, and gender. From our perspective, a critical view of videos produced by girls and women necessarily means recognizing, validating, and empowering them to define rape culture on their own terms.

Poststructuralist feminists also underscore the importance of recognizing that social media platforms perpetuate existing social inequalities and reproduce offline power dynamics (boyd 2012; Caron et al. 2016). Furthermore, David Buckingham (2007) argues that to effectively and critically read online media, key elements of digital media should be analyzed, including production, representation, language, and audience. Examining these different layers of digital media “means developing a much broader critical understanding which addresses the textual characteristics of media alongside their social, economic and cultural implications” (Buckingham 2007: 48; emphasis in original). Our perspectives are influenced by both poststructuralist feminism and cultural studies as we engage in our own critical analysis of some of these videos and vlogs, and reflect on the extent to which they constitute counter narratives to rape culture discourse.

Methodology

We began our project by selecting 10 YouTube videos on rape culture and consent made by girls and/or young women. We used the search terms rape culture, vlog, and consent, generating approximately a thousand results. Since YouTube’s search algorithm yields results based on popularity and relevance to the search terms, we selected the first 10 videos that met our four criteria: they addressed rape culture and consent, they were used to teach about rape culture and consent, they were noncommercial, and they were in English. Details about our videos are included in Table 1.

The Videos

The videos were produced by women and girls between the ages of 13 and 30 (at the time of production). Though some of these producers may not be considered girls, we included these videos in our analysis because these producers were reflecting on their experiences as females living within a rape culture over many years, including their childhood and adolescence as girls.

Caroline Caron and colleagues (2016) discuss the ethics of representation. Although researchers studying online videos may not infringe copyright laws, they may put video producers in vulnerable positions since these videos may be discussed without the producers’ permission or knowledge. Similarly, Dorothy Kim and Eunsong Kim (2014) note that “the emotional and intellectual labor of women of color is being casually appropriated/ borrowed” by academics and journalists alike to further their own careers. As emerging scholars and women of color, we are mindful of these ethical quandaries and therefore chose to use pseudonyms for the videos producers.

Table 110 Selected Youtube Videos on Rape Culture and Consent
VideoProducer(s) (pseudonyms)YearLengthViews 1 December 2016 (range)Comments 1 December 2016 (range)Description (content and style)
1Maureen and Jackie201535:375,000–10,000DisabledThis documentary incorporates scholarly and NGO perspectives to unpack aspects of rape culture that emerge in law, politics, and schools.
2Laura201415:4510,000–50,000Under 100This documentary highlights the survivors’ experiences of post-assault trauma, disclosure, reporting, revictimization, and self-blame.
3Frankie and others201514:570–5,000Under 100This episode of a web-based talk show tackles consent and rape culture.
4Tania20144:53Over 100,000Over 10,000This humorous vlog focuses on victim blaming.
5Sabrina201617.550–5,000Under 100This documentary uses survivor testimonials, expert interviews, and media examples to discuss rape culture.
6Georgie20157:56Over 500,000Over 5,000The producer of this vlog uses a sarcastic tone and theater as a medium to convey her opinions about rape culture hysteria.
7Katherina20134:310–5,000DisabledThis presentation-style video strongly relies on imagery, text, and music to inform about rape culture.
8Leslie20167:465,000–10,000Under 500This vlog takes on a news style format, with the newscaster speaking about a notorious case of sexual assault in a US university.
9Kimberly20156:340–5000Under 100This documentary uses media examples and expert interviews to discuss rape culture.
10Sam20135:050–5,000Under 100This documentary features several male and female interviewees responding to questions about their knowledge of rape and rape culture.

We both watched the videos many times and made detailed notes about who was represented in them, how they were produced, and the specific aspects of rape culture they addressed. We also made notes on statistics, quotes, and media used in the videos; statistics about the videos; messages to the audience; production strategies used in the video production process; the use of language; and miscellaneous details that informed our understanding of these videos.

We conducted a thematic analysis to explore emergent themes in the vlogs and media/discursive strategies used by vloggers. We sought to answer two questions. How is rape culture conceptualized by these female video producers in terms of the aspects of rape culture to which they refer, and where are these manifested? What are the media production strategies they use to communicate their perspectives and support their arguments?

To address our first question, we sorted the emerging themes about rape culture and consent using a social ecological model inspired by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). According to Rebecca Campbell and colleagues, his model proposes “that human development occurs through constantly evolving interactions between individuals and their multiple, interconnected environmental contexts” (2009: 227). Campbell et al. adapt this model to understand women’s experiences after sexual assault, observing that “the trauma of rape extends far beyond the actual assault, and society’s response … can also affect women’s well-being” (226). In our analysis, we noted that the explanations of rape culture fell into three categories in the social ecological model: interpersonal, institutional, and societal. We define and discuss these categories below. To investigate media production strategies, we used Buckingham’s (2007) basic digital literacy framework of audience, production, language, and representation. This allowed us to go beyond content and better understand which audiences these videos were targeting and how the producers used various technical strategies, language, and media to inform and persuade them. In our discussion of findings, we merge these two areas of analysis to argue for the value and importance of these user-produced videos in communicating how some girls and women feel and think about rape culture, and to propose that these texts can be valuable resources and tools for educators and policy makers.

Findings

Emerging Themes

As mentioned, our analysis of the 10 videos revealed that the producers tended to locate rape culture at three levels: the individual/interpersonal, the institutional, and the societal. These levels constitute our three analytical themes. While we recognize that these three themes are necessarily imbricated with one another, separating them according to the adapted social ecological models allows us to identify how producers conceptualize the different levels at which rape culture is manifested.

Individual/Interpersonal

All 10 producers included survivor and ally narratives about assault, while four also tackled issues of reporting and disclosure to family and friends. Laura, for instance, engaged with a number of survivors to offer insight into post-assault trauma and victim blaming. One survivor said, “The looks that I got from those I cared about the most was probably the worst part of the whole thing” (Video 2).

Sexual activity and consent were addressed in seven videos. Perpetrators were less discussed, although two producers questioned stereotypes about perpetrators. For example, Leslie confides, “I see the face of my rapist from time to time, and I think about how much he looked like someone’s father or uncle or community leader” (Video 8).

Few videos address the intersection of rape culture, race, and sexuality. Video 1 describes the sexualized stereotypes that women of color are accorded and their effects on women’s experiences of assault. While the nine other videos do not address this, individuals of color are featured as speakers. Video 2 also provides several testimonials that underscore the often hidden perspective on male rape.

Institutional

Schools, and universities in particular, are frequently discussed. Six videos address the shortcomings of education, arguing for schools to include teaching about sex, sexual consent, and rape culture. Maureen and Jackie discuss how schools sexualize girls’ bodies and constrict them through dress codes. Two videos emphasize problematic responses by universities when young women report sexual assault. One survivor says, “They kept asking me like, what were you wearing? What were you drinking?” (Video 5).

Seven videos address media in terms of how they perpetuate and counter rape culture. Four videos call out the justice system’s unfair treatment of perpetrators and the revictimization of survivors. For example, Leslie argues that Brock Turner2 had been coddled by the judicial system. Two videos address policy, specifically the New York and California “Yes Means Yes” law.

Societal

All 10 producers address the harmful perceptions of women and survivors that circulate in mainstream society, emphasizing the prevalence of victim blaming and slut shaming. For instance, Laura discusses how slut shaming presents a barrier to reporting incidents. “You know kids are going to grow up thinking that this is OK just because of normality … After an incident happens, I think a lot of victims have so much fear and shame and self-blame that it keeps them from reporting it” (Video 2).

Another major element in the producers’ discourse is a call for change. Producers share recommendations to tackle rape culture and promote consent. Several producers discuss how silence about sexual assault and rape culture needs to end. Sam asserts, “I think that as a society we need to get our act together and whether it’s through the form of first starting to educate people about rape and making rape not OK … it is an ugly word, but the thing is, you can’t shy away from it” (Video 10).

All the videos, to varying extent, encourage audiences to unpack and discuss the phenomenon of rape culture. Some promote individual actions like learning self-defense, while others call for larger changes such as the provision of more support for victims and better sex education programming. Notably, Video 1 features a significant policy and curriculum change that resulted from the activism of its producers.

Media Production Strategies

This section is divided according to Buckingham’s (2007) four key elements of digital literacy, and provides key findings regarding producers’ use of different production and linguistic strategies to share their viewpoints and reach diverse audiences.

Production

Investigating production means inquiring into who is making the media and how this process influences consumers (Buckingham 2007). We identified four different types of production style: monologue, documentary, presentation, and talk show (see Table 1). Three of the producers have YouTube channels with subscribed viewers. All vloggers integrate different types of media, such as music, movie clips, social media, news, advertisements, and user-produced graphics and texts, to persuade and inform audiences.

Representation

Questioning representation in media texts means “addressing questions about authority, reliability and bias … [and] broader questions about whose voices are heard and whose viewpoints are represented, and whose are not” (Buckingham 2007: 48). In addition to the key themes reported above, producers use facts, statistics, and testimonials to explain rape culture and convey its gravity and prevalence. These include quotes and statistics from community sources such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women, and End Rape on Campus. Most videos also include testimonials from a diverse group of survivors.

Language

In discussing language, Buckingham refers to “an awareness of the broader codes and conventions of particular genres” (2007: 48). This study’s purpose was not to perform a close linguistic analysis of the videos, but we did explore their register and emotional tone. The majority of videos were informal, combining interviews or monologues with pop culture clips. However, the documentary style of Video 1 rendered it more formal. Regarding emotional tone, we point to the affective dimension of the videos. Producers commonly used sarcasm, humor, and anger to situate their own positionality with regard to rape culture. Furthermore, several producers express care and concern for their audiences, in many cases directly addressing and reassuring survivors that they are heard and believed.

Audience

Given the nature of the videos and their placement on YouTube, it is evident that the producers intended to inform and educate viewers. In some cases, audiences were particularized. For example, three videos were created as classroom projects. Producers also addressed survivors, and, in rare cases, perpetrators. While most producers kept the comments feed enabled and communicated with their audiences, a few chose not to. Audiences used comments to speak to the producers, often congratulating them on their work. For example, one commenter wrote, “I just discovered that something I experienced was considered rape, so this video really helped me and almost brought me to tears. Thank you” (Video 8).

Discussion

Our analysis of these 10 vlogs revealed rich insight into how some girls and young women think and talk about rape culture and consent. As we examined these media texts, we reflected on their potential to inform educators, as well as media makers and policy makers.

Conceptualization of Rape Culture

Young women and girls speak out about rape culture from many different perspectives, delving into the numerous ways in which it is produced, its consequences on survivors, and how it can be dismantled. One of the most prevalent themes, as mentioned, was the individual/interpersonal aspect that included survivor and ally testimonials, discussion of their feelings of self-blame and of the experience of reporting and disclosing to their friends and families, and their perspectives about perpetrators. The second was the institutional aspect. This refers to how the producers located rape culture as being perpetuated and condoned by news and social media, judicial and political systems, and educational institutions. The third theme was the societal level. This refers to how the producers conceptualized different aspects of rape culture and consent, including victim blaming, slut shaming, gendered stereotypes, and calls for larger societal transformation.

The 10 videos offer a complex, multifaceted picture of rape culture, but we noted a few gaps. Few producers addressed university policies related to sexual consent or larger problems of campus culture, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and hooking up (Jozkowski 2015). This was surprising considering that women at college produced many of the videos. Moreover, there was little discussion of laws except for the “Yes Means Yes” law. Other references to judicial processes dwelt on the interpersonal or societal barriers to reporting that included self-blame, victim blaming, and the judiciary’s leniency toward white male perpetrators.

Discussions of intersectionality were largely absent from our sample, although many interviewees were people of color. Additionally, the specific experiences of queer communities did not feature extensively in these videos. Yet we know that LGBTQ and racialized women, particularly trans women, are particularly vulnerable populations.3 While scholars have established links between toxic masculinity and rape culture (Fahlberg and Pepper 2016), few producers deconstruct perceptions of men and masculinity. They focused mainly on describing and demystifying male perpetrators. In discussions of gender, most producers addressed harmful perceptions of women and girls instead. Notably, Laura addressed how normative perspectives of masculinity can result in silencing male rape survivors and dismissing their experiences.

Finally, while definitions of consent and assault continue to be debated in legal and political arenas, we noted that very few producers chose to delve deeper into definitions of sexual consent. Katherina showed individuals holding posters with the slogan “Yes is consent” (Video 7); in another case, Frankie and her colleagues used a house party analogy to illuminate consensual sex and address several myths humorously in pointing out that just as one can invite guests to one’s home and still retain the right to ask them to leave, sexual consent once given may be taken away. Despite their knowledge and experience, the young women and girls producing these videos do not necessarily address all the nuances of rape culture and its effects, leaving significant knowledge gaps. Also, some social media produced by girls and women may reflect hegemonic, problematic ways of viewing gender and sexual violence (Gill 2016). For example, Georgie shares her skepticism about ideas of consent and rape culture and reinforced victim blaming. “It’s simple—there are psychos in the world. There are psychos, they will do bad things, and it’s up to you, the individual, to protect yourself from these psychos” (Video 6).

The producers, we argue, created the responses to rape culture that they would like to see in the world. Thus, following Banet-Weiser (2011) and Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell (2008), these videos can be considered reflexive texts in that the young women and girls are both the producers and the audiences of these videos. They identify how specific stakeholders, from family members to schools, to media, can help dismantle rape culture. Thus, we encourage stakeholders committed to combating rape culture to examine and incorporate the views shared through these discursive sites.

Communicating Rape Culture

Videos made by young women and girls can be empowering because producers make informed choices about what and how they produce, thus practicing what Rentschler describes as “response-ability” (2014: 68). Their choices of media and discourse reflect conscientious intentions to affect audiences as they talk about rape culture topics. Alyssa Niccolini addresses how “affectivisms … signal the multiple affects, political sentiments, and spaces the event activated and traversed” (2016: 2). In this study, producers drew from popular culture elements, humor, popular analogies, narratives, and assault cases to stir up emotional responses. The producers showed strong media literacy skills in incorporating different forms of media in their videos to emphasize their arguments in a sometimes playful and always relatable manner.

Producers conscientiously chose relevant and reliable materials that render visible different aspects of rape culture. Their arguments are supported by professional voices, institutional and academic definitions, and the lived experiences of survivors. Through incorporating popular culture, such as clips from the movie Easy A4 (2010) and the song “Blurred Lines”5 (2013) they exemplify how media normalizes sexual violence. The majority of viewpoints in the videos arise from feminist genealogies in terms of how they question gender binaries and stereotypes, refute rape myths, and call for survivor-centered responses from the media, the university, the school, and the judicial system. Additionally, several producers include trigger warnings at the beginning of their videos, acknowledging the potential trauma of the subject matter and offering care and compassion to audience members who may be survivors. For instance, Tania vehemently states, “If you were harassed by someone, it’s not your fault. If you were abused by someone, it’s not your fault. You have a right to safety and respect, no matter what” (Video 4).

Producers also appear to be aware of the possibilities of hateful commenters, and some opt to disable comments. As Wotanis and McMillan note, “YouTube has a reputation as a site full of ‘abusive comments,’ a situation which is ‘exacerbated by anonymity’” (2014: 914). Yet, some producers left their comments open and even engaged with their audiences to elaborate on their arguments. Thus, despite YouTube’s reputation as a space of contention and online sexual violence, we see female producers thoughtfully manipulating the dialogic potential of the site.

Recommendations

Considering the efforts and risks that these producers are taking to communicate on the subject of rape culture, we propose that institutional actors turn to female YouTube producers to learn about their concerns and recommendations. We also suggest that educators consider using these texts to educate themselves and their students on the often complex and hidden ways in which rape culture manifests itself.

The abilities of producers to locate sites of rape culture and offer strategies for social change reinforces the importance of recognizing YouTube as a technology of nonviolence. Female producers offer rich, candid, and multifaceted perspectives that can inform institutional leaders, politicians, educators, and organizations worldwide as they strive to map sites of sexual violence and implement prevention strategies. Whereas various stakeholders currently work in silos to dismantle rape culture, the dialogic, participatory spaces offered by YouTube may help bridge communication gaps between young women and girls, and policy makers. As shown by Bock (2012), technologies of nonviolence work more effectively when stakeholders and leaders collaborate.

Although our sample includes mainly university students, we suggest that policy makers refer to YouTube to hear from survivors who prefer to share their testimonials online and from populations outside popular consultation arenas like the cities and universities represented here. In their study of technologies of nonviolence in the South African context, for example, Mitchell and Hart (2015) confirm the possibilities for social media and mobile technologies to empower rural women to address and speak out about violence.

Educators in schools and universities can also use these texts to teach and learn about rape culture. As discussed, it is imperative to combine these peer-produced YouTube videos with critical digital literacy tools. However, steering away from institutionally produced texts toward authentic, user-generated videos from young women and girls would offer students unique perspectives on rape culture, communicated in relatable ways. Moreover, bringing these female voices into the classroom may help challenge the often heterosexist and patriarchal ways in which society and schools talk about gender, sexuality, and sexual violence.

Concluding Remarks

As feminist scholars studying other social media sites have shown, young women and girls actively use digital media tools to connect rape culture with lived experiences and to critique oppressive institutional structures. Our analysis of these 10 videos confirms these findings and reveals the complex ways in which girls and young women shape their meanings through video production. While we understand that the limited sample of our study keeps us from generalizing our findings to all female vloggers, we nonetheless hold that these videos can act as meaningful opportunities for educating and communicating with general audiences. Through this study, we learned of the many ways in which young women and girls conceptualize how rape culture is reproduced and normalized by different levels of society. We saw from the care and attention that the producers invested in their videos that they are actively and conscientiously producing media to persuade, inform, and reach out to audiences to promote transformative change. Thus, we conclude that these videos can be powerful resources for those researchers, educators, policy makers, and media makers who are interested in incorporating the viewpoints of young women and girls into their work, since they are often the ones who have lived experiences and sophisticated conceptualizations of rape culture.

Acknowledgments

This study is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership Grant Number: 895-2016-1026. Principal Investigator and Project Director, Shaheen Shariff, PhD. McGill University. A Multi-Sector Research Partnership Project on University Policies and Educational Responses to Sexual Violence.

Notes
1

In 2016, students at Concordia University’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) produced an animated video series to provide information and start a conversation about consent and bystander intervention. For more information, visit https://www.concordia.ca/students/sexual-assault/consent.html.

2

Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a fraternity house in January 2015.

3

Statistics show that a higher proportion of transgender and LGBTQ-identified students are at a higher risk for sexual violence. For more information, visit https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence and http://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-assault-and-the-lgbt-community.

4

Easy A tells the story of a high school student who finds herself the victim of the school’s rumor mill when her lie about losing her virginity goes public.

5

The song, performed by Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharell Williams, garnered a lot of criticism in North America and the United Kingdom by students and feminist activists who claimed that the song promotes rape culture through its worrying attitudes concerning sex and consent.

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  • Fraser, Nancy. 1990. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text 2526: 5680. doi:10.2307/466240.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gill, Rosalind. 2016. “Post-postfeminism? New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (4): 610630. doi:10.1080/14680777.2016.1193293.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grahame, Jenny, Sara Bragg, Kate Oliver, David Buckingham, Michael Simons, and Lucy Webster. 2005. Media Relate: Teaching Resources about the Media, Sex and Relationships for KS3. London: English and Media Centre. http://www.media-diversity.org/en/additional-files/documents/A%20Guides/Teaching%20Resources%20about%20the%20Media,%20Sex%20and%20Relationships%20for%20KS3%20[EN].pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, Kimberly Ann. 2015. “The Authenticity of Social-Media Performance: lonelygirl15 and the Amateur Brand of Young-Girlhood.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 25 (2): 128142.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henry, Nicola, and Anastasia Powell. 2015. “Embodied Harms: Gender, Shame, and Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence.” Violence against Women 21 (6): 758779. doi:10.1177/1077801215576581.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holmes, Su. 2016. “‘My Anorexia Story’: Girls Constructing Narratives of Identity on YouTube.” Cultural Studies 31 (1): 123. doi:10.1080/09502386.2016.1138978.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jones, Tiffany. 2011. “A Sexuality Education Discourses Framework: Conservative, Liberal, Critical, and Postmodern.” American Journal of Sexuality Education 62 (1): 133175. doi:10.1080/15546128.2011.571935.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jozkowski, Kristen N. 2015. “‘Yes Means Yes’? Sexual Consent Policy and College Students.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 47 (2): 1623. doi:10.1080/00091383.2015.1004990.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kammeyer, Kenneth C. W. 2008. A Hypersexual Society: Sexual Discourse, Erotica, and Pornography in America Today. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Keller, Jessalynn. 2016. Girls’ Feminist Blogging in a Postfeminist Age: Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kellner, Douglas, and Gooyong Kim. 2010. “YouTube, Critical Pedagogy, and Media Activism.” Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies 32 (1): 336. doi:10.1080/10714410903482658.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kim, Dorothy, and Eunsong Kim. 2014. “The #TwitterEthics Manifesto.” Model View Culture, 7 April. https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/the-twitterethics-manifesto.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kingston Mann, Larisa. 2014. “What Can Feminism Learn from New Media?Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 11 (3): 293297. doi:10.1080/14791420.2014.926244.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Laurel Hart. 2015. “From Spaces of Gender-based Violence to Sites of Networked Resistance: Reimagining Social Media Technologies.” Perspectives in Education 33 (4): 135150.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muise, Amy. 2011. “Women’s Sex Blogs: Challenging Dominant Discourses of Heterosexual Desire.” Feminism and Psychology 21 (3): 411419. doi:10.1177/0959353511411691.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nakamura, Lisa, and Peter Chow-White. 2012. “Introduction—Race and Digital Technology: Code, the Color Line, and the Information Society.” In Race after the Internet, ed. Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White, 118. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Niccolini, Alyssa D. 2016. “‘The Rape Joke’: Censorship, Affective Activisms, and Feeling Subjects.” Journal of Gender Studies 1: 112.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peter, Jochen, and Patti M. Valkenburg. 2006. “Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Online Material and Recreational Attitudes toward Sex.” Journal of Communication 56 (4): 639660. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00313.x.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Powell, Anastasia. 2015. “Seeking Informal Justice Online: Vigilantism, Activism and Resisting a Rape Culture in Cyberspace.” In Rape Justice: Beyond the Criminal Law, ed. Anastasia Powell, Nicola Henry, and Asher Flynn, 218237. Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rentschler, Carrie A. 2014. “Rape Culture and the Feminist Politics of Social Media.” Girlhood Studies 7 (1): 6582.

  • Rossie, Amanda. 2015. “Moving beyond ‘Am I Pretty or Ugly?’ Disciplining Girls through YouTube Feedback.” Continuum 29 (2): 230240. doi:10.1080/10304312.2015.1022953.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Salter, Michael. 2013. “Justice and Revenge in Online Counter-Publics: Emerging Responses to Sexual Violence in the Age of Social Media.” Crime, Media, Culture 9 (3): 225242. doi:10.1177/1741659013493918.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sills, Sophie, Chelsea Pickens, Karishma Beach, Lloyd Jones, Octavia Calder-Dawe, Paulette Benton-Greig, and Nicola Gavey. 2016. “Rape Culture and Social Media: Young Critics and a Feminist Counterpublic.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (6): 935951.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • St-Pierre, Elizabeth A. 2000. “Poststructural Feminism in Education: An Overview.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 13 (5): 477515. doi:10.1080/09518390050156422.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thelandersson, Fredrika. 2014. “A Less Toxic Feminism: Can the Internet Solve the Age Old Question of How to Put Intersectional Theory into Practice?Feminist Media Studies 14 (3): 527530. doi:10.1080/14680777.2014.909169.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weber, Sandra, and Claudia Mitchell. 2008. “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities: Young People and New Media Technologies.” In Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, ed. David Buckingham, 2547. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weedon, Chris. 1997. Feminist Practice & Poststructuralist Theory. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Wood, Elizabeth. 2008. “Consciousness-raising 2.0: Sex Blogging and the Creation of a Feminist Sex Commons.” Feminism and Psychology 18 (4): 480487. doi:10.1177/0959353508095530.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wotanis, Lindsey, and Laurie McMillan. 2014. “Performing Gender on YouTube.” Feminist Media Studies 14 (6): 912928. doi:10.1080/14680777.2014.882373.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Chloe Garcia is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. Her research investigates how the analysis and production of YouTube videos inform young women’s understandings of sexual consent and rape culture. Her current study and parts of this article resulted from her master’s thesis, “An Examination of the Potential of Critical Media Literacy-based Sex Education Programming for Quebec High Schools,” which she completed in 2013. E-mail: chloe.garcia@mail.mcgill.ca

Ayesha Vemuri recently graduated with an MA in communication studies and gender studies from McGill University. Her research focuses on online feminist activism as a space for the production of transnational feminist solidarities. She is currently researching rape culture and student activism in Canadian universities. E-mail: ayesha.vemuri@mail.mcgill.ca

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

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  • Bock, Jonathan. 2012. The Technology of Nonviolence: Social Media and Violence Prevention. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • boyd, danah. 2012. “White Flight in Networked Publics: How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook.” In Race after the Internet, ed. Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White, 203222. New York: Routledge.

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  • Bragg, Sara. 2006. “‘Having a Real Debate’: Using Media as a Resource in Sex Education.” Sex Education 6 (4): 317331. doi:10.1080/14681810600981830.

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  • Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. 1993. Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

  • Buckingham, David. 2007. “Digital Media Literacies: Rethinking Media Education in the Age of the Internet.” Research in Comparative and International Education 2 (1): 4355. doi:10.2304/rcie.2007.2.1.43.

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  • Campbell, Rebecca, Emily Dworkin, and Giannina Cabral. 2009. “An Ecological Model of the Impact of Sexual Assault On Women’s Mental Health.” Trauma, Violence, and Abuse 10 (3): 225246. doi:10.1177/1524838009334456.

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  • Caron, Caroline, Rebecca Raby, Claudia Mitchell, Sophie Théwissen-LeBlanc, and Jessica Prioletta. 2016. “From Concept to Data: Sleuthing Social Change-oriented Youth Voices on YouTube.” Journal of Youth Studies 20 (1): 4762. doi:10.1080/13676261.2016.1184242.

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  • Fairbairn, Jordan, Rena Bivens, and Myrna Dawson. 2013. Sexual Violence and Social Media: Building a Framework for Prevention. Ottawa: Crime Prevention Ottawa and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women. http://www.violenceresearch.ca/sites/default/files/FAIRBAIRN2.pdf.

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    • Export Citation
  • Fraser, Nancy. 1990. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text 2526: 5680. doi:10.2307/466240.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gill, Rosalind. 2016. “Post-postfeminism? New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (4): 610630. doi:10.1080/14680777.2016.1193293.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grahame, Jenny, Sara Bragg, Kate Oliver, David Buckingham, Michael Simons, and Lucy Webster. 2005. Media Relate: Teaching Resources about the Media, Sex and Relationships for KS3. London: English and Media Centre. http://www.media-diversity.org/en/additional-files/documents/A%20Guides/Teaching%20Resources%20about%20the%20Media,%20Sex%20and%20Relationships%20for%20KS3%20[EN].pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, Kimberly Ann. 2015. “The Authenticity of Social-Media Performance: lonelygirl15 and the Amateur Brand of Young-Girlhood.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 25 (2): 128142.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henry, Nicola, and Anastasia Powell. 2015. “Embodied Harms: Gender, Shame, and Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence.” Violence against Women 21 (6): 758779. doi:10.1177/1077801215576581.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holmes, Su. 2016. “‘My Anorexia Story’: Girls Constructing Narratives of Identity on YouTube.” Cultural Studies 31 (1): 123. doi:10.1080/09502386.2016.1138978.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jones, Tiffany. 2011. “A Sexuality Education Discourses Framework: Conservative, Liberal, Critical, and Postmodern.” American Journal of Sexuality Education 62 (1): 133175. doi:10.1080/15546128.2011.571935.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jozkowski, Kristen N. 2015. “‘Yes Means Yes’? Sexual Consent Policy and College Students.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 47 (2): 1623. doi:10.1080/00091383.2015.1004990.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kammeyer, Kenneth C. W. 2008. A Hypersexual Society: Sexual Discourse, Erotica, and Pornography in America Today. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Keller, Jessalynn. 2016. Girls’ Feminist Blogging in a Postfeminist Age: Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kellner, Douglas, and Gooyong Kim. 2010. “YouTube, Critical Pedagogy, and Media Activism.” Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies 32 (1): 336. doi:10.1080/10714410903482658.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kim, Dorothy, and Eunsong Kim. 2014. “The #TwitterEthics Manifesto.” Model View Culture, 7 April. https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/the-twitterethics-manifesto.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kingston Mann, Larisa. 2014. “What Can Feminism Learn from New Media?Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 11 (3): 293297. doi:10.1080/14791420.2014.926244.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Laurel Hart. 2015. “From Spaces of Gender-based Violence to Sites of Networked Resistance: Reimagining Social Media Technologies.” Perspectives in Education 33 (4): 135150.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muise, Amy. 2011. “Women’s Sex Blogs: Challenging Dominant Discourses of Heterosexual Desire.” Feminism and Psychology 21 (3): 411419. doi:10.1177/0959353511411691.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nakamura, Lisa, and Peter Chow-White. 2012. “Introduction—Race and Digital Technology: Code, the Color Line, and the Information Society.” In Race after the Internet, ed. Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White, 118. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Niccolini, Alyssa D. 2016. “‘The Rape Joke’: Censorship, Affective Activisms, and Feeling Subjects.” Journal of Gender Studies 1: 112.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peter, Jochen, and Patti M. Valkenburg. 2006. “Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Online Material and Recreational Attitudes toward Sex.” Journal of Communication 56 (4): 639660. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00313.x.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Powell, Anastasia. 2015. “Seeking Informal Justice Online: Vigilantism, Activism and Resisting a Rape Culture in Cyberspace.” In Rape Justice: Beyond the Criminal Law, ed. Anastasia Powell, Nicola Henry, and Asher Flynn, 218237. Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rentschler, Carrie A. 2014. “Rape Culture and the Feminist Politics of Social Media.” Girlhood Studies 7 (1): 6582.

  • Rossie, Amanda. 2015. “Moving beyond ‘Am I Pretty or Ugly?’ Disciplining Girls through YouTube Feedback.” Continuum 29 (2): 230240. doi:10.1080/10304312.2015.1022953.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Salter, Michael. 2013. “Justice and Revenge in Online Counter-Publics: Emerging Responses to Sexual Violence in the Age of Social Media.” Crime, Media, Culture 9 (3): 225242. doi:10.1177/1741659013493918.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sills, Sophie, Chelsea Pickens, Karishma Beach, Lloyd Jones, Octavia Calder-Dawe, Paulette Benton-Greig, and Nicola Gavey. 2016. “Rape Culture and Social Media: Young Critics and a Feminist Counterpublic.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (6): 935951.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • St-Pierre, Elizabeth A. 2000. “Poststructural Feminism in Education: An Overview.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 13 (5): 477515. doi:10.1080/09518390050156422.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thelandersson, Fredrika. 2014. “A Less Toxic Feminism: Can the Internet Solve the Age Old Question of How to Put Intersectional Theory into Practice?Feminist Media Studies 14 (3): 527530. doi:10.1080/14680777.2014.909169.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weber, Sandra, and Claudia Mitchell. 2008. “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities: Young People and New Media Technologies.” In Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, ed. David Buckingham, 2547. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weedon, Chris. 1997. Feminist Practice & Poststructuralist Theory. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Wood, Elizabeth. 2008. “Consciousness-raising 2.0: Sex Blogging and the Creation of a Feminist Sex Commons.” Feminism and Psychology 18 (4): 480487. doi:10.1177/0959353508095530.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wotanis, Lindsey, and Laurie McMillan. 2014. “Performing Gender on YouTube.” Feminist Media Studies 14 (6): 912928. doi:10.1080/14680777.2014.882373.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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