New Criticals

Understandings of mediation are central to understandings of rape culture, posing the question: how are media implicated in the dissemination of rape myths? Do representations of violence simply contribute to the widespread cultural acceptance of rape myths, or might we need a more complex account of the relationship between media and lived experience? It is particularly productive to analyse the relationship between ‘real’ rape and representations of rape at the current historical moment, when media are deeply enmeshed with cultural practices through which we make sense of everyday lives and of lived experience, including the experience of living in societies where the ever-present threat of sexual violence is lived alongside a proliferation of often glamorised media images of violated female bodies.  At the same time, the ways in which media are used to secure our consent to social inequality is radically at stake: digital spaces have created new spaces of oppression but also new, highly visible spaces of critique and organisation. As Nina Power writes, the immediacy of online communication ‘creates an impatience with the world as it is’, a ‘narrowing of the gap … between descriptions of something awful and the desire to do something about it’.

The new sense of feminist hope represents a significant shift: it is only recently that the mainstream media were engaged in energetically persuading us that the need for feminism had passed: Ros Gill, Imelda Whelehan and others identified a Sex and The City-dominated sensibility, an airbrushed world in which empowerment was seen as rooted in lifestyle consumption and commodification, where queer rhetorics of self-fashioning were bent to the will of neoliberal capitalism. As Whelehan wrote, such banal representations have  a wearing effect on the feminist observer: ‘tackling postfeminism from a critical perspective can be nothing short of disheartening and sometimes frankly boring, as it becomes difficult not to level what seem to be the same kind of old‖ feminist criticisms at any number of cultural products’:  although in hindsight such ideological analysis often failed to address why these representations might strike a chord with femme-identified audiences.