New Criticals

In order ‘to do something about it’, though, we need to hear about it in the first place. This is nowhere clearer than in the case of rape. Rape is one of the most feared crimes, but also one of the least reported. Media play an important role in this. Representations of sexual violence, inextricably entangled with a wider culture of disinformation and shaming, create a context for social marginality, silencing, shame and trauma to flourish. An EU report by a team of scholars headed by Professor Sylvia Walby, UNESCO chair in Gender and Violence at Lancaster University, found that women and men were inhibited not only from reporting their experiences of rape, but even from acknowledging them as such, since ‘many cases of rape do not overlap with the way in which rape and sexual assault are described and discussed in contemporary public discourse and media’.  In this context, they suggest, digital media may provide an important platform for multiple forms of speaking out: though support, education and activism: providing a ‘counter-hegemonic space’ in which new survivors’ voices might be heard. But in order for this space to exist, it needs to be constantly defended. If online feminist fan responses to mainstream media suggest more complex entanglement with the new post-postfeminist media sensibility than we might expect, digital space overall is far from utopian. A feminist online finds no lack of ‘descriptions of something awful’: indeed the something awful often consists precisely in its description, in the reproduction of rape threats as a way of silencing women. The insights of second-wave feminism are necessary in understanding how power operates in digital space. In 1975 Susan Brownmiller demonstrated how the threat of rape has historically been mobilised to keep women literally and figuratively in their place: if postfeminism tried to give us some relief by imagining a world in which women were not subjected to effective curfew by fear of violence, such a suspension of disbelief is now impossible. The repetitive nature of online media results in almost limitless opportunities for re-victimisation of rape victims. In recent years we have seen women literally raped on camera, and then punished again and again through practices of griefing and doxxing: simultaneously, the very public visibility of such cases has engendered  concern with what the ‘label’ rapist ‘does’ to the future expectations of male perpetrators, rather than concern for survivors. The case of the victim of former footballer and unrepentant convicted rapist Ched Evans, whose followers have continued to hound his victim even now he has been released after serving half of his pitiful five-year prison sentence, is only the most recent example of the ways in which the justice system and social media lynch mobs collude to make victims, rather than perpetrators, responsible for violent assault.  No wonder the term ‘patriarchy’, once deconstructed out of existence, has returned with a vengeance.