Prof. Linda Martín Alcoff will discuss her most recent publication, Rape and Resistance (Polity Press), in a Book Salon on Sept. 12th from 6:30-8pm in the Skylight Room. In anticipation of this event, the Graduate Center’s media team interviewed Dr. Alcoff about the book’s contents. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation:
Graduate Center: In your book, you discuss the importance of hearing from more victims and gaining “a more complex understanding of the constitution of the experience of sexual violence or the sometimes complicated nature of culpability.” Could you discuss the complexity and nuance you’d like to see in how we define and/or discuss sexual violence?
Alcoff: The problem of sexual violence is so painful it produces a kind of terrorizing effect. 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. But what if the problem is more systemic, structural, cultural? What if the causes are in the normal everydayness of sexual relations in our society?
There are many instances of sexual violation that are clear-cut, without much ambiguity about what happened. But there are also some cases that are not so clear and that campus activists began calling “gray rape” some years ago. The idea here are experiences that are not morally harmless but may not rise to the level we would want to call rape, such as the one Mary Gaitskill describes that I talk about in the book. This category worries some people, but silencing any discussion of it actually inhibits some survivors from coming forward, and then we lose the opportunity to have their experience and analysis inform our understanding of the problem. Sometimes it is true that survivors may be in denial about the fact that what happened to them really was a rape. But not always. We have to trust that survivors can deal with nuance and ambiguity — and not be paternalistic to their capacities in this regard.