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TW: Discussion of rape) On Possibly Breaking The Bubble of Silence: How Our Community Discussions of Rape Are Harming Us

S. Yaeger's picture

I should have written this paper a long time ago, but the truth is that I was scared to approach the topic and felt somewhat unqualified in my position as something of an outsider in the sense that I don’t live on campus. However, as we’ve come through this semester together, and since we’ve discussed “Half The Sky” extensively, and the way that rape gets addressed on campus briefly, (thank you to rayj for providing some really great links and some really great insight) I’ve come to understand that hesitating to speak is part of Bryn Mawr’s problem.  From what I have read and heard, we, as a community, rarely talk about rape, and when we do, we do it in a very particular way.  In our collective mind, and in the school’s covert marketing message, rape is something that happens when a strange male attacker (perhaps that fabled “suspicious male on campus”) assaults a woman.

We talk about rape in these terms because it is comfortable.  It is safe.  It puts us at a statistical distance from something horrific, nearly unspeakable, and frighteningly possible in any environment, with any configuration of genders and degrees of personal intimacy, and with and to any person.  We talk about rape in these terms because it’s difficult for a school that is actively recruiting women and asking for their parents’ money to make it known that single sex schools are not the bubbles of total protection they appear to be.  We are not now, nor have we ever been, chaste young maidens safely ensconced in our ivy covered castles, yet we still talk about assault as if we are.  I think (hope) that we all know that we are not dealing with reality when we do this.

In reality, we are as varied in experience, background, age and class as any other group of students.  Among us are survivors of assault at the hands of strangers, partners, men, women, and everything in between.  Some of us have been assaulted by those we trust, and some of us have been assaulted on this campus.  Yet, when we talk about rape; in class, at RAD,  and at social justice events, we talk about it as though it is a singular thing,  perpetrated by a singular entity.  An entity that is far removed from us.

 This sort of talk is disastrous. 

It places survivors into a chokehold wherein they are either perpetually victimized by the rhetoric surrounding those who are raped by a stranger by marking them, as this blog notes,  as forever damaged and perpetually weak, or wherein they are not counted at all and are forced to accept the fact that, for all of our school’s talk of empowerment, they have no voice in a conversation about something they experienced.  Perhaps even more frighteningly, by not talking about sexual assault as it actually occurs on this campus, and to our fellow students, we are fostering an environment that actually allows for more assaults to occur.  It feels, to me, as if we are covering our ears and eyes and wishing for a better reality, while doing little to support one another. 

This isn’t to say that Bryn Mawr is not a safer place than other schools, or that we are not individually concerned with one another’s wellbeing, but, rather, to say that we are not dong as good of a job as we could be at fostering a sense of real safety within our community, and that in so doing, we are allowing members of our community to suffer in silence. 

Last semester, a group of Haverford students in the core class on Gender and Sexuality came together to create a campaign on their campus that encouraged survivors and other community members to actively speak out about rape on their campus.  They created a poster campaign, sponsored events, and even created a blog where anonymous posters could share their stories and thoughts without fear of visibility or stigma.  I was impressed and awed by their tremendous effort, but I was also shocked to read about Mawters’ experiences with assault, and saddened by my own fear at speaking out on behalf of the survivors I know, and the survivors who are too afraid to speak out. 

This semester, as we come toward the end of the academic year and I have become more aware of the culture here, I am saddened to think about how nothing like the Haverford campaign exists here, and saddened to think of students I sit with, learn with, study with, and grow with, being silenced and living in fear. I don’t have any answers for how this can be fixed, and I can’t always gain enough emotional distance to speak about these issues in a productive way, so I’ve been quiet about them until now.   But it’s too late to be silent anymore. 

I need to speak about this.  I need my classmates to speak about it too.  We should be speaking about it casually, academically, theoretically, and loudly. 

I’ve read articles on our school’s mission to recruit new students from the far and middle east, seen the public safety policies on preventing sexual assaults, and heard all of the outside conceptions of us as crazy feminists, hairy lesbians, and chaste virgins, but I have yet to see any honest and open discussion of rape or abuse on campus.  At the same time, I have heard Butler speak about who gets mourned, read horrific accounts of rape in faraway places, read academic prose about feminism’s inability to theorize about rape, and read blogs about how rape gets troped and then placed into a hierarchy.  I’ve sat through class discussions that take place as if rape occurs in particular locations of geography, class, and gender.  I’ve even seen events aimed at openly discussing rape and sexual abuse be ignored.

I have no idea how to change this except to ask for the help of this class, and of the community at large. 

With this in mind, I propose that we come together here, with the safety of distance and relative anonymity, to start a discussion about how we can change our talk about rape to include all survivors, and to begin to imagine ways in which the entire Bryn Mawr community, from students to faculty to support staff and to the administration can stop silencing and erasing the experiences of our own members, and begin to create an environment that is even safer than before.



Works Cited or Used To Inspire


Mardorossian, Carrine M. "Toward A New Feminist Theory Of Rape." Signs 27.3 (2002): 743-75. JSTOR. University of Chicago Press. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. <>.

 "Reflections on the Consent Is Sexy Campaign: Moving Forward, Looking Back." 302 Found. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. </exchange/node/11558>.

Carmen. "How I Learned to Talk (In Bed): Why This Queer Woman Cares About Consent."Autostraddle —. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <>.

Anon. "Consent Is Sexy." Consent Is Sexy. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <>.

G, Q. R. "RAPE CULTURE AND FEMINIST MYTHS by Quiet Riot Girl@Arts & Opinion." New Document. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <>.

Rayj. "Feminist Porn: Rape Fantasties?" 302 Found. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. </exchange/node/12187>.

Various. "Further Thoughts on Our Discussion of Half the Sky." 302 Found. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. </exchange/node/12138>.


Anne Dalke's picture

(No longer) hesitating to speak?

I'm very glad to have this too-long-delayed paper published now on Serendip.

Glad (well, not glad; but it is very important) to have this out here: a 10-year old piece of academic prose about feminism’s inability to theorize about rape juxtaposed--so strikingly--with a piece written w/in the past year about a Mawter's experience with assault.

As you and I turn our attention, this summer, to the lives lived by Women in Walled Communities, the question of sexual assault, within both women's educational and incarceral institutions, will surely become foregrounded. How (in Mardorossian's terms) to address "the psychological and individual effects of victimization without locating the solution to victimization in individual or psychological narratives"? If we believe (again, with Mardorossian) that "the wider social system must be highlighted as the site of transformative action," then we need to ask ourselves why we are so reluctant to "engage systemic practices of power," afraid to challenge the institutions within which we study, and flourish, and "get ahead"... and so continue to "reduce the political to the personal."

You end with a proposal "that we come together here, with the safety of distance and relative anonymity, to start a discussion about ...ways in which the entire Bryn Mawr community...can begin to create an environment that is even safer than before." So far, my response is the first one you've garnered.

There needs to be more noise. How to generate it?

Let's talk. And soon.