On Not Being Able To End Rape Open Access

Vasa, Samia (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/x920fz119?locale=en


This dissertation is both an attempt to understand rape better, as well as explain its persistence in spite of decades of feminist activism and scholarship. I place an archive of Muslim rape-survivor testimonies (2002) from my home-state of Gujarat in India in a cross-geographical dialogue with the radical feminist writings of Catharine MacKinnon (1946- ) and Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005). My primary texts are steeped in painful awareness of the violative sexual pleasure of the rapist. They challenge the widely accepted feminist dictum that rape is about power, not sex. I argue that feminism has a unique capacity to bear witness to the specifically sexual nature of rape. However, this same capacity also points to feminism’s own sadism and aggression.

By making use of my own reading experience, I claim that wherever feminism truly encounters rape, it registers, records and unwittingly transmits to the reader the violative pleasure of raping the other. This transmission of sexual pleasure - between rapist, feminist and reader - is textual and unconscious. I argue that sexual violence is sexual, and not because it involves thrusting and ejaculating, but because it involves unconscious pleasure that cannot be neutralised by feminism. In fact, feminism repeats and transmits it as righteous aggression against the rapist. This pleasure can be critically read, but not destroyed. While this insight radically limits feminism’s capacity to end rape, it also makes it possible to directly engage the sexual nature of rape. In the good fight against the evil of rape, feminism is neither righteous nor innocent, but powerfully negative. Instead of sanitizing feminism of its own violent tendencies, I suggest we use them intentionally to grasp the intimate violence of rape.

Table of Contents

A Note on Method                                                                                                         3

1: Witnessing 2002, a reading                                                                                     4

2: The Argument: Sexual Violence is Sexual                                                            41

3: The End Repeats: Toward an S/M Theory of MacKinnon                                   92

4: Andrea Dworkin’s Sex-Negativity                                                                           119

Afterword: What does reading have to do with sexual violence?                           147

Works Cited                                                                                                                    165

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