“Worlds of Rape, Words of Rape:” Sharon Block on UVA Prez Teresa Sullivan’s public statement on gang rape

No time to blog today–instead do not walk, run! over to Nursing Clio to read Sharon Block’s analysis of the UVA gang rape story and UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s victim-denying and victim-blaming public statement, which focused on the harm to Mr. Jefferson’s University and its “dedicated Student Affairs staff” instead of the victims of rape.

Once again, as Block described so brilliantly in her 2006 book Rape and Sexual Power in Early America, the harm of rape is to men and to historically male institutions like universities, the law, the courts, fraternities, and the like.  And even women–just like Teresa Sullivan!–participate in blaming women victims and protecting men and male institutions.  Yes, indeed:  Block’s book demonstrates that in Anglo-American law then and now, rape is a crime so horrible that it never happens, unless its perpetrators are even more marginal than its victims.

Block writes:

Decades of evidence suggest that University of Virginia — and far too many other colleges — have implicitly collaborated with the culture of pervasive sexual violence directed largely at the women enrolled on their campuses. That’s why The Onion could satirize Bill Cosby’s sexual predation by referring to college administrators’ seeming endless disbelief of rape victims. The Onion’s headline about the university where Cosby serves as a Trustee proclaimed, “Temple University Receives Anonymous Donation to Build Center For Discrediting Rape.” It’s funny, because it’s true. But then again: it is so true, it really isn’t funny.

As Amherst College’s 2013 report on campus sexual violence summarizes: “There is a deep residue of misery and unresolved trauma—sometimes made worse by official disregard—that has surrounded this issue for generations, that has damaged the lives of real individuals, and that cannot simply be wished away or retrospectively made right.” Yes. That. Until leaders like UVA President Sullivan focus their concern on the damage done by their institutions, all the wishes in the world won’t result in change. Let’s instead begin to engage with the painful reality that many would rather ignore women’s words than address the underpinnings of our rape culture.

I’ve been offline and a little out of it lately–more details later, but let’s just say it involves a little trip to the Mouse House.  Many thanks to Nursing Clio for giving Block some major internet real estate for her critique and argument.


6 thoughts on ““Worlds of Rape, Words of Rape:” Sharon Block on UVA Prez Teresa Sullivan’s public statement on gang rape

  1. altoii, thanks for the correction–I’ve fixed it in the post.

    I can’t even bear to click on Susan’s link to Richard Cohen’s comments on a gang rape. He’s famous for his creepiness with young women, in person and on the page. Not the kind of person who should touch rape stories with a 50-ft. pole, IOW.


  2. You mean you don’t want to read about men’s responsibility to protect and respect women? That’s what “real men” do. Ick. Friends like that, you don’t need enemies!


  3. The day that a campus takes rape culture seriously will be when, yes, someone endows a center — for rape cultural change.

    If it were a priority, wouldn’t it already be a point of fundraising, like getting jocks safer sports equipment, or chem labs new facilities up to OSHA standards?

    Anything that is a true university priority eventually gets a fundraising case made for it.

    Will it take a fantastic revelation that a fraternity has selected and housed generations of serial rapists, trained in forensic avoidance along with cheating on other tests, to change the culture?

    And, since these incidents are encouraged by the misogynist aspects of both frats and athletics, will it take an Enron-level event — a sudden bankruptcy/institutional fail, so sudden that no one has time to shred documents — to reveal just how much crime has been covered up, in the name of keeping the (precious) percentage of male students comfortable?


  4. After reading this article — namely, this passage:

    As I noted, HBO is far from alone when it comes to this kind of imagery, but the fact that Jane’s unblinking gaze quietly underlined these kinds of scenes on this network felt appropriate. HBO’s track record when it comes to female creators and people of color as creators is abysmal (though HBO is far from alone when it comes to problems with diversity), and that history of favoring straight white men as creators has resulted in skewed, sexist and even offensive moments on HBO’s shows — sometimes on ambitious shows, like “Game of Thrones,” that are otherwise worthwhile. Though these kinds of problems clearly go far beyond one network, it was smart of “The Comeback” to focus on the minutiae of this situation on this self-aggrandizing show. The Paulie-Valerie situation is a well-constructed microcosm, and the way Paulie’s vision plays out is almost banal and predictable in its particulars, and yet the situation is devastating to the women involved.

    — I recalled that at the time HBO became ascendant with its antihero series (beyond its soft-pr0n shows), it was run by a man accused of domestic violence, and his rep cost him, surprisingly, his job. (However, one hopes his personal progress might have contributed to green-lighting the more female-centered Outlander, as head of Starz….)

    These connections, to me, tie in with the “you’re soaking in it” vibe that’s really never let up, in our lifetime. For every Year of the Woman campaign, there have been faxed (now emailed) dirty jokes about [insert.female.politician.here — that’s what *she* said….]; for every governmental announcement of progress, cultural backsliding so locked-in it feels pre-programmed.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.