Spotlight on Rape

Understanding the power of language and how it reinforces rape culture

Rape culture is not about raping. It is about the myths and stereotypes that are pervasive across all communities and manifested through things like language, behaviour and attitudes, which then encourage violence towards women.

Barbara Boswell has researched the language of rape culture. Language plays a powerful role in reinforcing behaviours and attitudes towards women in society that make rape culture acceptable.

Boswell is a senior lecturer in the English Department at the University of Witwatersrand, and talks to Pippa Hudson about the importance of the words we use.

Language constructs reality, and the way we speak about gender, the way we speak about sex, the way we speak about women, all of these can combine to construct a culture which is enabling of rape.

Barbara Boswell, senior lecturer Wits

What is rape culture? It is an environment that makes it acceptable and normalises violence against women, which leads to rape.

Boswell says characteristics of rape culture are victim blaming, "she was raped because she was at a certain place, at a certain time where she shouldn't have been, she had too much to drink, she was wearing this or that."

She says rape culture also places the onus on victims to absorb the fallout of sexual assault and rape.

Practices like 'slut shaming', terms like 'side-chick', 'bitches' and 'hoes' are all examples of rape culture.

One of the terms I am hearing campus is side chick. Now this might seem like quite an innocuous term and not all that harmful, but if you really think about how that is constructing reality, it is putting women in opposition to one another...and making them inferior to men

Barbara Boswell, senior lecturer Wits

Listen to the interview below:


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