Maddie O’Connell | Managing Editor
TW: Rape and Sexual Violence
Last week, The Fourth Wave published an article titled “If we added up all the time we’ve spent writing angry Facebook posts about Brock Turner, maybe we could make some real changes.” The following article is a response to this author’s argument. As always, opinions reflected in our articles are that of the author’s own, and are not necessarily shared by the many diverse people involved with our publication.
I do not expect the name “Brock Turner” to fade. And I absolutely do not think we should let it. I think Brock Turner symbolizes a devastating issue that women for decades — centuries, even — have articulated to an apathetic and ignorant general public.
Rape has been a constant in women’s lives throughout modern history, because rape, and the responsibility to evade it, is an ingrained component of our daily routines — which route to take home on the walk home from work, how to hold our keys like a weapon when we are alone at night, how much to drink at a party, how to dress so that I cannot possibly be blamed for a rapist’s violation of my body and my rights, although I might expect to be blamed regardless. When we are raped, many of us choose not to come forward, and this could boil down to any number of factors — the rapist not believing they committed rape, the police doubting our stories, our schools calling us liars, or our inability to recollect an incident in full due to trauma or intoxication. Perhaps most pervasively, there is always the fear that we will devote weeks or months (and thousands of dollars) to relive a horrific experience in court, only to watch the perpetrators spend a mere three months in jail — a sentence insulting to survivors everywhere and one Brock Turner infamously completed last week.
I repeat these fundamental symptoms of rape culture not for any “seasoned” feminists who might read The Fourth Wave, but for the people only now becoming familiar with the term “rape culture” and its realities. This is for the people who are confused and angry with a system built to protect the interests of the privileged and vilify the survivors who aren’t; for the people who are coming to terms with their own experience with sexual violence, especially if they are only now realizing that what happened to them was rape.
Many of us spend years navigating rape culture before we become familiar with the language used in feminist circles to discuss it. I learned the term “rape culture” when I was in high school, and I owe this to feminist communities on sites like Rookie and Jezebel, as well as through the women and personal friends I followed on Tumblr at the time. And I have absolutely taken to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to explain my frustrations about the countless, ceaseless Brock Turners that come into the public eye every few years. Social media is a powerful, discursive tool used to share ideas, generate discussion and provide others with the language to describe their own anger. Reducing angry Facebook posts and wordy Twitter threads to actionless rants degrades their role as valuable feminist discourse.
After all, how do we know Brock Turner’s name in the first place? The viral letter the survivor of his crime allowed Buzzfeed to publish the incited national discussion (online and otherwise) around sexual assault, gendered double standards and institutional bias. Our own publication operates similarly — writers of The Fourth Wave pen insightful articles to share with our friends, family, and university peers, because we are committed to bringing intersectional feminist discussions to the forefront of campus culture. We do not write letters to our legislators at The Fourth Wave meetings. Not all of our members are actively pursuing careers in survivor advocacy or following courses of study on the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies track. Not every person involved in our publication has personally approached the Dean about ways to improve the harrowing sexual assault problem on Pitt’s campus.
But what we do — our contribution to feminist discussion — is action. Writing a letter to the man who raped you and having the courage to share that on the internet is action. Talking about these issues on personal social media accounts is action. The more people talk about Brock Turner, the more people engage with the realities of rape culture, patriarchy and injustice. The visibility of this discussion relies on who cares about the “Brock Turner problem” enough to get angry and show others why they should be angry, too.
Here’s a tongue-twister for you: indirect action points us toward the direction of direct action. I want people to keep getting angry on Facebook so that the sheer volume of anger cannot render politicians ignorant to what their constituents want. I would be thrilled if every teen and adult could learn more about the symptoms of rape culture via Twitter, because perhaps that means they also become mobilized to take action through anti-rape advocacy organizations, protest groups, or publications like our own. Change does not happen in a wordless, angerless vacuum, and we have to imagine that some of the people reading our Facebook statuses are the politicians, judges, police officers, university officials, feminist activists and peers with the power to apply this knowledge and emotional investment to their own roles in a pervasive rape culture. Keep getting angry on social media, and @ us next time.
Editor’s note: The University of Pittsburgh recently revised their Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure. Visit Pitt’s Title IX website to read the revisions. If you wish to report an incident of sexual assault to the University, you may use Pitt’s Title IX “report” tool. For counseling or emotional support, consult the resources available through the University Counseling Center.