|dc.description.abstract||In this thesis, I explore the lived repercussions of dominant discourses around victimhood and survivorship, informed by rape myths, by focusing on interpersonal responses to victims of sexual violence and the consequences of these interactions. I explore these responses from my position as a victim/survivor, to address the shortage of victim/survivor accounts and several topical gaps, especially the construction of, and relationship between, the victim and survivor labels as they are colloquially used. I propose two research questions: (1) How are the discourses of victimhood and survivorship deployed in making sense of sexual victimization, and how are they related? and (2) How do these discourses affect social and interpersonal relationships, and how is this experienced by a victim/survivor over several years?
I take an autoethnographic approach to produce feminist theory and engage with my lived experiences after sexual violence, with an emphasis on interpersonal conversations. Autoethnography limits the scope and generalizability of the study, since it relies on the experience of a single person, but it also allows for depth of inquiry unavailable by other methods. For data, I work primarily from memoir drafts written between 2012 and 2014, following rape in 2012, and secondarily on memory. In analyzing these narrative fragments, I build upon a feminist theoretical framework, including Ahmed’s (2017) challenge to the theory experience divide and notion of “feminist snap”, Brison’s (2002) insights that post-rape processes are inherently relational and that victim epistemologies offer vital contributions to the field, and Stringer’s (2014) “neoliberal victim theory”. I also apply McKenzie-Mohr and Lafrance’s (2011) notion of “tightrope talk”, which accounts for how victim/survivors use dominant discourse in contradictory ways to generate novel articulations.
I find that the discourses of victimhood and survivorship contribute to the untenability of victim identity, which is fraught with contradictory imperatives: adhering to one set of expectations necessarily violates the other, inciting deleterious backlash. This untenability fosters the imperative to become a ‘survivor’ which is constructed as sitting at the opposite end of ‘journey’ of personal overcoming. I argue that discourses of survivorship have been heavily swayed by neoliberal discourse, valorising agency and strength, and construing it as an achievement to escape victimhood and its associated stigmas. I develop a feminist analyses to argue that these frameworks underscore individual coping and erase the social reality of sexual violence, and that this pattern is evident in discourse around posttraumatic growth, which I problematize.
In light of my analysis, I conclude that dominant discourses and constructions of the victim and survivor label infuse everyday conversation in a manner which can be counterproductive and harmful. One pernicious effect is the dissolution of relationships and reactive victim scapegoating of a victim/survivor. I also conclude that the overemphasis on personal responsibility is especially problematic in a context where no amount of individual agency or overcoming adversity addresses the reality that we all must navigate a world in which gender based violence remains a threat.||