Resisting Sexual Violence: What Empathy Offers
The primary aim of this essay is to investigate modalities of resistance to sexual violence. It begins from the observation that the nature of what we understand ourselves to be resisting—that is, how we define the scope, content, and causes of sexual violence—will have profound implications for how we approach the possibilities of resistance. I critically engage one model of resistance to sexual violence: feminist philosophical scholarship on self-defense, highlighting several shortcomings in how the feminist self-defense discourse inadvertently frames sexual violence. Holding these criticisms in mind, I expand the landscape of resistance to sexual violence by considering new possibilities that empathy might offer. The work of two contemporary women of color feminists—Roxane Gay and Tarana Burke—launches further exploration of empathy’s alternative modes of resistance. In focusing on empathy between survivors of sexual violence, we can expand our understanding of the possibilities of resistance by redistributing and broadening our attention in three main ways: from action to affect and attitude, from a spatially and temporally limited event to something more expansive, and from the individual through the interpersonal to the structural.
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