An Other Woman's Rape: Abjection and Objection in Representations of War Rape Victims in the DRC
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The growing global awareness of sexual violence as a weapon of war has been accompanied by the strategic and pervasive inclusion of women’s personal stories of war rape. This representational strategy of Western media, academia and humanitarian policies was critically examined in order to understand how war raped women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are discursively situated as “Other.” Drawing on the theoretical concepts of abjection and objection, the study did not question the truth of women’s experience but rather examined whether the pervasive inclusion of war rape stories constituted a true feminine subjectivity. A foucaldian notion of discourse provided a method to expose meaning and dominant discourses, which make certain identities and stories of war rape more visible than others. The purpose of this study was to critically engage with dominant Western discourses of war rape and provide a more complex understanding of how diverse power structures, identities and representational practices impact the struggle of Congolese women to open self-determined pathways of empowerment. A qualitative method of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) was used to examine the textual and visual processes of representation. Samples of text were taken from three main areas: media coverage (print, television, web based magazines, and films), feminist academic literature (journals, reports and books), and humanitarian policies (UN mission reports, Security Council resolution, mandates and reports). The results revealed that war rape victims, the DRC and acts of war rape were all positioned as “Other” and as a media spectacle that was further consumed by Western audiences. It was also found that certain war rape identities and social factors remained invisible, including the West’s complacency in the DRC conflict. Ultimately, the study finds a tension between discourse as a tool of liberation and a tool of power and control. This thesis recommends that anti rape activists must examine their own dominance over war rape victims and consider new strategies—beyond the simple act of storytelling—that will position rape victims as the subjects (not objects) of their own struggle to end war rape.