Department of Gender Studies Graduate Projects

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    The Penile-Penetration Requirement: Heteronormative and Phallocentric Constructions of "Real" Rape
    (2023) Kellough-Pollock, Laura Bronwyn
    This Major Research Paper examines women’s experiences of non-penile-penetrative sexual violence. It explores how non-penile-penetrative sexual violence challenges the heteronormative and phallocentric construction of “real” rape as dependent on penile-penetration. I understand “non-penile-penetrative sexual violence” as nonconsensual sexual activities that do not involve penile-penetration, such as kissing, self-exposure, sexual touching, digital penetration (“fingering”), brachiovaginal and brachioproctic insertion (vaginal and anal “fisting,” respectively), and penetration with an object. I argue that the construction of real rape as dependent on penile-penetration is both heteronormative and phallocentric. This construction is heteronormative in that it defines rape as a heterosexual act that requires penile-vaginal penetration; it is phallocentric in that it requires a penis, and penile-penetration, to “count” as rape. Given this, I address the research question: How does the heteronormative and phallocentric construction of “real” rape as dependent on penile-penetration shape women’s understandings and experiences of non-penile-penetrative sexual violence? To answer this question, I engage in a feminist discourse analysis of Reddit threads. My analysis shows that many users’ understandings of rape rely on the belief that real rape requires penetration, the hierarchy of severity (in which penetrative forms of sexual violence are recognized as “real” and harmful while non-penetrative forms are not), and the myth that rape requires physical violence and resistance. Overall, my research illustrates that these constructions of real rape hinder many women’s recognition of their own experiences of sexual violence as rape. As such, this paper highlights the need to expand our understanding of rape to recognize all victims of sexual violence.