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Rape Culture and the Illusion of Empowerment in Contemporary Transnational Literature
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This dissertation interrogates myths of empowerment centered on individual choice within a global rape culture. While rape culture is increasingly a fixture in contemporary U.S. and European news, especially with the rise of social movements such as #MeToo, sexual assault and sexual violence have for many years been an abiding concern of transnational literature, literatures from former colonies and impoverished regions, and literature from developing nations. This dissertation explores instances of rape culture in novels from a range of regions including South Asia, Korea, Latin America, and Africa. In doing so, the objectives of this dissertation are threefold. First, I theorize rape culture as a ubiquitous and transnational form of violence against women in the contemporary world, which functions systematically as a condition of violence that is structural, routine, and rendered obscure by its pervasiveness in everyday life. Second, I examine the ways in which literature exposes individual sexual empowerment as a myth that obscures systemic manifestations of rape culture, leaving women open to the dangers of sexual exploitation. I draw upon recent postfeminist debates on the commodification and individualization of feminism that recognize the failures of empowerment feminism within the individuated and less socially connected modes of neoliberalism. Finally, I investigate the possibilities of transnational feminist solidarity against a global rape culture after various myths of empowerment are unmasked. Ultimately, this dissertation is concerned with the ways in which literature not only reveals empowerment as a myth, but also offers possibilities for women’s empowerment within rape culture. My research concludes that empowerment is sustained not in individualized modes, but rather on a structural level, particularly in transnational contexts.
Ahn, Hakyoung (2020). Rape Culture and the Illusion of Empowerment in Contemporary Transnational Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from