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Dr Tanya Serisier
Birkbeck College, University of London

#MeToo is only the most recent, and most prominent example of survivors of sexual violence telling their stories online in recent years. While much commentary focuses on the novel elements of this online speech in this presentation I want to place it within a history of feminist political practice and belief. I argue that, since the early 1970s, feminist anti-rape politics have been characterised by a belief in the transformative potential of women’s personal narratives of sexual violence. The political mobilisation of these narratives has been extraordinarily successful in many ways, to the extent that a belief in the benefits of ‘speaking out’ has transcended its feminist origins and can be found across the political spectrum. In this presetation, I explore the effects and consequences of this ‘narrative politics’. I argue that while personal narratives can be politically powerful, the use of stories of rape as a political strategy has important political limitations and unresolved ethical questions, including the generic limits about what kinds of stories are tellable and in what ways, and the difficulty of basing an anti-rape politics on a genre of stories in which rape has always-already happened.

Dr Tanya Serisier is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her research sits at the intersection of criminology, gender and cultural studies, with a particular focus on social and cultural responses to sexual violence and on the social regulation of sexuality. Her recent book, Speaking Out: Feminism, Rape and Narrative Politics explores feminist attempts to use women’s narratives of sexual violence as a political weapon against rape. She is currently working on understandings of sexual danger and threat under neoliberalism.

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