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Kendall Smith
English 2089
Professor Vaughn
17 October 2016
The Rhetoric of Rape Culture
We hear about it all the time. This year alone some very famous cases about rape, and
rape accusations, and interesting conversations were brought up about rape culture in our society.
However, in the midst of all this, we become desensitized to the concepts and the concerns raised
about how we raise our children and punish our rapists. It becomes harder and harder to grab the
attention of an audience to say, once again, how staggering the statistics are. How do authors,
researchers, and writers still manage to capture their audiences attention for such a topic which
has become so unfortunately popular that many may simply be inclined to turn away? They use
rhetorical strategies, in the form of definition, diction, and rhetorical questions, paying close
attention to their intended audience, genre, and purpose of their piece.
One of the most important things to consider when discussing a social issue, like rape
culture and how it is perpetuated, is how the subject is being defined. In academia, the
specification of one particular definition of a term is crucial, because the paper is built around the
acceptance by the audience of the terms. In a scholarly article by Joseph Michalski published in
The Journal of Comparative Social Science, the section immediately following the introduction
to his paper is a section called Defining Rape in which he writes, While the term rape has
varying connotations across cultures, Thornhill and Thornhillhave argued that the common
definitional element always includes the forced, nonconsensual nature of the sexual contact
(Ritualistic Rape in Sociological Perspective - Cross-Cultural Research 5). Michalski is very
careful to present his terms so that his target audience, other academics studying topics

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concerning gender and cultural studies, will not be able to make an argument against him. His
article discusses rape in many different cultures, but always in the context of the first definition
he has laid out, and this is done so there is no negotiation about how he makes his claims.
However, in another vein of the discussion, Zerlina Maxwell for Time magazines article Rape
Culture Is Real, has no definition of rape culture, though it is her entire articles subject. This
can be explained by her genre, an opinion piece for an article consumed mostly by Americans. In
Western societies, people have a general understanding of what is meant by the term rape
culture and that this implies the perpetuation of rape by the society itself. To the average reader
of the magazine, no further explanation is needed to consume her piece and understand the points
she is using.
Another influential rhetorical strategy is the use of various diction, depending on how an
author wants his or her audience to perceive the subject. In an advertisement by Victorias
Secrets PINK, where the company is unveiling a new line of underwear which counter rape
culture due to the sayings printed on them, such as Ask First, or No Means NO, the visual
display shows an image of their old line of underwear, which they claim perpetuates rape culture
by insinuating that sex is guaranteed, countered with a new product. Beneath the old product are
the words The Problem, where it is explained how it encourages rape culture. Beneath the new
product is written The Solution, and it is important to note that the primary purpose of this
advertisement is not to educate, but to sell. Calling the new underwear the solution to a
problem of rape culture is a stretch, but such diction makes the consumer think more highly of
the product and want to buy it more. While PINK also had the purpose of educating their
consumer, typically girls and young women, that is clearly not as important to them as selling
their material.

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On the contrary, in the scholarly article written by Michalski, the use of diction is one of
the distinguishing factors which makes it a scholarly piece, therefore making the primary
purpose to educate others. I specifically noticed this in sections where Michalski was defining
vocabulary, where words would get incredibly detailed or obscure to those who are not directly
involved in the field: Predatory violence by definition occurs in a unilateral fashion via force,
often unexpected by the victim(s). Most rapes in Western societies tend to be viewed similarly as
a form of social predation (Stevens, 1994a) (Ritualistic Rape 7). In just these few sentences, the
reader realizes through Michalskis diction, as well as clear prior research, this article is not
trying to relate to the public, nor to even just those in the West who might have access to the
journal, but very specifically is meant for others doing research work. The high style of diction
creates an environment for the reader that makes Michalskis claims difficult to refute, because
the word choices are often too unfamiliar for a public reader to understand in any sense except
the one they are seeing. As another example, he writes, The victims in ritualistic rapes tend to
be culturally homogeneous among themselves, which includes the cultural similarity of the
females targeted (19). While the concept is generally understandable, the argument is strong
because of the layers of complexity in the diction.
The Time article is, yet again, different in its use of diction. Because this article is meant
to be read by the masses, it has a much more colloquial feel when read. The words are just
simpler, and the concepts are far easier to grasp because they are used in the context of how the
general public understands them. Maxwell writes, Its no surprise because most of us would
rather believe that the terrible realities we hear about arent real or that, at least, we cant do
anything about it (Rape Culture Is Real). Maxwell is speaking for her whole audience here by
choosing to say us and we. This gives the effect of having to reach less for the concept, and
we can either agree or disagree with Maxwell, but we can easily understand what she is saying.

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Her diction and word choices are much more accessible to a wide range of people, and this
makes her article credible to those who are not interested in academia.
When discussing a topic like rape culture, rape statistics are a large part of how to get an
audiences attention. Simply put, they are shocking and nearly unbelievable to the average
person. Interestingly, the PINK underwear ad didnt use any statistics at all in their discussion of
why their previous line of underwear was the problem. While it probably would have been
effective, the company didnt want to shame their old product too much by putting very
unfortunate statistics about rape next to what the company endorsed for years. However, the
Time article included a paragraph of fairly broad statistics, such as, 1 in 5 women [survive] rape
or attempted rape (Rape Culture Is Real). Using accessible statistics, which do not delve too
deeply into the different categories of rape, makes the situation very real to readers, and such a
staggering number gives them a sense of urgency, which works well for Maxwells later
inclusion of public participationshe is showing how the public can be involved in the
conversation after she scares them with a statistic. As could be assumed, the article by Michalski
is full of various statistics. In this case, it is not so much to appeal to the emotions of people, but
to simply be credible enough to have his article published. To be respected by fellow academics,
Michalski needs to prove how much research he has done, and one of the most tangible ways to
do that is through real numbers and facts. There are lots of different cultures he studies, and the
most credible way to lay out his thoughts is to give the straight numbers and follow them with
his own ideas of why the numbers look the way they do.
A common rhetorical device found in all three analyzed sources was the use of rhetorical
questions, placed throughout each text. Each piece used more than one rhetorical question, but
all in different ways to serve different purposes. For example, in the Time article, Maxwell used
two successive rhetorical questions to appeal to her audiences emotions: Is 1 in 5 American

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women surviving rape or attempted rape considered a cultural norm? Is 1 in 6 men being abused
before the age of 18 a cultural norm? (Rape Culture Is Real). Her questions are specifically to
introduce her statistics, as mentioned previously, and to directly address her audience to project
some emotional responsibility, which in turn could excite them enough to try to make a change,
as she suggests. In the journal article, Michalski asks questions which he immediately answers
for the reader, such as this one: What do sexual assaults of Tutsi women by Hutu men, Tantric
priests ritual defloration of prepubescent girls in ancient Khmer, and a U.S. man who forces his
partner to have sex in response to her infidelity share in common? (Ritualistic Rape 7). Because
he answers it right away, the purpose seems to be to engage his reader. We are conditioned to
want to answer questions, and in a sense it is like audience participation in a lecture; it keeps us
interested and involved in the topic. Finally, in the case of the PINK advertisement, the small
descriptions of the product were written in a style similar to how their consumers speak. They are
reminiscent of a teen magazine: Do we even need to say it? Printing the slogan sure thing
literally over womens vaginas sends the wrong message. In what situation in life is a vagina
treated like a sure thing? We can think of one: rape (THEN and NOW). These questions have
the feel of being more conversational and colloquial than for the purpose of engaging. The
company is attempting to sound more like a fun older figure in the teens life, explaining in a
light way how these types of sayings are dangerous.
Because of the vast differences in these sources of audience, purpose, and content, they
all use very different rhetorical strategies. It seems each was successful in its own way, be it in
the case of PINK selling underwear, Times Zerlina Maxwell giving a brief synopsis of why she
knows rape culture is real, or Joseph Michalskis intensive research about rape and its subsets in
different cultures. Each genre has a specific set of rhetorical devices which are appropriate to

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use, and these authors exemplified the correct ways to use each to maximize audience
understanding and appreciation for such a serious and sad topic.

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Works Cited
Maxwell, Zerlina. "Rape Culture Is Real." Time. Time Inc., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
<http://time.com/40110/rape-culture-is-real/>.
Michalski, Joseph H. "Ritualistic Rape in Sociological Perspective - Cross-Cultural Research."
The Journal of Comparative Social Science 50.4 (2016): 3-33. ERIC (EBSCOhost). Web.
1 Oct. 2016.
"THEN and NOW." PINK Nation. PINK Victoria's Secret, n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
<http://pinklovesconsent.com/pink/pink.victoriassecret.com/before_after.html>.