Words matter. My recent readings, including Dylan Farrow’s letter to the New York Times, an article published by The Atlantic, and Margaret Grebowiczs’ book Why Internet Porn Matters, have made me more aware of the ways in which the names we give things redefine our experiences.
Dylan Farrow’s letter to the New York Times two weeks ago rekindled public conversations about sex abuse, human rights, and privacy. But people seem as skeptical about the “truth” as they were before. The idea that the public can never know for sure what exactly happened that day in 1992 when Farrow claims Woody Allen sexually abused her is unbeatable. An article published by The Atlantic, titled “Why Young Sexual Assault Victims Tell Incoherent Stories” makes an interesting argument about the ways in which language and power shape and control the way stories get told. Often, technical languages—like the ones used at court—create a distance between truth and narrative. A sexual assault victim herself, Natalie Shure explains that:
As soon as children make allegations, they enter a world filled with adult concepts—ideas they themselves don’t entirely understand. In order to even tell their stories, they have to learn a new language, putting vague, undefined feelings into unfamiliar words. The whole drama plays out in a grown-up context, which means the grown-up always has the upper hand. Neutrality never even has a chance.
I bring this into discussion just now because as I finish Margaret Grebowicz’s fifth chapter, I seem to arrive at a place where she acknowledges the way language, power, and legality impact the way stories (whether pornographic or sex abuse stories) get told. In this section, Grebowicz quotes American feminist, scholar and lawyer, Catharnine MacKinnon, to argue that
because sexuality arises in relations under male dominance, women are not the principal authors of its meanings.
Does this have an equivalent with young assault victims at court? Are court-personnel further from understanding potential victims by leading them to articulate their stories in a language that is not their own? Grebowicz’s final remarks bring pornography (and potentially sex abuse victims) into the area of privacy rights. The privacy that current rights protect, she explains, “is not a privacy that protects a preexisting interiority but the condition of the possibility of this interiority…the self does not preexist the conditions in which it begins to articulate itself.” Will we ever know?
— Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor
Featured opening image, “A picture is worth a thousand words” by HikingArtist.