The social and cultural conditions in which we live in today continue to perpetuate and maintain the rape culture that pervades our lives, especially for the lives of individual women. As a feminist thinker, Ann Cahill works to change this by challenging current definitions of rape as assault, and addressing questions of why rape exists in the first place, and how we can begin the prevention process. In Cahill’s book, “Rethinking Rape”, she approaches the subject of rape by analyzing the works of contemporary feminist theorists like Judith Butler, who perceive the female body as a potential site of resistance against gender-based oppression and a “larger system of sexual domination” (Cahill 32). Although each is addressing very different issues in feminist theory, Cahill does draw upon some of Butler’s ideas about the imitation and performance of gender in Butler’s essay “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” Cahill does this in order to further articulate her critique of “the body” and the role it plays in the phenomenon of rape “as an embodied experience of women” at the level of the individual (Cahill 109). There are certain concepts besides the performance of gender that both Authors touch on including “the body”, heterosexual norms as inhibitions to attaining liberation, the relationship between sexuality and gender, and the problematic nature of social constructs. By comparing and contrasting the works of Cahill and Butler, this paper will explore the importance and complexities of “the body”, the pivotal role it plays in Cahill’s critique of the phenomenon of rape, and how Butler’s critique of “coming out of the closet” values the notion of gender “performativity” more than the notion of“the body” itself.
Before delving deeper into the complexities of “the body” and its relationship to rape and the performance of gender, we must first understand what a body is, and how the notion of “the body” plays a part in each author’s critique. Cahill defines “the body” as,
a major medium of iteration, and as such, it is both the effect of and the condition of possibility for the imposition of regulatory [meaning heterosexual] norms. It is also, however, the site where that iteration inevitable falls short of the demands of such norms, and as such, it is central to the project of resistance (90).
In addition to Cahill’s summation of “the body”, Butler urges us not to employ the concept of identity in the project of resistance because it “exists beyond” the environment in which power develops. Although Butler and Cahill agree on the centrality of “the body” to the project of resistance, they are addressing different demographics so they value and approach the performance of gender differently in the message that they are trying to communicate.
While Cahill focuses on the gendered nature of rape as she addresses women, Butler places the notion of gender at the center of her critique of “the closet” when talking to the gay and lesbian...