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[Lecture Series] ‘Well, I saw the picture’: Semiotic Ideologies and the Unsettling of Normative Conceptions of Female Sexuality in the Steubenville Rape Trial

By Dr. Susan Ehrlich, March 27, 2019, 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm

Department of Linguistics and Languages will host a talk by Dr. Susan Ehrlich, Professor at the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, York University, on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. Dr. Ehrlich received her PhD in Linguistics from University of Toronto, and is known for her work investigating the intersections between language, gender and the law

Title: ‘Well, I saw the picture’: Semiotic Ideologies and the Unsettling of Normative Conceptions of Female Sexuality in the Steubenville Rape Trial
Presenter: Dr. Susan Ehrlich
Date: Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Time: 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm
Location: TSH B128, McMaster University

Abstract:
Cultural norms surrounding heterosexuality have been shown to influence legal and popular understandings of rape. In particular, Gavey (2005) has proposed that normative ideas about men’s aggressive, hard-to-control sexuality and women’s passive, acquiescing sexuality operate as a ‘cultural scaffold’ for rape—they provide a sense-making framework that allows rape to be understood as ‘just sex.’  This paper, a case study of the 2013 Steubenville (Ohio, USA) rape trial, attempts to show how the social media evidence in the trial, especially the photographic evidence, was able to unsettle some of these discourses surrounding heterosex. Following work by Keane (2003) and Thurlow (2017) on semiotic ideologies, Dr. Ehrlich argues that the special status assigned to the digital images by the trial participants, relative to the linguistic representations, had significant consequences for the outcome of the trial.  Crucially, it brought into stark relief the problematic nature of the defense’s claim that passivity and silence on the part of the complainant was tantamount to consent.