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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2009

Lisa Campo-Engelstein
Pages 25-42

Cultural Memory, Empathy, and Rape

Assuming a relational understanding of the self, I argue that empathy is necessary for individual and cultural recovery from rape. However, gender affects our ability to listen with empathy to rape survivors. For women, the existence of cultural memories discourages empathy either by engendering fear of their own future rape or by provoking sympathy rather than empathy. For men, the lack of cultural memories makes rape what Arendt calls an "unreality," thus diminishing the possibility for empathy. Although empathetic listening presents gender specific challenges for both women and men, it should not be abandoned as a strategy for trauma recovery. I make two broad suggestions for promoting empathy. First, we need to teach empathy for victims and survivors. Second, we need to discredit problematic gender norms, which buttress rape culture and sexual violence.

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