Shout Your Story: the Rhetorical Influence of Rape Memoirs on Public Discourse

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University of Alabama Libraries

Rape memoirs have been present on our bookshelves ever since the groundbreaking publication of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou in 1969. The combination of storytelling, sexual violence, and wide readership has allowed for rape memoirs to make a profound impact on public discourse. This thesis explores how the unique rhetorical situation of rape memoirs, with the heavy reliance on first-person narrative, impacts public discourse, distinct from the #MeToo sharing of sexual violence stories. This thesis is a feminist rhetorical analysis of two notable memoirs within the past five years: Know My Name by Chanel Miller and Unbound by Tarana Burke. To provide thought behind the writing of rape memoirs, I provide my own autoethnography, as well as an Instagram Reel rhetorical analysis to examine the new age of digital memoirs. Due to Burke and Miller’s influence and the Instagram Reel’s virality, all of these texts serve as essential artifacts within the anti-sexual violence movement, utilizing them as representative models of rape memoirs in popular culture. This thesis explores the rhetorical strategies through which rape memoirs engage public discourse, revealing their role as a feminist tool to combat sexual violence.

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Memoir, Rape, Sexual Violence