#TheEmptyChair: Shifting Conversations About Rape Culture

It’s the magazine cover that’s been seen around the world before it was even printed.

New York magazine released this picture on social media of this week’s cover story–in a stunning photo, the cover features the 35 women who have bravely come forward in speaking out about the assaults and sexual predation that they’ve undergone at the hands of Bill Cosby. However, instead of having Cosby himself make an appearance alongside the cover with these women, a more ominous figure is printed in his place–one lone chair.

I’ve written about the Cosby rape ordeal on here before (check here and here), but this is not another post to discuss Cosby’s misgivings. Instead, this is about how one photo may lead in the shift in popular culture that conversations about violence against women have been lacking.

Once the cover was unveiled, social media went into a frenzy in a shockingly honest and sobering take. Twitter immediately exploded with #theemptychair, where users unveiled their own accounts of dealing with rape and violence. Users shared ordeals, support, and everything in between to stand electronically beside the women on this cover.

Social media has the ability to explore these uniting and realistic topics, and that is what makes it such a powerful and ever-evolving tool. Even with this hashtag, it shows us the potential of the best of social media and supporting victims of violence and rape.

Perhaps this hashtag can begin an honest dialogue with shifting how we think of and discuss rape in media. Language still remains paramount in how we break down and discuss these issues, and even the cover article is imperfect, with its printed of statements from the “alleged” victims proving that there is still work to be done.

Still, by having the empty chair off-center yet still visible, we are able to shift our own focus. No longer is the center of the story on the oppressor, Cosby, but instead, it is a gentler conversation about addressing needs of the women and how their healing can process. That alone makes for a better use of our time and attention than using it to further their pain.

Rape culture will not be completely eradicated if we stick to just the same narrative of “he said, she said” or telling victims that their stories do not matter. It begins when we allow our uncomfortablility to take a backseat in doing what’s right and standing up against this gendered and targeted violence. There is an epidemic of empty chairs seeped deeper into our culture than we may realize, and it’s up to us to take the power back from them.

We can rise above the authority of #theemptychair.

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