Pumla Dineo Gqola’s groundbreaking work challenges the wall of violence against women and gender-based violence. Through her concept of the “female fear factory,” she explores the deep-rooted crisis of violence by unraveling the mechanisms that perpetuate rape culture and toxic misogyny. Her research delves into the socialization that leads to compliance, revealing strategies to dismantle the factory’s harmful logics. Gqola’s work initiates a paradigm shift by focusing on shifting fear from victims to potential violators, while fostering alternative strategies for safer societies. Her acclaimed books “Rape: A South African Nightmare” and “Female Fear Factory” and subsequent feminist scholarship provide a transformative lens through which to understand, unlearn, and interrupt patriarchal violence, contributing to a global feminist framework against gender-based violence.

Which wall does your research break?

My work breaks the wall of violence against women and queer people. The female fear factory probes the ongoing global crisis of violence against women and gender-based violence by developing, first, a framework for understanding not just rape culture and toxic institutionalised misogyny but the ways in which humans are primed (socialised) into compliance, and, second, developing strategies for undoing the female fear factory by undermining its logics and interrupting its processes. In its initial formulation, I was concerned, specifically, with rape in different South African epochs. The coinage was meant to explain how gendered violence, in the form of rape, is the threat communicated in public spaces to ensure the compliance of women. The factory metaphor was important in order to explain three crucial aspects: history (post-industrial revolution), scale of its dissemination (on an intimate and planetary scale), and fear’s ongoing production (process). Some of the benefits that come from a more sustained and complex understanding of the problem (a diagnosis) include the capacity to develop strategies to break the stranglehold – to enable writing against the female fear factory, as I do, and develop conceptual and practical strategies for its dismantling, some of which are present in my work. In the scholarship and activism by others which directly references and/or cites my work on the female fear factory, there is a further amplification of anti-patriarchal strategies.

What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?

The female fear factory was my coinage in a longform study of rape, published as the highly influential book _Rape: A South African Nightmare_ (2015). In Chapter 4 of that book (attached), I was concerned with understanding how to shift the fear from those who are the targets of rape and rape culture, to making (potential) violators feel unsafe. I was dissatisfied with interventions after violence has already occurred, and frustrated by the general understanding that rape was one of the ways in which patriarchy entrenches itself, and was curious about the specific machinations through which this was effected. I understood the many contradictory historical confluences that have led to the South African rape crisis, but was interested in strategies that could work against rape at different scales. I had been immersed in academic and activist work against rape for nearly three decades and was curious about the validity of existing strategies. Increasingly, I was being asked, “What can individuals do, in addition to the ongoing work of movements?” There was also an explicit desire to contribute to a shift in SA public discourse about rape, which tended to be circular. Since the book’s significant success and impact in SA (14 reprints thus far and widely acknowledged as the most important book on rape in SA inside and outside the academy), I was then challenged, as I continued to work with the material, to think more about the concepts I had developed in that study, chief among which was the female fear factory. In part, this is due to how well received and highly circulated the concept became, including in moments of mass feminist mobilisation. Such engagements inspired me to think further with the lens and think beyond SA and rape to examine sexual harassment in different contexts, femicide, countersuits by convicted offenders, criminal cases, gendered political intimidation, the use of legislation to limit women’s movement, and rape cultures across the world. This is the further treatment that culminated in the book _Female Fear Factory_ published in 2021 in southern Africa, and 2022 in the UK and the rest of Africa. I continue to work with the theoretical concept.

In what ways does society benefit from your research?

Understanding patriarchal violence through the lens of the female fear factory has led me to develop, and amplify, strategies to interrupt patriarchal violence by undermining its logic and unlearning its necessary fluencies. In the book, _Female Fear Factory_, I draw on articulations and contestations of the female fear factory in very different societies across the world, sometimes in comparative chapters, and at times in chapters that offer in-depth analysis of particular contexts. This is important to test and demonstrate the veracity of my theoretical and conceptual coinages, as well as to illuminate the usefulness of the proposed (and amplified) strategies. I analyse Saudi Arabia, Brazil, El Salvador, The Netherlands, India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, UK, USA, using a variety of texts from documentaries, novels and non-fiction, television series, prominent cases reported in the media, autobiographical narratives, court cases, and an election campaign, among others. Understanding how fluency in the female fear factory keeps the mechanism in place, I illuminate how (and to what ends) this fluency is inculcated in quotidian interactions and spectacular events. I do so to better make a case for unlearning the fluency and interrupting the female fear factory. These interruptions work at different scales and can be taught in practical ways, for example in education settings for safe campuses, or teaching about gender and sexuality differently in school settings. Many of the strategies I have developed have been adopted by different feminist activist groups, social movements, training of feminist/human rights lawyers, and applied in numerous research contexts.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?

Through my work on the female fear factory, I hope to contribute to global feminist theoretical frameworks for understanding the enduring logics, pathways and patterns of violence against women, specifically, and all gender-based violence. The female fear factory illuminates how patriarchal violence sustains fear, where fear is both an intimately felt emotion and a historical system of control. Understanding the female fear factory also enables the development and amplification of strategies to take it apart, as my work constantly demonstrates.

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