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Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape

by Susan Brownmiller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This book stands as a unique document of the history, politics and sociology of rape and the inherent and ungrained inequality of men and women under the law.

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Clássico da segunda onda feminista, este livro é dolorosamente excelente e ainda tem o mérito de destruir alguns dos meus ídolos (como Hunter Thompson, Stanley Kubrick e Sam Peckinpah) e alguns desafetos (como Freud e a teoria psicanalítica), fazer um apanhado no estupro através da história (guerras, racismo, disputa por território e propriedade capitalista em geral) e destrinchar os meandros da culpabilização da vítima e como eram as coisas até os anos 70. Coisa linda esse livro. ( )
  Adriana_Scarpin | Jun 12, 2018 |
let's see if i can't summarize this. it's a little tough because i read it over a period of about 2.5 months, a chapter or two at a time. i'm not sure that's entirely why it read a little disjointed to me; i don't think the transitions are particularly smooth, but nothing too choppy either. so it was probably the length of time it took me to read this, with other books in between chapters.

the main issue that i have with this book is mostly related to time. this was written in 1975 and, happily, feminism is much more intersectional than it was then. she tries to be, but has a way to go. if i'd have read this in the late 70's i'm sure i'd feel differently about it, so i try to cut her some slack with that in mind. and because she genuinely tries to be, so just needs to learn more.

my other main issue is that i don't like the way she presents the book. i'm not a fan of the example after example of personal stories of rape that permeate this book. a history of rape doesn't need to dwell, actually, on these specific (and sometimes lengthy) stories for her to make her point. but maybe i come from knowing too many stories already and don't feel the need; my perspective may be different. it just felt unnecessary and exploitative, and not why i wanted to read this. it just didn't seem like the best way to actually discuss the issue was to give an example of a terrible trauma a specific woman has endured; even as her point is that many women everywhere were experiencing that trauma. first hand testimonies of named women with dates and details of assaults and names of rapists, how she felt after - it's all important and important information, but doesn't really have a place in this book. especially to the extent she used it.

quotes (from her and others she cites) and thoughts i noted as i read, with a serious overuse (on her part) of italics:

"It also did not occur to me that acceptance of these [rape culture, victim blaming] attitudes gave me a feeling of security I needed: it can't happen here."

"It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear."

at the beginning of the book, she has great and totally believable theories on how rape is the backbone of the patriarchy and led to its establishment, but gives literally no basis for it. i'd have liked some research or at least a study or two or something other than her saying "It seems eminently sensible to hypothesize that..." because that is not an argument you can use against anyone who doesn't also believe it is sensible to think something. it's no way to convince anyone of anything.

"War provides men with the perfect psychologic backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women."

i don't know why she's giving so many personal examples of rape during war, at a few times in history. there are millions of examples in history, and they don't need to be detailed in this book. it feels unnecessary or spurious at best, and voyeuristic at worst.

a quote from nietzsche: "Man should be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior."

"...a female victim of rape in war is chosen not because she is a representative of the enemy, but precisely because she is a woman, and therefore the enemy."

the historical use of the word "ravished" is disgusting me. i always thought of it in a pretty sexy way, and i know it's used all the time in romance books titles; it's almost historically synonymous with rape and i had no idea it was used so commonly this way.

"No one would want to deny that blacks were the special target of the Klan, and that black women suffered special abuse because they were women, but rather than try to separate out white women and claim they got off scot-free, a higher political understanding is gained by recognizing that sexual intimidation knows no racial distinctions, and that the sexual oppression of white women and black women is commonly shared." you know, all lives matter, not just black lives. for fuck's sake.

"Rape in slavery was more than a chance tool of violence. It was an institutional crime, part and parcel of the white man's subjugation of a people for economic and psychological gain."

"Typically for the power class, the slave's coerced participation in the act was turned on her. Her passive submission - the rule of survival in slavery - was styled as concubinage, prostitution or promiscuity when it was alluded to at all. Even the Northern abolitionists shied away from defining coercive sexual abuse under slavery as criminal rape, preferring to speak emotionally, but guardedly, of illicit passion and lust. Modern historians tend to operate under the same set of blinders." how this interpretation has come to shape and twist our view of the sexuality of people of color today. to think we can trace the "hyper sexualized" stereotype that is responsible for so much harm to black women back to slavery isn't surprising at all, but it disgusts me that we're still doing this, and that the repercussions are so strongly with us still today.

"The master-slave relationship is the most popular fantasy perversion in the literature of pornography. The image of a scantily clothed slave girl, always nubile, always beautiful, always docile, who sinks to her knees gracefully and dutifully before her master, who stands with or without boots, with our without whip, is commonly accepted as a scene of titillating sexuality." she's right, and how offensive to this history.

"The very words 'slave girl' impart to many a vision of voluptuous sensuality redolent of perfumed gardens and soft music strummed on a lyre. Such is the legacy of male-controlled sexuality, under which we struggle."

this entire chapter on "the police-blotter rapist" is so strange. she says (and she's right) that the statistics are unreliable because of the lack of reporting, etc, and then goes on to break down the numbers and make an evaluation based on totally incorrect data. it makes no sense.

i think she's trying to disparage here, but it's a weird thing to say, and imprecise at best: "The typical American perpetrator of forcible rape is little more than an aggressive, hostile youth who chooses to do violence to women."

"But there is no getting around the fact that most of those who engage in antisocial, criminal violence (murder, assault, rape and robbery) come from the lower socioeconomic classes; and that because of their historic oppression the majority of black people are contained within the lower socioeconomic classes and contribute to crimes of violence in numbers disproportionate to their population ratio in the census figures but not disproportionate to their positions the economic ladder." it's that last part that she italicized that i'd never seen mentioned anywhere else before, and that is so fascinating and telling. and should certainly be made known. but generally speaking there isn't much intersectionality in the feminism that brownmiller claims is hers. she talks about race, but not in a way that i would have considered feminist.

she's writing in the 70's, and happily we've come far since then, so that is partially responsible for the pseudo-intersectionality happening here. it sounds like in her time you could either be "for" women or "for" people of color, but not truly both. so either emmett till merely whistled, or his whistle was in the context that basically meant it as a rape threat. there is no middle ground. this sheds a bit of light on some attitudes that i heard back in the early 2000's, even, when doing anti-rape work, that never had made sense to me. in particular the white woman who was raped by a black man when she went to help with medical or recovery work in ... haiti? jamaica? and said that she couldn't hold it against him because of the racial history that he was making up for. i never understood that attitude but this book makes that make more sense, even though i still don't agree with it.

"The standard defense strategy for puncturing holes in a rape case was (and is) an attempt to destroy the credibility of the complaining witness by smearing her as a mentally unbalanced, or as sexually frustrated, or as an oversexed, promiscuous whore. In its mass-protest campaigns to save the lives of convicted black rapists, the left employed all these tactics, and more, against white women with a virulence that bordered on hate."

"By pitting white women against black men in their effort to alert the nation to the extra punishment wreaked on blacks for a case of interracial rape, leftists and liberals with a defense-lawyer mentality drove a wedge between two movements for human rights and today we are still struggling to overcome this historical legacy."

she claims that most women are raped by "gangs" of men and even has statistics (in that section that she starts by talking about the unreliable numbers) to back it up, but nothing in my experience of working with survivors (25-35 years after this book was published) bears that out at all. not that it never happens because certainly it does, but it's not the most frequent way that rape happens, at all. either it's different now than then, or her numbers are so way off (i believe this to be the case) it makes all her other claims suspicious.

speaking of those unreliable statistics, as of the writing of this book in 1975, the FBI never bothered to get numbers of sex abuse of children. i kind of can't believe that they ignored that for so long. disgraceful and disappointing. as is the way it was talked about by freud (shocking, i know), and kinsey, and pretty much everyone.

there is an interesting theory of ancient rape that she says robert graves puts forth - about "the triumph of the patriarchy over the matriarchy" and others who talk about rape starting when it was realized that sex could beget pregnancy. both are worth discussing but she's probably right when she says, "...I frankly do not believe that men needed to wait that long to discover the benefits that accrued to them from rape." all she says is that she doesn't believe, she gives no evidence, no articles, no research. just her lack of belief. i'm likely on her side on this one but she needs to back it up.

from hunter s thompson: "'Women,' he announced, ' are terrified of being raped, but somewhere in the back of every womb there is one rebellious nerve end that tingles with curiosity whenever the word is mentioned.'"

"Sexual assault of a wife, daughter, girlfriend, sister or mother is often appropriated by men as a major traumatic injury to themselves, a manifestation all the more significant when we remember that men have generally tended to discount the emotional injury suffered by women who have been raped."

this was published in 1975 and she's talking about the media and tv and movie people using rape as a trope in stories back then. i literally read an article yesterday talking about this, so it's been a problem for 40 years now.

norman mailer, when speaking to *college* audiences: "'a little bit of rape is good for a man's soul.'"

"These myths...are the beliefs that most men hold, and the nature of male power is such that they have managed to convince many women. For to make a woman a willing participant in her own defeat is half the battle."

"Through legend and lore, history has mythified not the strong woman who defends herself successfully against bodily assault, but the beautiful woman who dies a violent death while trying." that's the crux of it there, but it's also interesting when she goes on to say, "A good heroine is a dead heroine, we are taught, for victory through physical triumph is a male prerogative that is incompatible with feminine behavior. The sacrifice of life, we learn, is the most perfect testament to a woman's integrity and honor."

"The sex act, which can result in pregnancy, has as its modus operandi something men call 'penetration.' 'Penetration,' however, describes what the man does. The feminist Barbara Mehrhof has suggested that if women were in charge of sex and the language, the same act could well be called 'enclosure' ..."

i'm kind of overwhelmed by the sheer number of cultural references that i don't get because of the time this was written, but this could just be updated with so much information because - in some aspects anyway - so little has changed. great examples given of "morality tales" for women (and men) in the rag mags that were so popular and prevalent when this book came out. disgusting messaging. which of course we see now as well, but on tv shows instead. it would be nice if this book was revised and updated, actually.

there are racist assumptions made throughout the book, including this one in chapter 11: she cites that rape is a crime of opportunity and "opportunity knocks most frequently in a familiar milieu" as the reason that most rapists rape people like them (from a class and race perspective), and uses this and the fact that women who live in urban lower-class neighborhoods are at most risk of violent crime to conclude that black girls are most at risk of rape (and doesn't say it but the implication is that black boys are most likely to rape). it's true that most rape happens intra-racially, but the other assumption is just that.

there are a few pages dedicated to basically telling us that women who fight back when being assaulted fare better, both in court and in the actual rape situation, than women who submit. either this (not court, that's probably true, but during the assault) has changed or it has been flat out wrong since she wrote it. either way, even if true, this is a dangerous thing to say. besides that it totally victim blames, if it's wrong, she could cause someone to be cut or shot or choked or killed during her rape. and we know now that rapists use escalatory violence, however much they need to accomplish what they want, so fighting back usually ends up in more physical harm. i don't know if things are different now than when she wrote this - many things are, thank goodness - but reading this disturbed me greatly because of how dangerously untrue it is.

i found the most to really get behind in the very last chapter. (except when she said that law should change to reflect the "corresponding severity of the penalty that may be imposed, might better be gauged by the severity of the objective physical injury sustained by the victim during the course of the attack." certainly someone who not just rapes but also cuts or shoots or maims during a rape deserves an even heavier sentence, but to imply that the damage done is all physical is misleading.) i liked the way she wrapped it up and summarized everything (although her writing is overly done), and i completely agree with her radical view on pornography (and it's a much tamer pornography, of magazines and images, that was consumed/used in her time) and prostitution, although i rarely see it in print.

"Since marriage, by law, was consummated in one manner only, by defloration of virginity with attendant ceremonial tokens, the act man came to construe as criminal rape was the illegal destruction of virginity outside a marriage contract of his making. Later, when he came to see his own definition as too narrow for the times, he broadened his criminal concept to cover he ruination of his wife's chastity as well, thus extending the law's concern to nonvirgins too. Although these legal origins have been buried in the morass of forgotten history, as the laws of rape continued to evolve they never shook free of their initial concept - that the violation was first and foremost a violation of male rights of possession, based on male requirements of virginity, chastity and consent to private access as the female bargain in the marriage contract (the underpinnings, as he enforced them, of man's economic estate)."

"The real reason for the law's everlasting confusion as to what constitutes an act of rape and what constitutes an act of mutual intercourse is the underlying cultural assumption that it is the natural masculine role to proceed aggressively toward the stated goal, while the natural feminine role is to 'resist' or 'submit.' And so to protect male interests, the law seeks to gauge the victim's behavior during the offending act in the belief that force or the threat of force is not conclusive in and of itself."

"The case against pornography and the case against toleration of prostitution are central to the fight against rape, and if it angers a large part of the liberal population to be so informed, then I would question in turn the political understanding of such liberals and their true concern for the rights of women."

"Once we accept as basic truth that rape is not a crime of irrational, impulsive, uncontrollable lust, but is a deliberate, hostile, violent act of degradation and possession on the part of a would-be conqueror, designed to intimidate and inspire fear, we must look toward those elements in our culture that promote and propagandize these attitudes, which offer men, and in particular, impressionable, adolescent males, who form the potential raping population, the ideology and psychologic encouragement to commit their acts of aggression without awareness, for the most part, that they have committed a punishable crime, let alone a moral wrong. The myth of the heroic rapist that permeates false notions of masculinity, from the successful seducer to the man who 'takes what he wants when he wants it,' is inculcated in young boys from the time they first become aware that being a male means access to certain mysterious rites and privileges, including the right to buy a woman's body. When young men learn that females may be bought for a price, and that acts of sex command set prices, then how should they not also conclude that that which may be bought may also be taken without the civility of a monetary exchange?"

the entire book is worth reading for this passage alone. Brava:

***"But my horror at the idea of legalized prostitution is not that it doesn't work as a rape deterrent, but that it institutionalizes the concept that it is man's monetary right, if not his divine right, to gain access to the female body, and that sex is a female service that should not be denied to the civilized male. Perpetuation of the concept that the 'powerful male impulse' must be satisfied with immediacy by a cooperative class of women, set aside and expressly licensed for this purpose, is part and parcel of the mass psychology of rape. Indeed, until the day is reached when prostitution is totally eliminated (a millennium that will not arrive until men, who create the demand, and not women who supply it, are fully prosecuted under the law), the false perception of sexual access as an adjunct of male power and privilege will continue to fuel the rapist mentality."

"It is no accident (for what else could be its purpose?) that females in the pornographic genre are depicted in two cleanly delineated roles: as virgins who are caught and 'banged' or as nymphomaniacs who are never sated."

"There can be no 'equality' in porn, no female equivalent, no turning of the tables in the name of bawdy fun. Pornoography, like rape, is a male invention, designed to dehumanize women, to reduce the female to an object of sexual access, not to free sensuality from moralistic or parental inhibition."

"Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda."

"But does one need scientific methodology in order to conclude that the anti-female propaganda that permeates our nation's cultural output promotes a climate in which acts of sexual hostility directed against women are not only tolerated but ideologically encouraged? A similar debate has raged for many years over whether or not the extensive glorification of violence (the gangster as hero; the loving treatment accorded bloody shoot-'em-ups in movies, books and on TV) has a causal effect, a direct relationship to the rising rate of crime, particularly among youth. Interestingly enough, in this area - nonsexual and not specifically related to abuses against women - public opinion seems to be swinging to the position that explicit violence in the entertainment media does have a deleterious effect; it makes violence commonplace, numbingly routine and no longer morally shocking.
More to the point, those who call for a curtailment of scenes of violence in movies and on television in the name of sensitivity, good taste and what's best for our children are not accused of being pro-censorship or against freedom of speech. Similarly, minority group organizations, black, Hispanic, Japanese, Italian, Jewish, or American Indian, that campaign against ethnic slurs and demeaning portrayals in movies, on television shows and in commercials are perceived as waging a just political fight, for if a minority group claims to be offended by a specific portrayal, be it Little Black Sambo or the Frito Bandido, and relates it to a history of ridicule and oppression, few liberals would dare to trot out a Constitutional argument in theoretical opposition, not if they wish to maintain their liberal credentials. Yet when it come to the treatment of women, the liberal consciousness remains fiercely obdurate, refusing to be budged, for the sin of appearing square or prissy in the age of the so-called sexual revolution has become the worst offense of all." ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Aug 10, 2016 |
This book has all of the problems of second wave feminism. It's a very white, middle to upper class look at rape, seeing it as a male-female inequality without a big look into bigger institutional issues. (And by bigger I don't mean the criminal justice system. I mean capitalism, classism, racism, etc.)

I particularly dislike Brownmiller's take on interracial rape as a burden of white women, which stood out as a starkly racist stance to take on the issue. I also dislike Brownmiller's thoughts that the criminal justice problem will solve rape if only rapists would be arrested and sent to jail for their crimes. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is broken, and is really used as a way to incarcerate poor people of color. Maybe people didn't realize that in the 1970s, but these days I wouldn't excuse an author for taking that stand.

Finally, I dislike how Brownmiller almost completely ignored rape outside of the realm of male rapists violating women. The only male on male rape she explored was within the prison system. Again, maybe this book is just a product of the times, but I found it shocking that such an exhaustive treatise on rape would completely ignore male on male rape, female on male rape and female on female rape. While male on female rape has the highest rate of occurrence, it's not like the other rapes don't happen. They're just ignored, and that doesn't help anyone. ( )
1 vote lemontwist | Apr 8, 2010 |
It is easy to see why this is a classic. It was originally written in the late 1960s/early 1970s and was, at the time, a groundbreaking book on the subject of rape. The author clearly was a feminist during the height of the 2nd wave of the women's rights movement which I think does color her book but does not detract from its worth.

The author focuses a good chunk of the book on rape during war, revolution, and other such violent events. However, she also focuses on rape in other cases. Her book is clearly written from the view that most men are rapists and most women are the victims and even makes the claim that rape is the way all men keep all women in a state of fear, which I don't completely agree with. However, I still recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject because it is a classic and one of the first thorough accounts about rape. It is a topic that needs to be talked about more, and studied about more, and this book definitely does it. You don't have to agree with everything in the book (I don't agree with everything in this book) to see it's worth. I do like this book and I'm glad I purchased it.

I definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in the topic. ( )
3 vote Angelic55blonde | Apr 1, 2008 |
Very old now, the original book dates form the 1970s, iirc - but it is still worth reading for some of the different perceptions of rape, which, most unfortunately, don't seem to have changed.
  tole_lege | Oct 23, 2005 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Brownmillerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Forsman, HollyPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book stands as a unique document of the history, politics and sociology of rape and the inherent and ungrained inequality of men and women under the law.

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