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"The most comprehensive study of rape ever offered to the public...It forces readers to take a fresh look at their own attitudes toward this devastating crime." -NEWSWEEK As powerful and timely now as when it was first published, AGAINST OUR WILL stands as a unique document of the history of politics, the sociology of rape and the inherent and ingrained inequality of men "The most comprehensive study of rape ever offered to the public...It forces readers to take a fresh look at their own attitudes toward this devastating crime." -NEWSWEEK As powerful and timely now as when it was first published, AGAINST OUR WILL stands as a unique document of the history of politics, the sociology of rape and the inherent and ingrained inequality of men and women under the law. In lucid, persuasive prose, Brownmiller has created a definitive, devastating work of lasting social importance. Chosen by THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW as One of the Outstanding Books of the Year


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"The most comprehensive study of rape ever offered to the public...It forces readers to take a fresh look at their own attitudes toward this devastating crime." -NEWSWEEK As powerful and timely now as when it was first published, AGAINST OUR WILL stands as a unique document of the history of politics, the sociology of rape and the inherent and ingrained inequality of men "The most comprehensive study of rape ever offered to the public...It forces readers to take a fresh look at their own attitudes toward this devastating crime." -NEWSWEEK As powerful and timely now as when it was first published, AGAINST OUR WILL stands as a unique document of the history of politics, the sociology of rape and the inherent and ingrained inequality of men and women under the law. In lucid, persuasive prose, Brownmiller has created a definitive, devastating work of lasting social importance. Chosen by THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW as One of the Outstanding Books of the Year

30 review for Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape

  1. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I’ve been asked why I wasn’t a fan of Torchwood. You’d think I would be. Who doesn’t like Captain Jack? I turned on the first episode and that ruined it for me. In the premiere, one of the Torchwood crew smuggles home an alien something or other, like a roofie. He goes to a bar, a woman rejects him, he uses the alien thing, and then she is really, willing, and able. They leave the bar, and outside the woman’s boyfriend stops them. Our “hero” uses the magic roofie on the boyfriend, who is now I’ve been asked why I wasn’t a fan of Torchwood. You’d think I would be. Who doesn’t like Captain Jack? I turned on the first episode and that ruined it for me. In the premiere, one of the Torchwood crew smuggles home an alien something or other, like a roofie. He goes to a bar, a woman rejects him, he uses the alien thing, and then she is really, willing, and able. They leave the bar, and outside the woman’s boyfriend stops them. Our “hero” uses the magic roofie on the boyfriend, who is now ready, willing, and able. The only reason why the character, Owen, didn’t engage in a threesome is because his cell phone went off. And the viewer was supposed to find this attempted rape funny, amusing. Because I knew people who enjoyed the series, I saw an episode every now and then. Torchwood was great in terms of homosexual and bisexual characters/lifestyles, but in terms of women and rape, I have to give the show an “F”. Then there is Batman: The Dark Knight. Where Rachel dies, not that I was sad to see such a non-character go, but it was pretty insulting too. Bruce says, “She was waiting for me”. Not that he loved her. Interesting word choice. And Alfred, well, Alfred erases her decision, her choice, and her last choice. She is defined, owned, by the men around her, not herself. In Philadelphia, a female judge a few years ago ruled that a prostitute or a woman engaging in prostitution cannot be raped or even gang raped. Earlier this year, a "comic" joked about rape and then wondered if it would be funny if his heckler were gang raped. The heckler, who was a woman who objected to rape jokes, was the only one who walked out of the show. And least we forget, in the last month there has been Mr. Legitimate Rape. Now, try to tell me that this book still isn’t relvalent. Just try to tell me. True, the statistics, and hopefully some of the laws, are out of date. Brownmiller’s comments about rape, in particular the view society has of the victims and how it is portrayed in movies are still relvalent. Wasn’t the last talked about fictional rape scene the one in the Daniel Craig version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I know several people who it made uncomfortable. I wonder why – because it was rape or because it was eroticized? She talks about how rape is seen in a society that puts forward the false accusation, which does happen but at least in the 1970s, the numbers weren’t that high. I have heard people debate whether or not rape victims should still be granted anonymity in the press after the Duke Lacrosse case. How come it is phrased that way, and not the suggestion of keeping both the names of the victim and the accused out of the press? Brownmiller shows the way society and the media not only objectify the victim but also blame the victim. Remember the female reporter who was sexually assaulted in the Tahir Square. Various news websites showed her dressed in a rather revealing gown, the kind one wears to a movie premiere or an awards night; not what she was wearing when she reported from Egypt. A modern example of Brownmiller’s objectification and blame the victim sections. Why, once again, this book is still current. I could go on, from the FBI finally changing its definition of rape to the idea of a virgin rape victim being more “deserving” of an abortion. But I won’t. I can’t. I can only say, read this book. Just read it. (Updating to point out that the prositute in Philadelphia is mentioned in Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women, which is good and seems to be influenced by this book)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    From Wikipedia: The 2012 Delhi gang rape case involved a rape and fatal assault that occurred on 16 December 2012 in Munirka, a neighbourhood in South Delhi, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern,[2] was beaten and gang raped in a private bus in which she was travelling with a male friend. There were six others in the bus, including the driver, all of whom raped the woman and beat her friend. The woman died from her injuries thirteen days later while undergoing emergency treatment in From Wikipedia: The 2012 Delhi gang rape case involved a rape and fatal assault that occurred on 16 December 2012 in Munirka, a neighbourhood in South Delhi, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern,[2] was beaten and gang raped in a private bus in which she was travelling with a male friend. There were six others in the bus, including the driver, all of whom raped the woman and beat her friend. The woman died from her injuries thirteen days later while undergoing emergency treatment in Singapore.[3][4] The incident generated widespread national and international coverage and was widely condemned, both in India and abroad. From BBC, describing the plight of a Yazidi girl captured by the ISIS: ...She was taken with other women to a sports hall. Then, after a couple of weeks, to a wedding hall. In one place, there were 200 women and girls. These were slave markets. IS fighters could come to take their pick. "We didn't dare look at their faces. We were so afraid. One girl came back after she had been used as a sex slave and told us everything. After that, IS did not allow anyone else to return. "They were shooting to scare us. They took whomever they wanted, by force. We were crying the whole time. We wanted to kill ourselves but we couldn't find a way." One girl did manage to kill herself, Hannan tells me. "She slashed her wrists. They didn't let us help her. They put us in a room and shut the door. She died. They said: 'It doesn't matter, we'll just dump the body somewhere.'" It seems nothing much has changed (at least not for the better) since Susan Brownmiller wrote her book forty years ago. -------------------------------------------- In the beginning was the law - which stipulated woman as the exclusive property of man. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. In ancient Babylon, according to the laws of Hammurabi, the punishment for raping a virgin was death and the girl was considered blameless. But if a married woman was raped, both parties were considered guilty and thrown into the river. Among the Hebrews, in both the cases both parties were killed by stoning if the crime took place within the city walls, with the logic that the girl could have screamed if she wanted to (gags must have not been invented then). If outside the city walls, the virgin was pardoned because nobody could have heard her screams (the married woman was still executed): however, the rapist only had to pay fifty shekels as compensation - the price of her intact hymen - to her father. Because she was a valuable commodity. Hence also, the commandment above. Ms. Brownmiller notes that there is no commandment against rape, only adultery. For the Hebrews, "rape" seems to be a crime which did not exist. The author opines that the institution of marriage must have originated from the practice of capturing a woman for sexual use. Later on, as man became more "civilised", the capture was seen as theft so the custom of buying a bride started, which exists even today in many parts of the world (even bride-stealing exists among some communities). In Medieval times, the capture of a high-born woman meant access to her wealth and estates. This is a staple of many a Gothic romance, but it is doubtful whether the original events were very romantic. So throughout history until relatively recently, woman has been viewed as a mere commodity - which has justified the unlawful possession of her body. --------------------------------------- From the "handbook" ISIS have reportedly published on the treatment of "female slaves": Question 1: What is al-sabi? "Al-Sabi is a woman from among ahl al-harb [the people of war] who has been captured by Muslims." Question 2: What makes al-sabi permissible? "What makes al-sabi permissible [i.e., what makes it permissible to take such a woman captive] is [her] unbelief. Unbelieving [women] who were captured and brought into the abode of Islam are permissible to us, after the imam distributes them [among us]." Question 4: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive? "It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6]'..." Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]? "If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn't, her uterus must be purified [first]…" Question 6: Is it permissible to sell a female captive? "It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of [as long as that doesn't cause [the Muslim ummah] any harm or damage." Question 9: If the female captive was impregnated by her owner, can he then sell her? "He can't sell her if she becomes the mother of a child..." Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty? "It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse." Question 19: Is it permissible to beat a female slave? "It is permissible to beat the female slave as a [form of] darb ta'deeb [disciplinary beating], [but] it is forbidden to [use] darb al-takseer [literally, breaking beating], [darb] al-tashaffi [beating for the purpose of achieving gratification], or [darb] al-ta'dheeb [torture beating]. Further, it is forbidden to hit the face." Question 21: What is the earthly punishment of a female slave who runs away from her master? "She [i.e. the female slave who runs away from her master] has no punishment according to the shari'a of Allah; however, she is [to be] reprimanded [in such a way that] deters others like her from escaping." Ms. Brownmiller describes in great detail (the longest chapter in the book) how women have been considered traditional "spoils" of war: she details the atrocities during the first and second world wars, the Vietnam war, and Pakistan's war in Bangladesh. The incentive of female bodies to possess has always been an incentive to the soldier, walking on the edge of death. The female is seen just as an object to gratify male craving. The excerpts from the "handbook" above proves that little has changed. This is my weapon, this is my gun This is for fighting, this is for fun - U.S. Drill Sergeant's ditty (to be continued...)

  3. 5 out of 5

    AJ

    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 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jon Trott

    Taking into account the book was published in 1975, Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape remains one of those books any serious feminist or pro-feminist has to read. It is a book I wish every man would read. Brownmiller's journalistic background and systematic historic overview of rape's place in male-dominant cultures make her work earth-shaking. The majority of men do not understand feminism even today; this book's intensity and clarity makes it far easier to understand.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lavon

    I wanted to challenge myself and venture out. I wanted a new perspective and outlook. Me being a heterosexual African American man with no prior knowledge (at the time) of feminism, I wanted to learn and understand. This is the first book to introduce me to the culture. I, myself, took a bit of a drive to get the last available copy at a Barnes and Nobles located quite a distance from me. But a drive years later that still resonates me. A drive for a book that put me through discomfort learning I wanted to challenge myself and venture out. I wanted a new perspective and outlook. Me being a heterosexual African American man with no prior knowledge (at the time) of feminism, I wanted to learn and understand. This is the first book to introduce me to the culture. I, myself, took a bit of a drive to get the last available copy at a Barnes and Nobles located quite a distance from me. But a drive years later that still resonates me. A drive for a book that put me through discomfort learning about the history of rape and abuse of women. The more I read, the more anger and disgust I felt to those who would commit such acts. Excuse my language but I’m not bullshitting when I say real genuine blood boiling anger. A lot of why’s ran through my head with every page flip. And If I wasn’t feeling that, I felt for the victims that were on the receiving end. It doesn’t have to be this book in particular but I encourage all men to pick up some type of feminist piece of writing, read it, understand it, and retain it. Especially in Today’s day and age with so much going on, it is much needed for all of us.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Yael Winston

    Reading Against our Will is a little like watching a John Wayne movie. When one sees the familiar swagger of the all-American hero, the oddly familiar, maybe even hackneyed, ring to it makes one ask, "Haven't we seen this before?" So, too, does Brownmiller's book feel like ideas that have been repeated frequently, especially to readers who have tastes similar to mine. But then, when reading Brownmiller's work (or watching Wayne's movies), I have to remember--this stuff is not hackneyed. I like Reading Against our Will is a little like watching a John Wayne movie. When one sees the familiar swagger of the all-American hero, the oddly familiar, maybe even hackneyed, ring to it makes one ask, "Haven't we seen this before?" So, too, does Brownmiller's book feel like ideas that have been repeated frequently, especially to readers who have tastes similar to mine. But then, when reading Brownmiller's work (or watching Wayne's movies), I have to remember--this stuff is not hackneyed. I like to stay away from words like "groundbreaking," but Brownmiller's 1975 work, well, broke ground. As John Wayne became the protoype of the noble hero, Against Our Will (1975) set the standard for much feminist thinking about rape. Our society is still very much steeped in rape culture. The fact that we use the word "penetration" to describe even VOLUNTARY sex acts indicates an attitude that sex is a violation in and of itself. (Brownmiller herself and later feminists have taken issue to the phraseology, as I do.) But when, where and how did this rape culture start? Brownmiller digs down into the roots of rape and discusses it as the physical and psychological crime we now consider it to be. When reading Against Our Will, it is important to remember that Brownmiller, along with a handful of her contemporaries, caused us to begin thinking of rape as enlightened members of our culture have come to think of it now: as an act of violence on the bodily integrity of a full human being. Brownmiller suggests that the concept of the heterosexual couple with the male as protector of the female originated because of a female fear of rape. "Those of her own sex whom she might call to her aid were more often than not smaller and weaker than her male attackers....But among those creatures who were her predators, some might serve as her chosen protectors. Perhaps it was thus that the risky bargain was struck. Female fear of an open season of rape, and not a natural inclination toward monogamy, motherhood or love, was probably the single causative factor in the original subjugation of woman by man, the most important key to her historic dependence, her domestication by protective mating" (16). Because of this assymtetrical need for protection, woman came to be seen as less than man. If man were going to protect woman in a way that woman could not protect man or herself, woman would become man's property. And rape, in the eyes of the law, became a property crime. "Rape entered the law through the back door, as it were, as a property crime of man against man. Woman, of course, was viewed as the property" (18). The first major consideration in the legal view of rape was the rape of virgins, as to rape a virgin was to reduce her value in the marriage market and thus to cheat her father. Because fathers were not the only men who "suffered" property damage due to rape, the law was expanded to protect the interests of husbands as well, as their wives, though not virgin, were their property. Ancient Babylonian law and ancient Hebrew law differed in their punishment of rapists, but both had a curious habit in certain (and most) circumstances of punishing the victim as severely as the rapist. (Ancient Hebrew tradition also gave us the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. According to the story, Joseph, a respected slave in Egyptian leader Potiphar's house, refused the sexual advances of the Egyptian's wife, who then claimed to her husband that Joseph tried to rape her. To this day, some still consider accusations of rape as the revenge of a spurned female.) Brownmiller also discusses English common law, upon which most US common law is based. English common law originally followed strictures similar to that of ancient Hebrew law. Men who ravished virgins had the option of marrying that virgin to save himself from punishment. (The law viewed the raped woman as "consenting" to the union, though usually her option was either marrying her rapist or lifelong ignominy and lack of financial support, as her father would likely not want his sullied property returned.) The law also reflected class biases of the day: this obligatory marriage did legally apply to noblemen who raped common women, but for such a nobleman to be charged, let alone convicted and forced to marry a commoner, was almost unheard of. Still, establishing some sort of penalty for a rapist that did not automatically apply to the victim as well helped to acknowledge rape as a public crime rather than a privately-disputed property violation. Brownmiller also embarks on an in-depth discussion of rape in war. Rape in war is inevitable, and Brownmiller takes a strong stance on the phenomenon. "War provides men with the perfect psychologic backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women. The very maleness of the military--the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders given and orders obeyed, the simple logic of the hierarchical command--confirms for men what they long suspect, that women are peripheral, irrelevant to the world that counts, passive spectators to the action in the center ring" (32). Perhaps it is humankind's dark nature that makes us value taking life (as is done en masse in war and still mostly by men) over giving life (in birth, the exclusive domain of the female), but undervaluing the female is what causes rape in the first place and especially what aids rapists in times of war. Brownmiller discusses several conflicts, including both world wars, Vietnam, and the "rape of Bangladesh" in the early 1970s. In each conflict, rape was a key feature of soldiers' behavior, and Brownmiller dismisses the idea that a sexual hunger was the impetus for rape. In most wars, prostitution coexists with the military in a seemingly mutually-beneficial relationship. Sexual hunger can be sated easily enough, but rape has its own appeal. Not only is it free, but it give the rapist a sense of power that simply paying for sex or gaining free sex through a consensual union does not. When one comes to see the enemy as less than human (as one must in order to kill the enemy), sometimes a simple kill seems too merciful. Torture in the form of rape, prior to or instead of the kill, reinforces that sense of superiority in the "conquering" rapist and, ideally, reinforces the idea of subhuman-ness in the victim. Other highlights from the book include Brownmiller's discussion of date rapes (a term she coined) and how police view claimants of rape by an acquaintance as "unfounded." But institutions of culture and power serve not only to enable rapists to commit the crime but enable law enforcement to dismiss the crime outright. "Date rapes and rapes by men who have had prior relationships with their victims also contain elements of coercive authority that militates against decisive resistance. Here the 'authority' takes the form of expected behavior. In a dating situation an aggressor may press his advantage to the point where pleasantness quickly turns to unpleasantness and more than the woman bargained for, yet social propriety and the strictures of conventional female behavior that dictate politeness and femininity demand that the female gracefully endure, or wriggle away if she can, but a direct confrontation falls outside of the behavioral norms. These are the cases about which the police are wont to say, 'She changed her mind afterward'" (257). So, date rapists have culture on their sides which gives them carte blanche to proceed with unwelcome sexual behavior in the name of healthy male lusts. Date rape victims have culture doubly against them in that they are neither taught to fight back nor condoned for doing so, yet are blamed for the rape because their behavior "led him on." If the word "no" does not convey the message clearly enough, the palm-heel strike on the nose might, but neither are viable options to the female having the male date's advantage pressed. Allow me to interject at this point that I can see how our attitudes toward date rape have altered somewhat (there are still some holdouts in less civilized areas of the South). We now make more educated guesses than Brownmiller could about the number and nature of rapes that go unreported, and most women know that statistically, the stranger behind the bush is the least of one's worries. (I.e., the date "pressing his advantage" is a bigger culprit than the dark man hiding in the park or breaking into a stranger's house.) But even though we know who the culprit is more likely to be, we are not really any more prepared for the other half of the equation: fighting off the date, friend of a friend, party guest, family member or total stranger, and censuring his or her actions legally and culturally. Attendant to this argument is Brownmiller's discussion of the myths of rape, and she spells them out succinctly: 1. ALL WOMEN WANT TO BE RAPED. 2. NO WOMAN CAN BE RAPED AGAINST HER WILL. 3. SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT. 4. IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE RAPED, YOU MIGHT AS WELL RELAX AND ENJOY IT. (These are listed on p. 311.) Brownmiller expands upon each of these. For the first, Brownmiller states, "Because rape is an act that men do in the name of their masculinity, it is in their interest to believe that women also want rape done, in the name of femininity" (312). The first myth leads directly to the second: "The concept seems to imply at first hearing that if the will of a woman is strong, or if she is sufficiently agile, she can escape unscathed...but 'No woman can be raped against her will' is not intended to encourage women to do battle against an aggressor--rather, it slyly implies that there is no such thing as forcible rape" (312). The third myth, the popular short skirt defense, conveniently shifts the blame for the rape away from the rapist and onto the victim and of the three is the one that seems still to be with us as much in 2011 as it was in 1975. The final one adds insult to injury by reinforcing myth number one (you want it) and myth number two (you would resist if you really didn't) and throwing in a dose of inevitability and female powerlessness. Brownmiller finishes her discussion of rape by discussing how rape can be curtailed in the future. She promotes the idea of making rape solely a crime against one's bodily integrity, as an aggravated assault is, and bringing punishments for rape in line with those for that crime. Brownmiller further argues that spousal rape should be viewed as a crime (which it now is), with the reasoning, "Consent is better arrived at by husband and wife afresh each time, for if women are to be what we believe we are--equal partners--then intercourse must be construed as an act of mutual desire and not as a wifely 'duty,' enforced by the permissible threat of bodily harm or economic sanctions" (381). AMEN!! Brownmiller concludes the book in a way that makes me want to kiss her hand: she contests the shopworn advice given to women to protect themselves from rape. The old standbys of not being out alone, keeping car doors locked, wearing conservative clothing, and always being accompanied by a male serve to enable rapists, as the number of potential victims may decrease negligibly but the number of rapists remains the same. They also further victimize those who are victims of rape, because they open up numerous opportunities to blame the victim: Why were you out alone? What did you expect with that short skirt? Why didn't you and your girlfriends take a man with you to the bar? None of these conditions brings on a rape; the only condition that causes a rape is being in the presence of a rapist. The book has a few dated parts, but those parts are encouraging; the ones that still hold true after 35 years are often disheartening. A classic of second-wave feminist thought and required reading for anyone who considers him- or herself a feminist, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    While this work has been expanded upon and explored further in later feminist works, the voice in this book's intensity and clarity make it a good introduction to feminist critique. This is less useful for someone familiar with modern feminism. Brownmiller never conceptualizes "interracial rape as a burden of white women" as another reviewer has claimed. In fact the institutionalized rape that came with slavery gets a chapter all its own (whereas interracial rape does not). Actually, she doesn't While this work has been expanded upon and explored further in later feminist works, the voice in this book's intensity and clarity make it a good introduction to feminist critique. This is less useful for someone familiar with modern feminism. Brownmiller never conceptualizes "interracial rape as a burden of white women" as another reviewer has claimed. In fact the institutionalized rape that came with slavery gets a chapter all its own (whereas interracial rape does not). Actually, she doesn't advocate for tougher penalties, she believes in reclassifying rape more along the lines of aggravated assault. She argues that modern law regarding rape has been passed down from the old patriarchy. That is, originally, the property value of virgin daughters. Depending on the physical injury sustained, the use of weapons or gangs of rapists, she advocates for 6 month to 20 year penalties. And she advocates we stop treating those who claim to be raped with extra suspicion (as opposed to those who report other sorts of crimes); this cultural inclination to see the woman as lying naturally grows from patriarchal paranoia (male fear). She overreaches at times. She claims all men benefit from rape, and that rapists act as myrmidons for all men. Not true. In fact some men benefit substantially more than others, and some men are hurt by the mass psychology of rape. In fact, a number of men have been victimized as a result of it. Brownmiller dedicates another chapter to this issue within the prison system, although female-to-female prison rape is handled briefly as well. This is harsh material of course. But, as I said before, if you still have never bothered to learn about feminism directly (your concept of feminism derives from non-feminist sources), this is a good one to pick and get clarity directly about some issues particularly and intensely important to feminists.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    The heart of this book is a statement early on (Page 15): "From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear. This book traces the thesis from ancient civilization to the present. Early (Pages 18-19), she refers to the Code of Hammurabi as well as Scripture. In turn, the book unfolds as follows: rape and war; rape and revolution; Indians and The heart of this book is a statement early on (Page 15): "From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear. This book traces the thesis from ancient civilization to the present. Early (Pages 18-19), she refers to the Code of Hammurabi as well as Scripture. In turn, the book unfolds as follows: rape and war; rape and revolution; Indians and slavery and rape; gangs and rape; and so on. Much of the material is painful to read. She notes that rape is often experienced differently by men as opposed to women. Indeed, in the last chapter, Brownmiller addresses the concept of rape within marriage (using Soames’ rape of Irene in "The Forsyte Saga" as an example). How to address the matter? She speaks of harsher penalties within the legal system, limiting pornography, and trying to limit prostitution. The most provocative aspect of this book is its claim that rape, in essence, is political, a threat (or actuality) that keeps women "in their place." The evidence for this? In this volume, it is only anecdotal. Brownmiller develops a fascinating thesis, but we would need evidence to render judgment. Indeed, I once used a survey of college students to determine if there were political effects among women, based on any experienced rape or on the fear of being raped. Results were inconclusive, but more work is probably warranted. At any rate, a powerful book. Whether or not one agree with the thesis, it provokes thinking about important issues. And that is a contribution in itself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    N

    Before reading this book, I was already familiar with the famous quote from Against Our Will. It’s one of those that pops up in social justice paradise (or purgatory, depending on the day of the week), Tumblr, on a regular basis: “From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Stirring stuff, indeed – but, out of context, it seems a little Before reading this book, I was already familiar with the famous quote from Against Our Will. It’s one of those that pops up in social justice paradise (or purgatory, depending on the day of the week), Tumblr, on a regular basis: “From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Stirring stuff, indeed – but, out of context, it seems a little overwrought. So it was good to read Susan Brownmiller’s fully-formed argument for why rape should be seen as central to understanding the history of the world. In fact, I exited Against surprisingly persuaded by Brownmiller’s thesis. Namely, that rape is an important thread that runs through history: it’s the reason women originally subjugated themselves to men, seeking protection from the constant threat of rape; it’s been used as a powerful weapon in every war; it played an intrinsic role in slavery; it’s penetrated women’s psyches, shaping their behaviour; and, as a result, it’s been sewn into the very fabric of society. Originally published in the 1970s, it would be nice if Against were one of those feminist tomes that now seems quaint and outdated. In fact, apart from a couple of obsolete sections, Against still feels searingly relevant. We still live in a society where, when a girl is raped (and there is “corroborative” evidence in a form that was inconceivable in the 70s: cell phone video), it’s the ruined reputations of her rapists that draw public sympathy. Similarly, Brownmiller’s descriptions of how women are expected to act in order to avoid being raped could be drawn from any current discussion of “rape culture”. Rape is one of those things that it’s difficult to face head on. It’s really uncomfortable to read full and frank descriptions of rape in slavery, in wartime, and on the streets of the so-called civilised world. In fact, one of the most startling things to realise is how systematically accounts of rape have failed to be taken down throughout history: either because women were deemed unimportant or because the whole business was deemed too unseemly to be written down. As an American Studies graduate, who has studied the slave trade and various of the wars described in Against at an undergrad level, it’s unfathomable to me how little I learned about how rape informed these situations. In slavery, in particular, rape is absolutely central to the ‘business’: it’s how you get new slaves, after all. Brownmiller’s attempts to catalogue and reclaim the history of raped women in Against are undoubtedly laudable and necessary. Unfortunately, these rape accounts do get repetitious and, if I weren’t a quick reader, I might have put this book down and failed to ever pick it up again as a result of the slow pace. My other issue with this book is that it’s a thoughtful, balanced work that’s saddled with an outdated, polemical final chapter. Brownmiller uses the final pages to rail against pornography in a way that feels painfully outdated. She also pre-empts Godwin’s Law by 20 years by turning to an overwrought Nazi analogy to make her point. Yes, rape is a pandemic and, yes, some particularly violent pornography encourages and neutralises rape, but is it analogous to the Holocaust? No. It’s too bad the final chapter of Against had me rolling my eyes so hard, because it’s otherwise such an excellent book. It’s one that I’ll almost certainly need to re-read and reflect on at length. If you’re a feminist already well schooled in rape culture, Against Our Will might seem like it contains only things you already know, but that’s not the case at all. It really is an illuminating work.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Against Our Will is a feminist landmark. It is painstakingly researched, which makes it a great reference work - I first picked it up some years ago when I was writing my law school monograph on sexual violence against women during armed conflicts. The huge amount of historical information and testimonies that Brownmiller brings also serves the purpose of showing how rape has been, and is, everywhere - part of history, part of all women's lives as a fact or a possibility - something that is, Against Our Will is a feminist landmark. It is painstakingly researched, which makes it a great reference work - I first picked it up some years ago when I was writing my law school monograph on sexual violence against women during armed conflicts. The huge amount of historical information and testimonies that Brownmiller brings also serves the purpose of showing how rape has been, and is, everywhere - part of history, part of all women's lives as a fact or a possibility - something that is, frankly, terrifying. Interestingly, Brownmiller admits that, originally, she believed that age-old myth that rape is something that happens to other women, women who did something wrong, who were asking for it. It was only through actually listening to the survivors and learning about the reality of rape that she understood the truth - that rape can happen to all women, and it doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor, a baby or an 80-year-old, ugly or beautiful, covered from head to toe or in a miniskirt, out alone at night or in your own home or even in a walled convent, sober or drunk, etc etc etc. Blaming the victim might give you a false sense of security or even superiority, but it won't change the fact that it could happen to you. I can relate to Brownmiller's journey of learning. And I know a lot of women who can, too. Victim-blaming and rape myths are everywhere in our culture, and it's incredibly hard to stop them from seeping into our subconciousness. But you can root them out. You can listen, and read, pay attention and question what you think you know about rape. And if you want to learn about rape culture, this is a great book to read. It was written over 30 years ago, and it is SCARY how much of it is still perfectly current. But perhaps it is not for everyone. It is deliberately explicit, for the purpose of exposing rape as the horrifically violent crime it truly is. That makes for tough reading at times. But I wish that, at least, more men would read it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Camidon

    I can't come up with a better review than Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate: the modern denial of human nature: "I believe that the rape-is-not-about-sex doctrine will go down in history as an example of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. It is preposterous on the face of it, does not deserve its sanctity, is contradicted by a mass of evidence, and is getting in the way of the only morally relevant goal surrounding rape, the effort to stamp it out."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    It's not that Against Our Will is particularly bad. It's a monumental classic that opened a lot of doors. So my rating is misleading on that front; I just don't know if it's as functional as a readable classic decades on. It's dated enough that reading *about* it is probably a wiser way to utilize your time than to read it. Brownmiller, as one can tell from the reviews above and below this one, does get her intersectionality wrong: her treatises on interracial rape are compelling at best, but I It's not that Against Our Will is particularly bad. It's a monumental classic that opened a lot of doors. So my rating is misleading on that front; I just don't know if it's as functional as a readable classic decades on. It's dated enough that reading *about* it is probably a wiser way to utilize your time than to read it. Brownmiller, as one can tell from the reviews above and below this one, does get her intersectionality wrong: her treatises on interracial rape are compelling at best, but I can't say they are convincing. They're incendiary in part because they are speculative (e.g, an argument that states with little but emotion behind it that Emmett Till's cat-call was intended as a savage, hostile threat against all white women) and cherry-picking (e.g. taking one extreme black serial rapist who is 'revenge-raping' due to slavery, and forcing it into a trend). Thankfully, these arguments serve as an embarrassment to Brownmiller, even when she makes a case for why intersectionality should exist among those who stand with oppressed blacks at the expense of women. But because she's so adept at demanding intersectionality for women but not for African-Americans, she's inconsistent on this front, and this aspect of the book is embarrassing. Though arguably not as embarrassing as beginning the book with speculative pre-history about our Neanderthal origins of rape, which is a gratuitous and imprudent opening to a book that, in fits and starts, keeps itself grounded in the facts. And what facts they are. The problem is that the statistical reports from 1973 are not exactly the best indicator for the current, sorry state of rape culture; they give a snapshot of our capabilities to assess criminological data from the 1970s, but is this information worth the effort of reading Against Our Will, or just reading *about* it? Certainly it has influential tenets paired with some regrettable ones, backed up by data that is mostly accurate to make some fundamental arguments but does not suffice for Brownmiller to take her case as far as she would like to. Having said that, I admire Brownmiller's timeless condemnation of Freudianism, which puts her with Nabokov and Robinson in sniffing out the damage he has done. The first section of this book is marvelous: it is a historical survey of international rape, military rape, biblical rape, frontier rape, and includes a brief, anthropological survey of rape in indigenous and isolated cultures. Unfortunately, it is juxtaposed with re-hashes of 1970s statistical data, which has emotional weight to it of course but might not be worth the time, it is dated in its assessment of homosexual rape (confined to prisons, mainly) and in its fundamental complacent acceptance of working within the criminal justice system as it stood. Another issue? On page 319 (or perhaps page 320), Brownmiller makes a case against the pain of deflowering by taking an informal survey of 8 or 9 people in her women's group. Sorry, Susan, that's not good methodology. Ultimately I think Brownmiller works best as a feminist in historical context, someone from whom much has thankfully evolved. It's an impressive work that can't quite recommend reading cover to cover besides trying to gauge the evolution of feminism, wave by wave. If you've already read Kate Harding's Asking For It, you may find this thorough, but perhaps a drier and regressive position compared to it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    All acts of sex forced on unwilling victims deserve to be treated in concept as equally grave offenses in the eyes of the law, for the avenue of penetration is less significant than the intent to degrade. Similarly , the gravity of the offense ought not to be bound by the victim's gender. 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 All acts of sex forced on unwilling victims deserve to be treated in concept as equally grave offenses in the eyes of the law, for the avenue of penetration is less significant than the intent to degrade. Similarly , the gravity of the offense ought not to be bound by the victim's gender. 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." [It] mattered little to the rapists acting under the cover of a mob whether or not their victims were "attractive". I can imagine that this was revolutionary at one point in time. There's a lot to be gotten out of it, as can be evidenced by my inclusion of myriad quotes. The problem is that the ultimate culmination of this trend in thought has been shown over the years to be too murderous to countenance anything more than a superficial fashion, and, much as it was with Rich's 'Of Woman Born', if a rhapsody on rights glories and/or implies dehumanization as an ethical necessity, it's no better than the missionaries of yesteryear. Brownmiller's structure of references is drowned in pathos, and all the various bugaboos don't offer practical political necessities and engagement in dialectic nearly as much as they conform to yet another ivory tower, this one with women, albeit very white, very middle class, very cis. Discovering Brownmiller is jewish near the end of the tome doesn't make her appropriations of antiblack lynching and the Holocaust any less disgusting, and all in all, this document is little more than a collection of terror focused not on critically pulling apart and counteracting, but to recruit for a new dogma no less exclusionary of sex workers, trans women, black people, and so many others that are offered a brief Hallmark card before ultimately being discovered as holistically suspect. Angela Davis called Brownmiller out decades ago and Brownmiller never acknowledged her. That speaks volumes in and of itself. It has been argued that when killing is viewed as not only permissible but heroic behavior sanctioned by one's government or cause, the distinction between taking a human life and other forms of impermissible violence becomes lost, and rape becomes an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of the necessary game called war. Good locks on doors and windows and admonitions against hitchhiking and walking alone at night in deserted places are the usual palliatives, but they do nothing to affects the rape ideology, or to increase our understanding of the crime. Rather than society's aberrants or "spoilers of purity," men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas[.] Along the same lines, T. E. Lawrence's account of his gang rape...has been quartered and dissected by a host of Lawrence scholars who feel the "truth" of the brutal sodomizing hangs on Lawrence's alleged or suppressed homosexuality. Indeed, I have heard the argument that Lawrence's sphincter muscles should have been sufficient to ward off unwelcome penetration. This is no longer a pre-Kavanaugh era. I had been mustering up the courage to tackle this work, and his confirmation, plus a quantity of booze, was the straw that broke my back. I don't regret reading it, but it's a book I will be arguing with the remnants of for the rest of my life, as it has the sort of knee jerk kicked-puppy/accused-of-pedophilia ring to it that builds its logic while tearing down as many demographics as the patriarchy it aspires to destroy. Is the price worth it? No, I say, There are ways that have been espoused by women farther back in time than Brownmiller who have taken the time to invoke a rejection of rape without insinuations of blame placed on blackness or class or lack of access to education. The fact that Brownmiller espouses "The dominate culture can operate within the laws of civility because it has little need to resort to violence to get what it wants," and says the solution to rape culture is the feminization of the prison industrial complex and complete rejection of the words of sex workers show how much life she simply refuses to take into consideration. I say refuses because, seeing as how decades on she still hasn't granted Davis an answer and both of them have lived on into the age of the Internet, there's no excuse for lack of self-reflexivity. Interestingly, critics who saw Deliverance did not use lines "true nature of man" and "our need for adventure and excitement when referring to the homosexual rape. Instead, they viewed the scene as some sort of metaphor for the rape of the environment. Male fear of the false rape charges brought by a lying woman—the old syndrome of Potiphar's wife—is written into the rape laws of various states in the form of special rules of evidence that are conspicuously absent from evidentiary rules governing other kinds of violent crime. Unless these rules of evidence can be met, a prosecutor cannot bring a case into court, even though he knows, the victim knows, and the rapist knows that a crime has been committed. [T]he special burden of proof that devolves on a rape victim, that she resisted "within reason," that her eventual compliance has no indication of tacit "consent," is patently unfair, since such standards are not applied to the behavior of victims in other kinds of violent crime. A jury should be permitted to weigh the word of a victimized complainant at face value, that is what it boils down to—no more or less a right than is granted to other victims under the law. I haven't thought about calling myself a feminist in a long time. I read about related subjects, but so much of self-proclaimed "feminism" is a dangerously incomplete picture that I am content to continue my trajectory on and cherry pick where I can. It's hard to settle when I continue to encounter so much ableist horseshit in every "progressive" circle under the sun, and Brownmiller's "Sylvia Plath committed suicide at the age of thirty-one...As Helene Deutsch would have it, the "certain amount of masochism" necessary to a woman "if she is to be adjusted to reality" had gotten out of hand." (she spends so much time excoriating Deutsch later on that one wonders what the point of all that was if she's going to back to brown-nosing so quickly. The argument goes on while the supremacy above pits us against one another, and the pursuit of intersectionality, despite what some would think, is inherently incompatible with throwing each other to the wolves. All in all, this is a very flawed text, and the manner in which it's survived poses more of a danger than it does provide a benefit, and picking and choosing quotes doesn't lessen the risk of feeding into the orthodoxy. Trading one police state that rapes for a police state that only merely doesn't do that particular that doesn't help those disproportionately traumatized into a system that has again and again been proven inadequate, and yet lives on for the sake of society's sadism. For all of Brownmiller's excoriating, she sure does love her torture porn. People always say, you know, "time heals all wounds," "things get better with age," et cetera. I hate that fucker more today than I did when it happened to me. Whatever the reasons, and there are many, prior consensual intercourse between a rape complainant and other partners of her choosing should not be scrutinized as an indicator of purity or impurity of mind or body, not in this day and age at any rate, and it has no place in jury room deliberation as to whether or not, int he specific instance in question, an act of forcible sex took place. There can be no private solutions to the problem of rape.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    I thought I was going to like this book but the way she treats rape and race is so upsetting! The rape of American Indian and black women receives only a few pages... and I had to put the book down when she reaches the topic of Emmett Till. According to Brownmiller, Till's whistling to a white woman was "a deliberate insult just short of physical assault" ... The chapter on interracial rape was incredible. She manages to turn this topic into how white women have been sacrificed (this continues I thought I was going to like this book but the way she treats rape and race is so upsetting! The rape of American Indian and black women receives only a few pages... and I had to put the book down when she reaches the topic of Emmett Till. According to Brownmiller, Till's whistling to a white woman was "a deliberate insult just short of physical assault" ... The chapter on interracial rape was incredible. She manages to turn this topic into how white women have been sacrificed (this continues to astound me considering the widespread lynching of black men).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karen Witzler

    I read this in 1980 or thereabouts. I recall the general ideas, if not the particulars. It seems to me that I saw Brownmiller on an episode of the Phil Donahue Show (with Andrea Dworkin?) causing an uproar by saying that the worst thing about the Larry Flynt (Hustler magazine) shooting was that he wasn't dead. I would like to revisit this work in tandem with the widely reviled _A Natural History of Rape - by Randy Thornhill (recommended by Steven Pinker) and see what I think and how it may I read this in 1980 or thereabouts. I recall the general ideas, if not the particulars. It seems to me that I saw Brownmiller on an episode of the Phil Donahue Show (with Andrea Dworkin?) causing an uproar by saying that the worst thing about the Larry Flynt (Hustler magazine) shooting was that he wasn't dead. I would like to revisit this work in tandem with the widely reviled _A Natural History of Rape - by Randy Thornhill (recommended by Steven Pinker) and see what I think and how it may relate to the current climate.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Loraine

    It changed my life when I read it many years ago. Recently I was cleaning out old books to give away and i almost gave this one away. Was it still relevant? Then I met a beautiful young woman from India, a militant feminist poet in her twenties, who named this as one of her most treasured books. It struck me that half-way around the world,and across at least a generation, a young woman in a feminist-unfriendly country, became who she is because her father saved this, and other books, for his It changed my life when I read it many years ago. Recently I was cleaning out old books to give away and i almost gave this one away. Was it still relevant? Then I met a beautiful young woman from India, a militant feminist poet in her twenties, who named this as one of her most treasured books. It struck me that half-way around the world,and across at least a generation, a young woman in a feminist-unfriendly country, became who she is because her father saved this, and other books, for his daughter. She is Meena Kandasamy, her book of poetry is called Ms.Militancy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Not always accurate, in its own time or ours, but historically relevant. I can't recommend this at all, however, without also recommending Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis and Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, each for brief but important remarks on racism in Against Our Will.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Difficult to read more than 20-30 pages at a time, but it's really just staggering. It makes me want to yell at every history teacher I've ever had for not telling me about rape throughout the history of the world. This book makes it clear that rape is not a personal problem but a sociological tool. Read it and weep (literally).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Renee Kahl

    Much of what is said in this long, exhausting 1975 book seems like such common sense today that it is easy to forget how radical it was in its time. The extra degree of stridency of many of her points, rhetorically necessary then to break through the myths about rape, now sounds sometimes dated. But it is wrong to hold this against the book just because intense first-generation feminism is now out of fashion. Most of the improvements in societal attitudes and law enforcement concerning rape Much of what is said in this long, exhausting 1975 book seems like such common sense today that it is easy to forget how radical it was in its time. The extra degree of stridency of many of her points, rhetorically necessary then to break through the myths about rape, now sounds sometimes dated. But it is wrong to hold this against the book just because intense first-generation feminism is now out of fashion. Most of the improvements in societal attitudes and law enforcement concerning rape accrued since the 70’s we owe to this manifesto and the momentum it created. A very long string of chapters is devoted to review of rape in many key historical eras, particularly in war and U.S. slavery. It’s a seemingly endless, painful slog through repetitious detail, with numerous first-hand accounts of victims, each unique yet all nearly identical. The cumulative impact is to prove like nothing else can the consistent patterns of rape as an exercise of domination throughout human history. Chapters reviewing rape in disparate contemporary settings (by police, in prison, U.S. crime statistics) as well as throughout various mythlogies, make the ubiquity of the pattern almost overwhelming. The long, thoughtful discussion about the intersection of rape and violence against blacks may be controversial for some, but shouldn’t be if read objectively. She makes the point that the male mind-set of women being tools whose bodies are for mens’ use is so entrenched in all of society that some black liberation leaders of her time, like Eldredge Cleaver, fought back against white oppression by vowing to rape as many white women as possible. This has led some to criticize Brownmiller for placing female liberation above black liberation, but this is manifestly unfair. Pointing out that Cleaver and his ilk planned on “practicing” first on black women, she is highlighting that all women suffer from rape’s oppression, and emphasizing that black women get a double whammy. (Cleaver later recanted this strategy.) The final section discusses her prescriptions for fixing the problem. The best recommendations, changing what are acceptable attitudes for men and police and a fairness overhaul of the legal treatment of rape, are pretty much what have been applied over the intervening decades, though not completely enough; to me this history just underscores the importance of this work. Her cursory recommendation that women bone up on self-defense, on the other hand, sadly seems to have been translated into arming all crime victims with more guns, if heeded at all.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    This book easily falls under the genre of "retro classic feminist text," if that even exists as a genre. This book is pretty straightforwardly about rape. All kinds of rape, throughout history. In the first several chapters, she documents cases of mass rape: The German Army's rapes of Belgium women in World War I, Nazis rapes of Jewish women during World War II, rape in Bangladesh, American soldiers' rapes of Vietnamese women during the war (and commanders' horrifyingly misguided attempts to This book easily falls under the genre of "retro classic feminist text," if that even exists as a genre. This book is pretty straightforwardly about rape. All kinds of rape, throughout history. In the first several chapters, she documents cases of mass rape: The German Army's rapes of Belgium women in World War I, Nazis rapes of Jewish women during World War II, rape in Bangladesh, American soldiers' rapes of Vietnamese women during the war (and commanders' horrifyingly misguided attempts to offer up prostitutes as an alternative), rape during the American Revolution (the Third Amendment takes on a whole new meaning), rape during the Russian revolution, rapes of Mormon women, the KKK's rapes of black women, rapes against white women in the Congo, Indians raping white women as well as white men raping Indian women, and slave owners who routinely and systemically raped their female slaves. If this list seems inordinately long, I believe it is because Brownmiller had that intention. After carefully documenting rapes throughout history, especially in the wake of war, riot and revolution, one could not possibly mistake rape for a sexual crime. She ardently refutes this fact: Rape is about power and it is about forcing domination over another. It has nothing to do with sex or desire. Brownmiller is hailed as the first person to comprehensively tackle the subject of rape at a time when a lot of people still believed that women couldn't be raped, or if they could, it was probably her fault for wearing or saying the wrong thing. She also covers issues that were likely considered fringe at the time: child abuse, acquaintance rape, and male prison rape. And how Brownmiller came to write this book is curious. She describes her own experience of writing a feature piece for Esquire in 1968 about a rape case in which she disbelieved the victim because she was a liberal, the woman who was accusing was white, and the accused were black. At the time, she believed the case was a dead ringer for the one against the Scottsboro Boys. At the time I had asked for the assignment, the young men had spent six years on Death Row, their case had been to the Supreme Court twice and an active citizens' defense committee, formed to protest the severity of the sentence, had become convinced of their innocence. To the defense committee, the original crime appeared to be nothing more than a little escapade of consensual sex that upon discovery a promiscuous, unstable white girl decided to call rape. It didn't take them long to convince me. As it happened, while I was preparing my final copy, the case was dismissed, and the three defendants were set free, which wrapped things up neatly in terms of the piece. But while I was pursuing my single-minded researches, a friend who lived in Washington and was following the case asked me one day, "How can you be so sure they're innocent?" "What do you mean?" I testily replied. "There's a long line of these cases. It's a little Scottsboro, there's a defense committee. " "Yes, I know," she answered." But what makes you so positive? You weren't there. How do you really know what went on? How does anyone know? How did I "know"? I didn't. And it seems it is this exchange that set Brownmiller on a quest to understand a phenomenon to which everyone's understanding is so couched in their own prejudices. The introduction of the book ends, "I wrote this book because I am a woman who changed her mind about rape." And her discovery took her places where shockingly few had gone before. She writes that at the time she set out to research her book, "I was soon to learn that no library in the world had efficiently cataloged rape material." If this sounds outdated, it's because it is. Obviously a lot of the statistics that Brownmiller painstakingly recounts in this book are have been updated. We now have a lot more data on sexual assault victims. Scientists study rape, rapists, and rape victims. But as far as we've come, perhaps what is most disturbing about Brownmiller's book is what hasn't changed. The last three chapters, which are arguably her three strongest, she documents the mentality of the victims. Testimony after testimony reveals the shame these victims feel about failing to ward off their attackers, ways the cops didn't believe them or tried to blame them for the event, and the anger that the victims feel. TESTIMONY: People always say, you know, "time heals all wounds," "things get better with age," et cetera. I hate that fucker more today than I did when it happened to me. So this book in some ways feels dated but in others feels as fresh as if it had been written yesterday. And that is the challenge of thinking about and dealing with the problem of rape in human culture. It gets better but it also doesn't. Brownmiller says that even if the best anti-rape laws were on the books and they were always prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, she doesn't believe rape would disappear. And she's right. We will be dealing with this problem forever.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    You see, as someone who thinks a lot about creating a world without sexual violence, I expected to devour this book. But I started reading it in September (of course), and while I was highlighting stuff while reading, I didn't want to pick it back up when I put it down, and it was also far too depressing. It was interesting in parts, ja, but I expect this will be one of the books I'll keep on hand as a reference source when writing, but not reading from cover to cover. (Also, back when it was You see, as someone who thinks a lot about creating a world without sexual violence, I expected to devour this book. But I started reading it in September (of course), and while I was highlighting stuff while reading, I didn't want to pick it back up when I put it down, and it was also far too depressing. It was interesting in parts, ja, but I expect this will be one of the books I'll keep on hand as a reference source when writing, but not reading from cover to cover. (Also, back when it was written I expect this was the first book a lot of women had read addressing these issues. Me, I'm immersed in the feminist blogosphere, and most of the non-fiction I read is feminist. I've got much more of a foundation on the issues which were just being introduced when this was written. This also may be why I've found some other second-wave works a bit tedious. I don't want to discount what they did, but. There we have it.)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Zechy

    Fantastic book. Not just a polemic against the evils of the patriarchy, an objective and scholarly look at a subject that it is almost impossible to take too seriously. Personally, my biggest complaint is with some of the speculative history in the first chapter, but that is quickly passed, and probably just part and parcel of the books original milieu, I believe they were common beliefs at that time. What may be considered this books greatest weakness, it's being out-of-date, may be it's most Fantastic book. Not just a polemic against the evils of the patriarchy, an objective and scholarly look at a subject that it is almost impossible to take too seriously. Personally, my biggest complaint is with some of the speculative history in the first chapter, but that is quickly passed, and probably just part and parcel of the books original milieu, I believe they were common beliefs at that time. What may be considered this books greatest weakness, it's being out-of-date, may be it's most important quality; the book stands as a testament of the early days with the Women's Liberation movement; before it got bogged down in the politics of sex, contraception, and abortion; when a woman's basic right to not walk in fear was recognized as the most central concern. On a different note. This is a difficult and depressing book to read. You have been warned. Note: I stopped editing this review because I ran out of energy, not because this is exactly what I wanted to say.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I think every woman should read this book. It's really the first book to address rape in a thorough, historical way (it was written in the 1970s but is still very relevant). It's interesting the way she frames the issue. Something along the lines of "In the beginning there was man and there was woman. Man raped woman, and so began the oppression and subjugation of women by men.... etc." My only caveat is the long chapter on rape in war. It's important from a historical standpoint, but it drags I think every woman should read this book. It's really the first book to address rape in a thorough, historical way (it was written in the 1970s but is still very relevant). It's interesting the way she frames the issue. Something along the lines of "In the beginning there was man and there was woman. Man raped woman, and so began the oppression and subjugation of women by men.... etc." My only caveat is the long chapter on rape in war. It's important from a historical standpoint, but it drags and isn't as thought-provoking as other parts--lots of case studies, not so much analysis. A short synopsis would read: men rape during war and it's pretty much accepted and that is really screwed up. Point. Overall, a very accessible and informative read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    Certainly ambitious but her analysis is almost completely flawed in my opinion. She's racist and homophobic and (it goes without saying) cissexist, and her analysis of the origins of patriarchy is pretty structuralist, teleological, speculative, and lacking in nuance. Idk this book probably brought rape to a lot of people's attention as a feminist issue but the things it has to say about rape and the (mostly carceral) solutions it offers are ..... not too good.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I read this book years ago. It is a hard read because of the subject matter, although a large part of me truly believes that victims should read it. It really is helpful. Brownmiller is a strong, clear writer.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    Hey remember when feminism was all about white women, demonised non white men, sex positivity didn't exist and every cherry picked statistic was emotionally charged to induce fear among women? What a trip, that nazi comparison at the end was the cherry on top.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karla

    Terrible; I couldn't even finish this book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Almost too depressing to keep reading. Very statistic heavy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Some books are truly products of their time and have to be read in a sort of vacuum, taking into account the time, place, and circumstances under which they were written. This is especially true of books that are written on social issues, especially issues that are constantly evolving in society. That being said, I started reading this books with the mentality that since this book was published in 1975 there would be viewpoints and statements that did not age well and that have become wrong or Some books are truly products of their time and have to be read in a sort of vacuum, taking into account the time, place, and circumstances under which they were written. This is especially true of books that are written on social issues, especially issues that are constantly evolving in society. That being said, I started reading this books with the mentality that since this book was published in 1975 there would be viewpoints and statements that did not age well and that have become wrong or moot over time. Given all this, I was pleasantly surprised that this book managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of works that were written right in the "heat" of a political movement. Susan Brownmiller wrote this book during the heyday of Second Wave Feminism and many consider this work to be part of the "must read" list for anyone who considers themselves a feminist. I was afraid this would be laced with overpowering rhetoric and editorializing about the evils of rape and men in general. I was wrong. Brownmiller lays out a clear, concise, and, for the most part, chronological history of rape in society. She addresses everything from rape in early history as a crime closer to theft than anything else to rape as instrument of war to the social issues related to rape and race. She addresses the evolution of the law over time and illustrates most of her points with stories, many being firsthand accounts, of women and men who have been victims and perpetrators of rape throughout time. Sometimes she overdoes it on the examples but for the most part they accomplish their intended goals. Perhaps the highest praise of Brownmiller's work I can give is that she somehow manages to get her point across on a highly charged social issue without over-editorializing. Often works on this subject are rife with the author's own condemnation and disgust but Brownmiller manages to keep her distance while presenting the facts and opinions of others. This is not to say that she avoids adding her own opinions altogether: she does offer her own input but only in a few instances. And this is also not to say that I agree with her on all things (I don't) but when she gives her opinions they do not overpower the even tone in which this book is written. I would agree with anyone who said that this book must be viewed through the lens of the time in which it was written. However, I would add that this history and social commentary are merely incomplete and not incorrect. I cannot criticize a work written in 1975 for not addressing the issues that have evolved over the subsequent four decades. I believe that if one were to look at it as a history and commentary of rape up until 1975 then I would argue that it is a thorough and well-written one. All that is needed is for someone to write so skillfully and knowledgeably about the subject of rape and its social impacts starting from the time when this book concluded. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the history and social impact of rape.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    As referred to in Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs. First, a public service announcement: There is no evidence that cooperating with a rapist makes you any safer . You may think, "Oh, if I go quietly, then he will appreciate that and be less likely to kill or injure me", but you would be wrong. There is no quid pro quo . If he was already willing to commit murder (and actually, very, very few rapes end in murder, so odds are overwhelmingly that he's not), he's not going to be any less so As referred to in Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs. First, a public service announcement: There is no evidence that cooperating with a rapist makes you any safer . You may think, "Oh, if I go quietly, then he will appreciate that and be less likely to kill or injure me", but you would be wrong. There is no quid pro quo . If he was already willing to commit murder (and actually, very, very few rapes end in murder, so odds are overwhelmingly that he's not), he's not going to be any less so because of your cooperation. Rape is (usually) a crime of opportunity, so the less opportune you make it for your attacker, the more likely that he is going to give up, run away, and try again later with a more docile victim. Scream for help. Fight for your life. Ok, now that we've got that out of the way, on to the review: First of all, I want to say that this book is a feminist classic and really should be required reading for everyone. It provides a historical, societal perspective on rape, which is a perspective I (at least) had never heard of before: far more typically, it is presented as a wholly Individual occurrence perpetrated by a few Bad Apples, who are invariably caught and punished. (How do I know that's our society's attitude? Some quick anecdotal evidence: during 12th grade, my high school decided to take all of the 12th grade girls and discuss date rape, so that they would know how to protect themselves at frat parties in college. A fine idea, but why weren't the boys included in this discussion? (They were learning how to play card games while we were having this Serious Discussion.) Who are these date-raping college boys if not former 12th grade boys from college preparatory schools? Yet our response is not, "How can we teach our boys not to grow up to be rapists", but, "How can we teach our girls to avoid getting raped, because, clearly, if a girl gets raped it must be because of something she did or didn't do?") But, as Brownmiller points out, one really need look no further than war accounts or prison culture to see that sexual assault is, in fact, a general tool implemented to establish power structures. Conquering armies (made up of good boys who presumably were not all criminals back in their home towns) rape and pillage as a way of expressing the totality of conquest, and the American Red Cross won't take your blood if you've been incarcerated for more than 72 hours, because we all know what happens in prisons. She goes even further, to say that rape is not merely a tool used to establish power in general, but that it is specifically used in the war that all men have been waging against all women since prehistory. Sure, not all men are rapists, but all men benefit from the world that the threat of rape creates: a world where women (but not men) are afraid to walk alone, live alone, travel alone, be out late at night, and where each woman needs to find a man to protect her. Think about it. Which is not to say that the book is without its flaws. It's a trope that even the most radical feminists on a particular issue tend to be reactionary on others, but even knowing that going in I was a bit shocked at how ethnocentric the book was. Take the conquering army chapter, for example: in order to make the argument that rape is a fundamental aspect of all war, a way for the winners to humiliate the male losers (for if all of our justification of female subjugation rests on the firm belief that a woman's husband will protect her from other males, then how what better way to illustrate to that husband his powerlessness?), she provides most of her examples of war atrocities... from the German armies in World Wars I and II. Two problems I have with that: 1. You don't need to give me anecdotes in excruciating detail in order to convince me that the Third Reich did bad things. I think we can all take that as a premise. (As such, showing that the Nazis did bad things is in no way evidence that rape is a part of all war.) 2. The Germans didn't win either of those wars. If you're really making the claim that rape is a tactic used by all conquering armies, then wouldn't the better evidence be anecdotes of sexual assaults committed by American troops? (And don't tell me that you looked for such accounts and couldn't find any.) It's the same ethnocentricity that causes her to dismiss the idea that allegations of rapes by North African troops were exaggerated due to racism, and in general makes her addressing of the American obsession with black men raping white women problematic. Why do we have to take sides? Why can't we simultaneously accept that some white women have indeed been raped by black men, some black men have indeed been falsely accused of raping white women, and that both white women and black men (and, especially, black women) have suffered at the hands of the patriarchy? There is no monopoly on suffering (getting into the argument that "my group has been more oppressed than your group" is counterproductive). Besides the ethnocentrism verging on racism, another aspect of this book I found curious was a total absence of any discussion of prostitution. (Fact: the median age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 13 (read more here): as a result, it's safe to assume that any prostitute is a victim of human trafficking.) But even with all its flaws, seriously, you should read this book. You won't agree with everything she says, but it's a thought-provoking perspective.

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