Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape

1975, possibly first edition, from Simon and Schuster
Susan Brownmiller
Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape
Original price unknown, purchase price $9.00
Fair condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

A great book about a horrific subject, I don't think I've read this more than once or twice before, so I'd forgotten just how good it is.  Brownmiller examines rape in every setting, from the battlefield to prison to the streets to home.  She also looks at what was then starting to be called "rape culture," the ways media, religion, law, etc. present rape, as well as the presentation of weak women and strong men.  It may sound odd that a book about rape could be funny, but she does have a wry sense of humor that helps you get through some of the hypocrisy.  (At times, I found how the rape survivors were treated afterwards to be almost more painful than what the rapists did.)  Some of the "wow" moments were realizing that the concept of women having personhood, after the attempts to dehumanize them, was so obvious and yet so desperately needed to be stated by Brownmiller and other feminists.

Is the book dated?  In some ways, both good and bad.  My impression is that it's now much more likely that women will be listened to and believed by the police, family members, and society at large.  Unfortunately, as the recent remarks by comedian Daniel Tosh and Representative Todd Akin illustrate, there's still a lot of ignorance and insensitivity about rape.

Also, her view that pornography is always violent and sexist is one that I and some other feminists of my generation (third wave?) disagree with.  Yes, much of it is, but not all.  I do believe that media that celebrate rape (and that could include an ungraphic PG movie) are part of rape culture, but I don't equate that with all pornography.  Similarly, although I'm pretty vanilla myself, I think there is a difference between sadomasochism (which requires consent) and sex that is cruel and humiliating.

And what of her idea that all men benefit from the fact that some men are rapists?  I think this has been distorted.  She makes clear that men can have their consciousnesses raised.  (Hers was, as she didn't used to think of rape as a serious political issue.)  Men can be allies in the fight against rape.  However, she is right in a sense.  I know that in my own life, there are risks I haven't taken because of fear of rape, risks that most men don't have to think about.  These range from going some places alone at night to making out with strangers.  I was once pressured into sex by a friend I'd had a crush on for a couple of years.  Things went much faster than I wanted, despite my repeatedly telling him to slow down.  (We'd never even kissed before that night.)  It wasn't rape but it wasn't complete consent either.  I've tried to be more careful since then, but I know that you can never be entirely safe. 

Do men benefit from women living in fear?  In the sense that men benefit from getting things those women won't get, like higher salaries and cool adventures.  (I have, despite my fears, traveled to Britain alone, twice, and felt more confidence than I have walking in towns I live in.)  But I think men would benefit from a world where women felt safer, where women are with them only for companionship, and never for protection. 

This world?  Elayne Boosler summed it up well in 1989 (watch 0:45 to 1:30):

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