For someone who studied a module on Feminism at University, I do not remember much about it. I had absorbed the Caitlin Moran feminism without really giving much thought to what came before, so when I saw this book on Netgalley it felt necessary to read it.
Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking bestseller uncovers the culture of violence against women with a devastating exploration of the history of rape—now with a new preface by the author exposing the undercurrents of rape still present today.
‘My purpose of this book has been to give rape its history. Now we must deny it a future.’
Originally published in 1975, Against Our Will was the first of its kind, this year it has been re-released with a foreword from the author – I believe it is as significant a text now as it was when published.
This is a bulky read, Brownmiller did her research thoroughly and thusly she had a lot to say, this book took years to write, and a lot of time researching and gathering information. Against Our Will covers historical attitudes to rape, current (70s) attitudes and depictions in mainstream texts and media. It was refreshing to read historical accounts (where possible) and opinions on rape of ALL women, not just caucasian, and acts of rape by ALL men, not just of every ethnicity but caucasian.
What most disturbed me was that considering the almost forty years since the release of this book, even with a move away from archaic attitudes a lot of it felt incredibly familiar. A focus on the man and not a sympathy with the victim of rape is a continual fault in society, a patriarchal discourse members of both sex are guilty of. If you had met me five years ago I probably would have reacted to accounts of rape with, ‘well, why was she that drunk?’ or ‘well, if she is going to dress like a slut…’, rather than thinking about the control and free will of a male. Blaming a woman for rape is akin to blaming food advertisements for being fat – to argue ‘the woman looked so alluring I couldn’t help myself’ is to argue ‘the food looked so alluring I had to eat it’. We have free will; women are no more to blame for their own rape than advertisers are for overweight people. A counter argument here could be that women, like advertisers, could take responsibility for their imagery so not to tempt. However, I do not see why the victims of rape need to be restricted in order to stop the perpetrators. Putting the focus on punishment of the innocent masses, rather than the education or punishing of the minority is a futile endeavour.
Brownmiller identifies that rape is something women, from a young age, are taught to be victims of. This patriarchal didactic tone is detrimental to both men and women as rape becomes gendered. This plants women in a place of weakness, at risk of seeing themselves as the perpetual helpless victim, allocating “special victim status.” With rape intrinsically linked to women, when a man is raped it emasculates, it is almost disbelieved. Which is why rape victim discourse is damaging to both sexes, it confines us to outdated gender types, creating a more judgmental society. It also affects the way in which men are viewed – not every man is a potential rape threat and should not be treated as such.
I think my favourite part of the whole book is the analysis of male semantics in regards to sex:
‘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” – a revolutionary concept I’m afraid the world isn’t ready for.’
I don’t know about you, but I think I will be calling sex “enclosure” from now on.
Against Our Will; Men, Women and Rape by Susan Brownmiller was re-issued with an introduction from the author on the 24th September 2013 by Open Road Integrated Media; this copy was kindly given to me via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you!