POLITICIZING WOMEN'S PAIN
by Wendy McElroy
I owe a huge debt to feminism. When I was raped as a teenager, I emerged in one piece largely because of the ground-work feminism had already created for women like me. I knew I had the right to angry, not only at the man, but also at the legal system that sheltered him and not me. And I knew it was not my fault.
A disturbing change has taken place in feminism's approach to rape. Rape has ceased to be an act of violence which criminals commit against individual women. It has become it has been placed at the service of a larger political agenda, which accuses all men of raping all women.
Instead of being an act of violence committed It is disturbing in at least two aspects: 1. Rape has been redefined; and 2. Rape has become a gender crime. Rape used to be considered as an experience 'different' than normal life: a crime, a violation of normal life.
In the '60s, feminists shredded the myth that only bad girls who walked alone at night were raped. Research showed that every woman was vulnerable to attack, even in her own home and from someone she knew. Feminists exploded the myth that rapists were seedy men who lurked in alleys. Research revealed that rapists could be apple-cheeked boys next door. Feminism replaced mythology with facts and with practical aid for women in pain. The first U.S. rape crisis line was established in 1971.
But in the 70's, a theoretical groundwork was laid that placed rape at the very heart of our culture. Rape became an expression of how the average man viewed the average woman. By the 1980's, rape had become thoroughly politicized: it was now viewed as a major weapon (perhaps the major weapon) by which patriarchy kept women in their place.
The opening paragraph of the New York Radical Feminists Manifesto reads:
"It is no accident that the New York Radical Feminists, through the technique of consciousness-raising, discovered that rape is not a personal misfortune but an experience shared by all women in one form or another. When more than two people have suffered the same oppression the problem is no longer personal but political -- and rape is a political matter."
The manifesto continues:
"...man is always uneasy and threatened by the possibility that woman will one day claim her full right to human existence, so he has found ways to enslave her. He has married her, and through the family, binds her to him as wife and mother to his children. He has kept her helpless and dependent, forcing her to work when he needed her labor, isolating her (physically and psychologically), and as a final proof of his power and her debasement as a possession, a thing, a chunk of meat, he has raped her. The act of rape is the logical expression of the essential relationship now existing between men and women." (as quoted in Rape: The First Sourcebook for Feminists. Report from the Work- shop on Self-Defense by Mary Ann Manhart.p. 215)
Rape was no longer a crime committed by individuals against individuals; it had become part of class analysis. Rape had found its niche within a political ideology with a revolutionary agenda.
In the conclusion to the book Rape: the First Sourcebook for Feminists, Mary Ann Manhart remarked on this shift from supporting individual rape victims to politicizing them:
"Earlier in the book we stated that the initial step in the feminist process is consciousness-raising and the final step is political action...Consciousness-raising is a political act, and in turn, political action becomes consciousness-raising...In a sense, rape is not a reformist but a revolutionary issue because our ultimate goal is to eliminate rape and that goal cannot be achieved without a revolutionary transformation of our society. It means a transformation of the family, the economic system and the psychology of men and women so that sexual exploitation along with economic exploitation becomes impossible and even unimaginable." p.249-250
Susan Griffin expresses the ideological underpinning of this shift in rape theory in her book, Rape: The Power of Conscious- ness. Here, she argues that the true rapist is not the individual man, but the political system of patriarchy.
"From Marxism I had learned a habit of looking for social causes and observing how human nature is shaped by external condition...But the Left had an ideology, which, beyond and in addition to its prejudice against women did not agree with the changes we experienced...We rejected the theory that capitalism had raped us. If they said patriarchy was just a form of capi- talism, we said that capitalism was a form of patriarchy." p.26 Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1979
A key philosopher of radical feminism, Adrienne Rich offered insight into the nature of this rapist -- patriarchy:
"Patriarchy is the power of the fathers: a familial -- social, ideological, political system in which men -- by force, direct pressure or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor, determine what part women should or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male." p.21 Of Woman Born, London, Virago, 1977.
Rape became a political accident waiting to happen.
In her near-legendary essay, Rape: The All-American Crime radical feminist Susan Griffin makes what no longer sounds like such a radical claim:
"Indeed, the existence of rape in any form is beneficial to the ruling class of white males. For rape is a kind of terrorism which severely limits the freedom of women and makes women dependent on men...This oppressive attitude towards women finds its institutionalization in the traditional family." p.3 RAPE VICTIMOLOGY, ed. by Leroy G. Schultz, Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Ill., 1975
There was a pivotal point in feminism's shift on the issue of rape. In 1975, the book Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller appeared. In its pages, Brownmiller charts the history of rape from Neanderthal times through to modern man, placing great emphasis on periods of war and crisis. Against Our Will is a watershed book, which was said to 'give rape its history.' It also presented new theory. Brownmiller maintains that rape is the primary mechanism through which men, in general, perpetuate their dominance over women in general. She claims that all men benefit from the fact that some men rape.
I understand how compelling this view of rape can be. At times, I've wanted to blame all men for the violence I experienced. Certainly, I was angry at all men. But there are at least two problems with radical feminism's theory of rape. It is wrong. And it is damaging to women. In the process of politicizing and collectivizing the pain of women, radical feminism is reversing the gains of the 60's -- when the myths about rape and the barriers between men and women had a chance of being dissolved. Today, new myths and new barriers are being erected.
Any examination of this new mythology should begin with Against Our Will. There, Brownmiller makes three basic and interconnected claims:
1. rape is a part of patriarchy;
2. men have created a 'mass psychology' of rape; and,
3. rape is a part of 'normal' life.
I dispute every one of these claims.
The first new myth that Brownmiller advances is that rape is a part of patriarchy. This is perhaps the most basic radical feminist myth about rape: namely, that the crime has one cause, and a political one at that: the general oppression of women by men. Herein lies the extreme interpretation of the slogan 'the personal is political'.
Against Our Will arrives at this conclusion more as a result of ideological bias than empirical research. Although Brownmiller's book is sometimes taken for a chronicle of historical fact, a strong political slant underlies the presentation of those facts. Consider Brownmiller's attitude toward private property:
"Concepts of hierarchy, slavery and private property flowed from, and could only be predicated upon, the initial subjugation of woman" (pg. 8)
"Slavery, private property and the subjugation of women were facts of life, and the earliest written law that has come down to us reflects this stratified life." (pg.8)
To individualist feminists, slavery is not a companion concept for private property. It is the abrogation of the most basic form of private property: self-ownership. That is, the natural and inalienable claim that all people have to their own bodies. In other words, slavery is the most extreme example of the breakdown of private property. And the recognition of private property is women's best defense against rape.
In her book Sexual Personae, the individualist Camille Paglia offers a different perspective. Instead of viewing our culture as the cause of rape, Paglia argues that it is the main protection women have against attack. Thus, women can walk down a street unmolested not in spite of society, but because of it. Paglia writes:
"Generation after generation, men must be educated, refined, and ethically persuaded away from their tendency toward anarchy and brutishness. Society is not the enemy, as feminism ignorantly claims. Society is woman's protection against rape." p.51 Vintage Books, N.Y., 1992
Brownmiller's second myth is that men, in general, have created a mass psychology of rape. Brownmiller claims that all men are rapists at heart and all women their natural prey:
"Man's discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. 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." p. 14. [Emphasis in the original]
Although one might question how Brownmiller comes by her amazing information about rape and male attitudes in prehistoric times, her message is clear. Men are inherently rapists.
To back up this statement, Brownmiller plays fast and loose with anecdotal accounts and passages of fiction. The selection of excerpts shows great bias. At one point, Brownmiller notes:
"People often ask what the classic Greek myths reveal about rape. Actually, they reveal very little..." pg.313
Yet these myths are widely held to be archetypes of human psychology. If Brownmiller wishes to maintain that there is a continuum of male oppression -- that extends from man's first recognition of his genitalia as weapon through to this moment -- she must, in honesty, credit Greek myths. She cannot pick and chose only the statistics and anecdotal accounts that support her position. Yet even dipping into history and fiction when and where she chooses, Brownmiller's evidence does not support her conclusion: namely, that all men are rapists.
To back this contention, radical feminists have produced truly horrifying statistics. In the preface to their book Ac- quaintance Rape: the Hidden Crime, editors Andrea Parrot & Laurie Bechhofer offer a common statistic:
"Approximately one in four women in the United States will be the victims of rape or attempted rape by the time they are in their mid-twenties, and over three quarters of those assaults will occur between people who know each other." p.ix John Wiley & Sons, N.Y. 1991
This is a stunning figure and one supported by FBI records. In looking at such terrifying statistics, women have a natural tendency to overlook a vital aspect of what is being said: three out of four women will not be raped. Even assuming that there is a one-to-one correlation between victims and rapists -- a generous assumption since many rapists commit serial crimes -- this means that 75% of all men will never commit this brutal crime. Indeed, many men would come immediately to the defense of woman being attacked.
This observation may seem obvious or facile. But in the face of astounding and unsupported claims like 'all men are rapists', it becomes necessary to state the obvious. If another group of radicals claimed that 'all whites/Protestants/bisexuals are sadists', yet the statistics they provided indicated that 75% of the accused group were nonsadists, no honest observer would accept their argument. But because the radicals are sexually correct feminists, their incredible statements are swallowed whole.
And lest a single man slip through the net of accusations by pleading that he had never raped or even contemplated doing so, Brownmiller explains how good intentions and good behavior do not excuse a man from the charge of rape:
"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...the ideology and psychological 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." [Italics in original] page 391.
Such a theory allows for no contradictory evidence. There is no possibility -- through action, thought or word -- for a man to escape the charge of rape. It becomes axiomatically true.
The third myth that Brownmiller propounds is that rape is part of normal life. To reach this conclusion, Brownmiller makes great leaps of logic. For example:
Against Our Will examines rape, primarily during times of war and political crisis. Although this is valuable, Brownmiller pushes her point one step farther. She concludes that -- because men rape in times of war and social turbulence -- all men are normally rapists. In essence, rape is the norm.
But the very circumstances Brownmiller highlights -- war, riots, pogroms and revolutions -- are not so much expressions of society as they are evidence of its breakdown. Yet, in chapter after chapter, Brownmiller uses horrifying accounts of rape during societal breakdown in order to argue that this is how the man-on-the-street reacts. Arguing from the extreme, Brownmiller draws conclusions about the normal.
There is no doubt: in times of war and social upheaval, the frequency of all violence increases. But this says nothing about the state of regular life. Nor does it indicate whether the violence is caused by society or by the forces destroying society. In essence, Brownmiller's book commits the logical fallacy of generalizing from extreme cases to the norm. But unless you are willing to make statements such as -- 'men kill in war, therefore the accountant feeding his parking meter is, by definition, a killer' -- you cannot make similar broad statements about rape.
Even when Against Our Will moves away from the agonies of war and revolt, it focuses only on situations of polarization and conflict. After the two chapters entitled 'War' and 'Riots, Pogroms and Revolutions' comes 'Two Studies in American History'. These studies involve the history of rape as applied to American Indians and slaves. Again, Brownmiller's insights are valuable.
Again, a leap of logic occurs.
Over and over, Brownmiller uses horror stories about, for example, the KKK's persecution of blacks to parallel man's treatment of woman. However emotionally compelling these images might be, they are not arguments and they do not justify the conclusions she presents.
One of the casualties of the new dogma of rape has been research. It is no longer 'sexually correct' to conduct studies on the causes of rape, because -- as any right thinking person knows -- there is only one cause: patriarchy. Decades ago, during the heyday of liberal feminism and sexual curiosity, the approach to research was more sophisticated.
In his book from the '70s, Men who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender, A. Nicholas Groth offers a theory that sounds almost jarring to today's ears:
"One of the most basic observations one can make regarding men who rape is that not all such offenders are alike." p.12 Plenum Press, N.Y., 1979
In their book, The Crime and Consequences of Rape, Charles W. Dean, Mary de Bruyn-Kops, Charles C. Thomas, report:
"The Kinsey study, begun in the 1950s and completed after Kinsey's death by Gebhard and associates, classified seven types of rapists: assaultive, amoral, drunken, explosive, double-standard, mental defective and psychotic..." p.41 Springfield, Ill. 1982
Such studies are no longer in fashion. It is no longer proper to suggest that there can be as many motives for rape as there are for murder and other violent crimes. People murder for money, for love, out of jealousy or patriotism ...the rationalizations go on and on. Rape is every bit as complex. Men rape because of sexual hunger, from a need to prove themselves, from hatred of women, or a desire for revenge, as a political statement, or from peer pressure (as in gang rapes). Men rape from a constellation of complicated motives, which become further blurred when you introduce drunkenness or drug use.
Perhaps the most truly political form of rape was that committed by the black activist Eldridge Cleaver, who defined his rape activity as:
"...an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man's law upon his system of values and that I was defiling his women...I felt I was getting revenge." p.28 Soul on Ice.
Contrast this rape with one described in The Crime and Consequences of Rape:
"In acquaintance rapes, the brutality and violence ...are usually absent. Since sex is the primary motivation in these cases, any classification of the motivation for rape would have to include sex in addition to power, anger, and sadism as motivating factors." p.44 Springfield, Ill. 1982
Feminism needs a theory that reconciles Cleaver's form of rape with that of a drunken frat brother. We need a theory that explores the complexity of the issue, rather than one that oversimplifies it to fit into a political agenda.
Instead, radical feminists offer book after book of anecdotal studies that merge ideology with empirical questions. These studies make blanket and unproven assertions that have acquired the status of truth through sheer repetition.
For example, in their essay, The Psychology of the Rapist and His Victim Lilia Melani and Linda Fodaski virtually equate heterosexual sex with rape:
"Once we accept the relationship of aggression and submission; once we recognize force or struggle as an integral component of the sexual courtship (as in the battle of the sexes) it follows that the sex act itself is only a less emphatic expression of all those elements that make up criminal rape." Page 88. Rape: the First Sourcebook for Feminists.
Armed with such ideological arrogance, radical feminists jettison all scientific method from their research. As the pioneering Brownmiller explains:
"...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 ideolog- ically encouraged?" Against Our Will p.395:
The answer is a clear and simple 'yes'. One needs scientific methodology to verify any empirical claim. Without such methodology, all discussions devolve into opinion. Or worse. They become a barrier to real research conducted by those who are willing to reach conclusions based on data, not on opinion. Brownmiller's attitude -- and that of most radical feminists -- encourages bad research and false conclusions. Indeed, feminist theories of rape include such large doses of emotionally-wrenching personal testimony that the validity of any statements is obscured. The statistics provided are drenched in ideology. And inconvenient facts -- like the one about 75% of men never raping -- are ignored.
Inconvenient issues -- like rape committed against men -- are also ignored, or sidestepped. Often, the victim is considered, for all political purposes, to be a woman. This is rather like a TV interview I once watched in which Stokley Carmichael divided the world into the white oppressor and the black oppressed. When asked about the huge global population of Orien- tals, he replied, 'Consider them black.' Or like another interview program, years ago, in which a Russian sociologist claimed there was no rape in Soviet Russia. When pressed on the point, the woman explained: 'no word for rape exists in the Russian language, therefore there is no rape'. I have no idea if her linguistic claim is true, but the methodology is familiar. By not naming a problem or by reclassifying it, the problem goes away.
A similar sleight of hand seems to be at work on the issue of rape. Through a semantic shell game, the crime is being so redefined that it is becoming unrecognizable. The issue of date rape is a prime example of this.
No one can condone rape in the guise of dating. But 'date rape' -- as a concept -- is much more than a stand against drunken frat brothers assaulting female students. Date rape has an underlying ideology. In their essay, The Case of the Legitimate Victim, Kurt Weis and Sandra S. Borges present a sense of this underpinning:
"The dating system is a mutually exploitative arrangement of sex-role expectations which limit and direct behavior of both parties and determine the character of the relationship. Built into the concept of dating is the notion that the woman is an object which may be purchased." p.112 RAPE VICTIMOLOGY ed. by Leroy G. Schultz, Charles C. Thomas Springfield, Ill., 1975 In other words, dating -- in and of itself -- is a form of exploitation and rape. In their book The Female Fear, Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger virtually eliminate the possibility of consent within dating:
"The American dating system, which constitutes a primary source of heterosexual contacts, legitimizes the consensual 'purchase' of women as sexual objects and obliterates the crucial distinction between consent and nonconsent." p.60 The Free Press, N.Y., 1989
By expanding the definition of rape with such wild abandon, radical feminists have blurred all clear lines on this issue. Rape used to be forced sex -- a form of assault. Today, the focus has shifted from assault to 'abuse'. A recent survey by two Carleton University sociologists -- financed by a $236,000 government grant -- revealed that 81% of female students at Canadian universities and colleges had suffered sexual abuse. Their survey descended into a maelstrom of controversy when it became known that the researchers included taunts and insults during quarrels within their definition of abuse.
The definition of sexual violence has been expanded to include what used to be called bad manners.
Proceed to Part Two
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