Susan Brownmiller Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

An American journalist who became politically active in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Susan Brownmiller wrote for The Village Voice, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, and Vogue, as well as working for NBC and ABC. Her political profile of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to Congress, led to her active participation in civil rights. After joining a consciousness-raising group who gathered to discuss the harsh realities of antifeminist attitudes and behavior, such as equal pay, abortion rights, and rape, Brownmiller became interested in women’s issues.

She participated in organizing the sit-in of The Ladies’ Home Journal, in which women demanded a female editorial staff, and columns and research on such women’s concerns as birth control, abortion rights, and spousal abuse.

In 1975 Brownmiller became an overnight sensation with the publication of Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. This was the first significant documentation of rape and its effects on women and society as a whole. The book was a best-seller. Early reviewers split along gender lines, with most women embracing the theoretical foundations of Brownmiller’s argument and many men questioning her research methodology.

Brownmiller spent about four years doing the research for Against Our Will, meticulously documenting the characteristics...

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Susan Brownmiller Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Susan Brownmiller recalls, in her book Femininity, her early gender training, in which she was dressed in frilly clothing and told to stay clean, was given dolls and tea sets to play with, and learned from the stories, films, and advertisements with which she grew up that, as a girl, she was a fairy princess. She says she loved it. By the time she reached adolescence, however, Brownmiller was struggling with this feminine image, which required very strict behaviors and expectations, but which she knew, if lost, would have dire consequences.

As time went on she began to analyze not only the rigid codes of femininity but also other kinds of social codes imposed on women. In 1975, she published the work for which she is perhaps most well-known: Against Our Will. In her introduction to this book, Brownmiller describes her own growing awareness of the realities of rape over the preceding few years. During this time, she moved from a naïve denial that rape was anything more than a bizarre crime inflicted by deranged men on a certain type of woman, to an understanding that rape was not only something that could happen to any woman, and thus made every woman vulnerable, but also that rape was a method of enforcing and maintaining male dominance over women. This book has become a feminist classic and has defined the current understanding of rape as a crime not of sex but of domination and power, an act of violence that limits the freedom of all women. The book also documents the systematic way rape is used as an act of war, in which women are used as pawns in male struggles against each other. Brownmiller’s first work of fiction, Waverly Place, addresses another feminist issue that has come to the forefront of her attention, that of domestic violence. The book was inspired by the widely publicized case of Hedda Nussbaum and Joel Steinberg. Brownmiller’s fiction and nonfiction work has always been based in her feminist perspective and identity. Her works typically highlight feminist issues, including rape, the restrictions of feminine norms, and domestic violence.

Susan Brownmiller Biography (Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

Susan Brownmiller has been a feminist activist since the 1960’s, when she cofounded the New York Radical Feminists (1968). As a journalist, Brownmiller has protested against such traditional women’s magazines as Ladies’ Home Journal for their portrayals of submissive womanhood.

Brownmiller first gained national prominence with her best- seller Against Our Will, an extensively researched history of rape as a social and political tool. In it, she asserts that rape “is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Although this controversial statement has been interpreted as saying that all men are, literally or potentially, rapists, Brownmiller insists her point is that all men, as participants in patriarchal rule, benefit from and so implicitly support what poet Adrienne Rich terms a “culture of rape” that keeps women fearful and subordinate. Named one of Time magazine’s Women of the Year in 1975, Brownmiller toured the United States delivering the message that while her book gave rape a history, now “we must deny it a future.”

Brownmiller’s second feminist analysis, Femininity, appeared in 1984. It was criticized by some feminists for merely exploring the ways in which the concept of “femininity” is socially constructed in ways that are injurious to women— without urging action or protest. Brownmiller has also written the novel Waverly Place (1989) and numerous articles, and she founded the organization Women Against Pornography.

Bibliography

Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1988. A biography and a history of the major women in the feminist struggle of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In addition to looking at Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer, Cohen provides a believable story of Brownmiller’s efforts in the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements and gives her credit for originating and leading the sit-in at the Ladies’ Home Journal.

Edwards, Alison. Rape, Racism, and the White Women’s Movement: An Answer to Susan Brownmiller. 2d ed. Chicago: Sojourner Truth Organization, 1979.

Kaganoff, Penny. “Susan Brownmiller.” Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1989. An interview with Brownmiller that connects her women’s movement activities with her concern for battered wives and abused children.

Leo, John. “The Comeback of Feminine Wiles.” Time, January 30, 1984, 82.

Sheffield, Carole J. “Sexual Terrorism.” In Women: A Feminist Perspective, edited by Jo Freeman. 4th ed. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield, 1989.

Susan Brownmiller Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1988. A biography and a history of the major women in the feminist struggle of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In addition to looking at Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer, Cohen provides a believable story of Brownmiller’s efforts in the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements and gives her credit for originating and leading the sit-in at the Ladies’ Home Journal.

Edwards, Alison. Rape, Racism, and the White Women’s Movement: An Answer to Susan Brownmiller. 2d ed. Chicago: Sojourner Truth Organization, 1979.

Kaganoff, Penny. “Susan Brownmiller.” Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1989. An interview with Brownmiller that connects her women’s movement activities with her concern for battered wives and abused children.

Leo, John. “The Comeback of Feminine Wiles.” Time, January 30, 1984, 82.

Sheffield, Carole J. “Sexual Terrorism.” In Women: A Feminist Perspective, edited by Jo Freeman. 4th ed. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield, 1989.