After having helped to organize the New York Radical Feminist Speak-Out on Rape on January 24, 1971, and the New York Radical Feminist Conference on Rape on April 17, 1971, Susan Brownmiller, an experienced journalist, spent four years investigating rape. She studied rape throughout history, from the earliest codes of human law up into modern times. She collected clippings to find patterns in the way in which rape is reported in various types of newspapers. She analyzed portrayals of rape in literature, films, and popular music. Brownmiller evaluated crime statistics from many different sources, trying to bring into focus a realistic picture of rape from the blurred mass of numbers. She collected personal testimonies and examined her own attitudes toward rape. She also scrutinized the traditional position of American liberals in supporting the rights of rape defendants and doubting the word of women who accuse them. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape is the product of that research.
When Brownmiller looks back into the dim past history of human law and justice, she finds that they were originally based on the lex talionis, the law of retaliation in kind, “an eye for an eye.” Yet there has always been a kind of bodily invasion that men could do to women but women could not do to men—forcible rape. No retaliation in kind was possible, so women sought the aid of chosen men to protect themselves against sexual predation. In Brownmiller’s words,
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.
In this way, women traded their autonomy for the protection of strong men who would “own” exclusive title to their sexual and reproductive organs. Because of this contract, which became known as marriage, early laws against rape conceptualized the crime as an offense against the man, in which the rapist trespassed on a husband’s or father’s lawful property or stole something from him. (In this view, the idea of rape within marriage would be impossible, since the man who owns the title cannot be guilty of trespassing.) Only very gradually and incompletely has the law moved toward viewing a woman’s physical integrity as something...
(The entire section is 434 words.)