The History of Rape

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

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,

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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 owned by the woman herself.

In the context of this worldview in which women were possessed by men, Brownmiller makes sense of the horrific but largely forgotten...

(The entire section contains 434 words.)

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