(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Brownmiller’s analysis of rape opens with a speculative historical survey of the origins of laws prohibiting rape, beginning in biblical times. Because of the inescapable differences in the construction of human sexual organs, human males are natural predators and human females natural prey. Brownmiller speculates that female fear of an open season of rape, rather than a natural inclination toward monogamy, motherhood, or love, was the single most important factor in woman’s dependence on man for protective mating. The price of woman’s protection by man against man was the imposition of rules relating to her chastity and to monogamy. A crime committed against her body became a crime against male property. Concepts of hierarchy, slavery, and private property, Brownmiller argues, depended upon the initial subjugation of woman.

Subsequent concepts of rape and its punishment in early English law reflect lawmakers’ confusion as to whether rape was a crime against a woman’s body or a crime against the male estate. In thirteenth century English law, the principle of statutory rape—felonious carnal knowledge of a child in which her consent is immaterial—first made its appearance.

The next chapter, and the longest in the book, studies the incidence and motivations for rape during war. Rape has accompanied wars of religion as well as wars of revolution, although by the twentieth century rape had been outlawed as a criminal act under the international rules of war. The American Uniform Code of Military Justice punishes rape by death or imprisonment, yet it persists. Among the ancient Greeks, rape was socially acceptable behavior well within the rules of warfare, an act without stigma for the warrior. Not until 1385 was rape prohibited in the conduct of soldiers. Although officially frowned upon, rape remains a hallmark of success in battle. Throughout the ages, triumph over women by rape became a way to measure victory, a part of a soldier’s masculinity and success, and a reward for services rendered.

An aggressor nation rarely admits to rape; documentation of rape in warfare is something the other side collects and publicizes once defeat becomes a fact. Men of a conquered nation traditionally view the rape of their women as the ultimate humiliation, as part of the enemy’s conscious efforts to destroy them. Rape by a conquering soldier destroys all remaining illusions of power and property for men of the defeated side. Brownmiller studies the occurrence of rape in World War I, World War II, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

The chapter “Riots, Pogroms, and Revolutions” examines rape during the American Revolution, the pogroms in Russia and the Ukraine, the Mormon persecutions in the American West, mob violence and rape directed against African Americans by the...

(The entire section is 1148 words.)