Impact

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Against Our Will appeared early in the examination of rape by the women’s movement as a political as well as a personal event. The book’s focus on a historically “unspeakable” topic invited immediate controversy. Its unapologetically extreme assertion that rape involves every member of a society, not simply men who rape and women who are raped, heated the controversy to a flashpoint. Almost every review of the work quoted the inflammatory statement 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.” As might be expected with such an emotionally charged topic that by its nature is understood differently by male and female audiences, reviews were extremely mixed. Nevertheless, the book became a best- seller, was listed as one of the outstanding books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, was serialized in four magazines, and was selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club. Brownmiller was named one of Time magazine’s twelve Women of the Year. These tokens of recognition show that the book had a profound impact on social awareness of the meaning and consequences of rape.

The book became part of a movement to protect the dignity and rights of victims of rape, who have historically been treated with mistrust and insensitivity by the law and male-dominated law- enforcement institutions. It also supported the feminist trend toward valuing the physical empowerment of women through training in self-defense and competitive sports. It raised awareness that the pleasant passivity that women are trained to adopt is not simply a psychological problem—it trains them to be rape victims by encouraging them to be polite, quiet, and cooperative in the face of male violence. The book also contributed to the feminist attack on pornography and prostitution, which Brownmiller interprets as cultural institutions promoting the belief that men own the rights to women’s bodies, a belief that Brownmiller finds to be the basis of rape.