Susan Brownmiller Criticism

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Michael F. McCauley (review date 5 December 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McCauley, Michael F. Review of Against Our Will, by Susan Brownmiller. Commonweal 102, no. 19 (5 December 1975): 602–03.

[In the following excerpt, McCauley praises Against Our Will for addressing a timely issue that concerns everyone.]

Four years ago when journalist Susan Brownmiller began writing Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, she often encountered embarrassment concerning rape and rape victims. For the most part this attitude has changed due, largely, to the women's movement and the staggering projection that half a million women will be raped this year. In this compelling, unflinching account of Ms. Brownmiller's confrontation of her own fears and intellectual defenses she details her conversion from the typical liberal stance to a disarming realization of her own vulnerability. Backed-up by carefully-selected, well-documented research encompassing psychoanalysis, sociology, criminology, law and history, Against Our Will explores current discriminatory rape laws that are still obscured by medieval codes, traditional sexist prejudices and sheer fantasy. Ms. Brownmiller exposes a widespread, unspoken tenet of male-dominated society which virtually denies the fact of force, suggesting that “all women want to be raped,” thus doubly violating the victims by adding to the actual physical assault the psychological trauma of being accused of enticement or compliance. Against Our Will is a poignant, candid and long-overdue analysis of a subject that concerns all. As long as present legal outlooks and cultural mythologies prevail, we are, each one of us, victims of this unspeakable attack on our humanity.

Gillian Tindall (review date 12 December 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tindall, Gillian. “Sexist Appeal.” New Statesman 90, no. 2334 (12 December 1975): 761.

[In the following review, Tindall argues that Against Our Will is thoughtful, informative, and well-researched, but criticizes the volume for presenting an oversimplified, one-sided view of human sexuality.]

Reading these two studies in the same week, one on prostitution and the other on rape, you get the uneasy impression that they are somehow mutually exclusive—that the social situation described in the one could not exist on the same planet with the other and vice versa. I think this is the fault of both books; both, in different styles and at different intellectual levels, have their points, but each manages only a one-sided view of the complex field of human sexuality. Through the eyes of the whores whose reported testimony makes up the bulk of Jeremy Sandford's work, men seem a pretty harmless lot; there is the odd tale of rape or bullying, but the general impression is of a docile horde of faceless males, easily parted from their money, easily pleased by the gratification of perverse tastes more infantile than vicious. How, one is inclined to wonder, can this horde fit into the inherently brutal society of masculine domination depicted by Susan Brownmiller, a world in which, according to her, ‘all men keep all women in a state of fear’?

Those who read this remark at the end of her introductory chapter may feel inclined, as I did, to mutter, ‘if you believe that you'll believe anything,’ and to feel that the rest of this lengthy work is going to be a waste of time. However, much of Against Our Will turns out to be thoughtful, informative and well-researched. In her chronicle of bygone wars, she attempts to steer a path between believing all atrocity stories and believing none of them, and she is interesting on the part apparently played by aggressive homosexuality in jails: she is right, I am sure, that the rationale underlying this is not frustrated sexual desire but power politics—the physical abuse of weaker men is about the only way an imprisoned criminal can still be, literally, cock of the walk.

Yet there is a vein of obtuseness running through this book, a doctrinaire refusal to carry certain trains of thought through to their logical conclusions. The essential theme is the way in which men, historically and...

(The entire section is 33,681 words.)