Sunday, March 18, 2007

On Rape

The Apostate posts on rape.

I’m 43 now. I grew up in the 70s and I remember the incredible change in our attitudes about rape in this supposedly “enlightened” country.

I remember when it really was considered the woman’s fault even if she was attacked in broad daylight by a stranger, dragged away and raped.

I recently read Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. I was irritated when Brownmiller called rape a crime of all men against all women. And then I remembered what things were like in the 70s when she wrote that book, and of course I had to admit the justice of her position.

I remember Roe v. Wade. I remember the debates about Rape Shield laws. I remember when someone tried to rape Edith Bunker.

By the time I was in my 20s, everything about rape had changed. Rape was a serious crime, no longer either legally or socially an acceptable way to keep women in their place.

I’m disturbed now, a generation later, that rape seems to be on the increase. This makes no sense to me. Women don’t seem to be more victimized, more marginalized, less empowered than they were thirty years ago. So why is rape apparently on the increase?

We as a society had to be no-bullshit firm twenty years ago, firm to the point of outright dogmatism. Rape was not the woman’s fault. No woman ever deserved to be raped. Rape was always a crime. Full stop. No exceptions, no excuses, no bullshit. There was no moral room for letting attitudes about rape “evolve”. We had to break down attitudes entrenched by thousands of years of custom, and it had to be done right now.

And, by and large, we did it. Good for us.

Of course, we haven’t eliminated sexism. But we’ve made substantial progress on the two pillars which have justified sexism for millennia: pregnancy and rape.

Today, the issue isn’t black-and-white as it was a generation ago. Women are gaining control of their sexuality. Men are losing the absolute control of sexuality they had just a generation ago (and thank God for that).

The dogmatism of the 70s and 80s is giving way. Thirty years ago, if a woman called it rape, it was rape–-the stigma was so great that just the accusation was compelling evidence. Today, it doesn’t seem as clear cut.

I think that’s the case The Apostate is trying to make, and the point that some do not appear to grasp.

Women do in fact have more power these days. They don’t have equal power to men, but neither are they in the state of almost total legal and social disempowerment of only a few decades ago. And with power always comes responsibility–this is true for everyone.

The old dogmas, predicated on the absolute legal and social repression of women, are going to have to give way to a more sophisticated, nuanced view. Consent is still consent, no still means no, crime is still crime.

But the empowerment of women to say “yes” to sex, as an expression of healthy, normal human sexuality, without the stigma of being a slut or a whore, has made it so that “no” is no longer the obvious, default answer. Making sex an actual choice opens up a new gray area, virtually unknown a generation ago, where the old dogmas cannot be automatically upheld.


  1. Here is a really long, really good article from New York Times Magazine on rape in the military.

    "A 2003 report financed by the Department of Defense revealed that nearly one-third of a nationwide sample of female veterans seeking health care through the V.A. said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times, and 14 percent reported they were gang-raped."

    It would appear that the most exalted institutions in America have serious values problems.

  2. The military really is a problem area for women and there are many reasons for that (institutionalized authority being one).

    The same reasons don't apply to civilian life except in a distantly analogical sense.


  4. no, no... it's:


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