Sunday, 28 March 2010

Against Our Will

"[Rape] is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear" - Susan Brownmiller

This quote was one of the problems that came up the other night in a discussion with my partner about the BBC4 program, Women.

(I say it came up, when in actuality I started ranting on about it and Mr Onions listened and nodded at the appropriate points. He found the program pretty boring)

My argument was that the quote was poorly expressed but had a certain validity to it.

In essence, I believe Brownmiller was saying two things:

Firstly, that by not standing up and speaking out against rape (and, by extension in today's world, rape jokes) men who do not rape are as good as rape apologists and enablers.

Secondly, that the fear of rape makes all women fearful of all men, to the advantage of men who would seek power by such means, and to the detriment of men who wouldn't. Obviously, women lose on both counts.

Now, the original quote is a great soundbyte, but is pretty inflammatory towards men, and it could be said, is exclusionary and difficult for people to relate to, without a strong knowledge of rape discourses. But I do believe it's an important point to consider, with reflection upon what it actually means.

Discuss?

7 comments:

  1. Obviously I've never read the book cover-to-cover (it's out of print in the UK), but the statement, taken on its own, is obviously offensive nonsense. The statement doesn't mention "the detriment of men who wouldn't"; it says all men and all women. The statement is still on the main page of Brownmiller's website.

    Some of us who don't "stand up to it" don't simply because we are in no position to. With perhaps one exception (which was a boy in my class at school bragging, probably without foundation), I've never been around men talking about rape in a way that might give me a chance to challenge it at all (this could just be because I don't have many male friends anyway). It was said that Levi Bellfield boasted to his friends about shaving his body to destroy evidence, but nobody has ever boasted about this to me. I don't go to see comedians who joke about rape. Actually, I've written these two blog entries about the subject (the first prompted by seeing a crass joke by Ricky Gervais about the disease M.E., but it touches on the rape joke issue as well).

    I get quite angry when I hear these ludicrous generalisations made about men and rape - I suffered a bit of abuse myself when away at boarding school 20 years ago (the sexual element of it was nothing as serious as that but pretty intimidating given the social structure of the place and that I was at the bottom of it) so I have no interest in perpetrating it on anyone else or seeing it happen to anyone else. It's difficult to remain rational when dealing with such an outrageous slur which may nonetheless strike a chord with some people, but someone has to call her statement nonsense because that's what it is.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Matthew, thanks again for your input. I also haven't read the book, I'm simply going from the quote and discussions I've had or read.

    Firstly, I'd like to address the fact you're taking this personally, but other people are pretty good at that, so, for a start see:

    feminism 101

    Yes, the quote says All Men. However, perhaps counter-intuitively, this isn't necessarily a way of attacking every man personally.

    Brownmiller is concerned about women, about the way women feel, and I think you could probably take a straw poll of any women around you and many of them would say that either they fear the following things; or that people around them want them to fear the following things:

    walking alone at night, and/or
    hearing footsteps behind them when they are alone at night

    Now the fact that women feel this way suggests that women are in a state of fear. Why might this be?

    We get chain emails telling us how to avoid being raped, we're given rape alarms at University inductions, men regularly offer to walk us home to keep us safe.

    Many women are intimidated by the fear of rape. It doesn't matter whether the man following you down the dark street is going to rape you or not, you are still scared of him. Because he is a man, because it is night and because you are alone.

    Do you see now how the quote has relevance to women? Brownmiller is essentially saying that until rape no longer exists, all women will be scared of all men in this context.

    ReplyDelete
  3. P.S.

    would you like to me to qualify this part:

    Firstly, that by not standing up and speaking out against rape (and, by extension in today's world, rape jokes) men who do not rape are as good as rape apologists and enablers.

    with:

    Firstly, that by not standing up and speaking out against rape (and, by extension in today's world, rape jokes) when the opportunity occurs, men who do not rape are as good as rape apologists and enablers.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The problem is that Brownmiller used the phrase "all men" and the word "conscious" in the quote. She did not talk about "the system" or "the patriarchy", or even "men" in general. "All men" means just that. By definition, it's personal.

    I'm not even convinced that Brownmiller was "concerned about women, about the way women feel"; I suspect she was concerned about making an outrageous statement to sell a book and make a name for herself, which she has certainly done. I don't dispute that the fear of rape is a fact of life for women, but the fact that males (outside certain institutional settings) don't experience it - i.e. it's an example of male privilege - doesn't justify her statement, which implies that all men are somehow in on it and benefit from it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Matthew, I accept that the specific wording of the quote is problematic, though I'm not entirely sure you're even reading what I'm writing.

    In my original post I stated the following:

    "the quote was poorly expressed but had a certain validity to it"

    "...a great soundbyte, but is pretty inflammatory towards men, and it could be said, is exclusionary and difficult for people to relate to..."


    I recognised the problems with the quote, but accepted the underlying ideas as useful.

    Perhaps it would be useful for yourself to consider the context of the publication of the book, a seminal work that opened up a discourse on something so little discussed.

    To be heard, people sometimes need to be controversial. To make change, people sometimes need to shout loudly. Having already internalised the messages of 2nd wave feminism, it's sometimes difficult to comprehend the situation of previous decades.

    Furthermore, the ad hominem attack on Brownmiller isn't particularly convincing: even if she were concerned about making an outrageous statement, it does not detract from the important, true message.

    Once again, perhaps it needs re-iterating, it's not about you and, in case you assume that the existence of one man who rejects this idea is proof enough of its fallacy - Mr Onions is all too happy to accept this analysis.

    Any more for any more?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree with whats being said, my only argument is that I believe that it does not apply solely to women, one of the fastest growing crimes is male rap. I know for a fact that when my boyfriend has to walk home alone at night he feels uncomfortable if there's somebody walking behind him, although the initial fear may not be of rape but rather a general beating, violence in general is a way of intimidating and controling others, there is no denying that IN GENERAL males are more aggressive than females (due to hormones and conditioning) which i believe is what the quote is trying to say... just in a ignorant way perhaps.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Ellie, and I do acknowledge the need to recognise that men can keep men in a state of fear too, and masclinity is a rigid definition in a dominant culture that is difficult to counter. It would be something interesting to discuss in a future post.

    ReplyDelete