Commentary Magazine


Against Our Will: Men, Women & Rape, by Susan Brownmiller

Against our Will: Men, Women & Rape.
by Susan Brownmiller.
Simon and Schuster. 472 pp. $10.95.

The manifest thesis of this book may be simply stated: it is that the basic sexual relation between men and women is rape. Susan Brownmiller conflates the primal act of intercourse with an act of rape. She thinks of the penis as “a weapon to generate fear”—a powerful and dreadful weapon against which women “can never retaliate in kind.” She compares “man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as [such] a weapon” with his discovery of the stone ax. Thus, she writes, “From prehistoric times to the present, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a continuous process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” (The emphasis is Miss Brownmiller’s.) Having thus terrorized women, men (in the earliest form of the extortion rackets) then offer them protection. This protection is called marriage. Its main objective is to turn women into “chattels” of the men they agree to marry only in order to defend themselves against the threat of rape.

These assertions are surrounded with much rhetoric, a great smoke screen of “research,” evidence so selective and reasoning so tendentious that to contend against them is to involve oneself in intellectual corruption. The author’s arguments cannot be taken seriously either as history or as journalism. They are myths in the service of propaganda. And indeed, Against Our Will is “nothing more or less” than a propagandistic attack on heterosexuality and marriage (and by extension the family) in the guise of an attack on rape. For in defining rape so broadly and demanding its eradication, what else can Miss Brownmiller be flirting with but the eradication of all sexual relations between men and women?

But Against Our Will is not merely propaganda against heterosexuality and marriage. Its implicit logic makes it a tract in celebration of lesbianism and/or masturbation. Lesbianism is not, in this logic, a “civil-rights” issue. It is, with masturbation, the ideal way of life for which Against Our Will is a disguised justification—ideal because these are the only ways of life from which men, and hence “rape,” can be banished.

In its hatred of men, of sex between men and women, of marriage, of the family, in its contempt for women (trapped eternally in a state of fear and reduced to the status of victims), and in its apologetics for lesbianism and masturbation, Against Our Will is characteristic of the radical feminism of our time. Neither the New York Times Book Review, which chose this corrupt tract as one of the ten best books of 1975, nor Time magazine, which proclaimed Miss Brownmiller one of the Women of the Year (twelve women where one man usually is) seems to have the insight to get or the courage to face the author’s point.

But most women do. Despite the enormous clanking of the bestseller machinery in the media and despite the ideological mushiness (or fear of feminist retaliation) among New York critics, Against Our Will has so far failed to make the major lists, or to be enthusiastically embraced by women readers. But there are other and more important signs of the refusal of most women to accept the vision radical feminism would impose. In voting down the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, the vast majority of the women of New York (a liberal state, it should be noted) were not endorsing rape, acquiescing in discrimination against them, or repudiating the idea of equal pay for equal work. They were expressing their understanding of what radical feminism, and its highly publicized spokeswomen like Susan Brownmiller, truly stand for, and repudiating it. One day the media may show an equivalent degree of intellectual honesty and moral courage.

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