Excerpt from Rape: The All-American Crime by Susan Griffin. From Ramparts, Vol. 10, no. 3, September 1971.
I have never been free of the fear of rape. From a very early age I, like most women, have thought of rape as part of my natural environment – something to be feared and prayed against like fire or lightning. I never asked why men raped; I simply thought it one of the many mysteries of human nature.
I was, however, curious enough about the violent side of humanity to read every crime magazine I was able to ferret away from my grandfather. Each issue featured at least one “sex crime,” with pictures of a victim, usually in a pearl necklace, and of the ditch or the orchard where her body was found. I was never certain why the victims were always women, nor what the motives of the murderer were, but I did guess that the world was not a safe place for women. I observed that my grandmother was meticulous about locks, and quick to draw the shades before anyone removed so much as a shoe. I sensed that danger lurked outside.
At the age of eight, my suspicions were confirmed. My grandmother took me to the back of the house where the men wouldn’t hear, and told me that strange men wanted to do harm to little girls. I learned not to walk on dark streets, not to talk to strangers, or get into strange cars, to lock doors, and to be modest. She never explained why a man would want to harm a little girl, and I never asked.
If I thought for a while that my grandmother’s fears were imaginary, the illusion was brief. That year, on the way home from school, a schoolmate a few years older than I tried to rape me. Later, in an obscure aisle of the local library (while I was reading Freddy the Pig) I turned to discover a man exposing himself. Then, the friendly man around the corner was arrested for child molesting.
My initiation to sexuality was typical. Every woman has similar stories to tell – the first man who attacked her may have been a neighbor, a family friend, an uncle, her doctor, or perhaps her own father. And women who grow up in New York City always have tales about the subway …
When I was very young, my image of the “sexual offender” was a nightmarish amalgamation of the bogey man and Captain Hook: he wore a black cape, and he cackled. As I matured, so did my image of the rapist. Born into the psychoanalytic age, I tried to “understand” the rapist. Rape, I came to believe, was only one of many unfortunate evils produced by sexual repression. Reasoning by tautology, I concluded that any man who would rape a woman must be out of his mind.
Yet, though the theory that rapists are insane is a popular one, this belief has no basis in fact. According to Professor Menachem Amir’s study of 646 rape cases in Philadelphia, Patterns in Forcible Rape, men who rape are not abnormal. Amir writes, “Studies indicate that sex offenders do not constitute a unique or psychopathological type; nor are they as a group invariably more disturbed than the control groups to which they are compared.” Alan Taylor, a parole officer who has worked with rapists in the prison facilities at San Luis Obispo, California, stated the question in plainer language, “Those men were the most normal men there. They had a lot of hang-ups, but they were the same hang-ups as men walking out on the street.”
Another canon in the apologetics of rape is that if it were not for learned social controls, all men would rape. Rape is held to be natural behavior, and not to rape must be learned. But in truth rape is not universal to the human species. Moreover, studies of rape in our culture reveal that far from being impulsive behavior, most rape is planned. Professor Amir’s study reveals that in cases of group rape (the “gangbang” of masculine slang), 90 percent of the rapes were planned; in pair rapes, 83 percent of the rapes were planned; and in single rapes, 58 percent were planned. These figures should significantly discredit the image of the rapist as a man who is suddenly overcome by sexual needs society does not allow him to fulfill.
Far from the social control of rape being learned, comparisons with other cultures lead one to suspect that, in our society, it is rape itself that is learned. (The fact that rape is against the law should not be considered proof that rape is not in fact encouraged as part of our culture.)
This culture’s concept of rape as an illegal, but still understandable, form of behavior is not a universal one. In her study Sex and Temperment, Margaret Mead describes a society that does not share our views. The Arapesh do not “…have any conception of the male nature that might make rape understandable to them.” Indeed our interpretation of rape is a product of our conception of the nature of male sexuality. A common retort to the question, why don’t women rape men, is the myth that men have greater sexual needs, that their sexuality is more urgent than women’s. And it is the nature of human beings to want to live up to what is expected of them.
And this same culture which expects aggression from the male expects passivity from the female. Conveniently, the companion myth about the nature of female sexuality is that all women secretly want to be raped. Lurking beneath her modest female exterior is a subconscious desire to be ravished. The following description of a stag movie, written by Brenda Starr in Los Angeles’ underground paper, Everywoman, typifies this male fantasy. The movie “showed a woman in her underclothes reading on her bed. She is interrupted by a rapist with a knife. He immediately wins her over with his charm and they get busy sucking and fucking.” An advertisement in the Berkeley Barb reads, “Now as all women know from their daydreams, rape has a lot of advantages. Best of all it’s so simple. No preparation necessary, no planning ahead of time, no wondering if you should or shouldn’t; just whang! bang!” Thanks to Masters and Johnson even the scientific canon recognizes that for the female, “whang! bang!” can scarcely be described as pleasurable.
Still, the male psyche persists in believing that, protestations and struggles to the contrary, deep inside her mysterious feminine soul, the female victim has wished for her own fate. A young woman who was raped by the husband of a friend said that days after the incident the man returned to her home, pounded on the door and screamed to her, “Jane, Jane. You loved it. You know you loved it.”
The theory that women like being raped extends itself by deduction into the proposition that most or much of rape is provoked by the victim. But this too is only myth. Though provocation, considered a mitigating factor in a court of law, may consist of only “a gesture,” according to the Federal Commission on Crimes of Violence, only 4% of reported rapes involved any precipitative behavior by the woman.
The notion that rape is enjoyed by the victim is also convenient for the man who, though he would not commit forcible rape, enjoys the idea of its existence, as if rape confirms that enormous sexual potency which he secretly knows to be his own. It is for the pleasure of the armchair rapist that detailed accounts of violent rapes exist in the media. Indeed, many men appear to take sexual pleasure from nearly all forms of violence. Whatever the motivation, male sexuality and violence in our culture seem to be inseparable. James Bond alternately whips out his revolver and his cock, and though there is no known connection between the skills of gun-fighting and love-making, pacifism seems suspiciously effeminate…
In the spectrum of male behavior, rape, the perfect combination of sex and violence, is the penultimate act. Erotic pleasure cannot be separated from culture, and in our culture male eroticism is wedded to power. Not only should a man be taller and stronger than a female in the perfect love-match, but he must also demonstrate his superior strength in gestures of dominance which are perceived as amorous. Though the law attempts to make a clear division between rape and sexual intercourse, in fact the courts find it difficult to distinguish between a case where the decision to copulate was mutual and one where a man forced himself upon his partner.
The scenario is even further complicated by the expectation that, not only does a woman mean “yes” when she says “no,” but that a really decent woman ought to begin by saying “no,” and then be led down the primrose path to acquiescence. Ovid, the author of Western Civilization’s most celebrated sex-manual, makes this expectation perfectly clear:
…and when I beg you to say “yes,” say “no.” Then let me lie outside your bolted door…So Love grows strong…
That the basic elements of rape are involved in all heterosexual relationships may explain why men often identify with the offender in this crime. But to regard the rapist as the victim, a man driven by his inherent sexual needs to take what will not be given him, reveals a basic ignorance of sexual politics. For in our culture heterosexual love finds and erotic expression through male dominance and female submission. A man who derives pleasure from raping a woman clearly must enjoy force and dominance as much or more than the simple pleasures of the flesh. Coitus cannot be experienced in isolation. The weather, the state of the nation, the level of sugar in the blood – all will affect a man’s ability to achieve orgasm. If a man can achieve sexual pleasure after terrorizing and humiliating the object of his passion, and in fact while inflicting pain upon her, one must assume he derives pleasure directly from terrorizing, humiliating and harming a woman. According to Amir’s study of forcible rape, on statistical average the man who has been convicted of rape was found to have a normal sexual personality, tending to be different from the normal, well-adjusted male only in having a greater tendency to express violence and rage.
And if the professional rapist is to be separated from the average dominant heterosexual, it may be mainly a quantitative difference. For the existence of rape as an index to masculinity is not entirely metaphorical. Though this measure of masculinity seems to be more publically exhibited among “bad boys” or aging bikers who practice sexual initiation through group rape, in fact “good boys” engage in the same rites to prove their manhood. In Stockton, a small town in California which epitomizes silent-majority American, a bachelor party was given last summer for a young man about to be married. A woman was hired to dance “topless” for the amusement of the guests. At the high point of the evening the bridegroom-to-be dragged the woman into a bedroom. No move was made by any of his companions to stop what was clearly going to be an attempted rape. Far from it. As the woman described, “I tried to keep him away – told him of my herpes genitalis, et cetera, but he couldn’t face the guys if he didn’t screw me.” After the bridegroom had finished raping the woman and returned with her to the party, far from chastising him, his friends heckled the woman and covered her with wine.
It was fortunate for the dancer that the bridegroom’s friends did not follow him into the bedroom for, though one might suppose that in group rape, since the victim is outnumbered, less force would be inflicted on her, in fact, Amir’s studies indicate, “the most excessive degrees of violence occurred in group rape.” Far from discouraging violence, the presence of other men may in fact encourage sadism, and even cause the behavior. In an unpublished study of group rape by Gilbert Geis and Duncan Chappell, the authors refer to a study by W.H. Blanchard which relates, “The leader of the male group…apparently precipitated and maintained the activity, despite misgivings, because of a need to fulfill the role that the other two men had assigned to him. ‘I was scared when it began to happen,’ he says. ‘I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to say it to the other guys – you know – that I was scared.’”
Thus it becomes clear that not only does our culture teach men the rudiments of rape, but society, or more specifically other men, encourage the practice of it.
… According to the male mythology which defines and perpetuates rape, it is an animal instinct inherent in the male. The story goes that sometime in our pre-historical past, the male, more hirsute and burly than today’s counterparts, roamed about an uncivilized landscape until he found a desirable female. (Oddly enough, this female is not pictured as more muscular than the modern woman.) Her mate does not bother with courtship. He simply grabs her by the hair and drags her to the closest cave. Presumably, one of the major advantages of modern civilization for the female has been the civilizing of the male. We call it chivalry.
But women do not get chivalry for free. According to the logic of sexual politics, we too have to civilize our behavior. (Enter chastity. Enter virginity. Enter monogamy.) For the female, civilized behavior means chastity before marriage and faithfulness within it. Chivalrous behavior in the male is supposed to protect that chastity from involuntary defilement. The fly in the ointment of this otherwise peaceful system is the fallen woman. She does not behave. And therefore she does not deserve protection. Or, to use another argument, a major tenet of the same value system: what has once been defiled cannot again be violated. One begins to suspect that it is the behavior of the fallen woman, and not that of the male, that civilization aims to control.
The assumption that a woman who does not respect the double standard deserves whatever she gets (or at the very least “asks for it”) operates in the courts today. While in some states a man’s previous rape conviction are not considered admissible evidence, the sexual reputation of the rape victim is considered a crucial element of the facts upon which the court must decide innocence or guilt…
According to the double standard, a woman who has had sexual intercourse out of wedlock cannot be raped. Rape is not only a crime of aggression against the body; it is a transgression against chastity as defined by men. When a woman is forced into a sexual relationship, she has, according to the male ethos, been violated. But she is also defiled if she does not behave according to the double standard, by maintaining her chastity, or confining her sexual activities to a monogamous relationship.
One should not assume, however, that a woman can avoid the possibility of rape simply by behaving. Though myth would have it that mainly “bad girls” are raped, this theory has no basis in fact. Available statistics would lead one to believe that a safer course is promiscuity. In a study of rape done in the District of Columbia, it was found that 82% of the rape victims had a “good reputation.” Even the Police Inspector’s advice to stay off the streets is rather useless, for almost half of reported rapes occur in the home of the victim and are committed by a man she has never before seen. Like indiscriminate terrorism, rape can happen to any woman, and few women are ever without this knowledge.
But the courts and the police, both dominated by white males, continue to suspect the rape victim, sui generis, of provoking or asking for her own assault. According to Amir’s study, the police tend to believe that a woman without a good reputation cannot be raped. The rape victim is usually submitted to countless questions about her own sexual mores and behavior by the police investigator. This preoccupation is partially justified by the legal requirements for prosecution in a rape case. The rape victim must have been penetrated, and she must have made it clear to her assailant that she did not want penetration (unless of course she is unconscious). A refusal to accompany a man to some isolated place to allow him to touch her does not in the eyes of the court, constitute rape. She must have said “no” at the crucial genital moment. And the rape victim, to qualify as such, must also have put up a physical struggle – unless she can prove that to do so would have been to endanger her life.
But the zealous interest the police frequently exhibit in the physical details of a rape case is only partially explained by the requirements of the court. A woman who was raped in Berkeley was asked to tell the story of her rape four different times “right out in the street,” while her assailant was escaping. She was then required to submit to a pelvic examination to prove that penetration had taken place. Later, she was taken to the police station where she was asked the same questions again: “Were you forced?” “Did he penetrate?” “Are you sure your life was in danger and you had no other choice?” This woman had been pulled off the street by a man who held a 10-inch knife at her throat and forcibly raped her. She was raped at midnight and was not able to return to her home until five in the morning. Police contacted her twice again in the next week, once by telephone at two in the morning and once at four in the morning. In her words, “The rape was probably the least traumatic incident of the whole evening. If I’m ever raped again…I wouldn’t report it to the police because of all the degradation…”
If white women are subjected to unnecessary and often hostile questioning after having been raped, third world women are often not believed at all. According to the white male ethos (which is not only sexist but racist), third world women are defined from birth as “impure.” Thus the white male is provided with a pool of women who are fair game for sexual imperialism. Third world women frequently do not report rape and for good reason. When blues singer Billie Holiday was 10 years old, she was taken off to a local house by a neighbor and raped. Her mother brought the police to rescue her, and she was taken to the local station crying and bleeding:
When we got there, instead of treating me and Mom like somebody who called the cops for help, they treated me like I’d killed somebody…I guess they had me figured for having enticed this old goat into the whorehouse…All I know for sure is they threw me into a cell…a fat white matron…saw I was still bleeding, she felt sorry for me and gave me a couple glasses of milk. But nobody else did anything for me except give me filthy looks and snicker to themselves.
After a couple of days in a cell they dragged me into a court. Mr. Dick got sentenced to five years. They sentenced me to a Catholic institution.
Clearly the white man’s chivalry is aimed only to protect the chastity of “his” women.
As a final irony, that same system of sexual values from which chivalry is derived has also provided womankind with an unwritten code of behavior, called femininity, which makes a feminine woman the perfect victim of sexual aggression. If being chaste does not ward off the possibility of assault, being feminine certainly increases the chances that it will succeed. To be submissive is to defer to masculine strength; is to lack muscular development or any interest in defending oneself; is to let doors be opened, to have one’s arm held when crossing the street. To be feminine is to wear shoes which make it difficult to run; skirts which inhibit one’s stride; underclothes which inhibit the circulation. Is it not an intriguing observation that those very clothes which are thought to be flattering to the female and attractive to the male are those which make it impossible for a woman to defend herself against aggression?
Each girl as she grows into womanhood is taught fear. Fear is the form in which the female internalizes both chivalry and the double standard. Since, biologically speaking, women in fact have the same if not greater potential for sexual expression as do men, the woman who is taught that she must behave differently from a man must also learn to distrust her own carnality. She must deny her own feelings and learn not to act from them. She fears herself. This is the essence of passivity, and of course, a woman’s passivity is not simply sexual but functions to cripple her from self-expression in every area of her life.
Passivity itself prevents a woman from ever considering her own potential for self-defense and forces her to look to men for protection. The woman is taught fear, but this time fear of the other; and yet her only relief from this fear is to seek out the other. Moreover, the passive woman is taught to regard herself as impotent, unable to act, unable even to perceive, in no way self-sufficient, and, finally, as the object and not the subject of human behavior. It is in this sense that a woman is deprived of the status of a human being. She is not free to be…
If the basic social unit is the family, in which the woman is a possession of her husband, the super-structure of society is a male hierarchy, in which men dominate other men (or patriarchal families dominate other patriarchal families). And it is no small irony that, while the very social fabric of our male-dominated culture denies women equal access to political, economic and legal power, the literature, myth and humor of our culture depicts women not only as the power behind the throne, but the real source of the oppression of men. The religious version of this fairy tale blames Eve for both carnality and eating of the tree of knowledge, at the same time making her gullible to the obvious devices of a serpent. Adam, of course, is merely the trusting victim of love. Certainly this is a biased story. But no more biased than the one television audiences receive today from the latest slick comedians. Through a media which is owned by men, censored by a State dominated by men, all the evils of this social system which make a man’s life unpleasant are blamed upon “the wife.” The theory is: were it not for the female who waits and plots to “trap” the male into marriage, modern man would be able to achieve Olympian freedom. She is made the scapegoat for a system which is in fact run by men.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the white racist use of the concept of white womanhood. The white male’s open rape of black women, coupled with his overweening concern for the chastity and protection of his wife and daughters, represents an extreme of sexist and racist hypocrisy. While on the one hand she was held up as the standard for purity and virtue, on the other the Southern white woman was never asked if she wanted to be on a pedestal, and in fact any deviance from the male-defined standards for white womanhood was treated severely. (It is a powerful commentary on American racism that the historical role of Blacks as slaves, and thus possessions without power, has robbed black women of legal and economic protection through marriage. Thus black women in Southern society and in the ghettoes of the North have long been easy game for white rapists.) The fear that black men would rape white women was, and is, classic paranoia. Quoting sexism in the South “The New South: White Man’s Country,” Frederick Douglass legitimately points out that, “had the black man wished to rape white women, he had ample opportunity to do so during the civil war when white women, the wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of the rebels, were left in the care of Blacks. But yet not a single act of rape was committed during this time. The Ku Klux Klan, who tarred and feathered black men and lynched them in the honor of the purity of white womanhood, also applied tar and feather to a Southern white woman accused of bigamy, which leads on to suspect that Southern white men were not so much outraged at the violation of the woman as a person, in the few instances where rape was actually committed by black men, but at the violation of his property rights.” in the situation where a black man was found to be having sexual relations with a white woman, the white woman could exercise skin-privilege, and claim that she had been raped, in which case the black man was lynched. But if she did not claim rape, she herself was subject to lynching.
In constructing the myth of white womanhood so as to justify the lynching and oppression of black men and women, the white male has created a convenient symbol of his own power which has resulted in black hostility toward the white “bitch,” accompanied by an unreasonable fear on the part of many white women of the black rapist. Moreover, it is not surprising that after being told for two centuries that he wants to rape white women, occasionally a black man does actually commit that act. But it is crucial to note that the frequency of this practice is outrageously exaggerated in the white mythos. Ninety percent of reported rape is intra- not inter-racial.
Indeed, the existence of rape in any form is beneficial to the ruling class of white males. For rape is a kind of terrorism which severely limits the freedom of women and makes women dependent on men. Moreover, in the act of rape, the rage that one man may harbor toward another higher in the male hierarchy can be deflected toward a female scapegoat. For every man there is always someone lower on the social scale on whom he can take out his aggression. And that is any woman alive.
This oppressive attitude towards women finds its institutionalization in the tradition family. For it is assumed that a man “wears the pants” in his family – he exercises the option of rule whenever he so chooses. Not that he makes all the decisions – clearly women make most of the important day-to-day decisions in a family. But when a conflict of interest arises, it is the man’s interest which will prevail. His word, in itself, is more powerful. He lords it over his wife in the same way his boss lords it over him, so that the very process of exercising his power becomes as important an act as obtaining whatever it is his power can get for him. This notion of power is key to the male ego in this culture, for the two acceptable measures masculinity are a man’s power over women and his power over other men. A man may boast to his friends that “I have 20 men working for me.” It is also aggrandizement of his ego if he has the financial power to clothe his wife in furs and jewels. And, if a man lacks the wherewithal to acquire such power, he can always express his rage through equally masculine activities – rape and theft. Since male society defines the female as a possession, it is not surprising that the felony most often committed together with rape is theft…
Rape is an act of aggression in which the victim is denied her self-determination. It is an act of violence which, if not actually followed by beatings or murder, nevertheless always carries with it the threat of death. And finally, rape is a form of mass terrorism, for the victims of rape are chosen indiscriminately, but the propagandists for male supremacy broadcast that it is women who cause rape by being unchaste or in the wrong place at the wrong time – in essence, by behaving as though they were free.
The threat of rape is used to deny women employment. (In California, the Berkeley Public Library, until pushed by the Federal Employment Practices Commission, refused to hire female shelvers because of perverted men in the stacks.) The fear of rape keeps women off the streets at night. Keeps women at home. Keeps women passive and modest for fear that they be thought provocative.
It is part of human dignity to be able to defend oneself, and women are learning. Some women have learned karate; some to shoot guns. And yet we will not be free until the threat of rape and the atmosphere of violence is ended, and to end that the nature of male behavior must change.
But rape is not an isolated act that can be rooted out from patriarchy without ending patriarchy itself. The same men and power structure who victimize women are engaged in the act of raping Vietnam, raping Black people and the very earth we live upon. Rape is a classic act of domination where, in the words of Kate Millett, “the emotions of hatred, contempt, and the desire to break or violate personality,” take place. This breaking of the personality characterizes modern life itself. No simple reforms can eliminate rape. As the symbolic expression of the white male hierarchy, rape is the quintessential act of our civilization, one which, Valerie Solanis warns, is in danger of “humping itself to death.”
Biography taken from www.susangriffin.com
Susan Griffin is a poet, essayist, playwright and screenwriter. She was born in Los Angeles California in 1943, in the midst of the Second World War and the holocaust, and these events had a lasting effect on her thinking. The time she spent as a child in the High Sierras and along the coast of the Pacific Ocean also shaped her awareness. As she draws connections between the destruction of nature, the diminishment of women and racism, and traces the causes of war to denial in both private and public life, her work moves beyond the boundaries of form and perception. She is known for her innovative style. Her groundbreaking book Woman and Nature is an extended prose-poem. A Chorus of Stones, the Private Life of War, blends history and memoir as does Wrestling with Angel of Democracy, the Autobiography of an American Citizen her most recent book (published by Trumpeter books in April, 2008.) This work explores the state of mind that engenders and sustains democracy.
Both books are part of a larger series of several volumes, comprising "social autobiography."
A Chorus of Stones, a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Award, and winner of the BABRA Award in 1992, was also a NY Times Notable Book of the Year.
Her play Voices, which won an Emmy in 1975 for a local PBS production, has been performed throughout the world, including a radio production by the BBC. The Book of the Courtesans, a Catalogue of Their Virtues, was published by Broadway Books (Random House) in 2001. Woman and Nature, the classic work that inspired eco-feminism, was published in a new edition by Sierra Club Books in 2000. In 2009 she was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.
Named by Utne Reader as one of a hundred important visionaries for the new millennium, she has been the recipient of an NEA grant, and a one year Macarthur Grant for Peace and International Cooperation. Her work, translated into 17 languages, is taught in colleges and universities internationally. She has published several volumes of poetry. Unremembered Country won the Commonwealth Club’s Silver Medal for poetry in 1987. In 1998 Copper Canyon Press published Bending Home, Poems Selected and New 1967-1998, which was a finalist for the Western States Art Federation Award. Her play Voices won an Emmy for a local PBS production in 1975. Her more recent play, Thicket, performed in San Francisco by Ruth Zaporah, was published by The Kenyon Review. In addition to working as consultant for two other documentary films, she co-authored the script for the Academy Award nominated film, Berkeley in the Sixties. She is currently writing a script depicting the life of a courtesan. She has completed Canto, a play in poetry about the massacres of villagers in Salvador that will be set to music by the composer and musician Glenn Kotche in 2009, and she is co-editing an anthology entitled, Transforming Terror: Remembering the Soul of the World, to be published by UC Press in 2011. She lectures widely in the United States and abroad, and teaches occasional courses at the California Institute of Integral Studies and Pacifica Graduate School, as well as privately at her home in Berkeley.