Yet another narrative about the origins of women’s oppression.
While Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Women, Men, and Rape (1975) is quite well known and generated considerable controversy with the WLM, four years prior to its publication, another Susan (Griffin) published a similar analysis “Rape, the All-American Crime” in the New Left journal Ramparts [and reprinted in her book Rape The Power of Consciousness but reprinted no where I can find on the internet].
Girffin attended UC Berkeley from 1960-1963, where she was active in civil rights and helped to found the anti-McCarythist student group Slate that eventually gave rise to the FSM at Berkeley. After graduating from San Francisco State, she became editorial assistant at Ramparts.
In RTAAC, Griffin addresses the question of women’s oppression, venturing back into pre-history, to emerge with a very different narrative than we’ve seen thus far in my prior blog posts about the causes and origins of women’s oppression.
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 desirable female … He simply grabs her by the hair and drags her to the closest cave.
Thus Hobbes’ war of all against all takes on a sexual spin, and its a rapacious free for all in caveman time.s
Enter a variant on the social contract
Presumably, one of the major advantages of modern-civilizations for the female has been the civilizing of the male.
This civilizing however comes with concomitant gender roles.
enter chastity, enter virginity, enter monogamy
All men, potential rapist, agree not to, in exchange for greater control over women. A corollary in this social contract is that women who do not abide by it, who are not chaste, virginal, or monogamous, are fair game for rape.
Thus women’s oppression, stemming from prehistory derived not from the institution of private property, or a desire to control women’s reproduction or from the usurpation of female deities, but from
this oppressive attitude toward women … in the traditional family
Women must marry in order to gain protection and to find a husband they must adhere to gendered notions of femininity
which makes a feminine woman the perfect victim of sexual aggression
Women are socialized to be submissive, physically weak, to dress in clothes that hamper their physical abilities, and above all, to be fearful. It is the latter, the insidious inculcation into girls from a very young age the notion of fear that provides Griffin’s lynchpin. Women are fearful, so they make themselves vulnerable, and tie themselves to the oppressor all because
fear is the form in which the female internalizes both chivalry and the [sexual] double standard
this notion of power is key to the male ego in this culture, for the two acceptable measures of masculinity are a aman’s power over women and his power over other men
he [the husband’ exercises the option of rule whenever he so chooses … his word, in itself is more powerful. He lords it over his wife in the same way that his boss lords it over him
rape is an act of aggression in which the victim is denied her self-determination [and] rape is a form of mass terrorism
Not surprisingly thus Griffin closes with a comparison of rape with other forms of oppression
The same men and power structure who victimize women are egged in the act of raping Vietnam, raping Black people and the very earth we live upon. Rape is a classic ct of domination where, in the words of Kate Millet, ‘the motions of hatred, contempt, and the desire to break or violate personality’ take place.
Griffin equates women with a conquered and victimized people, which has profound psychological consequences
the passive woman is taught to regard herself as impotent, unable to act, unable even to perceive, in on 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 human being. She is not free to be.
Hence Griffin’s emphasis on consciousness in all that it implies and the belief that challenging rape is key to ending patriarchy and other forms of oppression because rape is the first form of oppression.
Rape is not an isolated act that can be rooted out from the patriarchy without ending patriarchy itself.
This challenge will take not (just/only) legal forms (creating marital rape laws, formulating new evidentiary rules in rape cases) but (mainly) focus on changing women’s consciousness by unlearning that fear. Self defense courses, rape hotlines and most importantly shifting the blame to the rapist and removing the sitgma from the victim.
Griffin argues that “rape and the fear of rape are a daily part of women’s consciousness” yet this “consciousness” exists with a “conspiracy of silence” perpetuated by male intellectuals. For Griffin, it is not simply that rape is some undiscussed part of women’s experience that sexism has led men to ignore, but rather rape is part of patriarchal culture, rape is “learned” by all men, the “perfect combination of sex and violence” and thus they all collude in a conspiracy to keep women from talking about it.
In this combination of emphasizing women’s victimization and the insistence that all men are collaborators, Griffin’s work and that which followed was often misunderstood by critics of the women’s culture concept which saw it as the counterpart to the “woman is superior” mode of thought, that of “women as victim.”
interestingly the idea of “rape culture” emerges at just about the same time 1975, as the notion of women’s culture. Brownmiller is generally credited with coining the phrase, but there is some controversey about that. What is clear is that culture pops up all over the WLM around this time, as in Signs a Journal of Women in Culture in Society.