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Redefining Rape

Redefining Rape

Estelle B. Freedman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Redefining Rape
    Book Description:

    The uproar over "legitimate rape" during the 2012 U.S. elections confirms that rape remains a word in flux, subject to political power and social privilege. Redefining Rape describes the forces that have shaped the meaning of sexual violence in the U.S., through the experiences of accusers, assailants, and advocates for change.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72849-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: The Political History of Rape
    (pp. 1-11)

    “‘Rape’ is a word in flux,” aNew York Timeseditor acknowledged in 2011, after a spate of influential men—from priests to college athletic coaches to the president of the International Monetary Fund—denied accusations of assault, sexual harassment, or child sexual abuse. In the same year, congressional Republicans tried to tighten requirements for federal funding of abortions by changing the language of an exemption from “rape” to “forcible rape,” prompting a journalist to ask, “What’s behind the drive to redefine rape?” In 2012, when a Republican senatorial candidate justified his total opposition to abortion by claiming that victims...

  4. 1 The Narrowing Meaning of Rape
    (pp. 12-32)

    From the settlement of the colonies in the seventeenth century through the early decades of the newly established United States, Americans expressed two seemingly contradictory responses to sexual assault. The laws harshly condemned the crime of rape but authorities hesitated to prosecute it fully. Persistent suspicions about female complicity discouraged convictions, with the notable exception of cases in which the defendants were not white men. Although these patterns differed between New England and the South, responses to rape in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries increasingly heightened white men’s sexual privileges.

    In colonial America, rape was one of a number of...

  5. 2 The Crime of Seduction
    (pp. 33-51)

    The British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, best known for her 1792 treatiseA Vindication of the Rights of Woman,died before she could complete a fictional sequel to her influential critique of the social limitations on women’s lives. The novel she had been writing,Maria,subtitledThe Wrongs of Women,made concrete the devastating effects of in equality on two central characters: Maria, a middle-class woman confined to a madhouse by her husband, and the working-class servant Jemima, who attended Maria there. One of the major “wrongs” depicted throughout the life histories of these two women was sexual assault. As a...

  6. 3 Empowering White Women
    (pp. 52-72)

    In 1869 theNew York Tribunereported that a Chicago woman had committed suicide after being abandoned by the man who had seduced her with promises of marriage. To prevent such tragedies, the paper recommended, keeping a brothel should be made a felony, because so many seductions led women to these “haunts of sin.” One of America’s leading advocates of woman suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, disagreed. In the suffrage newspaperThe Revolutionshe suggested instead “that every young girl should be taught the use of firearms, and always carry a small pistol for her defense. Moreover, that she should be...

  7. 4 Contesting the Rape of Black Women
    (pp. 73-88)

    In August 1874, a young African American woman named Julia Hayden, who had recently arrived in western Tennessee to open a school, heard several men shouting for her to let them come inside her home. According to the press, the drunken white youths assumed that she would “admit them and submit to their wishes.” Fearful, Hayden locked the door. As they walked away, one of the men fired his pistol into the house. The bullet killed Julia Hayden. Local African Americans held “indignation meetings” throughout Tennessee to protest the murder of Hayden and the recent lynchings of black men. The...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 The Racialization of Rape and Lynching
    (pp. 89-103)

    Looking back at the late nineteenth century, African American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois captured a complex political process that was central to the reestablishment of white supremacy in the South. “The charge of rape against colored Americans was invented by the white South after Reconstruction to excuse mob violence,” he explained. Since then it had become “the recognized method of re-enslaving blacks.” Building upon the earlier image of the black man as a sexual threat, southerners created a “moral panic” that revived the politics of the post– Civil War Ku Klux Klan.¹ In the past, interracial rape charges...

  10. 6 African Americans Redefine Sexual Violence
    (pp. 104-124)

    In 1895 the radical journalist Ida B. Wells published a pamphlet titledA Red Recordin which she detailed the horrors of lynching and exposed the contradictory views of rape that supported them. “Humanity abhors the assailant of womanhood, and this charge upon the Negro at once placed him beyond the pale of human sympathy,” she explained. Even those who considered lynching a crime remained silent lest others “mistake their plea and deem it an excuse” for sexual assault. Yet this southern sensitivity to women’s honor, Wells pointed out, “confines itself entirely to the women who happen to be white.”...

  11. 7 Raising the Age of Consent
    (pp. 125-146)

    In a short opinion issued in 1894 by the Supreme Court of Georgia, Justice T. J. Simmons reversed the conviction of a man named Pounds who had been tried for the rape of “a female between the ages of ten and eleven years.” The issue at stake was not whether Mr. Pounds (presumably a white man) had sexual relations with the girl, for the court acknowledged that “it appeared that sexual intercourse was accomplished.” Rather, the question to be decided at the appellate level was “whether the female was in fact capable of consenting to the act or not.” At...

  12. 8 From Protection to Sexualization
    (pp. 147-167)

    In 1897 the California Supreme Court heard the appeal of a man named Lee who had been convicted of raping a thirteen-year-old girl. Lee’s attorney argued that the jury in his trial should have been instructed that the girl had “made no outcry and no immediate disclosure, and that there was but little indication of violence to her person.” This evidence could be interpreted to show that the girl had consented. A decade earlier, when the age of consent in California and most states was ten years, Lee might have been successful in challenging his conviction. But by the time...

  13. 9 The Sexual Vulnerability of Boys
    (pp. 168-190)

    In 1914 police in Long Beach, California, uncovered a local “society of queers” when they arrested fifty formerly respectable men for the crime of “social vagrancy.” In addition to frequenting certain clubs, members of this social group held risqué parties at which both men and women cross-dressed. Most alarming to the newspaper editor who publicized the scandal was the accusation that older men had recruited younger men, known as “chickens,” into their world. The reporter sent to investigate this Long Beach subculture voiced the fear that youths exposed to “this immoral purpose” might “like the sensation” and be converted to...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. 10 “Smashing the Masher”
    (pp. 191-209)

    In the summer of 1910 suffragists in Washington, D.C., declared that the “masher” must go. For decades these “male flirts” had been trying to force their attentions on women on city streets, sometimes merely calling out sexual insults, sometimes physically harassing them. Periodically urban police chiefs in cities ranging from Chicago to San Francisco had declared war upon these white men they called “obnoxious oglers.” Now, as the national suffrage movement entered its successful final decade, intolerance for these “male pests” led to calls for an official role for women in solving the problem. In Washington, the Women’s Equal Suffrage...

  16. 11 After Suffrage
    (pp. 210-229)

    In the nineteenth century, women’s rights advocates such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Henry Blackwell envisioned the vote as key to undermining women’s sexual vulnerability. By 1915 women had gained the franchise in most western states, and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 extended woman suffrage nationally. In the postsuffrage era, however, the prosecution of sexual violence did not change markedly. In 1931 the first policewoman appointed in New York City, Mary Hamilton, expressed her dismay in an exaggerated claim that in her city, “there hasn’t been a conviction of a man for rape in twenty...

  17. 12 The Anti-Lynching Movement
    (pp. 230-252)

    In the first decades of the twentieth century, the African American quest for citizenship faced formidable obstacles. Pseudoscientific authorities insisted that the white race was unquestionably superior to all others, an ideology that found popular expression in the revival of the Ku Klux Klan after World War I. Politicians in the South argued that the disfranchisement of black men through poll taxes and literacy tests paralleled national electoral reforms intended to achieve good government. Empowered by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling inPlessy v. Ferguson(1896), which sanctioned “separate but equal” public facilities, legislatures in most southern states enacted laws...

  18. 13 Scottsboro and Its Legacies
    (pp. 253-270)

    In March 1931 deputy sheriffs in rural Alabama arrested nine black youths who had been riding the rails in search of work. A group of young white men, forced off the train after a racially charged fight, had alerted the authorities. Also aboard that day were two young white women, former textile mill workers Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. As the deputies prepared to take the black youths to jail in the nearby county seat of Scottsboro, the women claimed that the prisoners had sexually assaulted them. Within sixteen days of their arrest, the so-called Scottsboro Boys had been convicted...

  19. 14 The Enduring Politics of Rape
    (pp. 271-290)

    In the decades since Scottsboro, rape and its definition have continued to trouble Americans, spark debate, and shape social movements. The history of conflicts over who can be raped and who will be prosecuted for the crime reverberates in contemporary politics, illuminating the per sis tent tensions over how Americans understand both gender and race. In the past, rape often surfaced as a subsidiary concern to achieve instrumental goals, whether white supremacy, woman suffrage, or an end to lynching. By the late twentieth century, however, rape itself had become the explicit focus of political analysis.

    The changing landscape of modern...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 291-372)
  21. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 373-376)
  22. Index
    (pp. 377-387)