The Missing Text: Rape and Women's Sexuality

By Shugart, Helene A. | Women and Language, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

The Missing Text: Rape and Women's Sexuality


Shugart, Helene A., Women and Language


In the violent landscape inhabited by primitive woman and man, some woman somewhere had a prescient vision of her right to her own physical integrity, and in my minds eye I can picture her fighting like hell to preserve it. After a thunderbolt of recognition that this particular incarnation of hairy, two-legged hominid was not the Homo sapiens with whom she would like to freely join parts, it might have been she, and not some man, who picked up the first stone and hurled it. How surprised he must have been, and what an unexpected battle must have taken place. Fleet of foot and spirited, she would have kicked, bitten, pushed and run, but she could not retaliate in kind. The dim perception that had entered prehistoric woman's consciousness must have had an equal but opposite reaction in the mind of her male assailant. For if the first rape was an unexpected battle founded on the first woman's refusal, the second rape was indubitably planned . . . . This accomplished, rape became not only a male prerogative, but man's basic weapon of force against a woman, the principal agent of his will and her fear. His forcible entry into her body, despite her physical protestations and struggle, became the vehicle of his victorious conquest over her being. . . . (Brownmiller, 1975, pp. 4-5, italics hers)

As a woman in this society, I am highly sensitized to rape at the most basic level; current statistics indicate that one in three woman will be raped in her lifetime, and conditions appear likely that those statistics will be even higher by the turn of the century (Federal Bureau of Justice, 1992). However, my consciousness of rape and its meaning for me seem to extend far beyond mere statistics; I often think that a significant part of my very identity is forged by my awareness of rape. Recently, I have had several opportunities to discuss in detail my impressions of rape; most of these discussions have been with other women. As a result, I have been simultaneously gratified and enormously saddened to find that my awareness of and reactions to the reality of rape are virtually entirely corroborated by these women. Also as a result, I made a conscious decision to immerse myself in an investigation of the topic, especially in terms of how it might inform me with regard to my feminist understanding of our (women's) social condition. My general interest is in examining the ways in which rape and the threat thereof oppress women, theoretically and practically; more specifically, I am interested in exploring these experiences to the end of refraining our current understanding of rape. Namely, I think that an analysis of women's experiences of the rape/threat may contribute positively to our understanding of female sexuality and, by extension, the female subject.

Guiding Assumptions

Philosophically, I strongly endorse the idea that 'objectivity' as a quality in general and specifically in research is not possible and, more to the point, not desirable. However, I am also philosophically disposed to the act of clarifying one's biases and assumptions at the outset. In keeping with this perspective, then, I should like to describe my approach to this project.

On the most general level, my perspective on this issue is a feminist one, and the two fundamental assumptions that I shall outline briefly here are contingent in every way upon that fact. My first assumption entails my conception of rape; that is, I am choosing to describe rape as an act perpetrated by men upon women. I shall detail extensively my reasons for including necessarily a sexual component at a later time in this paper, but I would like to take time here to discuss briefly my reasons for specifying gender in the way that I have. I am quite aware of the fact that men can be and are raped; I am also aware that children, too, are raped, and that (tragically) children are capable of raping as well. However, I am convinced that rape is an issue of gender oppression in the largest sense of the word; that is, rape is a product of socially constructed notions regarding what constitutes the masculine and the feminine. …

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