At age 81, the journalist, historian, and feminist icon Susan Brownmiller has lost none of the youthful mix of outrage and optimism that fueled the four furious years of research and reporting that became “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”
The highly influential tome was front page news when first published in 1975.
Since then, the book has informed and inspired generations of lawyers, social workers, and everyday people who are trying to bend the arc of history in the direction of justice for rape victims.
As this year full of extraordinary loss comes to a close, it is reassuring to know that Brownmiller is of sound and generous mind, giving interviews to Al-Jazeera, PBS, and fan-girls from Florida who call to say “thank-you.”
Brownmiller was in her 30s when she began reporting on the movement then-known as “women’s liberation.” Somewhere in a consciousness-raising group, “I realized that rape had a history,” said Brownmiller, and someone needed to tell the story of those who, since ancient times, had been violated, and thereafter shamed in to silence.
“Against Our Will” maps the weaponization of male genitalia from the Trojan War to Vietnam.
“It’s still a battle strategy,” Brownmiller said last week, when, for too-brief a moment, People on TV were talking about Aleppo.
Today’s news that Boko Haram is teaching child soldiers how to rape comes as absolutely no surprise to Brownmiller’s audience.
When Brownmiller began her research at the New York Public Library, its card catalogue contained more entries for rapeseed than for rape. Police and prosecutors viewed rape as a property crime against fathers and husbands, if they thought about it at all.
The ratio of rape to rapeseed has changed in today’s digital card catalogue, thanks to women like Brownmiller who did the hard and largely thankless work of bringing light to dark corners where women’s spirits are broken.
Even though rape remains a ubiquitous weapon of war, Brownmiller continues to “hope that changes in our lifetime.”
“I have to feel optimistic,” she said. “The fires of good always burn, and pendulums shift all the time.”