Sep 23 2017

Book: Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood

A few weeks ago, after reading the New York Times Sunday Review article The Book That Made Us Feminists, I asked Amy for several recommendations for books that were foundational to the feminist movement. I purchased all that she suggested and added them to my infinite list of books to read.

The past few days I read Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Written in 1975, it’s 480 pages of intense and powerful writing. After about a third of it, I turned to Amy and said, “That Margaret Atwood quote has a clear basis in history.”

Today, again in the New York Times (this time online), I read the article Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far. I was almost finished with Against Our Will so it didn’t take much to infuriate me about the article. There are several men quoted in the article and others referenced. The only one whose perspective makes any sense to me is Dick Costolo’s quote.

“In just the last 48 hours, I’ve spoken to a female tech executive who was grabbed by a male C.E.O. at a large event and another female executive who was asked to interview at a venture fund because they ‘feel like they need to hire a woman,’” said Dick Costolo, the former chief of Twitter, who now runs the fitness start-up Chorus. “We should worry about whether the women-in-tech movement has gone too far sometime after a couple of these aren’t regularly happening anymore.”

In many of the conversations I’ve had around sexual harassment and sexual assault, I’ve been discussing something I’ve been referring to as the “perpetrator / victim paradox.” In this situation, the perpetrator “assaults / harasses” the victim. When the perpetrator is discovered (or almost discovered), he becomes the victim and tries to manipulate the victim into “not destroying my life.” It alternates between threats (continued perpetrator behavior aimed at the victim) and pleas (where the perpetrator takes the role of the victim, often using guilt to try and keep the victim quiet.)

Now, this doesn’t only apply to sexual harassment and sexual assault, but to any power dynamic. Which leads to the well-discussed idea that rape is much more about power than about sex. Brownmiller’s book does an incredible job of linking power to sex, especially in the context of men using sex to assert their power over women. But there was another level that jumped out at me, which was the notion of women as property, where a first man asserts their power over second man by having unwanted sex (rape) with the woman who was “affiliated” (wife, child, sister) with the second man. While Brownmiller has an incredibly long and distressing chapter on rape as part of the spoils of war, this idea infiltrates much of the book.

When I read articles like Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far all I can think of is “these men are afraid of losing power to women.”

As a man, I wish other men would get over this. As our current president assembles the most male-dominated government in decades it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do here.


Also published on Medium.