Against Our Will

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Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape
Against Our Will (1975 edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Susan Brownmiller
Country United States
Language English
Subject Rape
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 472 (1986 Pelican Books edition)
ISBN 0-671-22062-4

Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape is a 1975 book about rape by Susan Brownmiller, in which the author argues that rape is "a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." Brownmiller's book is widely credited with changing public outlooks and attitudes about rape, but her arguments were rejected or criticized by sociobiologists,[1] and others.


Brownmiller describes rape as "a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear."[2] She asserts that "rape is a crime not of lust, but of violence and power."[3] Brownmiller sought to examine general belief systems that women who were raped deserved it, as discussed by Clinton Duffy and others. Believing that rape was a way for men to instill fear in women, she discusses rape in war, challenges the Freudian concept of women's rape fantasies, and compares it to the gang lynchings of African Americans by white men.[2] This comparison was used to show how lynching was once considered acceptable by communities, and then attitudes changed, followed by changed laws; Brownmiller hoped the same would happen with rape.[4] Brownmiller writes that to her knowledge, no zoologist has ever observed that animals rape in "their natural habitat, the wild."[5]


Brownmiller's book is widely credited with changing public outlooks and attitudes about rape.[2] It is cited as having influenced changes in law regarding rape, such as state criminal codes that required a corroborating witness to a rape, and that permitted a defendant's lawyer to introduce evidence in court regarding a victim's prior sexual history.[2] Mary Ellen Gale, writing for The New York Times Book Review said that "Against Our Will deserves a place on the shelf next to those rare books about social problems which force us to make connections we have too long evaded, and change the way we feel about what we know."[6] It was included in the New York Public Library's Books of the Century, which listed 100 books that greatly influenced different aspects of culture.[7] The critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt gave the book a mostly positive review in The New York Times, noting that Brownmiller "organized an enormous body of information into a multipurposed tool" that gave a program for modernizing rape laws while considering the treatment of rape in war overly detailed and numbing.[8]

Others have taken a more critical view of the work. Gay scholar John Lauritsen dismissed Against Our Will, calling it "a shoddy piece of work from start to finish: ludicrously inaccurate, reactionary, dishonest, and vulgarly written."[9] Angela Davis argued that Brownmiller disregarded the part that black women played in the anti-lynching movement and that Brownmiller's discussion of rape and race became an "unthinking partnership which borders on racism".[10] Brownmiller's conclusions about rapists' motivations have been criticized by the anthropologist Donald Symons in The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1979),[11] and by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer in A Natural History of Rape (2000).[1] The historian Peter Gay wrote that Against Our Will "deserves pride of place among (rightly) indignant" feminist discussions of rape, but that Brownmiller's treatment of Sigmund Freud is unfair.[12]

The critic Camille Paglia called Against Our Will well-meaning, but nevertheless dismissed it as an example of "the limitations of white middle-class assumptions in understanding extreme emotional states or acts."[13] The behavioral ecologist John Alcock writes that while Brownmiller claimed that no zoologist had ever observed animals raping in their natural habitat, there was already "ample evidence" of forced copulations among animals in 1975, and that further evidence has accumulated since then.[14]


  1. ^ a b Thornhill, Randy & Palmer, Craig T. A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. The MIT Press, 2000, pp. 133-135, 138-139.
  2. ^ a b c d Kathryn Cullen-DuPont (1 August 2000). Encyclopedia of women's history in America. Infobase Publishing. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Pelican Books, 1986, p. 15.
  4. ^ Sally Moore (1975). "'Rape Is a Crime Not of Lust, but Power,' argues Susan Brownmiller". Archive. People. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  5. ^ Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Pelican Books, 1986, p. 12.
  6. ^ Gale, Mary Ellen (October 12, 1975). "Rape as the ultimate exercise of man's domination of women". The New York Times Book Review. 
  7. ^ New York Public Library Books of the Century
  8. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (October 16, 1975). "Books of The Times". The New York Times. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Davis, Angela Y. (1981). Women, Race & Class. Random House, Vintage Books. pp. 195, 198. ISBN 0-394-71351-6. 
  11. ^ Symons, Donald. The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 278.
  12. ^ Gay, Peter (1995). The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud. The Cultivation of Hatred. London: FontanaPress. p. 620. ISBN 0-00-638089-1. 
  13. ^ Paglia, Camille. Vamps and Tramps: New Essays. Penguin Books, 1995, p. 24.
  14. ^ Alcock, John. The Triumph of Sociobiology. Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 207.

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