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by FAAR Staff
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Jan/Feb/Mar 1975

Many women are skeptical of the idea of eliminating rape; not because it's a bad idea, but because it's unrealistic - "utopian". It is difficult to envision an end to rape unless we look beyond our present social structures to a vision of a different kind of society.

The People's Republic of China, a country which is still very much involved in change, has nearly eradicated rape. This has been achieved through a basic restructuring of social, political and economic institutions, as well as reforms and education. Although we may not consider Chinese society to be the best solution to our own situation, the example of China shows us that it is possible to end rape.

Editors' Note: We are not advocating that China be used as a template for an American revolution. China has a different social, cultural and political history than the U.S. Moreover, we strongly believe that female leadership is essential in the ultimate liberation of all people. However, we can learn much from examining other societies; especially China whose historic development is unprecedented in the world. (the next issue of the FAAR NEWSLETTER will feature an interview with Ethel Weichbrod, member of the U. S. -China People's Friendship Association, on rape and women in China.)

If the elimination of rape is possible, why should we strive merely for rape reduction? Perhaps we are not setting our goals high enough. Perhaps we should begin to see our projects, reform efforts, etc. as a means of bringing about major changes in society, rather than as an end in themselves.

In the article, "The Reform Tool Kit", published in Quest, Charlotte Bunch distinguishes 'reforms' from 'reformism'. A reform is a change that alters a particular situation. Reformism is an-ideology that assumes that women can be liberated within the existing social, political or economic system, through a series of reforms.1

Reformism does not promise us the elimination of rape, or any other major changes in our lives. Reformism gives us merely a conglomeration of reforms, for example: better rape laws.

If our long-range goal is fundamental change, we can work on a particular reform within a much larger context, without becoming fixated on a particular issue or organization. If we put our activities into a perspective, we can choose what reforms we work on and how we carry them out. While 'reforms' can be important steps in a process of change, 'reformism' is limited to producing reforms in a vacuum.

We recognize that reforms can alleviate an immediate problem. They can help to make our lives easier, free more of our energy for political work. Reforms can encourage us, if they are largely the result of our own effort and they can give us an incentive for working even harder.2

On the other hand, we cannot count on reforms to be maintained, until we actually control the institutions that affect us. For example, the abortion situation in the United States is tenuous at this time. This reform has been attained only recently and as a result of a difficult struggle by women. Yet American women could lose their 'right' to abortion in the near future.

Another problem with reforms is the possible danger of having to compromise or sacrifice some goals in order to win others. As Jan BenDor points out in her article on reform ("Ending Rape: A Concept Essay on Strategies"), "The trap is the overwhelming pressure among bureaucratic law enforcement institutions to take away the rights of one group in the name of protecting another."

This same analysis can be applied to most of the institutions in this country. Co-optation, or the yielding of institutions to select rather than total demands, is inevitable. However, as long as our vision is not limited to anyone reform, we will continue to press for all of our demands.

One element of the new society we envision is self-determination for women, for all people. Our reforms should reflect this goal. We should avoid working on reforms that will increase the power of the patriarchal structures to control our lives. Instead, we should direct our energy towards reforms that will increase community, and especially women's control of the institutions.

1Charlotte Bunch, "The Reform Tool Kit," in Quest: a feminist Quarterly, Vol. I, f10. 1, Summer, 1974. Read this article for an excellent discussion on reforms as they relate to feminist strategy. All issues of Quest contain articles of importance to feminist organizers.