|Book Review: Rape: The First
Sourcebook for Women (New York Radical Feminists)|
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Nov/Dec 1974
Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women by New York Radical Feminists - edited by Noreen Connell and Cassandra Wilson)
Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women is clearly the most valuable and important book on rape to emerge from the women's movement. It is an outgrowth of a rape conference held in April 1971 by the New York Radical Feminists. It includes papers from the conference, summaries of workshops, and strategies emerging from these workshops on practical aspects of feminist rape action such as crisis centers, medical issues and self-defense.
Integral to the book is its style and format, which refnist process" is all about. Briefly, this process includes consciousness-raising, speaking out, theory and research, and political action. But as the editors point out,
in reality, these are not separate steps at all, but a complex experience of growing awareness and involvement.
Feminism is thus presented as an on-going process, not a rigid, fixed set of stages.
The discussions of rape include personal experience as well as analysis and research on specific aspects of rape. Consistently throughout the book, rape is linked to the larger societal structure which is ultimately responsible for the widespread incidence of rape. For example, Chapter 4, entitled "Legal Aspects: Rape by Statute" points out that
However equitable rape laws become, if the sexual conduct of a woman remains the basis upon which her character and her credibility are determined, then essentially no change in the status of women either in court or in the larger society will have occurred. (p. 132)
Some new areas are covered in the book: five studies on the sexual abuse of children, representative of the dominant criminological perspective, examined from a feminist
viewpoint; a 100k at the way rape, presented in popular fiction and movies, reflects and entrenches sexist attitudes and acts of violence against women; and a similar analysis is presented with regard to psychological studies of rapists and victims. Additionally,
Rape: The First Sourcebook includes interviews with a feminist lawyer, a member of t e Manhattan Women's Political Caucus, and with a member of the National Black Feminists Organization. This latter interview I found particularly important
in illuminating the general problems of coalitions between black women and white women,
and the particular implications for coalitions organized against rape.
In general, Rape: The First Sourcebook addresses many levels of the rape issue and avoids the usual pitfalls-or-being on the one hand, too dogmatic or elitist, or on the other, of being merely another descriptive account of the horrors of rape. Its discussion of processes and issues ignores neither practical problems nor the important links between theory and practice. Included are references to a variety of sources, suggestions for further research and general encouragement of feminists to engage in serious theoretical analysis and to sponsor conferences to share our knowledge and further the development of our skills.
However, this book should be viewed as a comprehensive, all-encompassing discussion of rape; most notably lacking are articles on rape and racism, the machinations of the criminal justice system outside of rape legislation, and an historical class analysis. Throughout the book, there are references to the male-dominated society without further clarification as to which males hold power. Similarly, Chapter 3, "Feminist Analysis: The 'Alleged' Victim and the Psycho-Sexual System" points to
... those institutions and industries that continue to support the caste relationship between the sexes (p. 59)
Neither a definition of the term "caste" nor an explanation of why a caste analysis might be more accurate than a class analysis is offered. As Essie Williams of the National Black Feminists Organization reminded us in her interview,
the more we get into history the more we'll see .that the issues of racism and sexism have overlapped (p. 244)
But these comments should not be taken as blanket criticisms; rather they should serve a~ outlines of what remains for the rest of us involved in anti-rape organizing to engage in. Rape: The First Sourcebook can serve as a resource, a stimulus of dialogue, and an important tool
in constructing and refining a framework from which to evaluate our actions for anyone involved in any aspect of feminist organizing. The New York Radical Feminists have aided us all in working towards their stated goal:
... our ultimate goal is to eliminate rape and that goal cannot be achieved without a revolutionary transformation of our society. (p. 250)