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The Way of All Flesh

Against Rape by Andra Medea and Kathleen Thompson Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 152 pp., $2.25

By Amanda Bennett

THE WAY Andra Medea and Kathleen Thompson define rape in Against Rape,every woman--even the most independent--is likely to be raped. Every man--your father, your lover, your brother--is capable of rape. Rapes, they say, are any acts of sexual intercourse forced on one person by another. And rapes, they say, are not committed only by deviants but are a natural outgrowth of the sexual patterns we are all thrust into.

They make a strong statement. And one that on the face of it is likely to arouse a lot of anger and resentment from women and men alike. The anger that this book draws forth from women is the anger of slow recognition of the truth of what the authors are saying: that rape is not just a violent attack to be feared from hostile strangers on the street, and to be guarded against by mace and midnight escorts. It is consistent with a pattern of behavior, beginning with the hundreds of "little rapes" that women face every day, and ending, in its most hideous form, with the actual physical violation.

This book is a survival manual, but not one like the usual keep-your-doors-locked-avoid-dark-places one. In the first place, it tries to dispel the notion that rapists are necessarily sick and crazy people lurking in the shadows. In fact, a study done at the University of Chicago, and quoted in the book, shows that 97 per cent of all convicted rapists could not be distinguished from other men through psychological tests. Rape is the province of every man, and "little rapes" are performed on women every moment of the day.

The "little rapes" Medea and Thompson talk about begin on the street. "Whatcha doin' tonight, honey? Nice legs ya got there. Wanna come up to my house? Hey, whatsa matter with you? I'm just trying to be friendly." Some women consider such comments complimentary. Many find them an invasion of privacy. On a street late at night, they are threatening. But no matter how women feel about these jibes, the authors say, they all react the same way. Lowering our heads to the ground, they say, we pretend to fumble in our purses, or stare straight ahead and go on. The more arrogant among us may call it "not giving him the satisfaction of a response." But the authors say it is something more deeply-rooted. They say it is a desire to please, a desire not to make trouble, and most of all a total unwillingness to acknowledge what these exchanges, or non-exchanges, really mean: that an unattached woman in the street, in a bar, or on a train, is fair game.

"To see a black man in the South (or in the North) subjected to this kind of abuse would make one sick," they write. "It would be painful to watch him as he lowers his head and tries to get past a group of whites unmolested... But women face this same kind of badgering and taunting, and accept it. They have come to think of it as an unavoidable part of life."

The two components of this situation provide the basis for rape situations as Thompson and Medea describe them. The women is in a place that the man feels makes her open for some sort of attack (the man shouting obscene comments at the woman in the street would not behave the same way, for example, were she a clerk in a store or his family physician). And the women refuses to believe that this behavior is threatening to her, or refuses to make a scene.

Put these two components together, and you have any of the myriad situations that the women who are described in this book faced when they were raped. The over-whelming number of women who responded to the questionnaires from which the case histories were drawn said that they either did not know their attacker at all (most of these women were hitchhiking), or that they knew him slightly: he was a friend of a friend, a teacher, an employer or a neighbor. The women who were hitchhiking were where the men who picked them up thought "they did not belong," hence fair game. The women raped by acquaintances had been manuevered, by aid of their disbelief of intentions, into a situation where either physically, emotionally or socially they could not extricate themselves.

The women described either a violence and hostility on the part of their attacker, or a casual matter-of-factness. It is this matter-of-factness toward rape that is most terrifying, and is the same attitude that women who have been raped later encounter in the law process. The offhand comment the rapist makes to one women hitchhiker--"It's all part of the fun of hitchhiking"-- finds its counterpart in the California juror who last week dismissed entirely Inez Garcia's outrage and fear and disgust at her alleged rapist: "He was just trying to show her a good time, that's all."

The old dual sense of a woman's sexual being still exists, and accounts for this casualness, this unwillingness on the part of men even to believe in rape as a crime. On the one hand, a woman's sex (if not her virginity) is something for her to prize and for her men--i.e. her husband and her father--to guard. On the other hand, an unattached woman is something to be taken advantage of, a free fuck, a good lay. A rape is simply another situation where a man can get it without paying for it. Only this time the woman is unwilling.

The second attitude makes rape possible. The first makes it impossible, almost literally, to be prosecuted. Both reinforce each other. By unconsciously defining the sacrosanct woman, belonging to her husband or father and chaste, men have thrust the majority of modern women into the other mold. A woman in control of her own life cannot be cast readily into the virgin/saint role. So she is cast into the role of whore. And in the mind of the rapist and in the courtroom she is no longer the victim, but the perpetrator: "She was asking for it," comes the matter-of-fact decision.

Asking for it. Asking for it. Asking for it. This book makes me realize how many times and in how many forms that obscene charge has been leveled at us as women. We have been taught, for example, that a man has overwhelming sexual drives, that it is up to us to keep them in check. So any woman who doesn't is asking for it and deserves what she gets. But if we don't see it coming, do not perceive our behavior as provocative in any way, we are liable for rape first and an overwhelming sense of guilt afterwards for somehow having let it happen.

CONSIDER ONE CASE in the book typical of the rapes-by-acquaintance stories they describe. An 18-year-old woman, a virgin, signs out of her dorm for the night. Her date from another college has arranged for her to spend the night with the girlfriend of one of his fraternity brothers. The party breaks up late; the girlfriend is mysteriously unavailable. He offers to pay for a motel room for her. She, having no money, agrees, since the dorm has been locked up for hours. He walks her to the room and comes in. She asks him to leave; he says he only wants to sit down. After all, he is paying for the room. They talk for a few minutes in the room. Then he overpowers her, pins her to the bed and rapes her. The question: When should she have blown the whistle? At every step on the way, he was being friendly, just like the man on the street. By the time he actually raped her, it was too late.

I read that story with a sudden, sickening sense of recognition. It has happened to me, and I have carried the guilt of it with me for years. What had I done? When should I have realized what was actually taking place?

Perhaps the most valuable service this book performs is to help instill in all women a sense of sexual self-determination. In rape victims, wondering what they should have done leads to guilt. In any woman, lack of a strong and secure knowledge of her own sexual rights: her right to question an intent, to scream, to make a fuss, to stand up and fight back, is a hazard that no training in karate, no can of mace can overcome.

You should read this book. If women and men see themselves in these patterns, they cannot persist long.

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