The feminist writer Susan Griffin first used the title of this article in Ramparts Magazine in 1971. She was the first feminist to explain that men rape children, elderly and disabled women, not just girls dressed in mini- skirts. In other words, she challenged the belief that that rape was a sexual act, fueled by men’s irrepressible sexual drive. Instead, she argued that it was an assault against a woman, fueled by the desire to control and harm a woman, not a sexual act at all.
While I was a Professor of History at the University of California a few years later, an elderly woman was raped by a man who stalked the campus looking for prey. He finally found a woman in her 90s and raped her in Davis’ central park. (I can’t find the newspaper story, but I remember the terror he caused among the town’s women.) In 2012, a 43-year-old man raped a 73-year-old woman in New York City’s Central and even boasted about how many elderly women he had raped.
So Griffin was right. Men don’t need seductive young bodies scantily dressed to incite them to use their overwhelming power over a vulnerable woman.
And has anything changed? Well, yes, there was a huge outpouring of protest against the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in India in early January 2013. Bu after that atrocity, countless rapes followed in Timbuktu, Mali just days later.
Today, I received a message from the Berkeley police, notifying me that the number of rapes in Berkeley, California have doubled during the last year. The twenty rapes that occurred in 2011 jumped to 39 in 2012. Many of these crimes took place near campus, where I live, and some, as you would expect, involved alcohol and drugs, according to the local news station, KGO.
Then I read a story in the New York Times that women are now among the loudest voices against gun control. They are crowding the shooting ranges, learning how to shoot and protect themselves.
Is this the kind of world we want to live in? When will rape become as unacceptable and as illegal as slavery is in civilized societies? Not in my lifetime.
Ruth Rosen, a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times, is Professor Emerita of History at the University of California, Davis and a scholar in residence at the University of California, Berkeley. Her most recent book is The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America.