Rape without Women: Print Culture and the Politicization of Rape, 1765-1815

TitleRape without Women: Print Culture and the Politicization of Rape, 1765-1815
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsBlock, Sharon
JournalThe Journal of American History
Date Published12/2002

For early Americans, rape was exclusively a male-female act; though men might be forced into sexual relations by other men, such sexual acts were considered sodomy, not rape. Yet the dominant trend in the public presentation of rape was the displacement of women from the narrative, making rape an occasion for men to speak to other men about a range of male prerogatives. The first section of this article shows how Americans made the very personal sexual interaction of rape publicly palatable by removing women from its retelling. By emphasizing men's interactions with one another, rape stories could provide an unequivocal assignment of right and wrong, unencumbered by concern over women's sexual desire and acts. The absence of women allowed narratives of rape to categorize competing visions of masculinity. Through this masculinized transformation, rape could be deployed in political battles. In the second section, the author examines the politicization of rape in revolutionary rhetoric. Rather than invoking rape as a symbol of general savagery or as simply the marker dividing the honorable from the dishonorable masculinities, revolutionary-era narratives increasingly presented rape as an explicit political trope. [Author]

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