Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation

Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation

by Estelle B. Freedman


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Rape has never had a universally accepted definition, and the uproar over "legitimate rape" during the 2012 U.S. elections confirms that it remains a word in flux. Redefining Rape tells the story of the forces that have shaped the meaning of sexual violence in the United States, through the experiences of accusers, assailants, and advocates for change. In this ambitious new history, Estelle Freedman demonstrates that our definition of rape has depended heavily on dynamics of political power and social privilege.

The long-dominant view of rape in America envisioned a brutal attack on a chaste white woman by a male stranger, usually an African American. From the early nineteenth century, advocates for women's rights and racial justice challenged this narrow definition and the sexual and political power of white men that it sustained. Between the 1870s and the 1930s, at the height of racial segregation and lynching, and amid the campaign for woman suffrage, women's rights supporters and African American activists tried to expand understandings of rape in order to gain legal protection from coercive sexual relations, assaults by white men on black women, street harassment, and the sexual abuse of children. By redefining rape, they sought to redraw the very boundaries of citizenship.

Freedman narrates the victories, defeats, and limitations of these and other reform efforts. The modern civil rights and feminist movements, she points out, continue to grapple with both the insights and the dilemmas of these first campaigns to redefine rape in American law and culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674088115
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/05/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 999,271
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Estelle B. Freedman is Edgar E. Robinson Professor in United States History at Stanford University.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Political History of Rape 1

1 The Narrowing Meaning of Rape 12

2 The Crime of Seduction 33

3 Empowering White Women 52

4 Contesting the Rape of Black Women 73

5 The Racialization of Rape and Lynching 89

6 African Americans Redefine Sexual Violence 104

7 Raising the Age of Consent 125

8 From Protection to Sexualization 147

9 The Sexual Vulnerability of Boys 168

10 "Smashing the Masher" 191

11 After Suffrage 210

12 The Anti-Lynching Movement 230

13 Scottsboro and Its Legacies 253

14 The Enduring Politics of Rape 271

Notes 291

Acknowledgments 373

Index 377

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