rape english

These are the first three chapters – plus contents – of the rape book in English:


Aspects of a crime

A cultural history



01 Trigger warning

02 Gender’s Dark Doppelganger

03 Sexing the Difference I: No means yes!

04 Sexing the Difference II: Yes means no!

05 Sexing the Difference III: No means no!

06 Trauma Cinema

07 Honour I: A fate worse than death

08 Honour II: More honour

09 Honour III: Shame

10 Survival

11 Sex Wars I: Black and white thinking

12: Sex Wars II: Who or what is a rape culture?

13 Sex Wars III: The second sexism

14 The gendered grammar of violence

15 Rape and punishment I: A perpetrator is a perpetrator is a perpetrator?

16 Rape and Punishment II: The sexual law revolution

17 Yes means yes!




„I’m not defined by my scars but by my incredible ability to heal.“

Lemn Sissay



Trigger Warning


Whenever I talk on the subject of this book, I am asked by the organizers to write a trigger warning for the program – unless they have already done it for me.

So here is the obligatory trigger warning:

This is a book about rape. While there are no detailed descriptions of horrific brutality, rape, sexual violence and the concepts behind them are discussed in detail.

The aim of such warnings is to protect traumatized people from being re-traumatised. I agree this is important. At the same time I feel uncomfortable treating people who have been victims of a crime as if they’ve also lost the ability to read. The title of this book (and my talks) is rape. Surely, they – more than people for whom this is not a charged subject – recognize that it is going to be about… rape.

But this is exactly the point; rape is a charged issue for all of us and has far more impact on our lives than other crime. It designs our mental maps, determines where we go at what times and more importantly where not.[1] The information we get about rape isn’t just information about rape, it’s also about gender; the relationship of the sexes to each other and even about sexuality.[2] And none of this information is pleasant.

So many people have been fighting so hard and for so long to have sexual assaults recognized as crimes and not just high spirits. Even though we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds the treatment of victims in legal proceedings has changed, for example, not only stranger rape with extraordinary violence is seen as rape anymore. For that reason to question the political convictions that have achieved so much has the danger of playing into the hands of those who wish to relativize sexual violence. But knowledge is not absolute. What was right and important 40 years ago may have changed, so it is necessary to reconcile our views with the new realities. That means what is useful and necessary in certain circumstances to raise awareness of the problem and to enforce laws can also turn to the contrary in other circumstances – as I will show with the example of healing.

More importantly, to question something doesn’t mean to reject it: “The aim of critique is to reveal subterranean structures or aspects of a particular discourse, not necessarily to reveal the truth of or about that discourse. What critique promises is not objectivity but perspective,”[3] explain political and legal scholars Wendy Brown and Janet Halley.

Accordingly, this book is not, and can not be a comprehensive cultural history from the first documented rape to the present day but an attempt to trace narratives and make visible the lines of connections. I want to take a close look at some our basic convictions[4] that have hardened into consensus truths and to test whether they are still useful for us today.

That is obviously easier said than done for rape is a veritable mirror cabinet of expectations and discourses and each sentence is followed by ten unspoken ones. I call this a cultural sore spot, which, like sore spots on the body, indicates that this is something that needs our attention but also that we are afraid to touch it. No wonder this book encountered more resistance than any of my other texts: My first publisher decided at the last minute the theme was to hot to handle and my inner censor, too, had never been so shrill nor had the knots in my brain ever been so tightly wound. That meant that this book took a lot longer to see the light of day than I’d anticipated.

This turned out to have been an advantage. So much happened during that time that could be included in these pages: The mass sexual harassment on New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne, „No means no“, “Yes means yes” and the sexual law reform in Germany, the debate surrounding model Gina-Lisa Lohfink and rape in Hollywood movies, Donald Trumps pussy-grabing comments: new discussions and also new / old bogeymen, like the fear of all Muslims being rapists. I will talk about all these and much more and I will also leave a lot out.

I don’t claim to have written a comprehensive treatise – that would be hubris looking the length of this book – but what I can provide is an overview of the debates that determine why we think about rape the way we do and show the history of these attitudes. Living in Germany, taking part in activism and writing about rape I will naturally give a German perspective but I draw most of my information from US American and English sources because theirs is the most important cultural influence on the discourse around rape. I am not going to progress chronologically – or not just chronologically – but follow connections and continuities making them visible to enable an informed debate about the resulting convictions and, if necessary, to question them. Not to get rid of them, but to stop treating rape as a reality hewn into granite. In the words of the historian Joanna Bourke: “Rape is a form of social performance. It is highly ritualized. It varies between countries; it changes over time. There is nothing timeless or random about it. […] On the contrary, rape and sexual violence are deeply routed in specific political, economic and cultural environments.“[5]

It should be self evident that not everyone has to share my assessments – obviously, I don’t expect that – but rape is a topic where nothing is self-evident. So I’ll give it to you in writing: Do what you will with this book, give it to your best friend, use it as a coaster for your coffee cup, throw it against the wall – just please, please don’t let it tell you that your feelings are wrong.

However, contrary to the fear of triggering trauma, I encountered the complete opposite at my talks: a relief in the audience, as if a dam were breaking, personal stories that listeners told me during the lecture and even more afterwards and the overwhelming feeling that this was a subject that was just waiting to be pulled out of the closet, dusted down and re-examined. After all – and I only noticed it at this point – here was something I hardly ever talked about with my female friends and even less with my male friends. I mean, of course, we talked about it but only as something abstract and theoretical every time another prominent case went through the media – but we were careful not to mention any connection to our own lives – except our fear of dark streets at night.

This lack of language is usually interpreted as shame; that the experiences are too painful and embarrassing to share outside protected spaces – more about shame in the chapter: „Honour III: Shame”. But how did that correlate with the complete strangers – women and men – that came to me after each lecture and told me what I could not talk about with my friends? (More about men in the chapter „Sex Wars II: The Second Sexism“)

If you are into schizophrenia, you’re in for a treat. Hardly any subject is as full of contradictions as rape. Where else do you have the pleasure of being afraid of something that lurks behind every corner while it is at the same time supposed to be as rare as being hit by lightning? Where can you encounter so many crude and anachronistic concepts of human beings that don’t resemble the human beings you know? Intimate spaces collide with political constructs and the general uncertainty is only too palpable. Which is not surprising in view of all the double binds that entwine the subject as if there were a castle with a perfect, sleeping virgin behind the thorns. My first book, on the cultural history of the vulva,[6] was a re-appropriation of what was rightfully ours. A feel-good book that was at the same time political. What more could you ask for? A book on rape is necessarily less cheerful; that is the nature of the beast. But must that really be the case?

I have done my best to make this book as liberating and empowering as I could. After all, it is also a re-appropriation; of options of thinking and acting. For, and of this I am convinced, the way we imagine something influences the way it exists in the world and the way it has power over us.[7] So, enjoy the read!


Gender’s Dark Doppelganger


It is conspicuous that sexual violence is often not referred to as a specific crime but as an inherent risk of being human – as long as these humans are women.“ Although I myself have not been a victim of rape, the threat of rape has had a profound effect on the structure and quality of my life“[8] describes Ann Cahill, professor of philosophy. “Because of the possibility of sexual violence, I did not invite a new male friend, later one of my best friends, to my room for coffee when I had only one or two conversations with him. I was rapable therefore I had to be careful.“[9]

The feeling of being in constant danger – sometimes more, sometimes less, but always present – is by no means reserved for second wave feminists. Younger feminists, such as Hengameh Yaghoobifarah from Germany’s Missy Magazine, also portray the anticipation of sexual violence not as an exception but as an everyday occurrence: „Loud groups of guys mean crossing the road, getting the phone out ready for an emergency call, gripping the house keys between the fingers like a knuckleduster, heart pounding like a racehorse … All these measures become routine because being a woman means living in constant fear of violence.[10]

Being warned of rape is still part of the initiation into the world of gender. Sometimes girls are even told to be careful before they are told anything else about sex – and usually without further information on how to do so. Boys grow up with equally confusing messages. While they should be gentle with girls and treat them with care at the same time these qualities are considered ’unmanly’. Philosopher Susan Bordo calls this the „double bind of masculinity“[11].

The rape script knows only two sexes: perpetrators and victims. When we say rape we think of aggressive men and fearful women, of penises as weapons and vaginas as unprotected doorways into equally unprotected bodies; or to drop the military metaphors, of men who think they have „a right“ to female bodies. In order to defend the rights of these women’s bodies, the women’s movement coined the slogan „no means no!“ in the 1970s, which still determines anti-rape policy today. This slogan has a history and a function as outlined in the next chapter but it does not break with the concepts on which the rape discourse is based, namely, that men are sexually active to over-active, while the activity of women is limited to saying no, that male sexuality is monstrous and dangerous versus „good“ female sexuality and so on.

I have carried „No means no!“ on countless banners on numerous demonstrations and written it with eyeliner on my belly. (together with „My body belongs to me“ and „My belly belongs to me“). To free the world of rape it seemed a small price to pay that our rhetoric hardly differed from the rhetoric of those we were fighting. „Which part of No do not you understand?“ was at least funny and contained a touch of communication. But „No means no“ was the equivalent of „Another word and you go straight to bed without dinner.“

But regarding the fact that sexual violence has such a great impact on the way we are in the world and interact with other people; the language we use to describe it is by no means trivial. And, let’s face it, it’s not just feminists who resort to the troupes of paternalistic authority. Communication in this context couldn’t be more dysfunctional. It sometimes seems as if there is no communication at all between two parties who both resemble gender stereotypes in such an exaggerated form that it’s hard to recognise them as members of the same species. The discourse around rape is one of the last bastions and breeding grounds for gender attributions that we wouldn’t dare to think, let alone say out loud – and that goes for all political camps and social strata. As soon as we use the R-word, back go the clocks and it is forever 1955. The propaganda in the cold war of the sexes states that female sexuality is an area under threat that must be protected and defended – rather than explored and enjoyed. A little further under the radar, but just as influential, are the messages about male sexuality, which is appraised as a destructive force that must be mastered and controlled – rather than explored and enjoyed. Publicist Katie Roiphe calls this the „vampire model of male sexuality“.[12]

Biologists Randy Thornhill’s and Craig T. Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape from 2000 showed that these discourses were by no means over with in the last millennium. In their book they attempted to explain rape in terms of evolutional biology, founded on the theory that men are genetically programmed to rape in order to improve their evolutionary prospects by impregnating women who would’ve otherwise been way out of their league.[13] Anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists from all over the world pointed out that it isn’t just women of childbearing age who were raped; that the probability of becoming pregnant as the result of rape is statistically lower than that of consensual sex,[14] that a good part of these pregnancies are not carried out and that the evolutionary advantages of being born under such stressful circumstances are questionable anyway. But most of all, sex offenders must have been stunned when they learnt of the reason for their crimes. „Most male criminals do not cite reproductive success as a motive for their crimes. For psychological mechanisms usually operate at the unconscious level.” Sotoshi Kanazawa of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Mary C. Still from Cornell University defended the reproduction-by-rape thesis.“ ”[S]omething compels them to. We contend that something is the evolved psychological mechanism that predisposes all men to seek reproductive success The men are completely unaware of the evolutionary logic behind their motives.“[15] This sounds uncannily like the cliché of the rapist who whispers in his victim’s ear: „I know you want it as well.“ Only in this case it’s science that knows what the rapist wants.

Thornhill and Palmer didn’t understand the outcry that followed their book’s publication and justified their position: “People everywhere understand sex as something females have that males want.“[16] They suggested an anti-rape program for schools that would train young men to diligently control their evolutionary based urge to rape. In plain language: When you know how dangerous something – meaning yourself – is, you restrain yourself accordingly.

„Restrain? Is it that bad?“[17] Sociologist Michael Kimmel asked cynically. „How about ‘express‘ – their equally evolution-based biological drive to experience pleasure, mutuality and fun? Might we not be ‘hard wired‘ for that as well? Education for restraint is perhaps the second most politically bankrupt policy initiative around, and utterly ineffective.“[18]


Apart from the fact that „rape is in your genes“ is a devastating message for an adolescent, how is one supposed to develop a healthy relationship with one’s own sexuality if one’s supposed to fight against it at the same time, like a recovering alcoholic fights his desire for spirits. If you follow that thought through then the only safe place for such a sexuality would be behind locked doors. There must be friendlier and more human theories and thus friendlier and more human solutions for the rape enigma.

Meanwhile, Michael Kimmel proposes more playful interventions like the „splash guard“ which a colleague of his produced for the „Rape Awareness“ week at his university: “(For those who don’t know, a splash guard is a plastic grate that is placed in men’s public urinals that prevents splatter.) He had thousands made up with a simple and hopeful slogan. It says simply: ‘You hold the power to stop rape in your hand.’“[19]

This suggestion is at least charming and takes into account the human ability to change and to choose. However, it’s also based on the gender dichotomy of perpetrators = men and victims = women.[20] But is that really so simple? Or, in other words: Is that really so?

According to German annual police statistics, men’s risk of becoming victims of violent crimes is a 150% higher than women’s. (Unless they’re POCs, then the risk goes through the roof.)[21] And the more brutal the crime, the more likely the victim is male. Women are not only safer outside the home than in but also safer than men. So why don’t we warn our sons when they leave the house that the world out there is too dangerous for delicate creatures like them?

The answer is: Because about 90% of the perpetrators of violent crimes are also male and about 90% of the victims of rape are female. (We will be looking at how conclusive these figures really are in the chapter „The Second Sexism“.)

This answer is as plausible as it is wrong. Neither does it explain why we care so much less for our sons – after all, all violence is horrible even when it doesn’t involve sex – nor why we measure rape with a different scale from almost anything else. When we look at the statistics regarding murder, for example, we find a significant percentage of the victims are male – yet no one would jump to the conclusion that only men could be murdered.

In the case of rape, however, this conclusion is apparently the rule. Until very recently the description of a rapist according to German law was „A person who coerced a female person he was not married to, by force or by threat to life and limb, to endure sexual intercourse with him.“ By law and by common consensus that meant:

– only women are raped and

– only men could be rapists,

– because there had to be intercourse, i.e. penetration,

– which was only a problem outside marriage.

The acclaimed 1997 amendment of the sexual law in Germany recognized the existence of rape within marriage, penalised not only penetration but also „similar sexual acts“, and changed ‘female person’ into person. That meant that for the first time men could also be conceived as victims of sexual violence. But only just. In England, the Sexual Offences Act was only changed in 2003 to include men and transgender people as possible victims. South Africa followed in 2007, Scotland in 2009, China in 2015 …[22] While in Switzerland you still need a penis to „force a person of female gender to endure sexual intercourse“,[23] otherwise rape is not a rape.[24]

But even the supposedly gender-neutral wording of the Sexual Offences Act in England is only neutral in regarding the victim. It still requires a penis as a prerequisite for recognising a person as a perpetrator. No penis = no rapist. This is not, as one might think, an anachronistic remnant of the old wording but the result of a Home Office debate deciding that rape „as commonly understood” involves “forced penetration by a penis“[25] While the rapable orifices, vagina and anus, have been now supplemented with the mouth, because forced fellatio is regarded “as horrible, as demeaning, and as traumatising as other forms of forced penile penetration“, the corresponding sexual transgression by a woman is obviously not “horrible and demeaning” or “traumatising” enough, especially if the victim is a man.

„[T]he “offence of penile penetration was of a particularly personal kind“ the Home Office explained, as it “carried risks of pregnancy and disease transmission.“[26] However, one is unlikely to become pregnant through forced fellatio and sexually transmitted diseases can be just as easily transmitted by a woman. Still the notion persists that the female body is particularly vulnerable, more specifically, particularly vulnerable to sexual acts, while at the same time lacking the power to violate. Not only in English legislation. In Germany, for example, if you take your clothes off in public you are only liable for exhibitionism if you inhabit a male body, the female body is not regarded as dangerous and the law doesn’t recognise any other bodies.[27]

„Rape is an ‘essentially contested category‘ infused through and through with political meaning“[28] states historian Joanna Bourke. This doesn’t mean that men are the ‘real’ victims but that rape is the most gendered of all crimes. And as if this isn’t enough, it’s also the crime that genders us the most. The way we think about rape is intricately and disturbingly related to the way we think about sex – and that encompasses, in this case, sex in the meaning of sexuality and in the meaning of gender, in equal measure.

But what does it tell us about our culture that it’s so hard for us to speak about rape, other than as a crime that men do to women – although that’s not the whole story? Now that genitals and chromosomes and hormones are no longer sufficient to determine gender, and a study at the University of Tel Aviv has put an end to the myth of male versus female brains (apparently we all have human brains)[29] – it would be extremely surprising if it turned out that true gender difference is based on a disposition to sexual violence.



Sexing the difference I: No means yes!


To be fair, for quite a long time ‘no’ didn’t used to mean ‘no’ but simply: ‘I am female’. Male force and female reluctance were an integral part of the construction of „normal“ sexuality in the 18th and 19th centuries. “If she is normally developed mentally, and well-bred, her sexual desire is small,“[30] testified the founder of sexual sciences Richard von Krafft-Ebing and explained it thus: “If this were not so the whole world would become a brothel and marriage and family impossible. It is certain that the man that avoids women and the woman that seeks men are abnormal.“[31] As women were supposed to have no sexual desires of their own it fell to the gallant male to overpower and ravish them. And the women who didn’t desire of their own accord but desired the men to desire them – fanned the man’s sexual urge with their feigned resistance. Lawyer Max Thal enlightened the readers of his pamphlet against sexual double standards: „Some still stammer a defiant, touchingly deep ‚we mustn’t‘ when all is over and done with.“[32]

As strange as that may sound, Thal had tradition on his side. The Roman poet Ovid famously stated in his Ars Amatoria: „Though you call it force: it’s force that pleases girls: what delights is often to have given what they wanted, against their will. She who is taken in love’s sudden onslaught is pleased, and finds wickedness is a tribute. And she who might have been forced, and escapes unscathed, will be saddened, though her face pretends delight.“[33] Certainly the idea of the fiery man and the frigid woman goes back as least as far as classical antiquity[34]. Aristotle proclaimed that man’s inner heat was superior to that of women’s – literally. According to him the lack of inner fire left women in a state of arrested development, regarding their physical, intellectual and, above all, sexual potency. After all, they weren’t even able to boil their menstrual fluids to produce sperm![35]

Once medical discoveries had shown that no real difference in temperature existed, a different model had to be created to explain the imaginary difference in temperament between the sexes. The Darwinist nineteenth century found this in the gender hierarchy of prehistory – of course not in actual prehistory, but in a Flintstone version of Victorian Society. [36] Sexologist Havelock Ellis declared: “The modesty of women – in its primordial form consisting in physical resistance, active or passive, to the assaults of the male – aided selection by putting to the test man’s most important quality, force. Thus it is that when choosing among rivals for her favours a woman attributes value to violence.“[37]

Sexual selection was Charles Darwin’s major innovation, and it accorded women a larger role in reproduction, in a way: Having been completely passive previously, she was now allowed to choose which man was to overwhelm her. Darwin wrote: “[S]he is coy, and may often be seen endeavouring for a long time to escape from the male. […] The exertion of some choice on the part of the female seems a law almost as general as the eagerness of the male.“[38] This choice, however, did not include that a woman could go looking for a sexual partner herself, such behaviour was deemed alien to her inner nature and would render her unattractive for the virile man.[39] What was survival of the fittest for men, seemed to be survival of the weakest and the most passive for women. Susan Sontag noticed: “Everything pertaining to sex has been a ‘special case‘ in our culture, evoking peculiarly inconsistent attitudes.“[40]

Until the 20th century, the conviction that woman were frigid while men were filled by phallic fire permeated everything: social roles, gender norms, communication, lived and imagined sexuality. That meant that a woman who didn’t want a man because she did not want him, had to fight him physically and hard, otherwise he could assume that she was simply a „real woman“.

The idea that violence was welcome – the Roman concept of vis haud ingrata – was still ingrained in law until the 1970s. In a rape case the woman not only had to prove that she’d physically resisted her assailant but that she had kept up her resistance constantly throughout. After all, she could have been inexplicably and mysteriously aroused after her ‘natural coyness’ had been overcome. [41]

While our ideas of the “nature” of women and the corresponding laws have changed over time, the same can’t be said for our ideas of the “nature” of man. Best selling self-help books – like Ellen Fein’s and Sherrie Schneider’s The Rules. How to Capture the Heart of Mr Right The Rules II: More Rules to Live and Love by, The New Rules: The dating dos and don’ts for the digital generation and so on and so forth – still initiate their millions of readers into the mysteries of passivity and explain to them that, in order to get a man, they must first reject him, because men are repulsed by women who know what they want. A job application manual that told its readers not to send an application and in no way to show any interest for the job would hardly sell, but the rules are so popular that Oprah Winfrey asserted: “The rules isn’t just a book, it’s a movement, honey.“[42] Women’s magazines are no different, feminist columnist and author Laurie Penny criticised: “‘[N]o’ is one of the most erotic things a woman can say […] ; if she wants to ‘catch’ a man she must give every appearance of not wanting him, dropping his calls, not returning texts, playing ‘hard to get’. Real men don’t want women to want what they want.” [43]

This led to the paradoxical view that a woman was all the more desirable the less she herself felt desire, whereas a lusty woman was seen as degenerate and was therefore de-sexualized, that is defeminised. For femininity was by no means equally distributed to all women. In the 19th century, femininity was measured at the genitals: the smaller the labia, especially the labia minora, the more civilized the woman and the smaller her sexual desire. Anthropologists developed a veritable obsession for the labia of „uncivilized“ – that is, colonialized – women, which they measured, described, photographed and catalogued. Happily disregarding the contradiction that women had already been supposed to have been sexually passive in prehistory, while their passivity was now the result of civilisation.

To have any sexual contact at all in such a repressed atmosphere, it was a prerequisite that the man was always ‘up for it’. „Following the mighty impulse of nature, he is aggressive and stormy in his love-making,“ [44] rejoiced Richard von Krafft-Ebing. The other side of the coin was that the men who didn’t have a partner for „love-making“, under this model suffered from constant sexual pressure. But even marriage involved sexual frustration for one half of the married couple. Andrew Jackson Davis – to whom we owe the term „law of attraction“ – expounded in accordance with Aristotle: “Woman obtains infallible and periodic relief through the menstrual discharge. The enlarged centres of conjugal vital essences, in the ovarian organization, overflow and are soothed into tranquillity with every moon“. The man on the other hand: “how much more superabundant and terribly urgent are his procreative resources.“ The physical proximity to a woman without having sexual relations with her left him “charged to repletion, even to the verge of uncontrollable violence.“[45]

Jackson entreated men to pull themselves together regardless of the pressure of their sperm coiled for discharge. This came to be known as the „psycho-hydraulic model of sexuality” – or put more simply: the steam boiler model – and was the preferred explanation and justification for rape in the discourse of 18th and 19th century law. Many physicians considered rape as immoral but unavoidable and, if there were no prostitutes available, „infinitely preferable to the perils of masturbation[46], as regular sexual discharge constituted an indispensible remedy for men’s health.“[47] At the beginning of the 20th century psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel fought the myth of the dangers of masturbation as he considered all ejaculations as equal, as long as they occurred and freed weak men from their unbearable sexual pressure. He considered masturbation as “man’s best defensive measure against the outbreak of his paraphilic [rape] so long as he masturbates he abstains from acting out his forbidden phantasies.“[48]


As late as the 1970s, renowned medical historian Edward Shorter correlated the increase of rape in certain historical periods with the rise of the marriageable age. For although most men were able to control their impulses, in individuals with mental abnormalities the restrained desire would boil over and express itself in the form of sexual excesses.[49]


When the steam boiler model first emerged it presented a contradiction to the general view that men were the rational sex. So how could their sex drive be so irrational? As a consequence, the areas of sexuality and intimacy were removed, bit by bit, from the concept of rationality, advancing the separation between body and mind even further. [50] Driven to genius or crime by his overwhelming phallic energy, man was no longer suited for his accustomed role as the representative of the moral order. Who better to fill this vacant position than woman, who due to her lack of passion, was rarely tempted anyway? [51] As guardian of the divine order (Hegel) or the moral order (Rousseau), she also carried the responsibility of controlling male sexuality by modifying her clothes and her behaviour so as not to ignite his highly inflammable libido.

To warn women not to drink too much alcohol when they go out and not to send the „wrong signals“ to men, is a remnant of the steam boiler model and is widely and rightly criticized. [52]

The first slutwalk, 2011 in Toronto, was a reaction to Canadian police officer, Michael Sanguinetti, who famously advised female students not to dress „like sluts“ to avoid being raped. Similar demands on men, on the other hand – to „pull themselves together“,[53] to master the Neanderthal within,[54] or flyers like the ones the American College Health Association handed out to male freshmen, stating: “Your desires may be beyond your control, but your actions are within your control.“[55] – are still part of the rhetoric to explain the unexplainable phenomenon of rape.

But how was it possible that such a sexual scenario ever managed to become so widely accepted in the face of actual sexual relationships? It was done by defining everything that didn’t fit into this narrative as illness or, to use the scientific jargon from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, as perversion. Paradoxically, this perversion was simultaneously declared as a normal part of the female psyche: Woman, the perverse sex.

Krafft-Ebing, having established the asexuality of women, continued: “[N]evertheless the sexual sphere occupies a much larger sphere in the consciousness of women than that of men, and it is continual rather than intermittent.“[56] So men only thought of sex when they saw a woman while women were up for it all the time except when they actually had sex with a man?

Psychoanalyst Helene Deutsch, the specialist for The Psychology of Women in the 1940s and 50s, explained this paradox with the female masochism in her highly influential books of the same title. Masochism in women was, for Deutsch, not a variant but the prerequisite for their sexual satisfaction. Having interpreted the physical processes by psychological means, to elucidate the psyche she now used the body – to be more precise, the vagina. That, according to Deutsch, was completely passive and could only be awakened by the penis.[57] From this originated the deep female urge to be overpowered. “The ‘undiscovered‘ vagina is – in normal, favourable instances – eroticized by an act of rape. […]. That fantasy is only a psychological preparation for a real, milder, but dynamically identical process. This process manifests itself in man‘s aggressive penetration on the one hand and in the ‚overpowering‘ of the vagina and its transformation into an erogenous zone on the other.“[58]


With this Helene Deutsch referred to Sigmund Freud’s theory that the psychosexual development of women was not complete until they had managed to transfer their erogenous zone from the clitoris (which according to Freud was a retarded male sexual organ and thus active) to the vagina (the actual female sexual organ and thus passive). In his Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex Freud determined: „If the transference of the erogenous excitability from the clitoris to the vagina has succeeded, the woman has thus changed her leading zone for the future sexual activity; the man on the other hand retains his from childhood.“[59] It goes without saying that women’s sexuality encountered manifold dangers and opportunities for getting lost on the way. So that the prerequisite for „becoming a woman“ was at the same time a prerequisite for „woman’s preference for the neuroses, especially for hysteria, [which] lie in this change of the leading zone as well as in the repression of puberty. These determinants are therefore most intimately connected with the nature of femininity.“[60]

But even without developing neurosis or hysteria the prognosis for female sexuality was pessimistic. Not only did the sexual act resemble rape in such a way – Freud was sure of that – that children who surprised their parents during coitus thought they were witnessing a rape; the psychiatrist Leopold Loewenberg explained that at least the first time was „nothing more or less than rape“[61] for women because of the loss of virginity. Helene Deutsch went even further and asserted that penetration would remain so at its core. “Woman‘s frequent fear of coitus originates in the fact that it implies an injury to her physical integrity.“[62] Sexuality – and that meant exclusively coitus, any other form of sexuality was considered a regression – was therefore not natural for women, however masochistic.[63]

[1] See Anja Snellman: Geographie der Angst. Btb: 2001

[2] Obviously, sex and rape are by no means the same, still our relationship to rape is also characterized by our relationship to sexuality and vice versa. More in the chapters: Sexing the Difference.

[3] Wendy Brown und Janet Halley (Hg.): Left Legalism/Left Critique. Durham 2002; p.26
[4] I delibrately don’t use the term ’rape myth’ because that has a definite and different meaning, as I will show in the chapter: Sexing the Difference III

[5] Joanna Bourke: Rape. A History from 1860 to the Present. Virago: 2007; p. 6f.

[6] Mithu M. Sanyal: Vulva. Die Enthüllung des unsichtbaren Geschlechts. Wagenbach: 2009

[7] And now I have to put in a disclaimer of my own: obviously, this does not mean that rape is no problem with the right attitude. Instead it is about new (and new old) ways of dealing with this problem.

[8] Ann J. Cahill: Rethinking Rape. Cornell University Press: 2001; p.1

[9] Ann J. Cahill: Rethinking Rape. Cornell University Press: 2001; P.1

[10] Hengameh Yaghoonofarah: Willkommen in der Hölle, Ladys. taz 6.1.2016 All translations from the German by Mithu Sanyal and Charles Rouse if not otherwise stated.

[11] Susan Bordo: Gentleman or Beast? The Double Bind of Masculinity. In: Susan Bordo: The Male Body. A New Look at Men in Public and Private. Farar, Strauss & Giroux. New York 2000; p. 229-264


[12] Katie Roiphe: The Morning After. Sex, Fear, and Feminism. London: 1994; p. 46.

[13] Arguing along the theme of evolution is, of course, not new. For example, as early as 1931 Gerrit Miller used the human anatomy to explain rape. „[Rape is] a by-product of human ingenuity [sic!] seconded by the upright human posture with its specially human remodelling of the primate pelvic region. This remodelling has brought the vaginal orifice into a position relative to the adjacent parts that renders intercourse possible with a resisting or unconscious female forced to lie – or lying helpless – on her back“ (Gerrit Miller: The Primate Basis of Human Sexual Behaviour. The Quarterly Review of Biology, vi 4, Dezember 1931; p. 380-403.

[14]For example, erectile dysfunction, lack of ejaculation, etc, are the rule rather than the exception in rape.

[15]Kanazawa Satoshi und Mary C. Still: Why Men Commit Crimes (And Why They Desist). Sociological Therory, 18,3: November 2000; p. 440

[16] Randy Thornhill und Craig T. Palmer: Why men rape. The Sciences: 2000; p. 33

[17] Michael Kimmel: An Unnatural History Of Rape. In: Cheryl Brown Travis (Hg.): Evolution, Gender And Rape. The MIT Press: 2003; p. 231

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid. p. 232

[20]Carol Clover, Professor for Media Studies and Linguistics calls that: „our ultimate gender story“ (Carol Colver: Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Princeton University Press. 1992; p. 227)

[21] See Black Lives Matter

[22]India appointed a commitee in 2010 to decide whether the definition of rape should become gender neutral and whether the penetration with an object should be admissable too. Before the results could be implemented however, Jyoti Singh was raped and tortured by six men in a bus in Delhi on the 16th December 2012 and died on the 29th as a result of her injuries. On February 3rd 2013, Indian president Pranab Mukherjee signed the new law which applied the death penalty in cases of rape that led to the death of the victim or left her in a „persistent vegetative state“.

[23] Article 90 Section 1 of the Swiss Criminal Code

[24] All other forms of forced sexual acts are classed as sexual harrassment by the Swiss Criminal Code, though nowadays they carry the same maximum sentence as vaginal rape.

[25] Quoted from Joanna Bourke: Rape, ibid; p.213

[26] Ibid.

[27] A constitutional complaint that this violated the principle of equality was disregarded by the Bundesesverfassungsgericht on 22. März 1999 – 2 BvR 398/99

[28] Joanna Bourke Ibid.; p. 8

[29] Seeug. Daphna Joel und Anne Fausto-Sterling: Beyond sex differences: New approaches for thinking about variation in brain structure and function. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B., 371:20150451; 2016

[30] Richard von Krafft-Ebing: Psychopathia Sexualis. London: 1893; p.13

[31] Richard von Krafft-Ebing ibid

[32] Max Thal: Sexuelle Moral. Ein Versuch der Lösung des Problems der geschlechtlichen, insbesondere der sogenannten Doppelten Moral. Breslau: 1904, p.11f.

[33]Ovid: The Art of Love (Ars Amatoria). Book I Part XVII: Ovid was famous for not recognizing ’no’ as ’no’. For example, his main reason for going to the dog races was to press himself against unsuspecting women in the crowd.

[34] At the same time Greek mythology also knew the figure of the blind seer Theiresias who had spent part his life as a woman and part as a man, having lots of sexual encounters on the way. When the gods Zeus and Hera asked him who derived more pleasure from sex, men or women, he answered that women enjoyed sex nine times more than men.

[35]see Aristotle: De Generatione Animalium

[36] That the Neanderthal – of whom we have very little historic knowledge apert from the fact that there are no clues that he ever dragged a neanderthal women by the hair into his cave – is always used as a role or anti-role model shows how deeply these images (“Me, hunter of mammoth, you, Jane!“) are rooted in the general conciousness. It’s a symtom of these beliefs, that archeology up until very recently ranked the sex of a skeleton below the assumed gender of the grave goods. When weapons were found in the grave the skeleton would enevitably be identified as male. When (sowing) needles were found as female, etc. (see Sibylle Kästner: Rund ums Geschlecht. Ein Überblick zu feministischen Geschlechtertheorien und deren Anwendung auf die archäologische Forschung. In: Sigrun M. Karlisch, Subylle Kästner, Eva-Maria Mertens (Ed.): Vom Knochenmann zur Menschenfrau. Feministische Theorie und archäologische Praxis. Münster: 1977; p. 24)

[37] Havelock Ellis: Psychology of Sex. Volume 3. Philadelphia: 1910;

[38] Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Prometheus Books: 1998 (original edition 1871); p.229 f.

[39] Darwin is seen as an arch conservative and misogynist today, as furnished by his writings. It should be noted, however, that he supported the work of female scientists like Mary Treat privately. He was in favor of women being educated at universities and entered into an extensive correspondence with suffragettes Florence Dixie and Emily Fairbanks Talbot. See the Darwin Correspondence Project of the University of Cambridge www.darwinproject.ac.uk/gender/

[40] Susan Sontag: Styles Of Radical Will. Penguin: 2009; p. 46

[41] See Tanja Hommen: „Sie hat sich nicht im Geringsten gewehrt. Zur Kontinuität kultureller Deutungsmuster sexueller Gewalt seit dem Kaiserreich. In Christine Künzel (Hg): Unzucht–Notzucht-Vergewaltigung. Definitionen und Deutungen sexueller Gewalt von der Aufklärung bis heute. Frankfurt am Main: 2003; p. 119-136
There was also the assumption that a woman who fell pregnant after a rape hadn’t beed raped at all. Republican senator Todd Akin, still upheld in 2012: „If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (see Wikipedia Rape and preganancy controversies in United States elections 2012) Likewise, the archbishop of Salzburg explained in 1990 that the female egg could only be inseminated during orgasm. This harks back to the idea that women produce the so-called’female semen’ during orgasm, propagated by the greek physician Soranus of Ephesus in the second century and implemented in law by Emporer Justinian. (see Thomas Laqueur: Auf den Leib geschrieben. Die Inszenierung der Geschlechter von der Antike bis Freud. Campus: 1992; p.185) Interestingly, this conviction, at the same time, put female desire in the centre of the sexual act. To be able to conceive a child a woman had to be aroused.

[42] www.therulesbook.com/

[43] Laurie Penny: Unspeakable Things. Sex, Lies and Revolution. Bloomsbury: 2014; p. 108 f.

[44] Richard von Krafft-Ebing ibid; p.2

[45] Andrew Jackson Davis: The Genesis and Ethics of Conjugal Love. Progressive Publishing House: 1874, p.28

[46] Doctors presumed that masturbation would cause the spinal cord to rot, as well as leprosy and softening of the brain.

[47] Maren Lorenz: „…. da der anfängliche Schmerz in Liebeshitze übergehen kann …“: Das Delikt der „Nothzucht“ im gerichtsmedizinischen Diskurs des 18. Jahrhunderts. In Christine Künzel (Ed.): Unzucht – Notzucht – Vergewaltigung. Definitionen und Deutungen sexueller Gewalt von der Aufklärung bis heute. Campus: 2003; p. 73; See e.g. the writings of swiss physician Daniel Langhans (Daniel Langhans: Von den Lastern, die sich an der Gesundheit rächen. Bey Emanuel Haller: 1773; p. 68ff.)

[48] Wilhelm Stekel: Auto-Erotism. London: 1951. quoted in Narcyz Lukianowicz: Imaginary Sexual Partner, Archives of General Psychiatry, 3, Oktober 1960; p.429

[49] see. Edward Shorter: On writing the history of rape. Signs. Vol. 3, No. 2 (winter, 1977) p. 471-482

[50] see Dr.in iur. Ulrike Lembke: Vis haud ingrata – die „nicht unwillkommene Gewalt“ Die kulturellen Wurzeln sexualisierter Gewalt und ihre rechtliche Verarbeitung, Vortrag anlässlich des FRI exchange No. 11, 18. April 2008; p.6

[51] In classical antiquity, on the other hand, women were considered lustful, weak and undiscerning, which made them unsuitable for the significant philosophical endeavour of morality.

[52] See e.g. Laurie Penny: Unspeakable Things. Ibid p. 121: „Sex is something men are supposed to want, and enjoy, and know instinctively how to do. For women and girls, sex is meant to be more like work, and that work is identified as our primary identity just as clearly as a male police officer or bank director is a cop or a capitalist before anything else, in this world where profession makes us. Men have sex; women are sex.“

[53] see: berlin.ihollaback.org/es-ist-nicht-meine-schuld-wenn-maenner-sich-nicht-zusammenreissen-koennen-und-Frauen-wie-Objekte-behandeln/ From 26.6.2014

[54] see Matthias Matussek: Der neue Mannaus dem Dschungel. In: The European, 03.02.2013

[55] Katie Roiphe: The Mornung After. Ibid; p.63

[56] Richard von Krafft-Ebing ibid; p. 13

[57] Deutsch completely ignores the rest of the female sexual organs, she never mentions the vulva and disregards the clitoris.

[58] Helene Deutsch: The Psychology of Women. New York, Grune & Stratton; 1944/45, Vol II, p. 79 f.

[59] Sigmund Freud: Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, Project Gutenberg_ https://archive.org/stream/threecontributio14969gut/14969.txt

[60] Sigmund Freud ibid

[61] see Leopold Loewenfeld: On Conjugal Happiness. John Bale, Sons & Company: 1912

[62] Helene Deutsch ibid

[63] Deutsch was not alone in that assertion. Johann Gottlieb Fichte for example assumed that women suffered during the sexual act and only man enjoyed it. See Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Deduktion der Ehe. §§ 3 und 4, in: Werke in sechs Bänden, 1911 (original edition 1796)