Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rape, by Joanna Bourke

Many moons ago I read a terrific book by Joanna Bourke called An Intimate History of Killing. The book investigated the actual practice of killing in war. It was an utterly fascinating book, full of things you wouldn’t expect.

So when I saw another book by this same author at the library I decided to pick it up.

Joanna Bourke must be a nut when it comes to sifting through masses of psychological and historical texts. This history of rape is dense with conflicting psychological reports, studies and opinions.

So dense in fact that at about half way through the book I put it down for about a month and wondered if I would even return to it.

The author also wades through a lot of feminist opinion. So much psychological minutiae is argued over and sifted that my head got quite dizzy.

For some reason, once I got past a lot of the theory and into more of the real life examples, I got through the rest of the book. Bourke in the last third of the book concentrates on rapes that occur in the home, in prison, and in the military.

The chapter on prison rape I found very shocking, even though I knew a bit about what happens. Rape is used in prison to assert power. He who gets raped is turned into a female.

In the final analysis Bourke weighs up the countervailing opinions on male sexuality. Are all men rapists? Is rape taught by society? Is rape natural to man?

Joanna Bourke finds (and I agree with her analysis), that rapists are weak men who hate themselves. Rapists also fear women.

I thought about this last statement as I was reading about the huge amount of pack rapes done in the military. Why do men have to do this in a group, and then kill the victim? It’s like their trying to slay some kind of demon.

I confess to not being a good reader of books so steeped in psychological speculation. Some of the unwieldly sentences used in psychology make you wonder if you are having the wool pulled over your eyes. The author spends a lot of time writing, ‘in other words’, in order to explain some impenetrable prose.

For those studying rape I presume this would be a good book, with its huge bibliography and well indexed research. For the lay reader, it may not be such a cheery book.

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