"Against Our Will" author Susan Brownmiller is born

February 15, 1935

Susan Brownmiller.

Courtesy of Makers.com.

When Susan Brownmiller left Cornell University, she was determined to be a Broadway actress. Quite accidentally, she started working in editorial jobs for magazines. Brownmiller was profoundly influenced by the Southern sit-in movement to end lunch counter segregation that began in February 1960. She joined CORE, organized a picket line in front of a New York Woolworth's, and became a political activist. In 1964, while working as a national affairs researcher at Newsweek, she was among 1,000 white volunteers who joined Freedom Summer in Mississippi. In 1968, Brownmiller was working as a television newswriter at ABC and marching against the war in Vietnam when the Women's Liberation Movement erupted.

Brownmiller became inspired to explore the topic of rape after helping to organize a 1971 conference on rape with the New York Radical Feminists (an organization she had co-founded).  After four years of research, she published her groundbreaking book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape in 1975, which defined rape as a serious social problem of violence against women.  Brownmiller’s stark claim—that rape was a “conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”—proved revolutionary to many. There was nothing comforting in an historical analysis that indicted society for protecting rapists and contributing to the further humiliation of rape victims. Against Our Will was a bestseller, and Brownmiller received both criticism and acclaim. That year she was named one of Time Magazine’s twelve Women of the Year. After publishing Against Our Will, Brownmiller lectured widely on the topic of rape. Her continuing interest in women's issues led her to help found Women Against Pornography in 1979.

Brownmiller published another feminist analysis Femininity (1984), the novel Waverly Place (1989), and a travel memoir Seeing Vietnam: Encounters of the Road and Heart (1994). Brownmiller interviewed over 200 women for her 1999 book on the history of the Women’s Liberation Movement. In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, details the story of feminism and her intimate involvement with it, particularly her work to end violence against women.

She received the Mademoiselle Achievement Award (1975), the Women In Communication Matrix Award (1984), and the Travel Story Grand Award from the Pacific American Travel Association (1994). She has served as a judge for the National Book Awards (1980) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (1991). Ms. Brownmiller currently teaches in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Pace University.

As she writes in JWA’s exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, I have never stressed my Jewish heritage in my writing. Yet the heritage is still with me, and I can argue that my chosen path—to fight against physical harm, specifically the terror of violence against women—had its origins in what I had learned in Hebrew School about the pogroms and the Holocaust.”

Sources: “Susan Brownmiller,” SusanBrownmiller.com; “Brownmiller, Susan. Papers 1935-2000,” Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.


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Jewish Women's Archive. ""Against Our Will" author Susan Brownmiller is born." (Viewed on May 19, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/15/1935/this-week-in-history-against-our-will-author-susan-brownmiller-is-born>.