From the Library: Books to Help Us Understand Rape Culture

We've been following the sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange for the last few weeks, and we're really upset with all of outrageous victim-blaming that's been going on. We watched one high-profile feminist and another documentary filmmaker neglect to wrap their minds around the definition of consent, completely devalue the victims, and blow off the rape allegations altogether. And while we did see a breakthrough when Michael Moore went on Rachel Maddow to say that "every woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted or raped has to be, must be, taken seriously," this world that we live in still has a long way to go when it comes to believing and taking survivors seriously.

So, I thought I would suggest a few books for those who would like to feel more well-versed when conversations regarding rape culture come up, and for those who still have no clue what rape culture is (I'm looking at you, Naomi Wolf). These are books that effectively explain how and why rape is justified and ignored in our culture while also envisioning a future where sexual assault does not exist.

Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape is a collection of essays edited by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman ( who so bravely stood up to Naomi Wolf's victim-blaming last week). This compilation clearly defines consent, explaining that consent does not equal the absence of a no, but instead must be made of an enthusiastic yes. This book takes on public and media perception of rape, public sex education, racial stereotypes, and incest. Yes Means Yes shows its readers that it is possible to heal sexually after being raped, and it argues that ending rape goes hand-in-hand with women owning their own sexuality.

Transforming a Rape Culture, an anthology that takes on rape culture, was originally published in 1993. A revised edition, edited by Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth, was released in 2005. This anthology includes 34 essays that illuminate the way that our society supports violence against women. The book opens with Andrea Dworkin's speech called "I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There is No Rape", and includes powerful essays about sexual harassment, date rape, and sexist language in pornography. You may have found some of these essays in your Women's Studies textbooks, but several of the essays were written explicitly for this text. This collection boasts contributors such as bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Ntozake Shange, and even Naomi Wolf before her tendency to victim-blame became so apparent.

Walk Myself Home: an anthology to end violence against women, edited by Andrea Routley, is an anthology of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and interviews that share the voices of 50 Canadian women who want to shed light on the epidemic of violence against women. This book was originally intended to be a chapbook which was to be sold at a LoudSpeaker Festival, an annual festival in Victoria celebrating International Women's Day. Response to the call for submissions was so overwhelming that Routley was compelled to create a book instead. The poetry in this collection should not be missed.

In Portland? Come check these books out from our library. And be sure to let us know what books helped to shape your understanding of rape culture.

by Ashley McAllister
View profile »

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

16 Comments Have Been Posted

Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this post. It is good to know that there are texts out there to help understand and deal with these issues.

Great Post!

What an excellent idea in the wake of the media madness over rape...and what actually defines it. We need to get back to basics and re-learn what we should already know. Looks like great reading for feminists and women of all walks of life...and maybe a handful of men, too!

"I Never Called It Rape: The

"I Never Called It Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape " by Robin Warshaw is another "classic".

ooh and don't forget

Getting off: pornography and the end of masculinity.

The Guilt Project by Vanessa Place

“A California appellate attorney looks at crime and punishment under our sex laws… Place expands the notion of guilt, examining its other dimensions—factual, ethical, moral—and asks whether we’ve allowed dubious science, conflicting cultural messages and out-of-control political passions to distort our sex laws...Place detects something desperate in all this, and in richly allusive, frequently witty prose, she asks important questions about what it is exactly we want from our criminal laws. A sophisticated, brave look at a topic that too often provokes merely panic, prejudice and posturing.”—Kirkus Reviews

I am a survivor

I am a survivor of a physically, emotional, and sexually abusive relationship. It was a long time before I could actually say I was raped by him. What he did, at the time, was normal and I felt because I didn't have sex with him enough, that it was warranted. Later, after leaving him - it wasn't. We have a ton of mutual friends and many took sides. To some, I am the "bad name" who is making up claims about abuse and won't let him see his kid. In actuality, I'm a mama bear, survivor, who does not want her kid around a coke head abuser. Because of rape culture, I am not believed. His actions are not questioned, but mine are. People believe the abuser, not the survivor.

I recently came out about feelings I had as a kid - I felt sexualized as a kid and am pretty sure I was sexually abused as a kid. I have feelings and experiences that I cannot explain. I told my supportive boyfriend and then told some other friends. One of them was not very supportive, very shaming, and victim blaming. It made me wish I hadn't said anything and that I wish I held back more. But I can't. Breaking the silence is so so so so so important.

heatherjoyj- Thank you for

heatherjoyj- Thank you for bravely sharing your story and shedding light on the realities of rape. Breaking the silence is so hard and I'm sorry that your friend wasn't supportive. My hope is that books like this will help people who haven't thought about rape before to consider how important it is that they're supportive when their friend tells them their story.

Love this: "This compilation

Love this: "This compilation clearly defines consent, explaining that consent does not equal the absence of a no, but instead must be made of an enthusiastic yes."

I'd be interested to see how many of these books, and books about similar topics, are on library shelves near me. As a future librarian, I hope to one day be able to provide books like these to the people who need them most. Thanks for the post.

Thanks for all of the

Thanks for all of the additional book recommendations, everyone!

Female Chauvinist Pigs

I read Female Chauvinist Pigs and although I'm not sure she ever says specifically "rape culture" she does speak of "raunch culture" which I believe to be very similar in some aspects, although not all. I'm interested in learning the differences between the the two, if there are particular ones, other than one has more of a specificity too it.
Does anyone know?

Against Our Will

This is a great start, thanks for sharing! I would also HIGHLY recommend "Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape" by Susan Brownmiller, published first in 1975. It's an incredibly comprehensive and critical overview of the history of rape in social politics, and it's widely regarded as <i>the</i> definitive text on rape culture.

Another recommendation

In my first feminism class we read <i>The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and and How All Men Can Help</i> by Jackson Katz. Totally changed my perspective on violence against women, including rape.

Am willing to donate my copy to your library if you need one. (moving again, must let go more of books) Let me know where to find the details on where to send if you're interested.

Hi adjinx- Our library does

Hi adjinx-

Our library does hold a copy of Jackson Katz's <i>The Macho Paradox</i> (which also totally changed my perspective on violence against women back when I was in college). It definitely wouldn't hurt for us to have a second copy, as this is a book that we check out often.

Donations can be sent to the library at this address:

Bitch Media
ATTN: Library
4930 NE 29th Ave.
Portland, OR 97211

Donations to our library are tax-deductible, so if you'd like an in-kind donation form we will send one of those to you in exchange for the books.

Thank you so much!


I am truly laughing aloud because I am "back in college" -- 41 years old, returning to finish up my BA in psychology with an eye toward grad school (graduate this year!). A couple of semesters ago, I stumbled upon women's studies and added a minor because I love it. I have been a feminist for almost as long as some of my women's studies teachers have been alive (had post-docs and grad student teachers), but now I am beginning to understand <i>why</i> I am a feminist.

Glad to see my book going where it will be read. Will look through my other texts and send you a list if there's anything else I can't hold onto.


Angie- That's so great to

Angie- That's so great to hear that being back in school is giving you the chance to explore feminist texts that are affirming your beliefs. And congrats on nearing graduation! If you'd like to email me a list of books that you're interested in donating, I'll let you know whether we're in need or not. You can get a hold of me at [email protected]

Thanks so much!

Add new comment