Sexed Bodies (Rape: A History from the 1890s to the Present)

In the opening chapter of her book, Rape: A History from the 1890s to the Present, Joanna Bourke poses the central question driving this work: ‘why do some people set out to sexually humiliate and torture others?’ Bourke places the rapist, and not the victim, at the centre of the book, arguing that this is essential if we are to ‘dissect the scourge of sexual violence in Britain, America, and Australia’.

This book examines rape and sexual violence from an historical perspective, arguing that rape isn’t an ahistorical phenomenon, but rather is rooted in specific political, economic, and cultural environments. Chapter One, ‘Sexed Bodies’, traces changing definitions of rape and consent over time, posits an enabling relationship between constructions of masculinity and self-justifying rape narratives, and discusses the challenges of establishing an accurate statistical picture of prevalence. The chapter sets up the definitional and conceptual framework for the rest of the book, which explores how the most common narratives of rape and sexual abuse have changed over time. As Bourke argues:

by seeing the sexed body as always in the process of “becoming”, of being rendered meaningful, we can imagine a world in which different choices are made. We can forge a future without sexual violence.


Joanna Bourke
Chapter One: ‘Sexed Bodies’
Rape: A History from the 1890s to the Present (London: Virago, 2009)