A Cultural Perspective on Rape

  • Catherine H. Morrison


In the Trojan council, Paris argues against returning Helen to the Greeks:
  • Sir, I propose not merely to myself

  • The pleasures such a beauty brings with it;

  • But I would have the soil for her fair rape

  • Wiped off in honorable keeping her.

  • What treason were it to the ransack’d queen,

  • Disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me,

  • Now to deliver her possession up

  • On terms of base compulsion!1

So goes Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s 17th-century version of Homer’s Iliad. Written around the 10th century bc, The Iliad is the earliest literary work produced by Western civilization. Based as it is on the “rape” of a woman and her society’s attitudes and responses to it, The Iliad and its various interpretations throughout history provide some interesting perspectives on the cultural context of rape.


Cultural Perspective Rape Myth Rape Victim Uniform Crime Report Group Rape 


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  1. 1.
    William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, edited by Society of Shakespearean Editors, The Modern Readers, Vol. 6 (New York: Bigelow, Smith and Company, 1909), pp. 53– 54.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Catherine Morrison, “The Counselor’s Notebook of Attitudes toward Rape,” published journal, 1975–1977.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Shakespeare, op. cit., p. 50.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 55.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., p. 55.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Morrison, op. cit.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
  9. 9.
  10. 10.
    Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Shakespeare, op. cit. p. 50.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 55.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Morrison, op. cit.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
  15. 15.
  16. 16.
    Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports, 1973, p. 15.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Brownmiller, op. cit., p. 369.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Homer, The Iliad, trans. by E. V. Rieu (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1950), p. 28.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Shakespeare, op. cit., p. 55.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Simone Weil, The Iliad, or the Poem of Force, trans, by Mary McCarthy and Dwight Macdonald, Pendle Hill Pamphlet, No. 91 (Wallingford, Pa., 1945), p. 23.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid., p.l6.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Brownmiller, op. cit.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Morrison, op. cit.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
  25. 25.
  26. 26.
    Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, Vol. 2, pp. 246–247.Google Scholar
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    Helene Deutsch, The Psychology of Women: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, Vol. 1 (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1944), pp. 276–278.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    A very interesting footnote in Deutsch’s major work, The Psychology of Women, shows that she, too, was troubled by the disparity of her argument. The note answers an accusation made about her work by the “heretical” Karen Horney, who stood alone in classical analytic circles in opposition to Deutsch’s theory. Horney’s accusation and Deutsch’s defensive answer demonstrate the ultimate conclusion of the theory of “normal female masochism.” Deutsch said, “At this point, I should like to defend my previous work against a misinterpretation. K. Horney contends that I regard ferninine masochism as an ‘elemental power in feminine mental life’ and that, according to my view, ‘what woman ultimately wants in intercourse is to be raped and violated; what she wants in mental life is to be humiliated.’ It is true that I consider masochism ‘an elemental power in feminine life’ but in my previous studies and also in this one, I have tried to show that one of woman’s tasks is to govern this masochism, to steer it into the right paths, and thus to protect herself against those dangers that Horney thinks I consider woman’s ‘normal’ lot.” Cf. K. Horney, New Ways in Psychoanalysis (New York: Norton, 1938), p. 110; and Deutsch, op. cit., p. 278.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Weil, op. cit., pp. 3–5.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Ibid., p.5.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ibid., p. 10.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Morrison, op. cit.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Weil, op. cit., p. 15.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Ibid., 13.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Menachem Amir, Patterns in Forcible Rape (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), pp. 314–331.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Brownmiller, op. cit.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Morrison, op. cit.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Weil, op. cit., p. 30.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine H. Morrison
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Social ServiceBeth Israel HospitalBostonUSA
  2. 2.Clinical InstructorSimmons College School of Social WorkBostonUSA

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