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  • Cited by 10
  • Print publication year: 1991
  • Online publication date: June 2012

12 - Rape as a terrorist institution



A feminist critic in the United States argued recently tha “while rape is very bad indeed, the work that most women employed outside the home are compelled to do is more seriously harmful insofar as doing such work damages the most fundamental interests of the victim, what Joel Feinberg calls ‘welfare interests,’ whereas rape typically does not.” This judgment takes rape as an individual act, ignoring its relationship to institutional rules and thereby its terrorism implications. Rape, as an institution, has severe consequences both for women raped and for women terrorized into compliance. It underlies women's willingness to do whatever work men find suitable for women to do. So understood rape indeed damages women's fundamental interests though information on it is less public than (other) information on working conditions in the paid labor force.

The term “terrorism” as used in public media suggests a kind of political activity, often with international significance focused on the powers of states or other territorial governments. The restriction to territorial politics, however, ignores the terrorism of sexual politics. Ethically, that exclusion is arbitrary and irresponsible. It maintains an invisibility of routine violence against women, underlying visible sexis stereotypes.

Rape and domestic violence are both forms of terrorism a backdrop to the daily lives of women in sexist societies. It this essay I take up only the institution of rape. The philosophical significance of treating rape as a form of terrorism is twofold.