Rethinking rapes: men’s sex lives and feminist critiques
The last quarter of the twentieth century saw significant innovations in theorisation and politicisation of sexual violence. This article examines the impact of feminist work on rape and male sexuality in Britain, witnessed through the ‘sex lives’ of male supporters of the women’s movement. I draw on oral histories, life writing and anti-sexist men’s magazines to investigate moments of disclosure and reevaluation of men’s sexual encounters. The article investigates how men interpreted and acted on feminist ideas, noting their strategies of defensive intellectualism, laddishness and experiments with queering gender and sexuality. I argue that men found it hard to reconfigure their personal ‘sex lives’ and develop activist resources that would challenge gender-based violence, particularly in the context of rape becoming a key feminist concept. Nonetheless, men’s sexual experiences were shared with other men as a site of social and political scrutiny, offering historical insight into very intimate realms that are usually absent from historical archives.