Constructing rape: Feminism, change, and women's everyday understandings of sexual assault

Amy Chasteen Miller, University of Southern Mississippi


The cultural and legal meaning of rape has changed dramatically over the past 30 years as the feminist movement has challenged traditional constructions of sexual violence and offered an alternative construction of the meaning of rape. The transformation of rape into a social problem has brought increased attention to the subject in both popular and academic realms. Despite the growing body of research and theory on sexual violence, little inquiry exists into women's everyday constructions of rape and the degree to which such constructions have been influenced by the feminist movement This article uses a constructionist framework to examine the everyday understandings of rape held by a diverse sample of women. Data gathered through an open-ended survey instrument were analyzed to reveal both interesting similarities and significant differences in the ways women of different ages, races, and personal histories define and interpret the phenomenon of rape. By examining these data, the extent to which the feminist reconstruction of rape has influenced women's everyday assumptions is examined, and the role of differences among women in perceptions of rape is explored. The findings presented in this article have implications for theories of social problems, for feminist discourse, and for the application of research on rape in applied settings.