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Feminism’s amazing achievement: Changing the conversation — and laws — about rape

The revival of the feminist movement during the 1960s, and its growing influence over the following decades, moved the public conversation about rape from silence to exposure and political activism.” Second-wave feminists tried to put women’s experience of sexual violence at the center of a new political analysis of rape. Although they built upon many of the historical precedents set in the suffrage era, including the demand for women’s legal rights, the new generation of feminists in the later twentieth century launched a more radical critique that explicitly linked the problem of sexual violence to male privilege. As it evolved from the radical margins to the political mainstream, the movement proved far more effective than its predecessors in changing both laws and institutional practices. The rapidity of the shift, evidenced by an explosion in media coverage and legal reform, suggests that the spark of feminist politics ignited a backlog of fear and resentment among American women, many of whom had felt both physically at risk and politically disempowered by the threat of rape. Applying the radical feminist dictum “The personal is political,” writers and organizers reframed sexual violence not merely as a private trauma but also as a nexus of power relations and a public policy concern.

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