Engendering outrage: Women and men in campus anti-rape organizing

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert C. Bogdan


Rape prevention, Women, Men, Campus, Organizing

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Women's Studies


As a result of feminist claims-making and organizing, issues of rape gained marked problematization on college campuses during the 1980s. Anti-rape activists, in addition to their efforts to shape institutional prevention and response, organized rallies, marches, and meetings to promote awareness of rape, sexism, and violence, attempting to reduce rape by affecting student culture and men's behavior. This study examines the rise of anti-rape activism on one northeastern United States university campus in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Based on three years of participant observation and in-depth interviewing, it focuses on a student movement organization ("HEAR-US!") that involved both women and men and that gained strong issue ownership. HEAR-US! both shaped and was shaped by definitions of rape as a social problem on campus. Through early definitional struggles, explanations of rape focusing responsibility on victims' behavior were diminished while explanations focusing on culture and on perpetrator responsibility rose in prominence. HEAR-US! activists won widespread acknowledgement for pressuring the university to establish a Rape Center, for influencing policy, and for sustaining rape as a campus issue for several years. Begun as a loosely-structured pressure-group, HEAR-US! was transformed over time into a formally structured organization within the student-organization culture, dividing attention between policy and rape awareness. In the group's public activities, both women and men promoted gender equality and opposed sexism as the cultural and structural context of rape. But, simultaneously, in-house conflict grew over male leadership, hierarchical authority, and behaviors claimed to silence and re-victimize women. University requirements and funding mechanisms for student organizations exerted a structuring effect on group processes and ideologies, reproducing organizational and interpersonal forms of masculine, middle-class careerism and procedural conservatism. Examination of gendering beliefs, practices, and situations helps to explain participant-claimed and researcher-observed male dominance of the organization. Ultimately, consequences of this controversy, combined with student turnover and redefinition of concerns, led to decline and dissolution, though not without some history of positive anti-rape outcomes. This constructionist analysis utilizes a clarified "natural history of social problems" framework, the tradition of feminist social movement organization studies, and theories of gender (particularly, masculinities) as situated practice.


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