Troublemakers: Feminist Anti Rape Activism in Columbus, Ohio

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The Ohio State University

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This thesis examines the feminist activism of Women Against Rape (WAR), which formed in Columbus, Ohio in 1972. The first chapter of this thesis analyzes Ohio State’s campus before Women Against Rape formed. In the Cold War era, Ohio State created programming that sexualized female students by encouraging them to marry before they graduated. When the university constructed gender roles for women that valued female students as future brides they limited women’s ability to say no to sexual coercion of their male peers. This sexualization made women vulnerable to rape on campus as male students were told women went to college to become objects of their sexual desire. By the 1960s, female students began to demand the university accept them as scholars by claiming space for themselves on campus. Many women also questioned the narrow conceptions of rape created by the university and in the mid 1960s students at Ohio State reported rapes that occurred in their homes and not in alleyways of off campus neighborhoods. The role of space within university’s conceptions of rape exemplifies the spheres in which Ohio State claimed sexual violence occurred. These policies ignored rape committed by male students and marked campus as privileged space for the mostly white, middle class, male students. The university also created ideologies that blamed women for rape by labeling survivors as rule breakers for defying university in loco parentis policies that limited women to “the home” of campus space. The second chapter of this thesis narrates the history of WAR’s founding and subsequent activism throughout the 1970s. WAR reclaimed space for women and created feminist community at Ohio State. In 1976, WAR opened the Toni Goman Feminist Rape Crisis Center and organized shelter houses in off campus neighborhoods to create networks of communication for women. The rape crisis center was a liberated space for women because, unlike campus space, it did not dictate rigid heteropatriarchal gender roles for women. This liberated space allowed women to share their personal experiences with sexual violence. They knew that when women spoke with other women in their communities about rape, those conversations created activists. It was through these conversations with survivors that WAR expanded their definition of rape. The final chapter of this thesis focuses on WAR’s activism in the 1980s and 1990s. As WAR moved into the 1980s, a new generation of feminists inherited the organization during an era of growing backlash to the women movement. This counteroffensive, including funding cuts that forced WAR to give up their campus location of rape crisis center and move further away from the community, occurred concurrently with some of WAR’s most significant activism. The same year funding cuts limited their resources, WAR organized a massive protest on Ohio State’s campus that gained national media attention and forced the university to form the Rape Education and Prevention Program. Shortly over a decade later, WAR disbanded in 1995. Members debated if radical feminist politics were still relevant to their generation of activists and internal debates over homophobia and efforts to make WAR more “mainstream” led a large segment of members to disband. During these decades of contradictions, some of WAR’s greatest successes unfolded at the same time that the organization faced internal divisions and funding difficulties.



rape, activism, campus, university, feminism, Ohio State University