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Michele Landsberg: When Did We Start Talking About Rape?

Book Cover Writing the Revolution

"Talking History" is a biweekly series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage. The series focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, exploring the notion of history as a compelling form of storytelling of interest to large audiences. These articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts use the power of narrative to bring the past to life, drawing connections between then and now to show how these stories are not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today.

Today, we're pleased to feature an essay by Michele Landsberg, a Toronto-born journalist, author, and feminist activist. 

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When did we start talking about rape?

Was it second wave, third wave, or any wave at all?

Certainly not the first wave. That brilliant, pioneering suffragist  crew—Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and the others—breathed not a word about sexual violence when they wrote their excoriating litany of injustices to women  in their 1848 "Declaration of Sentiments." The relative silence lasted a century; I remember grade 9 in the 1950s, when our Latin teacher explained to the snickering class that "Rape of the Sabine Women" really meant "kidnapping" and not what …

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