The politics of rape: Traces of radical feminism in Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
Disgrace can be read as a deliberation on rape in all its complexity, articulating and commenting upon many of the positions typical of the radical feminism of the seventies. Some feminists classify prostitution as a form of rape. Prostitution is the ideal form of sex for the main character, David, because it allows him to fantasize that a woman mirrors his wishes. The border between rape and consensual sex is shown to be problematic in the relationship between David and his young student, Melanie. Although some readers find that Melanie was willingly seduced, others consider that she was raped. The charge of sexual harassment is therefore unsatisfactory for both sides and, since David refuses to read the charges brought against him, he effectively silences his accuser. When his daughter, Lucy, equates heterosexual sex with killing and hating women, one can read it as evoking the radical feminist idea that men as a class subordinate women as a class through the threat of rape. Lucy’s political lesbianism is a logical response to such misogyny. After being rape, Lucy accepts a subordinate position and this proves the power of rape in controlling women. Like one of the Sabine women, Lucy seems willing to sacrifice herself for peace between black and white in South Africa.
Keywords: Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee, prostitution, radical feminism, rape.