Rape Prevention 101

oudies at flash.net oudies at flash.net
Tue Jan 18 06:22:21 PST 2000

thought margaret, maureen, yoshie might appreciate this:

Evolutionary Psychology

Teaches Rape 101

By: Judith Shulevitz

Culturebox was not surprised to learn from the latest issue of

The Sciences that evolutionary psychologists have come up

with an answer to the question of why men rape. From the

beginning, ev psych has portrayed the war between the sexes

as both natural and inevitable: Men have to spread their genes

around by having sex promiscuously and by whatever means

necessary; women lavish their scarce reproductive resources

only on partners who'll stick around to ensure that their

children thrive. So there was nothing startling about the

arguments of Craig T. Palmer and Randy Thornhill (author of

a famous study on beauty arguing that throughout world

cultures, men and women prize symmetrical features, which

correspond to genetic health): Rape, they say, is either a

direct reproductive strategy--what men resort to when all else

fails--or the byproduct of other reproductive strategies, "such

as a strong male sex drive and the male desire to mate with a

variety of women." What was newsworthy is what the authors

suggests we should do to prevent rape.

Now, before Culturebox reveals Thornhill and Palmer's nifty

solution to this age-old problem, she has to digress a bit on

the subject of evolutionary psychology. Here's her beef with it:

Evolutionary psychology is not very good on the aspect of the

human psyche she's personally most interested in, which is

how humans are different from animals. Ev psych insists,

rightly, that we not ignore our similarities to the higher- and

lower-order creatures, but it's weak on subjectivity,

self-awareness, self-consciousness, whatever you want to call

it--on how we explain our tangled mass of hormonal impulses

to ourselves. And yet this ability to reflect on ourselves

underlies art, architecture, poetry, government, journalism,

and all the other forms of willed culture and communication

that animals don't and can't have. The new sociobiologists do

address complex social institutions--particularly ones that

require cooperation--but only in the broadest of terms. They

find ways to boil them down into high-end, unconscious

reproductive strategies.

Some evolutionary psychologists understand the limitations of

their field. They know that it has explanatory power only in

general terms, and is useless in the particular case. They know

that their account of human motivation is deliberately

reductive--designed to make it easy to grasp large patterns of

behavior--rather than a rich and accurate description of what

and who we are. Thornhill and Palmer, however, are not

among these modest evolutionary psychologists. And so they

boldly stray into efforts to modify the behaviors of individuals.

They propose a course to teach young men about rape:

Completion of such a course might be required,

say, before a young man is granted a driver's

license. The program might start by inducing the

young men to acknowledge the power of their

sexual impulses, and then explaining why human

males have evolved in that way. The young man

should learn that past Darwinian selection is the

reason that a man can get an erection just by

looking at a photo of a naked woman, why he

may be tempted to demand sex even if he

knows that his date truly doesn't want it, and

why he might mistake a woman's friendly

comment or tight blouse as an invitation to sex.

Most of all, the program should stress that a

man's evolved sexual desires offer him no excuse

whatsoever for raping a woman, and that if he

understands and resists those desires, he may be

able to prevent their manifestation in sexually

coercive behavior. The criminal penalties for

rape should also be discussed in detail.

Now, anyone who has read George Orwell or seen A

Clockwork Orange can imagine the scene: The strapping

teens slump embarrassed in their seats while evolution

instructors lay out their state-sanctioned definition of human

nature. The first message to be drilled into boys' heads is: We

believe you're genetically programmed to rape. The second

(and inevitably less impressive) message is: Oh, and by the

way, we're not going to let you do it.

Here's what Thornhill and Palmer propose for women:

Young women should be informed that, during

the evolution of human sexuality, the existence of

female choice has favored men who are quickly

aroused by signals of a female's willingness to

grant sexual access. Furthermore, women need

to realize that, because selection favored males

who had many mates, men tend to read signals

of acceptance into a woman's actions even when

no such signals are intended.

In spite of protestations to the contrary, women

should also be advised that the way they dress

can put them at risk.

In other words, Thornhill and Palmer are asking the state to

say that it believes that men are born rapists and that women

are under an obligation not to dress or act provocatively.

Culturebox can see the criminal lawyers composing their

genetic-determinist defenses already: Why, even the state

said he couldn't help himself!

Back in 1994, when journalist Robert Wright popularized the

field of evolutionary psychology with his book The Moral

Animal, he wrote an article on ev psych and feminism in

which he acknowledged that evolutionary psychology would

be used to "naturalize" sexist behavior. He thought

philandering husbands would be the ones taking advantage of

the argument about how cheating was hard to control. He did

not foresee the day when evolutionary psychologists would

call for the government to sponsor their theories in a way

virtually guaranteed to generate the very behaviors they are

supposed to prevent. But it was a foregone conclusion that

when evolutionary psychology began to focus on genetic

predispositions and majoritarian norms to the exclusion of

everything else, some literalists would in fact forget everything

else. They would forget that we are products not just of

evolution, but also of what we imagine ourselves to be. And

that if we teach our children to see themselves strictly as

beasts, they're bound to act like them.

no comment

p u l p c u l t u r e http://www.flash.net/~oudies/pulp_culture.htm

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list