Biological Evolution Protects Ovulating Women from Rape, but the Rest of Us Are Screwed
By Suzanne Reisman on January 22, 2011
BlogHer Original Post
Well, I am glad to learn from Slate that, from an evolutionary perspective, I am more likely to be raped because I don't ovulate and thus am a wuss who judges character poorly. See, according to evolutionary biologists who explain that every single thing we do as humans (particularly if those actions reinforce stereotypical gender dichotomies that men are violent beasts), men evolved to rape women and thus women had to figure out a mechanism to avoid being raped, but only during ovulation because I guess we don't need to protect ourselves except when we might get pregnant with an undesirable heathen's baby because don't think that racism (which according to the presentation in this Slate article is just another biological imperative, not a sociological evil) is not involved. Goodness. One other thing about evolutionary biology is that it leads me to write run-on sentences.
Before I get to the evidence, I feel compelled to address the line in this article that made me laugh loudest in an ironic way.
"No sensible person would argue that a scientist researching the causes of cancer is thereby justifying or promoting cancer. Yet some people argue that investigating rape from an evolutionary perspective justifies or legitimizes rape."
I love this indignant apples-and-oranges comparison. While one can argue that rape is a cancer on society, is cancer itself a behavior? Yes, we would like to understand cancer so we can treat it. However, most of the studies the evolutionary biologists present are done in a way that explains rape (or other violence or gender dichotomy) as grounded in the natural order. The logical conclusion, then, is that it is natural. (I don't think cancer researchers say, "Cancer is just natural, so that's why it's here. Good luck, folks.") Of course, Jesse Bering, the author of the article, insists that anyone who finds misogyny in such a conclusion is a "dilettante." I'm not sure I've ever been called a dilettante before. It's kind of exciting.
Anyway, the next page of the article lays out some studies (on the "who paid for this and why? vein of thinking, see a my recent post on tears) that show that ovulating women seem to react with more resistance to men who may rape them, tend to stay out of "harm's way" (um, forests and empty roads), and are more suspicious of men in general, especially black men if they are white women. Certainly there is not cultural conditioning in that last one. Nope. It's not like these centuries old vile tropes about the evil lusty black man lurking, waiting for the chance to defile innocent white women have anything to do with how people think. It's biological to fear black men and not, say, Asians. Or whites. Or, really, acquaintances, who as one commenter at Slate points out, are the perpetrators of the vast majority of rapes.
Given the evidence, then, it seems that biology has failed women spectacularly since we are not protecting ourselves from the actual threats. Also, based on the tears study (remember, women's tears turn men off), it would seem that a biological tool to stop rape would be to burst into tears so that the rapist will be turned off and go away. This seems to not work, though, so once again I'm going to have to go with learned behavior versus biological imperative.
More proof, in my dilettante little mind, that this whole evolutionary biology thing is a load of steaming crap served up to justify bad behavior, is the following:
"...UCLA psychologist Neil Malamuth and his colleagues found that one-third of men admit that they would engage in some type of sexual coercion if they could be assured they would suffer no negative consequences, and many report having related masturbatory fantasies."
If rape was really a biological imperative, why do only 1/3 of men say they would do it if there were no consequences? Wouldn't it be a much higher number? And is not the fact they don't do it because they fear consequences indicative of the fact that we learn and moderate behavior based on what is socially acceptable and what is not?
At the beginning and end of the day, people are animals. But why are we always looking to say, chimp society (very violent, angry males), to explain our behavior than say, bonobos (quiet society with lots of gender and sexual orientation equality)? Maybe we didn't evolve like chimps, but learned to behave like them instead. Certainly biology influences many things, but it is not destiny. To act as if it is is to deny freewill and self-agency, which is sort of what sets us aside from the chimps.
For more fun reading on rape and rape prevention as a biological imperative:
- Back at Slate, Amanda Marcotte also debunks this whole evolutionary explanation of rape.
- Holly at The Pervocracy has a nice guide to getting your opinions labeled as science.
- Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise has some suggestions for how to better interpret these types of studies.