Archive for October 24th, 2012

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law?
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed?
  –  Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H. (LVI)

One of the reasons the “rape is not sexual” myth has such staying power despite its clear absurdity is that it appeals to both men and women; as I said in “The Rape Question”,

… the truth – that rape is a natural, though unfortunate, outgrowth of our sexual programming – is scary to men because it reduces them to the level of animals, and to women because it means there is always the risk of rape in heterosexual relations.  By ignoring the 73% of all unwanted sex which isn’t forcible, people of both sexes could pretend there was no elephant in the parlor…

Very often, humans prefer to believe a comfortable lie than to accept the uncomfortable truth that Nature is a bitch goddess who doesn’t give a damn what any of us might want, and if She had Her way human life would be, as Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish and short.”  From Her point of view, we exist for one reason and one reason only:  to be fruitful and multiply.  And both male sexual aggression and female sexual response evolved to fulfill that one goal, individual health and happiness be damned.  This is not to say that natural impulses are “corrupt” or “evil” as the Platonists (and their modern philosophical descendants) would have it, nor that they are “pure” and “good” as the idealists believe; they are amoral, and it is for the human mind, guided by the individual moral compass, to determine when to follow them, when to sublimate them and when to control them.  In order to make these determinations the individual needs understanding, and in order to understand he needs knowledge; the reason belief systems and mass movements want sexual knowledge suppressed is so that the faculties of rational decision-making are starved, and many therefore turn to the leaders of those movements for guidance.  If people understand the underlying reasons for rape, they can learn how to control it themselves rather than being forced to rely upon the morally bankrupt dogmas and paternalistic, authoritarian non-solutions pushed by governments, feminists, religions and others with a vested interest in controlling the interaction between men and women.

The most important thing to recognize is that, contrary to dogma, rape is neither an asexual act nor a result of “patriarchal culture”:  it is a type of reproductive behavior, and occurs in many species that have neither cultures nor hierarchical social interactions.  As I explained in “Ice Cream in the Hand”,  reproductive success for males depends upon spreading their sperm as widely as possible so as to inseminate as many females as possible; rape can therefore be an effective strategy for a low-status male who might not otherwise be able to pass on his genes in any other way.  Remember that concepts like law, fairness and individual autonomy are very recent arrivals on the landscape, and our sexual behaviors evolved in their absence.  The fact that we now recognize unwanted sexual contact as a violation of personal rights is no more germane to a discussion of how the behavior evolved than moral stipulations against murder are in considering the feeding habits of carnivora.

When one contemplates the big picture, human females are fortunate:  rape did not evolve as a primary mating strategy among the primates, and though it occurs in chimpanzees and some other apes and monkeys it is not the norm in any primate species.  That’s not so among ducks and geese, where sex is always violent and apparently coercive, and among a number of species of large herbivores, where it’s usually so; I can even tell you from personal observation that billy goats don’t wait for consent, and if they’re big and strong enough can sometimes force sex even with a nanny who doesn’t seem very happy with the proceedings.  Bottlenose dolphin sex is extremely aggressive, and what seem to be gang rape situations are not uncommon (we can’t be sure if they all take turns or if she’s forced to choose one, because dolphins are very averse to copulating within view of humans).  But in some species, there is absolutely no courtship at all; instead evolution has produced a sort of “arms race” between their sexes, with males evolving mechanisms to facilitate rape and females evolving mechanisms to make it more difficult.  Here’s an example from a recent news article:

A male fish from Mexico has…genitalia…equipped with four hooks…[to] allow him to grab onto a resistant female during mating…Brian Langerhans of North Carolina State University…explained that the male’s hooked genitals may be a counter-response to the female’s own defenses against undesirable mates.  “Typically, reproduction is more costly in females, so females favor ways of reducing mating with ‘lower quality’ males, but reproduction is cheap in males and so selection favors ways of mating with as many females as possible”…Females of this species have evolved to have a big ball of tissue that blocks most of the genital pore.  This means the female would have to deliberately allow the male to mate with her unless the male evolved a counter-response, Langerhans explained.  The four-hooked genitalia could help the males overcome resistance and latch onto a female’s genital pore and deposit sperm inside her…Another…species…recently discovered in Vietnam sports sex parts that jut out of its head and are equipped with a rod and a jagged hook to clasp the female during mating…

One can only imagine the thorny issues of consent and coercion which might arise if a species like this were to evolve high-order intelligence; the “War of the Sexes” would be more than just a metaphor among such creatures.  In humans, as in all other animals, conflict arises whenever the reproductive aims of an individual male and an individual female fail to coincide; the key to reducing the number of such incidents, and to mitigating the damage they cause to both parties (and to society as a whole) when they occur despite precautions, is knowledge.  Understanding why an organism behaves in the way it does may allow one to halt or divert that behavior, but the lack of understanding which inevitably results from an incorrect theoretical framework empowers nobody but those who want the conflict to continue in order to further their own self-serving agendas.

Read Full Post »