Since publishing my previous post on rape culture, I’ve gotten some mild push back on it in the form of a couple of comments on a forum where I posted a link. I’m grateful that anyone swung by, read it, and bothered to comment on at all. Honestly, I am. Writing a blog is a lot like hanging out in a forest waiting for a meteor to streak across the sky to see if it produces a breeze. Don’t get me wrong, I have some loyal readers who I appreciate deeply and enjoy interacting with via comments on all of our blogs. It is just that you get however many views a day and very little by way of feedback.
Geez, for chasing an errant thought down a rabbit hole, well, that seems like a waste of a perfectly good rabbit hole, don’t it?
I start with the assumption that evolution is the passing on of genetically-based and genetically-influenced factors that allow an individual to successfully reproduce and raise its young to reproduction. It doesn’t advance genes if the resulting offspring doesn’t turn around and reproduce. Since we spent most of our evolutionating as hunter-gatherers in various wildernesses around the world, it is safe to assume traits that allowed men to reproduce in a tribal setting of twenty to 100 individuals would be the ones passed on and that the tribal setting virtually guaranteed that the offspring would have the best chance of reaching reproductive age as long as the tribe survived.
Each and every species has a reproductive strategy and then subsets of that species may have variations on that strategy. For example, one strategy has been to have lots of off spring in the hopes that at least one of them will survive long enough to reproduce since life was fucking hard and mortality was highly likely. That is, up until recently.
Female Reproductive Strategies
Evolutionary psychologists have posited that there are two types of female reproductive strategies: one is to have sex with virile manly men and the other is to have sex with men who will stay around and help out with the resulting offspring. The trick is to not let the family-man-type realize that the offspring aren’t his. At the very least, keep him guessing.
Evolution doesn’t give a rat’s ass about love, marriage, morals, or social mores unless, of course, they help in reproduction and ensuring the offspring reproduce, so fidelity and slutty-promiscuousness don’t enter into it. Since each individual is born with traits to drive reproduction, the more driven one is to have sex, the more likely sex will occur, in turn making it more likely that reproduction will occur. In the case of human beings, this explains why sex is fun, dummy!
For women, it doesn’t matter whether the family-man is the baby daddy or not. It only matters that she has some help raising her offspring to reproductive age. She needs to succeed in maintaining the group which will help with raising the young. Thus, her two-fold sex strategy.
As it turns out there is evidence to support this idea. Science fact: Men with the traditional chiseled features of masculinity are more prone to short-term relationships. This finding comes from a study in which respondents submitted photos of themselves and outlined their sexual preferences and strategies. Then people were shown those photographs and asked to guess the individual’s attitudes to short-term relationships, one-night stands, and sex without love. People were accurate 72% of the time!
Women tend to avoid men they think are into short-term relationships in preference for those they think are into longer-term relationships. But, this don’t mean that she won’t go with the short-termer! We all know that.
Male Reproductive Strategies
The classic take on the male sex strategy is to bang as many women as humanly possible in the time you have. As it turns out, that isn’t exactly right. There are two male strategies as well. One is the so many women, so little time strategy. The other is the family man baby daddy strategy. Neither one of these strategies has rape inherent in them, though. So, where does rape come from?
The first assumption of evolution is that a trait survived because it either helped reproduction be successful or it was neutral and just got a free ride. So, is rape helpful for reproduction or has it just gotten a free ride? It has to be one or the other. Sexual assault has occurred across all cultures and since before the rise of human kind.
Rape Models in the Animal Kingdom
The Scorpionfly & Its Notal Organ
Did you know that the scoripionfly (Panorpa vulgaris) employs a two-fold reproduction strategy? Strategy one is to produce food for the female in exchange for sex. See? Prostitution really is the oldest profession. And the other is to rape her if food isn’t available. The male scorpionfly has a notal organ to clamp on to one of the female’s wings to force longer copulation than is in her best interest. She would rather not, but since he can grab her and not let her go, she has no choice. It doesn’t mean she don’t struggle and when she is bigger than he is, often succeeds in breaking free of his notal grip. Such fun. Isn’t Mother Nature wonderful? And other statements dripping with sarcastic disdain.
Okay, my favorite drunk uncle sighs at the Thanksgiving dinner table while my mother is absolutely aghast and her husband looks uncomfortably at his hands, but even if I accept this far-fetched improbable theory of evolution, supposedly, we separated out from the insects a long long time ago. Why for and how come, all the critters inbetwixt us and them don’t have this notational organ clamping down on all of the women kind?
Picking myself up off of the floor due to the improbable cogency of his question, I attempt an answer… Uhh, uhh, uhh… Orangutans!
As it turns out, a species a little closer in relation to us also employs a dual strategy, the proud orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). As it turns out, vulnerability on the woman’s part has a huge impact on the likelihood of sexual assault occurring in human beings and orangutans. Orangutans, you see, live solitary lives unlike all of the other great apes, us included. That means that there ain’t no one around to help the female orangutan beat the male orangutan off! Apparently, if the scientific types are to be believed, half of all copulations among orangutans is forced!
To make matters even more intriguing to us godless evolution-believer types, the sexual assaults seem to be committed primarily, but not exclusively, by a subset of males. Geez, did you think that you’d be taking this deep a dive into orangutan sex when you got up this morning? I didn’t. Anywho, there are two types of orangutan body types: the big slow moving kinda guy and the small agile speedy kinda guy. Female orangutans prefer sexing the big guys, so the little guys have to chase ’em down and rape ’em. Does that statement disturb you as much as it does me?
These smaller orangutans are considered unattractive and a bad genetic bet by the female orangutans. They are regularly rejected out right by them. They can’t compete with the larger guys in wooing the ladies, so…
Rape as an Evolutionary Adaptation
Okay, my favorite drunk uncle concedes at the perpetual Thanksgiving table, I’ll give you that rape exists across cultures, time, and species. But, what makes you think it is ALL men?
Well, it is complicated, I stammer not just because of his breathe. “For rape to be produced by evolved psychological mechanisms, it must have recurrently generated reproductive beneﬁts for ancestral rapists. These beneﬁts must have outweighed the costs that men may incur if they attempt or successfully complete a rape,” I quote McKibbin et al. from Why Do Men Rape? An Evolutionary Psychological Perspective. It is a more succinct and clearer explanation than I could manage. “Any rape adaptations that men possess are likely to occur in the form of psychological mechanisms…. These adaptations are proposed to be universal features of male psychology that are activated under speciﬁc circumstances. (Emphasis added)
That’s the key right there: activated under specific circumstances. Any man may use these adaptations. So, what might those specific circumstances be?
The Circumstances of Rape
If rape is a successful reproductive strategy, then it has to result in reproduction. Therefore, highly fertile women should be over-represented in rape statistics. And, surprise, they are. Most women who are raped are young and female fertility peaks in the mid-twenties. But, this is also true of non-forced copulation. So, that is somewhat of a wash. What else do the evolutionists have?
The Five Types of Rapists
McKibbin et al. propose five types of rapist: (1) disadvantaged men (kinda like the orangutan), (2) “specialized” rapists who like violent sex (the zero-degrees of empathy sadistic types), (3) the opportunistic rapist, (4) dominant psychopathic-types (the zero-degrees of empathy psychopaths), and (5) partner rapists retaliating for suspected infidelity.
I’ll summarize McKibbin et al’s evidence as briefly as possible, but my special twist will be the addition of the role of empathy. As reported several times, Simon Baron-Cohen has theorized that empathy ebbs and flows like any other emotion. There are a variety of reasons from alcohol and drug use, to peer-pressure, to victim vulnerability, to genetic predisposition that can cause empathy to diminish at the crucial moment.
The Disadvantaged Rapist. Several pieces of evidence support this notion. First, most convicted rapists come from low socio-economic backgrounds (the confounding variable of legal council and police sympathy clouds this confusion. Brock “Jail Won’t Help This Promising Young Man” Turner, anyone? These men also have asymmetrical features. Symmetrical features suggest genetic goodness and are, therefore, considered attractive. It is easy for me to imagine that these men also possess low self-esteem and confidence when it comes to sexual interactions; consequently, they may blame women or otherwise find their empathy towards them diminished.
The Specialized Rapist. Specializing in violent sex, that is. Sadomasochism and dominant-submissive sex has existed for a long time and does not necessarily mean rape. So, by definition if it were only violent sex these men craved, they could probably find a a willing partner. So, it is something about the violence that turns them on. Convicted rapists are more aroused by images of rape than they are by consensual sex. Arousal by violent or forced sex might be necessary for sexual assault to be successful reproduction. If violence weren’t arousing, the rapist might not be able to achieve penetration. Similarly, pre-mature ejaculation might be an adaptation, too, because it would decrease the time needed and, therefore, the possibilities of being caught in the act by jealous or protective others and predators. Obviously, diminished empathy is necessary to commit violence against others.
The Opportunistic Rapist. The opportunistic rapist zeros in on the vulnerability of the victim either her consciousness (Brock I rape unconscious women by ramming splintering pieces of wood up their asses Turner comes to mind as the archetype) or her social station or her ability to defend herself. However, strong evidence for this type of rapist is weak. Rape increases during armed conflicts and spousal rape is decreases when adult male relatives are readily available to assist the victim. But, it is easy to imagine that as vulnerability increases, empathy decreases.
The Dominating Psychopathic Rapists. These rapists differ markedly from others. They are confident with high self-esteem. They generally have symmetrical faces giving them a chance at attractiveness. They tend to pursue sexual interactions that require low emotional investment and resort to coercion with other methods fail. Men who rated highly on the Sexual Experience scale were more likely to resort to coercion when they were self-centered and less nurturing strongly suggesting the role of empathy in this type of rapist.
The Partner Rapist. Partner rape may best represent rape culture since it has only been against the law to rape your wife for a very short while, and many people do not believe that a husband can rape his wife. Partner rape is the most frequently reported type of sexual assault nowadays with 10% to 26% of women report being raped during their marriages. The probability of sexual assault increases during break ups, especially those in which the woman’s fidelity is in question. Believing your wife or girl friend has cheated on you can easily lead to a diminished sense of empathy for her and lead to an increased likelihood of sexual assault.
Walking around in ALL men is a rapist just longing for the right circumstances to emerge. The key is to realize that empathy is the thing that limits all kinds of transgressions rape included. Being on guard against the environmental causes of diminished empathy AND the environmental influences that promote sexual assault are the ways to guard against committing sexual assault.
Future articles on this topic will include the environment influences that promote sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual aggression, the evidence for the continuum linking sexual insensitivity and sexual assault, and the necessity of shifting our perception from that of men to that of women when it comes to sexual indiscretion.