By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Theories of Rape: Breaking through Socio-biology

A condom ad was recently barred by several television networks in the US. While it wasn’t “censorship” in the traditional ways we (legally) recognize censorship to be, that is, as state exercise it really didn’t feature material we often encounter as worthy of “censorship,” either or the type that would get conservatives’ knickers in a twist, so to speak.

No, it didn’t feature naked people or even semi-naked couples, or even show a scene anywhere near a bedroom. (Locally, I have heard condom manufacturers complain that their own ads featuring loving, married couples in condom ads were constantly disapproved by the Ad Board, which is also is a private entity.)

This US ad showed a bar with gorgeous women bored by, well, pigs who didn’t as it seemed to imply, stand a chance of getting lucky. One of them goes to the condom dispenser and buys himself a Trojan and turns into a gorgeous guy. He in turn gets all the attention of the women in the bar. The only copy: “EVOLVE.” (Trojan Condoms)

I’m as surprised as anybody out there but also in huge measure disturbed at the decision of networks to not air such an ad. I mean, where is everybody’s sense of humor and fun? Or maybe it hit too close to home to be considered anything but tongue in cheek?

Of course the copy: “EVOLVE,” is the reason I picked the story to begin this piece in the first place. The issue after all of what is naturally given (between the sexes and genders), and what is changeable remains the core of important discussions in addressing sex/gender equity, equality, justice and fairness.

Many things have been asked about rape in the past (not just by feminists), why it happens, who commits rape and what its consequences are.

Before the most compelling feminist literature on rape by Susan Brownmiller (Against Our Will: 1970), theories on rape however, were predominantly offered by psychologists who considered “raping” as the behavior of the mentally ill.

Men who rape “act out of an uncontrollable” and irresistible impulse, was what psychiatrists used to say in the 1950s and through the 60s. In 1965, over 30 states in the United States adopted laws defining rapists as “sexual psychopaths” in law.

Over the years, there have been generally the feminists (as they are usually portrayed) on one side of the discussion, espousing more social, sociological, and cultural theories about rape, and on the supposed other side of the divide, proponents of “biological/behavioral” theories on rape.

In a nutshell, biological/behaviorist theories on rape trace the origin of the behavior to the biological make-up. In this case of course this refers to “raping/copulation and resisting rape/copulation,” as male/female behaviors.

Now for feminists, such biological determinism of the why around rape happens is not just taken issue with because of the tendency to all but portray “rape” as innate, natural and even a fixed given (it will never end, is not likely to?). More recently, M.Sheets Johnstone, a feminist with expertise in both natural and social sciences, also debunked such theories as not founded on available empirical data. That is to say: It was never good science.

Socio-biological theories of Rape

One author seeking to reconcile biological/social theories and while also making sure not to disparage feminist theories on rape, which he categorized as for the most part, about the social/cultural aspect, points out that in so doing, offers a more balanced view.

On the other hand, his discussion (as many others who seek to explain behavior through biology often do), still comes dangerously close to reinforcing the usual assumptions of fixed differences (male/female) alongside a blurring of the difference between rape/copulation.

The usual socio-biological explanation for “raping” behavior is of course nothing else but the same explanation for “copulation.”

“Because maximum male reproductive success is most limited by access to fertile females (rather than production of sperm) while maximum female reproductive success is most limited by less frequent and more energetically costly reproductive episodes (rather than by sexual access to willing males), two critical features of sexual selection typically emerge:

(1) Greater male to male than female-female competition for mates;
(2) Greater female than male choice, on average over a population, regarding who one’s mate will be.” (Jones:1999)

Somehow, even without going into the social and cultural aspects of rape in social practices and societies at large, accepting “rape” simply as borne out of the (“biological” urge to copulate, and in turn equating the “urge to copulate” singularly with “reproductive strategy” still leaves too much unexplained.

For one, to credit pre-historic peoples (men, in particular) with a comprehension or consciousness of the male contribution in human reproduction, is inconsistent with even the theories of non-feminist historians and anthropologists.

“Archeological and anthropological data indicate that in prehistoric times, reproduction was attributed to a fertility goddess that required no sperm for this purpose. In the early historical Middle East it was believed that a godly being brought about pregnancy by using male and female semen. It was the merit of the Greek philosophers of the 6th-3rd century B.C. to realize that reproduction was governed by natural laws. Several theories were developed to understand how reproduction could occur. The haematogenous theory of reproduction, developed by Aristotle, has received the most attention. The essence of this theory is that the male sperm, with a haematogenous origin, causes the development of an embryo from menstrual blood present in the female uterus. The theory survived about 2000 years, with modifications, and was also introduced into Christianity. It was only about I50 years ago that the reproduction theory based on hypotheses was changed into a reproduction science based on facts.” (Kremer: 2003)

Honestly, even if by any stretch of the imagination, we were to overlook the premise of “copulation as procreation/reproduction” here (and deny the part about sexual pleasure), the next step also equates male sexual experience in “rape” as no different from heterosexual sex in general. (In fact not a few feminists have pointed this out as the result!)

Sheets-Johnstone in her work, "The Roots of Power" demonstrates how even the data used as basis to explain "rape/copulation" as reproductive strategy among primates has long revealed that "rape" or forcible sex/copulation is less likely to result in pregnancy.

What also makes the premise “men rape” because of a “biological urge” to “reproduce” suspect is the absence of sexual pleasure, that is of course if we aren’t equating rape with pleasurable sex (from a male vantage point).

Therein lies one glaring issue: the erotization of "male" violence and "female" submission. It seems in this case, the so-called feminist "socio-cultural" explanation (that this erotization had to have happened over a period, across societies through history) offers a more hopeful explanation than any non-feminist "socio-biological" ones. Consider this: a socio-cultural explanation offers a way out, and unlike the socio-biological one, does not view things (sex roles or even identities)and even behavior as a fixed given. We can change this and we ought to.

In so saying, "Evolve" actually puts a lot of faith in (so-called) "men."

Photo credit: This photo appears at La Russophobe


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