Rape & Rape Prevention: A Cod-Evolutionary Perspective

Rape is an evolutionary adaptation. More than that, it now appears that anti-rape strategies are evolutionary too, which for women means increased strength at certain stages of the menstrual cycle, increased general distrust of men and hatred of black men in particular. Taking Darwin in vain, this is the argument put together by Jesse Bering at Slate.

We should probably start by getting our definitional house in order. In an admirable example of rigging the answer by misspecifiying the question Bering names rape as “the use of force, or threat of force, to achieve penile-vaginal penetration of a woman without her consent“. So men are biologically incapable of being raped, women incapable of raping, and the sexual-reproductive organs the only legible site for sexualised aggression (no anal here please!).

Hardly surprising, given this terminological firing gun, that rape emerges as a phenomena only comprehensible in procreational terms. This is a narrower agenda even than saying that it is somehow ‘evolutionary’, itself already less than saying it has something to do with ‘biology’ (the possibility of rape being about ‘sex’, socially understood, or ‘power’ stands at yet further removes).

The quality of proof offered doesn’t fare much better. Take the study on racist attitudes and menstrual cycles, results we’re at risk of ignoring with our rampant ‘political correctness’ (*yawn*). Turns out women from this sample (77 white undergraduates) scored higher on fear-of-rape metrics of black men when they were most vulnerable biologically to impregnation. Bering takes this as supporting an evolutionary adaptation against ‘out-groups’, although he concedes that ‘cultural transmission’ may play a role.

The study itself suggests something rather less conclusive. It found that implicit race bias (non-conscious stereotyped associations of the form ‘black-physical’) was much more strongly correlated with rising fertility than explicit bias. Its metrics for race bias were all clearly consistent with a sociological or interpretive account of race (which is to say that race is a social, not a biological category, and that its meaning is historically and politically determined, not the outcome of adaptive ancestral behaviour). The data is also somewhat partial, as its relation to some wider questions. There is no comment on the fact that, for example, race bias remains fairly pronounced even where there is no ‘conception risk’, nor any significant attempt to cite work on general levels of race bias in general populations as a comparator or to examine variation among degree of bias in the women studied and the possible sources for those differences.

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