21 November 2009

Evolution and Rape II: Night of the Living Feminists

The Objectivist
Misunderstanding Evolution
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 7, 2009

The broader evolutionary explanation of rape asserts evolution either directly or indirectly explains much of the rape-behavior we observe. There are three widely discussed theories as to how this explanation works. First, Randy Thornhill, a University of New Mexico biologist, has put forth a model that asserts that evolution has affected men’s psychology in such a way that in at least some men there is a tendency to think in ways that lead to opportunistic rape. Second, Craig Palmer, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri, argues that rape is an evolutionary by-product of other psychological adaptations that increase male reproductive success. Third, University of Michigan psychologist Barbara Smuts, McMaster University psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, and others argue that evolution has led to aggression against women that facilitates a long-term reproductive strategy. That is, rape is a biological adaptation by which males maintain control over females and it evolved because such control led to long-term reproductive success. Thus, the three models hold that evolution explains thought and behavior patterns that have in many cases led to rape because rape is connected in some way to greater reproductive success.

Note that the evolutionary theorists do not claim that rape is not bad or wrong, rapists are not blameworthy, rapists should not be punished, the environment plays no role in causing rape, etc.

All three models are consistent with the claim that rape is motivated in part by a desire for sex. The evolutionary theory is a minimal theory in that it is consistent with there being other motivations for rape (for example, control) and other causes (for example, cultural causes). In contrast, the opposing hypothesis is more extensive in that it holds that rape has nothing to do with evolutionary desires. Proponents of this view often view rape as focused solely on power or control and not at all on sex.

Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker points out just how plausible it is that rape is about sex. He points out that given that men sometimes want to have sex with women who don’t want to have sex with them and men have a tendency to resort to violence to get what they want, it would be extraordinary if some men didn’t use violence to get sex. Because these tendencies have a clear connection to genes and evolution, the broader evolutionary theory should have an obvious feel to it.

SUNY-Fredonia Professors Ingrid Johnson-Robledo and Jeanette McVicker criticize the broader evolutionary theory of rape and narrower Thornhill model. Thirty other SUNY-Fredonia faculty and staff signed on to their findings. Here are some of the reasons the pair provide against the broader and narrower theories.

1. The evolutionary explanation of behavior insults men because it reduces them to biological destiny.

2. If a desire is hard-wired into a man, this implies that he is helpless (to act on it).

3. Rape usually, if not always, leads to gratuitous injury and the injury is psychological.

4. In many cases, rapists do not inflict gratuitous injuries against their victims because they do not use or carry weapons.

5. Some rapists use objects to violate women and some use a condom. Hence, the reproductive theory of rape is refuted.

6. Rapists indicate that they are motivated by sexual desire, not reproduction. Hence, rape is not explained by its connection to reproduction over millions of years of human evolution.

7. Rape has a success rate of 5% and this is quite low.

8. 18% of rape victims are under age 11.

9. There are some rape-free societies.

Most of these are irrelevant. None is anywhere near strong enough to defeat the evolutionary theories.

Consider 1. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker claim that evolutionary explanations reduce men to “biological destiny.” It is not clear what they mean here, but they probably mean that evolutionary theories entail that if men act on genetically induced desires then they are not morally responsible for what they do. This is a mistake. From the fact that a desire is in part the result of genetic factors, it does not follow that a person has no control over whether to act on it. A man can still reason with regard to whether to act on the desire. For example, if I desire to eat my neighbor’s freshly grilled steak and this desire is part innate, it does not follow that I am compelled to eat it.

Consider 2. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker argue that if, as evolutionary theory asserts, a man’s desire (or propensity) is hard-wired into him then he is helpless to act on it. This is a mistake for the reason mentioned above. How could a large flock of faculty and staff make such an obvious error?

Consider 3. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker claim that contrary to the evolutionary theory, rape usually, if not always, leads to gratuitous injuries because it leads to psychological injuries. The proponent of an evolutionary theory of rape would predict that rapists would in general avoid injuring their victims in ways that would prevent them from conceiving and bearing a child. Gratuitous is thus understood in terms of physical injuries that are not needed to carry out the rape or a direct result of it. Psychological harm is irrelevant to the theories because it is a direct result of the rape. The evidence here is striking. According to Center for Policy Research members Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, only 5% of rape victims are severely physically injured. Remember the data are being used here to explain how a behavior came about, not whether it is bad, wrong, or harmful.

Consider 4. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker claim that in many cases, rapists do not inflict gratuitous harm because they do not use or carry weapons that would inflict severe injury. Leave aside whether this claim is consistent with the previous one. On their account, attackers who can generate enough force to invade a woman’s body can’t generate enough force to pile on additional severe physical injury (for example, by repeatedly striking them). What?

Consider 5. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker argue that because some rapists use objects to violate women and sometimes they use a condom, rape has nothing to do with reproduction or evolution. First, as Steven Pinker points out, this is true of only a minority of rapes and so it is consistent with the evolutionary theory that most rapes involve reproduction-related acts. Second, Pinker points out, some voluntary sex involves objects and condom use. It doesn’t follow that voluntary sex is unrelated to sex, reproduction, and evolution. If this is true for voluntary sex, then it is true for coerced sex.

Consider 6. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker claim that rapists indicate that they are motivated by sexual desire and not reproduction and that both motivations would apply if evolutionary theory were true. The two assume that evolution never increases reproductive fitness by producing a desire to have sex unconnected to a desire to reproduce. This misunderstands evolution. If a desire leads to increased reproductive success then evolution selects for it, regardless if the organism intends to reproduce. This is true of sexual desire.

Consider 7. The two professors claim that if rape has a 5% rate of conception, this is too low to affect evolution. Again they are wrong. If over millions of years an adaptation increases reproductive success by 5%, this will likely have evolutionary effects.

Consider 8. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker observe that many rapists target girls who are not yet fertile and they claim this weighs against the evolutionary explanation. First, if Thornhill is right, then the majority of rape-victims are fertile. At most the pair’s observation shows that some rapes will have little reproductive success, perhaps because the desire is not sufficiently focused. This is a long way off from showing that over millions of years of evolution on the African plains rape was a losing reproductive strategy. On the first model, it might be that the desire is not a sharply focused one. On the third model, raping pre-fertile girls might be a way of controlling them when they do become fertile. The evolutionary models are thus consistent with this observation.

Consider 9. Johnston-Robledo and McVicker assert that there are rape-free cultures and that this is not what the evolutionary model predicts. They likely have in mind claims by researchers like University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Peggy Sanday who report that 47% of societies are rape-free. But as University of New Mexico anthropologist Melissa Emery Thompson points out, the studies that were not focused on sexual issues, varied substantially in length, and often rested on rape-reports. Because rape is frequently hidden from researchers, especially ones not focused on sexual matters, and because rape is often not reported, the support for there being such rape-free societies is weak. Even if it weren’t weak, many genetically-linked behaviors (for example, homosexuality and aggression) are not expressed in all people and all places. In some cases, this is because environmental factors block the expression of some genes.

We’ve considered the professors’ nine objections. Seven were irrelevant and several involved obvious mistakes. The last two are relevant, but are not strong criticisms of either the broader or narrower theories. There are serious criticisms of both, but such criticisms involve a reexamination of Thornhill’s and other scholars’ data and a discussion of the different types of rape (for example, stranger versus acquaintance rape). None of this showed up in Johnston-Robledo and McVicker’s objections. They simply didn’t do their homework. Mindless adherence to feminist ideology is a poor substitute for rigorous scientific thought.


The Objectivist said...

Here is the site that contains the Women's Studies professors' letter.


The Objectivist said...

It is funny that thirty faculty and staff signed onto to the criticism. How could so many people have made such obvious errors (e.g., x is natural, hence x is morally permissible)?

So blinded by the need to defend feminist ideology, that any criticism, no matter how crazy, was worth signing on to.

The Objectivist said...

The names of the thirty who signed on haven't been released to the public or to me.

It is unclear whether this is due to the Observer not printing them or the fears of the thirty.

After all, saftey in numbers, but even more safety in anonymity.

Levi said...

On issue #7, you claimed that if rape causes a 5% increase in reproductive success, then adaptations favoring rape will be selected for in the long-term. Shouldn't you say "if rape causes an increase in reproductive success in excess of its costs, then adaptations favoring rape will be selected for in the long-term"? Just because a sex act has a 5% chance of knocking the woman up, doesn't mean that there's a 5% increase in reproductive success.

Other than that, the rest of the issues the authors raise are typical examples of irrational objections to controversial issues.

dankprofessor said...

Unless the names of the petition signers are listed
said petition becomes meaningless. One could say 20 or 30 or 50 signed, no matter; without names any number is valid as any other number. Of course, even with the signers named,the petition is absurd.
Petitions of this sort substitute for individual critical analysis. They have no place in academia.

Scott said...

I'm offended that there isn't a 'Men's Studies Department' at SUNY Fredonia. I think that's where the real issue is. These sexist Women's Studies profs should be championing for more equality to strengthen the debate. What good is one half of the story?

Aside from the above point, do these professors just totally disregard evolutionary theory? Maybe if they spent more time reading books by Dawkins they could grasp some of the points you've made. Keep on keeping on Steve, you have my support.

The Objectivist said...

Thank you for the comments.

Johnston-Robledo and McVicker's comments were apparently signed only by women and ones who were solicited on the Council of Women's Concerns (CWC) discussion site which is solely for Fredonia women faculty and staff.

This website allowed women faculty and staff to discuss it without having their comments and criticisms seen by male faculty and staff.

Were someone to try to form a Council for Men's Concerns, you can bet the shit would hit the fan.

There have also been inquiries into whether I should continue to be the grievance officer for faculty at Fredonia. From what I have been told, this request was made by some faculty or staff and also by a Vice President at Fredonia.

Apparently, intellectual disagreements are to be settled by power plays.

John said...

its funny.....over here we all associate Robert Burns with the month of January when we all go a bit silly at Suppers (formal and otherwise) where much drink is taken and food wolfed down.

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