Rape may well be natural. So what?



THERE’S really only one question to be asked about the “new” theory from a pair of American researchers that men are genetically programmed to rape. And that is: So?Appalled feminists are arguing that the theory can’t be right. But even if it is right, what would that change? Little, I suspect.

It might further bruise the self-esteem of our sons, struggling to learn what decent manhood is about. It might complicate gender relationships that little bit more. It might even lead to the occasional desperate plea by an American lawyer trying to defend the indefensible in a fraught rape trial.

But it won’t change the way society deals with the problem.

The two scientists are biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig Palmer. They have used observations of the scorpion fly to argue that rape is a natural and biological product of man’s evolutionary need to reproduce, as much a part of life as thunderstorms and epidemics. They say men will rape whenever their capacity to reproduce is thwarted.

It’s a wonder women are game to leave the house, really.

That’s the first reason not to be alarmed by their claims. Most men do not rape, so any link between their evolutionary make-up and their behavior in this regard must be less than overpowering.

The second reason the theory should not be feared, even if it turns out to have some validity, is that there is already a proved statistical association between maleness and other forms of violence that could be used to argue that men are genetically
more predisposed than women to aggression. But it’s not considered an excuse.

Most violent crime, from assault to murder, is committed by men on other men. The only difference with rape is that it is more often a violent crime committed by men on women and children. Studies have found that men convicted of violent crimes tend to have higher testosterone levels than non-violent offenders and non-offenders.

Having this “Ychromosome disability” is no defence to drunken pub brawls or domestic murders. Even if it were proved that males carry a genetic predisposition to general violence (as opposed to being conditioned by social experiences), it would not earn offenders freedom from arrest for their assaults, or lighter sentences for their crimes. So why would a built-in predisposition to rape get offenders off the hook for sexual violence?

The fact that some species of spider have been known to eat their young could theoretically be linked to depressed mothers who suffocate their babies. Infanticide could be interpreted as an evolutionary mechanism; the mother kills her child to preserve herself, in the face of what she sees as a threat to her mental wellbeing, in order to live to have more offspring later.

Would that defence save a murderous mother? Not on your life. Human adults are expected to be moral beings.

Rape is a “natural” phenomenon, in that it occurs in nature. A recent television documentary on dolphins, those New Age symbols of all that is beautiful and good, had chilling footage of a gang of young males pack-raping a young female. They worked as a group to separate her from her pod and then forced themselves on her, despite her desperate attempts to escape.

But it’s important to differentiate between what is “natural” and what is normal and healthy.

Studies of rats suggest that rape becomes common in rodent communities only as normal social mores break down under pressures such as overcrowding. Young bull elephants tend to become rogues only when the herd has lost the presence or authority of older bulls, who would normally keep the lads in line.

So even with animals further down the evolutionary tree than man, social factors play a part in an individual’s aggressive behavior.

Evolutionists such as Thornhill and Palmer fail to take social factors into account. They’re so mired in biological determinism that they interpret all findings in light of that one theory.

Evolutionists also pay no mind to the mind. But human consciousness makes for a difference between blokes and scorpion flies that will always leave men culpable for rape, no matter what geneticists might one day find under the microscope.

Human beings, unlike the scorpion fly, have emotions (so that the female of the species suffers during rape) and have rational insight into their behavior (so that the male of the species is able to detect another’s distress and make a decision as to
whether to proceed despite it).

Our legal systems are based on the understanding that this ability to think makes us responsible for our actions, no matter what our animal instincts dictate.

Perhaps evolution has left maleness associated with rape impulses. While that would be sad for both sexes, it doesn’t seem like news. But neither is it news that humans can analyse their impulses and choose which ones to act on. That includes the impulse in some to exploit the furphy that all men are beasts.

First published in The Age.