Mais non! Evolution has Nothing to do with Sexual Violence Against Women.

Last week, with a great deal of hesitation, I wrote a small emotional post about some social concerns of mine, a kind of post that I usually keep reserved for a different blog. I did not think that there would be any further occasion for me to revisit the contents of that post in Scilogs. Lo and behold! This morning greeted me with an essay from a fellow Scilogs blogger, Danny Haelewaters, a veterinarian and PhD student at Harvard. The title of the essay was rather intriguing and bit shocking to me, “Evolutionary history has led us to today’s rapes“, and so I dove right in.

What I read outraged me. I left the following comment:

I condemn this essay, well-written as it is, in the strongest possible terms. Putting an evolutionary slant to this heinous crime and talking in terms of sexual activities completely misses the point that rape has nothing to do with sex. Rape is not a sexual phenomenon; rape is an ultimate act of subjugation, an act of display of power and ultimate control, and a act of the ultimate perversion in which a pleasurable act is forcibly converted to one of violence and abuse.

Biological evolution has done nothing to bring humanity to this sorry state of affairs, and to say so is to distract from the real culprit, a vile culture of misogyny and patriarchy, often sanctioned, aided and abetted actively by various religions and religious traditions – a culture that teaches young males that women are not equal human beings endowed with equal human rights, that women are playthings, that women are chattel or property to be used, abused, bought, sold or given away as and when desired by the males. THIS, and only this, is the reason behind the terrible and horrific tragedy of those Burundi women, and the women in India that this essay mentions.

I understand that this essay seeks to find some answers to the seemingly unrelenting spate of rapes and violent sexual abuse against women erupting all over the world, as we are all. But burdening the evolutionary process with the responsibility is not that answer.

Others, in the comments, have done a better job than I did driven by my outrage. For example, David Marjanović, a paleontologist by profession, has capably eviscerated many of the non-arguments made in the essay, including touching upon the punitive aspects of rape, i.e. sexual violence perpetrated upon victims as punishment. User Dhorvath has driven home another important point:

Men rape women because they can, because they are raised to think they deserve sex, and because they are raised to see women, family, friend, or stranger, as a means to that end.

Which, of course, speaks broadly to what I said above – the reason male privilege extends to forcing non-consenting individuals for gratification of sexual desire is because the prevalent social customs and traditions effectively conditions males to consider women as objects. Change, for it to be effective, must be brought at the root – the mindset, by denouncing anachronistic social customs and religious traditions, and training men to get rid of the centuries-old social conditioning that breeds disrespect for women in them.

10 Comments

  1. I think the difference between few of the comments on my post and the post “Has evolutionary history led us to today’s rapes?” itself is that I’m trying to search for an evolutionary perspective: how has our behavior evolved? I’m not giving an answer on the question why rapes happen today, this is another issue. I’m suggestion a possible reason for how male aggression, and, along with this, rapes against women, may have evolved.

    So, are you proposing that rape only occurs in agricultural/sedentary societies that live in larger gatherings than clans?

    No. I’m not suggesting that the life of our nomadic ancestors was a happy one, with only love and caring for each other. What I’m saying is that selection only actively favored male aggressive behavior from the moment we started living in settlements, because of the reasons discussed in my post.

    Why, then, is acquaintance rape much more common than stranger rape? And is there any evidence that rapists have, or have ever had, above-average repoductive success?

    I think this is another issue. You’re talking about rapes today, I’m talking about our evolutionary history. As the paragraphs above in this comment, I think these are two different cases to be discussed.

    Alas, that’s demonstrably untrue. Chimpanzees wage wars just like humans – never mind the fact that war is by no means unknown among human hunter-gatherers.

    All true, but, again, I’m not saying that Chimpanzees or our nomadic ancestors didn’t fight wars. As far as I can see, however, there was at that time no selection for male aggression.

    The point I want to make with this post is this one, and I think all can agree with that:

    The wild environment in which we belong according to our genetic makeup is gone. Both our environment and culture have altered in such a substantial way that our behavior is no longer appropriate.


    Lastly, I’m Bachelor in Veterinary Medicine, but I have a Master’s degree in Biology (having had strong evolutionary oriented coursework). The post I wrote is based upon both this coursework and scientific papers.

  2. I am disappointed in the way this science blog is used. The author of the original article with a rather sensitive topic only did one attempt to look for a scientific base for a behavior that is absolutely not tolerable. Many comments on this come without any reference to scientific evidence, while the original blog post at least provides us with a handful of references for further reading.

    Science should be there to understand things better. We are not served by not knowing things. Therefore, any science should be used to investigate global society problems. Whether psychology, sociology or biology, they could all find answers about driving forces for any behavior. At least the author has been brave to give it a try. As policies are based on scientific data, theories and concepts, science is needed to create a better world. Without scientists like him, no single policy would be set up and terrible behaviors like rape would keep on existing. Please.

    • Kausik Datta

      January 22, 2013 at 1:13 am

      Sarah, you are right to ask for evidence for any of our assertions. However, please understand that my post was written in response to another essay which dealt with – as you, too, have observed – a rather sensitive topic. I was, and am, questioning Danny’s premises for the assertions, as well as his interpretations. Rest assured, that when a reference is asked for, a reference will be provided. Meanwhile, if there is any specific evidence or data-support you are looking for, please let me know. This blog is slightly different from a scientific paper; it, rather, is a forum for discussion.

      • If it is a forum for discussion, then why are my comments unanswered?

        You write that:

        David Marjanović, a paleontologist by profession, has capably eviscerated many of the non-arguments made in the essay […]

        … which is not true, as I refuted his quotes or suggestions. [I appreciate his thoughts and comments though!]

        There are huge numbers of rapes, all over the world. Why shouldn’t we try to understand this behavior, which is obviously wrong and intolerable? In the United Kingdom 230 women per day are raped. In Belgium 7 women per day are raped. I can go on counting the numbers for “developed” countries as well as for “developing” countries that may or might have cultural issues/traditions. Is it a cultural thing? Maybe for some part, but the, does this cultural thing haven’t got an evolutionary background?

        According to me – and the papers and books I’ve read – it has.

        • Kausik Datta

          January 22, 2013 at 7:50 pm

          Danny, I see that David has already answered your charge of ‘non-answer’. Since none of us are glued to our blog pages and the readership spans several time zones, it is not unusual for a short delay to occur before one’s questions and comments, however pertinent, are answered. We have to be patient. 😀

          Why shouldn’t we try to understand this behavior, which is obviously wrong and intolerable?

          Absolutely, Danny. We must try to understand this behavior. I didn’t question your motivation: if you read the last paragraph of my response to your post on your blog, it should be abundantly clear. The only idea that I object to is your proposition that “evolutionary history has led us to today’s rapes“. That was your proposition, wasn’t it? And my contention was that evolutionary history has nothing to do with what I see as a culture/tradition issue. You seem to agree (not something you mentioned in your blog post, though); in your comments above, you grudgingly accept:

          …the numbers for “developed” countries as well as for “developing” countries that may or might have cultural issues/traditions. Is it a cultural thing? Maybe for some part, but the, does this cultural thing haven’t got an evolutionary background?

          As you say, the cultural thing may have an evolutionary background (although I don’t suppose that biological evolution has anything to do with it, and you didn’t seem to specify), but that assertion needs solid evidence supporting it – wouldn’t you agree? I am not doubting your scholarship, not at all. I simply want to see the evidence in favor of your assertion. Is that acceptable?

  3. M Kabir az-Zubair

    January 22, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I commend Danny for his efforts, even if I may not agree with some of his assumptions and assertions. The onus of providing references, even in a discussion, is on Kausik. His comments are simply emotional rants on his views on rape. No religion to my knowledge support or encourages rape; so to castigate patriarchy and religion as promoting rapes is nonsense. There are serial murderers; is it wrong to attempt an evolutionary explanation as to why vile human behaviours might have emerged? Looking for a possible cause of an action isn’t the same as condoning the action. Kausik needs to separate the two.

    • Kausik Datta

      January 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      The onus of providing references, even in a discussion, is on Kausik.

      Why exactly do you suppose that? What makes my position special, so as to attract the onus of providing references solely on my shoulder? That said, references are capital ideas, and as I mentioned to another commentor, I never said I would not. I simply wanted to know from the said commentor, which points needed clarification in hir opinion.

      His comments are simply emotional rants on his views on rape.

      If you read the very first line of my post, I have clearly mentioned the emotional connection I have with this issue. Are you questioning this? If you have a specific problem with what you derisively call my ‘rants’, please indicate so, and I shall answer your charges. I see you have mentioned one already.

      No religion to my knowledge support or encourages rape; so to castigate patriarchy and religion as promoting rapes is nonsense.

      Before I go there, please allow me to warn you beforehand. Scilogs is my professional blog and here I generally avoid talking about religion, except as directly impinges upon science, via some peer-reviewed study. But in order to refute your statement above, I am perfectly able to quote Scripture, chapter and verse, as well as refer to treatises of various theologies to demonstrate instances of misogyny and roots of misogynistic traditions therein. Would you be able to handle all that? A simple yes or no would suffice. Please let me know.

      …is it wrong to attempt an evolutionary explanation as to why vile human behaviours might have emerged? Looking for a possible cause of an action isn’t the same as condoning the action.

      Now you are advancing a typical Strawman Argument. Please read what I wrote carefully. I did not (a) castigate any attempt to find an explanation for vile human behavior, or (b) conflate the search for cause with the exculpation of the action. I have objected to specifically one thing: the characterization of evolution as responsible for rapes of today. I haven’t seen evidence for it on Danny’s blog.

  4. David Marjanović

    January 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    If it is a forum for discussion, then why are my comments unanswered?

    What, did you just seriously complain that I didn’t come back within 12 hours? 🙂 I’m on Central European Time.

    I’ve replied on the original thread.

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