Books: Inconceivable Conclusions ; Joan Smith Takes Issue with a Pair of Darwinian Zealots Who Call Women "Egg-Bearers" and Think Flirtatious Clothes Lead Men to Rape; A Natural History of Rape by Randy Thornhill and Craig T Palmer MIT PRESS Pounds 17.95
Smith, Joan, The Independent (London, England)
Why don't women enjoy rape? Because they're less likely to get pregnant if they don't have orgasms, according to the authors of this new book subtitled, Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. "It is conceivable" - not the most fortunate choice of words - "that some aspects of women's capacity for orgasm evolved in the context of reducing the fertilising capacity of rapists' ejaculates," they say. And if you still think it's because women don't like being held at knifepoint, forced to have sex against their will and exposed to a variety of unpleasant diseases - well, how old-fashioned can you get? Guys, it's time to Darwinise!
Like all converts, Randy Thornhill and Craig T Palmer can't understand why the rest of us don't get it. They cannot see why other people - most notably, the distinguished evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould - refuse to accept that Darwinian theory, as updated by themselves, explains life, the universe and everything, including rape. Palmer, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, "is viewed as a bit unusual by his colleagues for being interested in the evolution of human behaviour". Thornhill, professor of biology at the University of New Mexico, "also encounters criticism from some members of his biology department".
Why? Because people stubbornly refuse to accept the brilliantly simple idea at the heart of evolutionary biology or its fashionable alter ago, evolutionary psychology. It's sex, stupid! That's why men rape and women resist, each of them intent upon maximising their reproductive success. Women are programmed to put up a fight because rape interferes with their mate choice, and may lead to the loss of their current partner and his "parental investment" in existing children. Men are either directly programmed to rape as a way of distributing their sperm as widely as possible, or rape is simply a side-effect of pursuing casual sex. Things get tricky at this point, because Thornhill and Palmer themselves disagree as to which is the more likely explanation.
Their claim, though, is that rape is an outcome of the way male sexuality has developed - a thesis which comes close to the old radical feminist claim that all men are (potential) rapists. Not that the authors believe that rape is inevitable or a good thing, thank God, but they are very cross indeed with feminists, social scientists and anybody else who thinks rape is about power, domination and degradation. They claim that "rapists rarely engage in gratuitous violence", defined as "expending energy beyond what is required to subdue or control the victim." Tell that to a woman who finds herself verbally abused and half-strangled even when she's given up struggling.
Nor do rapists, as a rule, inflict injuries that threaten the victim's survival - the point being to fertilise those precious ova - or that might enrage her relatives into a revenge attack. …