The rape issue - Part 4

Bonobos make love, don't rape. Photo: Zanna Clay   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

(This is the concluding part of the four part series)

If viewed through the prism of evolutionary biology, the need to dominate women and seeking sexual gratification may be the main causes of rape. Different kinds of rape would have varying degrees of interplay between sex and power.

There are many ways to dominate others, but sex is used precisely because it is the thing being controlled. In sons-inherit-wealth societies, fathers want to be certain of paternity. So they use threats and violence, family honour and chastity to control women’s sexual behaviour.

How do such societies ensure women fall in line? By dangling the threat of rape. Men become self-appointed upholders of morals who can do no wrong, and women are like wayward cattle who have to be corralled, fenced, and watched over. Many rules govern women’s lives, and the punishment for independence is rape. Some non-human primates control female sexuality too, but comparatively, men in these repressive societies are extreme control freaks. And such societies usually blame the victim for the crime: she was dressed provocatively, she was drinking, she was out at night, she was asking for it. Sounds familiar?

Our close relative orangutans differ from us in one fundamental way: The males don’t injure females. Among ducks, several drakes may pile up on a hen in a frenzy of mating, and drown her. Dolphins were in the news recently for saving a dog from drowning. But, male bottlenose dolphins are also known to form gangs that violently harass a female, sometimes killing her. It’s hard to tell if these animals derive pleasure from causing harm, but it seems more likely these cases of drowning are accidents. So Amitabh Bachchan may be right; there’s no conclusive evidence that animals, other than humans, are sadistic.

Men also control sexual access through physical assault, which male chimpanzees are suspected of doing. According to the last National Family Health Survey of 2009, 51 per cent of Indian men, and distressingly, 54 per cent women, thought wife-beating was justified under “some circumstances”. Excuses for domestic violence not only include infidelity, but disrespect of in-laws, “neglect of home and children”, leaving the house without the husband’s knowledge, arguing with the husband, and not cooking well. Societies with such sexist attitudes, according to educationist Laurie Bechhofer and psychologist Andrea Parrot, tolerate rape. Children of domestically violent households absorb the sexist attitudes of their parents, and the cycle is repeated in the next generation.

What is it about those particular environments that produce these terrible psyches?

Peggy Sanday explains rape occurs when men become the primary breadwinners of their families in cultures faced with food shortages. They have to compete with other men for diminishing resources, and violence becomes a way of proving their manhood. To such men who are struggling to gain control of their environment, women are no more than objects to be manipulated. She concludes, “Where men are in harmony with their environment, rape is usually absent.”

Would warrior tribes such as the Iroquois and Apache who raided rival tribal encampments qualify as being in “harmony with their environment”? While I don’t know the answer, I find it intriguing that these tribes respect women as much as the matriarchal Islamic society of Minangkabau.

To sum up this complex story, biologically, men are geared to spread their seed around and can use their larger size and strength to advantage. If it were purely a function of biology, the “I couldn’t help myself” kind, rape ought to be more prevalent across cultures. But, instead, it appears to be more common in societies that denigrate women.

Biology merely provides men with the tools, but culture determines how they use them.

(I drew extensively from the writings of feminist philosopher Griet Vandermassen, anthropologist Melissa Emery Thompson, and women’s studies scholar Barbara Watson, though they are not mentioned by name in the article)

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 4:31:37 PM |

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