- Series: Bradford Books
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (January 18, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262201259
- ISBN-13: 978-0262201254
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 71 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion 1st Edition
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Evolutionary psychology often stomps where other branches of science fear to tread. Case in point: A Natural History of Rape. Randy Thornhill, a biologist, and Craig T. Palmer, an anthropologist, have attempted to apply evolutionary principles to one of the most disgusting of human behaviors, and the result is a guaranteed storm of media hype and debate. The book's central argument is that rape is a genetically developed strategy sustained over generations of human life because it is a kind of sexual selection--a successful reproductive strategy. This runs directly counter to the prevailing notion--that rape is predominantly about violent power, and only secondarily about sex.
The authors base their argument partly on statistics showing that in the United States, most rape victims are of childbearing age. But disturbingly large numbers of rapes of children, elderly women, and other men are never adequately explained. And the actual reproductive success of rape is not clear. Thornhill and Palmer's biological interpretation is just that--an interpretation, one that won't withstand tough scientific scrutiny. They further claim that the mental trauma of rape is greater for women of childbearing age (especially married women) than it is for elderly women or children. The data supporting these assertions come from a single psychological study, done by Thornhill in the 1970s, that mixes first-person interviews with caretaker's interpretations of children's reactions.
While Thornhill and Palmer claim that they are trying to look objectively at the root causes of rape, they focus almost entirely on data that support their thesis, forcing them to write an evolutionary "just-so" story. The central problem is evident in this quote, from the chapter "The Pain and Anguish of Rape":
We feel that the woman's perspective on rape can be best understood by considering the negative influences of rape on female reproductive success.... It is also highly possible that selection favored the outward manifestations of psychological pain because it communicated the female's strong negative attitude about the rapist to her husband and/or her relatives.
Women are disturbed by rape mostly because they are worried about what their husbands might think? In statements like this, the authors repeatedly discount the psychological aspects of rape, such as fear, humiliation, loss of autonomy, and powerlessness, and focus solely on personal shame.
A Natural History of Rape will no doubt have people talking about rape and its causes, and perhaps thinking about real ways of preventing it. In fact, the authors suggest that all young men be educated frankly about their (theoretical) genetic desire to rape. And it reopens the debate about the role of sex in rape. But without more and better data supporting their conclusions, Thornhill and Palmer are doing the very thing they criticize feminists and social scientists of doing: just talking. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
Can we get rid of rape? If not, how can we reduce it? Biologist Thornhill (University of New Mexico) and anthropologist Palmer (University of Colorado) contend in this already highly controversial book that prevailing explanations of why men rape and how we can prevent them rely on wrong, dangerous and outmoded dogma. The right explanations for rape, they contend, as for all other human behavior, rely on Darwinian models of natural selection. Rapists want sex, they say. Rape, or the drive to rape, is an adaptation: some of our ancestors increased their reproductive success by mating with unwilling partners, and the brain-wiring that led them to do so got passed on to their male descendants. Women, meanwhile, have evolved adaptations against rape, and against getting pregnant if they are raped. What we call rape happens in most if not all cultures; nonhuman primates rape, too. Among the policy consequences if Thornhill and Palmer are to be believed: teenage boys should be educated to acknowledge and control their lust, and young women should show less skin and be chaperoned more. Using surveys of rapists and victims, and analogies from the animal kingdom, the authors make provocative claims about specific motives for rape, specific reactions to it and ways to test their hypotheses. One study suggests that young women become more risk-averse "in the follicular (fertile) phase of their menstrual cycles"--unless they are taking birth-control pills, in which case menstrual phase and risk-aversion won't correlate. This suggests a real anti-rape adaptation. But Thornhill also claims his own research has shown that rape victims of reproductive age (12-45) feel worse afterward than older and younger victims. One wonders how he measured young girls' or older women's pain. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Rape is about sex. Power may or may not play a role. Males are physically larger and more aggressive by virtue of the traits of our species. Humans are animals and primates. One of the traits which separates us from other animals is the ability to discern moral maxims, and rape is clearly a crime against humanity. But that doesn't mean it's not instinctively lurking in the evolutionary shadows of men's brains.
I do not believe that there is much scientists or anthropologists can say about a human nature: but they can say that men enjoy forming groups of men to go and kill 'outsiders' (however they may be so designated) (aka "war"); that many youngish men don't mind raping women, and in fact studies have shown that many men are turned on by depictions of rape in movies, magazines, etc; that most men are turned on by lesbian sex, and most women are NOT generally turned on by homosexual sex (i.e., men-on-men); and, finally that people like to congregate in coastal areas to consume cheap alchololic beverages when they have spare time (aka "vacation"). That's about all that can be said about a 'human nature.'
Let me end by noting that even if rape is a reproductive strategy for the lowest of the low- who have no other chance to mate- well, it is a very very UNSUCCESSFUL strategy when compared to normal one of picking up some tramp in a bar; or say, meeting a women around town and having an actual relationship with her, or meeting a girl in HS or college perhaps. Whatever the case may be, rape is seldom successful in impregnating women, that's why most men don't do it! In one behavioral ecology study, if I recall correctly, a study on scorpion flies, it was observed that out of 74 scorpion fly 'rapes', or matings that appeared to be forced, only 2 resulted in female scorpion flies being successfully impregnated! Dung flies also engage some brutal tactics, every bit as brutal as some scumbag beating a women or drugging her drink at a bar or something.
I by no means intend this review to be comprehensive, but only to convey the fact that there is some substance to Thornhill and Palmer's claims, but they do a poor poor job for making their case. All in all, I wouldn't recommend buying this book, buy Ghiglieri's instead and read Alcock's The Triumph of Sociobiology to get an overall better feel for Thornhill and Palmer's argument. Finally, however, I believe that one thing that helps us humans out is that we can actually critically evaluate our thoughts and actions: if somebody says, "I couldn't help raping so-and-so, (or maybe just 'random woman')," then I would simply reply: "Take some bloody responsibilty for your actions, of course you could help yourself!" A dung fly may not be able to decide, based on complex cognitive functions, to not rape a female dung fly, but a man can certainly decide not to rape a woman.