Friday, January 10, 2014

A controversial view on rape by male and female scientists on both sides

I'm probably going to get slammed for even throwing this out there, but I've never been one shy to controversy.  I think we, humans, need to be extra cautious against groupthink and the "Concorde Fallacy" (in reference to Game Theory).  This article, appearing in The New York Times (to be referred to as NYT), discusses the debate between evolutionary scientists that male sexuality, not power and violence (or at least not entirely), is responsible for rape.  Even though this article is from 2000, I wanted to bring it up, because it seems to me that it relates to other topics I am composing for another blog post (soon to come) on the role of testosterone in dominance in men and women (from a 2012 article).  This particular post also draws from other more recent articles on the internet. I personally think rape is a bit of both sexuality and power and violence.  In fact, according to the NYT article, Susan Brownmiller (author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape), Brownmiller states that: "Feminists never said that rape had nothing to do with sex."

Further, Dr. Randy Thornhill and Dr. Craig T. Palmer, the "bad guys" who wrote the book, "A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Social Coercion," state that the way women dress "can put them at risk."  I guess I'm also a bad person because I tend to think that dress has sexual meanings for both males and females or those outside the gender binary.  Who hasn't heard of the saying that men in suits are sexy?  I think we are lying to ourselves if we say that dress has absolutely nothing to do with enticing others sexually. (But, as the CNN article below points out, men's brains connect this information to specific brain sites, not occurring in women's brains). As this blog, "The Lingerie Lesbian" writes about dress:

"What is a man in a suit? He is dressed for a formal occasion; his clothing is associated with money, class and business. In society, a man in a suit is powerful and a decision maker: if you look at the President, the members of Congress or Fortune 500 CEOs, you will likely seem them in suits. It’s also attire you wear in public, signaling that you are someone who is deserves respect. It’s impossible, then, to separate the sex appeal of suits mentioned in this meme from the connotation of power and formality." - from "The Lingerie Lesbian" - Men in Suits, Women in Lingerie: The Power Dynamics of Lingerie and Gender. 

Also, I think this article from also contributes to this discussion: "Men see bikini-clad women as objects, psychologists say."  In the article, it is written:

"New research shows that, in men, the brain areas associated with handling tools and the intention to perform actions light up when viewing images of women in bikinis."

"Although consistent with conventional wisdom, the way that men may depersonalize sexual images of women is not entirely something they control. In fact, it's a byproduct of human evolution, experts say. The first male humans had an incentive to seek fertile women as the means of spreading their genes.

"'They're not fully conscious responses, and so people don't know the extent to which they're being influenced," Fiske said. "It's important to recognize the effects.'"

Although you might be thinking these are just misogynistic excuses created by men, it is noteworthy to point out that both this article, and the study conducted at Princeton University, were by women.

Returning to the main topic, and in consideration of these 2 other sources (which are a mere sampling of studies and views bearing significance on this subject), I really don't think one can easily quantify male rape of women as fully "this" or fully "that."  I think people tend to react harshly to deterministic "explanations" of rape because they view it as "irresponsible" (in the NYT article), and as "giving permission" for an unquestionably atrocious crime against another person.

But, if we are to really examine and create efficacious interventions to stop men from raping, I think this controversy is also unquestionably valuable.



Angel M. Macedon said...

The problem with this theories perspective. It assumes that rape is a behavior that only or primarily men engage. This is,of course, not even close to being true. Therefore, this theory is limited in its scope and inherently biased against men. Rape happens at nearly identical rates amongst lesbians, hetereos, bisexuals, trans and gay men. That being the case, any discussion that hopes to explain why rape happens should include all rape.

Beth Comer said...

That's a really good point. In fact, I would even add that another important topic is how society discourages and stigmatizes men in reporting rape perpetrated by women or other men (or other genders). In another article from Psychology Today, estradiol (an estrogen hormone) and varying levels of testosterone in women, are also linked to sexual aggressiveness. I would imagine that while the main article given in the blog post was about men (and particularly directed toward popular thought), it does not present its case at the exclusion of other research into rape in other populations. Here is the link to the article about "Sex Hormones and Womanly Passions"