Fertility, fertility, peak-attractiveness, blah blah blah

A new bullshit evolutionary psychology study supposedly shows that women only use “sexy” walks when they are not ovulating.

Women give a wide variety of subtle signals to men to advertise the fact that they are ready to conceive and Meghan Provost, the lead researcher, had expected a “sexy”, hip-swinging walk to be one of those.

She analysed the gait of female volunteers, showed video clips to 40 men, asking them to rate the attractiveness of the way the women walked, and then matched the results to the hormone tests.

She said the results, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, were so surprising that she had repeated the experiment again with another group of male viewers.

The women who were most fertile at the time of the experiment walked with fewer hip movements and with their knees closer together.

She now thinks the findings tally with other research suggesting that women want to conceal their ovulation from males other than their chosen partner.

Yeah, okay. Standard evolutionary psychology crap. I mean, this is one of those things that I find to be so irrelevant that I don’t even really care if it’s true. I do have to say that I find it hilarious that evolutionary psychologists are so essentialist that they think what men determine to be a “sexy” walk is hardwired into their brains, and not created through a lifetime of cultural indoctrination. I find it similarly amusing that everything always comes down to “peak fertility” for evolutionary psychologists, when so many women are on hormonal birth control. It always seems to me that they’re suggesting that controlling your ovulation makes you an unattractive slag. Oh, and there are some pretty sexist comments at the end of the article about how women have naturally evolved to trick men into monogamy. But, like I said, that’s all fairly standard evolutionary psychology babble. Nothing to get upset about.

Then I read this line and did a double-take so hard that I nearly snapped my neck:

A sexy walk would be too obvious, so women are thought to use changes in smell and facial expressions that can be experienced only at close range.

Ms Provost said: “If women are trying to protect themselves from sexual assault at times of peak fertility, it would make sense for them to advertise attractiveness on a broad scale when they are not fertile.”

What. The. Fuck.

. . .

There are so many outrageous suggestions in this single sentence that I hardly know where to begin.

Provost suggests here that what women are trying to avoid are not unwanted sexual advances, or an unmanageable bevy of potential male suitors, or even a desire to stay monogamous — all of which I would believe to be crap, but would at least be a reasonable conclusion to reach based off of the findings of this “study.” But instead she references a desire to avoid sexual assault. You know — rape.

The implication that rape is about sexual desire is horrifying enough. As is the suggestion that women can somehow prevent sexual assault by how they behave.

But it seems to me that if one believes that a woman can and does avoid sexual assault by walking conservatively, and does it purposely (albeit subconsciously) when she is ovulating to avoid sexual assault during those specific periods, she must be inviting rape when she walks “sexily” during her non-fertile periods. I mean, the suggestion here is that she is purposely tricking men by advertising her “attractiveness,” which is actually suitability for rape in Provost’s terms, when she is not ovulating. She is accepting that men are naturally going to try to rape her, and giving them the most opportunity to do so when she probably won’t conceive. You know, minimizing the damage.

And the more horrendous thing about all of this misogynist psycho-babble is that, in this world-view, women don’t even have conscious control over whether or not they “invite” sexual assault. After all, evolutionary psychologists believe these behaviors are subconscious, and it’s true that most women don’t know when they’re ovulating. It’s also particularly ironic, since evolutionary psychologists also regularly claim that men rape to try to produce offspring.

Which means, ladies, in evolutionary psychologist terms, that you’re going to be raped. When this happens, it will be your own fault — either because you weren’t ovulating, and therefore subconsciously decided that rape wouldn’t really be all that bad, or because you were ovulating and therefore giving rapists more “biological” reasons to rape you. And clearly, it also wouldn’t really be the rapist’s fault, since your body was unknowingly presenting itself as a rape object.

The good news, though, is that we get to fill in quite a few squares on our evolutionary psychologist bingo cardat least two, including the square referenced in the title, and quite possibly up to four more, depending on how rigid your requirements are. But most depressing of all, Provost is actually a woman. And that means the free space will have to go blank.

[Thanks to Rich for the link]

0 thoughts on “Fertility, fertility, peak-attractiveness, blah blah blah

  1. bonnie

    I’m not sure I can respond coherently to this because there are so many different directions to go with the implications of such deep and varied levels of bullshit.

    So instead, a short anecdote:
    Once, a college friend and I were discussing sexy walks. He being a straight man and me being a lesbian were observing women walking down the street and we were amused to find that women who clearly thought they were projecting some kind of sex appeal (by our observations, due to fashion and the appearence of self-confidence… and a kind of “strut” walk) – those women really just looked silly to us, over and over again. We both verbalized, that we think we are supposed to be impressed or find them attractive, as their walks mirrored runways or catwalks or whatever. But really, we both thought that the hip motion had to have more to do with the pointy pointy heels and toes on the shoes that were gaining popularity.

    So, I’m wondering… what this study would have to say about a certain walk that has more to do with balance and how women learn how to walk in heels than anything else it could possibly mean. I’ve always seen footwear as a particularly feminist issue personally, what is considered professional or sexy is really often awful in regards to pain and assimilation and appearance over comfort and mobility. and now possibly projecting mating/fertility as well. ugh. bullshit.

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  2. bonnie

    ps – I would like to clarify that project confidence, strutting, and fashion are all completely fine and often positive things for women. But there is a specific walk I’ve seen over and over in NYC that seems “forced” or downright uncomfortable… meant to project confidence or sexiness, but doesn’t actually seem confident or comfortable. I don’t know if this is making sense… but I wanted to clarify that we were looking at shoes and balance and other factors and not just sitting, objectifying random passersby and judging them. It was more of a guessing game, trying to see who appeared comfortable by their walk vs. the images that people are trying to appear.

    I’ve seen many great and strong women rock high heels and pointy boots. I just resent a fashion culture that forces many of us to try to walk in them and punishes us in various ways related to footwear.

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  3. rich

    But wait, polygamy is natural; women desire it and benefit the most from it, and men can too, although men benefit more from monogamy. It’s rooted in evolutionary psych. But wait, it says here that women subconsciously desire monogamy, and use subtle cues to keep their man’s attention. This too is supported by evolutionary psychology. What an awesome theory; you can’t be wrong no matter which way you go.

    And yeah, that line about protecting yourself from assault during fertility is about as counterintuitive and insulting as it gets.

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  4. Rachel

    I’m not really sure what’s more horrifying:
    that money was wasted on a study of how women walk and how men perceive that in terms of sexiness, rapeability or anything else, when there are people out there with scary terminal diseases for which we have no cure; that Provost is a woman; or her abhorrent views on personal responsiblity.

    And as for the evolutionary psychs who do that whole “rape to procreate” thing – fuck off. Just fuck. off.

    Rachel

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  5. Mary Tracy9

    This is such bullshit!

    It’s so obvious what had happened here. They were expecting results that would nicely prove the basic evo-psych babble line of thought. But oh surprise, they didn’t.
    They should have thrown the theory away in the light of these findings. Instead, they are squeezing it in, despite it making no sense at all.

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  6. Kevin

    It always fascinates me when someone does a study correlating datapoint A (“sexy walking”) with datapoint B (ovulation), the results get published, and then all manner of pundits come to the table with their harebrained ideas of why A causes B for reason X correlation-equals-causation fallacies. That’s not how it works! Maybe she’s walking that way because she has cramps! Who knows?

    Here’s another example. On a graph, plot the rise in carbon emissions with the rise in people becoming wiccans over time. They both show an upward growth trend, so wiccans must be causing global warming, right?

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  7. EG

    She now thinks the findings tally with other research suggesting that women want to conceal their ovulation from males other than their chosen partner.

    Can I just point out that if the results had suggested that men find women’s walks sexier while they were ovulating, she would no doubt be arguing that women evolved a sexier ovulating walk in order to lure potential mates? Evo psych is a ridiculously closed system; you can make any bit of evidence mean what you want it to mean.

    A sexy walk would be too obvious, so women are thought to use changes in smell and facial expressions that can be experienced only at close range.

    Has she even looked at other animals, such as our close cousins the chimps? You know how a female chimp signals that she’s fertile? She goes over to a male chimp and bends over doggie-style, displaying her sexual organs. But, hey, apparently unlike any of the other mammals we know, which signal fertility widely in order to draw a wide selection of mates from whom to choose, human women go in for the subtle evolution. Who knew?

    To say nothing of the cultural construction of “sexy” walks. High heels, bound feet, corsets, slim skirts, wide skirts, short skirts all alter one’s walk.

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  8. Ran

    I think evo-psych is potentially valuable, but her arguments make no sense. If women have evolved to conceal their ovulation, then men are evolving to see through that concealment, and we’d have an evolutionary arms race wherein men’s conception of sexiness were constantly changing to match women’s behavior at ovulation and women’s behavior at ovulation were constantly changing so as not to match men’s conception of sexiness. And if that were happening, then at any given point in time there’d be little correlation among men in what they find sexy and little correlation among women in how they behave at ovulation — which is obviously at variance with her results.

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  9. Cara Post author

    Yeah, I don’t pretend that evolutionary psychology has absolutely no use. Well, I actually do doubt that it has any practical use, but it may be of some interest. Since I’m not a crazy evangelical wingnut, I clearly believe in evolution and since our physiology is a result of evolution it just serves to reason that at least some of our behavior might as well (for example, the very commonly felt desire to procreate certainly can’t be all about social pressure or “liking kids”). My problem is that the way I see evolutionary psychology practiced 99% of the time is complete and utter bullshit. And not only is it bullshit, it’s also almost always misogynist and/or racist, not to mention incredibly heterosexist.

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  10. Kevin

    James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, recently got in trouble for correlating race with intelligence (he said that he hoped everyone is created equal, but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”) which caused quite an uproar. Of course, he caused a similar uproar in the 70s for discussing a link between an individual’s genes and his or her personality – which we’ve now come to accept as scientific fact.

    Now, evidence points to black people not having inferior intelligence. But sometimes science drastically reorders what we know about life and the universe in ways that are very hard for us to accept (think Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein). The moral being, what you believe to be real and fair doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the true nature of reality.

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  11. RachelPhilPa

    And not only is it bullshit, it’s also almost always misogynist and/or racist, not to mention incredibly heterosexist.

    It seems to me that evo-psych exists specifically for the purpose of justifying, enabling, and perpetuating misogyny, the rape culture, racism, and heterosexism. Evo-psychs are, at heart, rape apologists.

    Reply
  12. Shannon

    I am not sure exactly how to respond to this, except to say I swing my hips more when I feel good, not when I am say, on my period. My personally experience with watching girls walk is the same as Bonnie’s. It has always been she struts because she can’t help it in those heels, or the skirt she’s wearing makes her look hot and she knows it. In myself I have never seen a change in my walk when I’m ovulating or not, it is always about emotion.
    And that link to the wikipedia? How can someone argue a claim that men rape for offspring when the majority of rapes weren’t about the sex at all, they were about power. If I were a rapist, I think I would rape the girl I plan to rape regardless of how they walk, or if they can produce children for me. And say if men did rape to pass on their genes, why do children get raped?

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  13. Kevin

    The theory goes… there may be a so-called “rape gene” which modifies the carrier’s behavior in such a way that makes him far more likely to rape, and therefore pass on his genetic information, along with the rape gene.

    The theory doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with men making a conscious, logical decision to pass on their genes via rape (although that conceivably could also happen). It could be argued that if the carrier happened to also be homosexual/bisexual or a pedophile, he would be raping men or children instead of women. Again – the gene modifies the behavior, so the theory goes.

    As we know, genes are involved to a considerable extent with our behavior and personality, including criminal activity.

    Understandably, people are worried about the genetic basis for behavior forming a “it’s in my dna and therefore not my fault” defense. Only time will tell whether social attitudes about personal responsibility will shift in the light of new evidence.

    However, it’s really important to keep studying it, for a simple reason. The more we know about crime, including rape, and why it happens, the more we can do to stop it. Burying our heads in the sand because the evidence doesn’t conform to our personal beliefs won’t get us anywhere.

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  14. Cara Post author

    A rape gene? Are you fucking serious? There is no “I’m an asshole who hates women gene.” Just like there’s not a “I like to kick puppies gene” or a “lynchings are fun gene” or a “let’s go set off car bombs gene.”
    There’s no “sticking your head in the sand.” Rape is social. It has been known to be social for a long, long time. Rape rates go down when rape becomes taboo. Certain types of rapes (like spousal rape) go down when that form of rape stops being acceptable. This is basic stuff that has been known for a long time. And since rape only rarely results in the birth of a new child, the theory don’t wash — unless those with the rapist gene are conceiving children consensually, which also fucks up the theory. It’s not only offensive, it also makes no sense.
    Making shit up to excuse men of rape when we should be preventing rape with methods that have been proven to work (namely, education and increased respect for women), isn’t going to get us anywhere, either. Neither is pissing off women, one in three of which have been or will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, which is the only place you’re going to get with this.

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  15. Kevin

    I’m fucking serious 🙂 However, this requires a little clarification. When people talk about the “rape gene” (or the “fat gene” or a “cancer gene” or whatever), they’re not talking about one specific locatable region of genomic sequence (aka “gene”), but rather genetic data that may be widely scattered or intermixed with other genes that, when in combination, transform the organism to specific effect, either physically or behaviorally.

    Violent criminal behavior has been linked to genetics time and again. Calling rape a purely social problem is an argument from assuming a false dichotomy (nature/nurture), as our societal behavior is genetically determined. If an organism’s social characteristics aren’t determined by genes, where does it ultimately come from?

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  16. Kevin

    Regarding rapes not resulting in offspring — the “rape gene” theory isn’t just about modern humans with access to abortion clinics. The theory says that this has been in operation long before we became homo erectus. The past few hundred years where abortion is a viable option is a statistically insignificant chunk of the tens of millions of years it’s allegedly been in operation.

    Whether or not it’s true (I personally haven’t formed an opinion), personal responsibility is a completely separate issue. It’s important to differentiate the two. Genetic disposition is never an excuse for violence, but it can offer clues into how we can better understand and prevent it.

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  17. Ran

    I realize that being a gay man doesn’t license me to speak on behalf of all gays and lesbians, so speaking for just myself: I’d find it difficult to take seriously any sort of evolutionary theory that didn’t focus on straight and bi people, with gayness being only something to “explain away,” so to speak. (I don’t know if that’s what you mean when you mention heterosexism in evo-psych, or if there’s something else I haven’t heard about or haven’t recognized as heterosexist?)

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  18. Cara

    Ran — what I mean is that evolutionary psychologists seem to perpetually pretend that any sexuality other than heterosexuality. Pretty much all of women’s actions come down to attracting men, and pretty much all of men’s actions come down to getting women to sleep with them so that they can spread their seed. Actually, I can’t remember ever reading about an evolutionary psychologist dealing with homosexuality or bisexuality at all, let alone bothering to “explain it away.” And with about 10% of the population being gay or lesbian, “explaining it away” would seem to me kind of like “explaining away” red hair.

    Am I reading your comment wrong, or are you actually saying that scientists should ignore homosexuality?

    Kevin, you failed to answer of my arguments regarding rape rates and social acceptability. I could also further the argument — rape as a war tool. Men who under normal circumstances would probably not rape become rapists. Look at Darfur. Unless you’re willing to argue that absolutely massive proportions of the male Sudanese population were born with violent rape tendencies, that is clearly a social situation. Same with Cambodia. If you do think that this is genetic, I don’t even know what to say.

    I very strongly believe that human social behavior only derives mildly from genetics. I don’t think that it has to be a question of “nature vs. nurture,” but if forced to choose I would chose nurture hands down. But I think that it is a small amount of nature, a big amount of nurture. For example, black people and poor people in America are statistically at much higher likelihood of committing a crime. It’s not because black people and poor people are genetically pre-disposed to criminal activity, it’s because poverty sets up the conditions were criminal activity seems like a viable option. I’d say that this is pretty simple stuff, here.

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  19. Ran

    Re: “Am I reading your comment wrong, or are you actually saying that scientists should ignore homosexuality?”: Not exactly. I’m saying that from an evo-psych perspective, homosexuality is somewhat irrelevant, because either it doesn’t manifest in behavior (in which case it’s moot), or it does (in which case the genes aren’t passed on). As far as evo-psych is concerned, the only big question about homosexuality is, “Why does it exist at all?” and more specifically, “Why does it continue to exist at all?” (For male homosexuality, it’s been demonstrated that gay males’ close female relatives tend to have more children, which suggests that some or all of the genetic contribution to male homosexuality is inherited from the mother, and that the relevant genes are able to compete because women who have them have more children, offsetting the loss from gay sons who have no children. More investigation is necessary, obviously, and I’m not sure how this is tied to the recent finding that the more children a woman already has, the more likely a new one is to be gay. In fact, depending how the statistics were done for these two studies, they might be flip-sides of the same correlation.)

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  20. Cara Post author

    I think the more relevant question should be why shouldn’t homosexuality exist? In fact, it has been shown to exist in most species. And why shouldn’t it? Every single one of our characteristics does not in some way relate back to means of adaptation. Some people are shy, some people are outgoing. So what?

    As for whether or not there is a “gay gene,” I absolutely do not care, and in fact really wish that everyone else would, too. Regardless of whether or not there is a gay gene, the result is not going to be good for gay people. If there is not a gay gene, homophobes will use that as a way to say that gay people can “change” and that they should, and being gay is therefore a valid reason for discrimination. If there is a gay gene, the only way that it would matter is if we think that chosen or adaptive homosexuality would be wrong. And I really don’t think that’s the path we want to go down, either.

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  21. Jenee

    “I think the more relevant question should be why shouldn’t homosexuality exist? In fact, it has been shown to exist in most species. And why shouldn’t it? Every single one of our characteristics does not in some way relate back to means of adaptation. Some people are shy, some people are outgoing. So what?”

    In an evolutionary sense, homosexuality shouldn’t exist because it decreases the likelihood that the carriers of those traits would reproduce. Any trait that lowers reproductive fitness is going to be selected against. Thus, the persistence of a trait that lowers reproductive fitness is surprising. The study showing that close female relatives of homosexual males have more children is fascinating to think about with that in mind.

    Although I agree that evolutionary psychology is often contradictory and poorly applied, the reason it focuses so much attention on attracting a mate is that natural selection rewards those who successfully reproduce and, with few exceptions like ants and some others, no one else. Thus, a substantial portion of our evolution is going to be geared towards attraction, since that is a necessary component of reproduction.

    I agree that the conclusions drawn from this study are bullshit, but there is a reason for the focus on reproduction; that’s what natural selection is all about.

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  22. Cara Post author

    In an evolutionary sense, homosexuality shouldn’t exist because it decreases the likelihood that the carriers of those traits would reproduce. Any trait that lowers reproductive fitness is going to be selected against. Thus, the persistence of a trait that lowers reproductive fitness is surprising. The study showing that close female relatives of homosexual males have more children is fascinating to think about with that in mind.

    Has it been definitely proven that traits are likelier to to be passed on because they increase chances of further reproduction? I always understood that traits were chosen more on the basis of survival. Sure, reproduction is a part of that, but it’s far from the only thing. In fact, overpopulation can drastically decrease the chances for a species to thrive, due to issues like disease and hunger. Who is to say that homosexuality did not evolve as part of a control for overpopulation?

    This is my problem: homosexuality is being framed as not resulting in reproduction, and therefore useless in the sense of survival of the species. I think that this in no way has to be true. Homosexuality could have very well evolved for a perfectly legitimate reason. And in any case, gays and lesbians have produced children all throughout time and still do. It’s true that homosexual sex does not result in offspring, but that’s completely different than saying that homosexual people do not pass on their genes. They do. And no, I’m not just talking about recent phenomena. I’m talking about millenniums of discrimination against homosexual people that caused them to stay closeted, or even earlier, were open about their sexuality but still coupled with people of the opposite sex specifically for reproductive purposes.

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  23. EG

    In an evolutionary sense, homosexuality shouldn’t exist because it decreases the likelihood that the carriers of those traits would reproduce.

    Only if homosexuality is completely determined by inherited genes. Once you start factoring in other biological cues as well as social causes, that argument goes out the window.

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  24. Jenee

    Since homosexuality persists and studies seem to indicate that there is a hereditary component to it, clearly there must be some evolutionary benefit to the existence of homosexuals within a population. I was referring to the focus on “why does homosexuality exist” as opposed to “why shouldn’t homosexuality exist.” I believe that the former is more often the focus because, on the surface, it does not seem to make sense that a trait that inhibits reproduction would persist.

    You do have it confused with respect to the focus of natural selection. Survival of an individual is only selected for insofar as it is necessary for an organism to survive long enough to reproduce. Hence, you find numerous species, especially insects, that die immediately after breeding. In fact, the death of the male after breeding is often selected FOR (as in the case of spiders and praying mantises) because consuming the male gives the female more nutritional resources to draw upon in producing her offspring. In an evolutionary sense, every organism’s only purpose is to reproduce and have healthy offspring and the only traits that are rewarded are the ones that promote that purpose.

    The overpopulation issue is a good point, but natural selection rewards only those that pass their genes on, even to the detriment of longterm survival of the species. Those that had genes that caused them to selflessly give up their ability to have offspring for the sake of the species would have no offspring to carry those genes to later generations, so it could not evolve.

    The fact that homosexuality exists in so many species in spite of the fact that it decreases reproductive fitness shows that it NECESSARILY must have some benefit that is less obvious than the detriment of not reproducing. The study that Ran referred to where close female relatives of homosexual men may show higher fecundity than relatives of heterosexual men is a potential explanation of this.

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  25. Jenee

    That’s why I said “in an evolutionary sense,” which is what evolutionary scientists are going to be focusing on. The entire focus of evolutionary scientists is, of course, presuming that there is a hereditary cause of homosexuality. If there isn’t, then evolutionary scientists wouldn’t be involved in the discussion anymore.

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  26. kissmypineapple

    Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t understand the idea that certain traits are rewarded for leading to proliferation of children. How exactly are these traits rewarded? By facilitating reproduction? But isn’t that why you said they are rewarded. Something can’t be lauded for the reason it’s lauded. For instance, the reward for a diamond being highly valued can’t be that it’s highly valued. That’s circular and doesn’t make any sense. I’m fairly dollsome, but my reward for being able to attract a mate is…being able to attract a mate? And, I think evo-psych is useless. I could sugar coat that, but, seriously, I think it’s completely useless.

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  27. Kevin

    Howdy Cara,

    Sorry I haven’t had a chance to respond earlier, but Fridays are busy for me.

    Kevin, you failed to answer of my arguments regarding rape rates and social acceptability. I could also further the argument — rape as a war tool. Men who under normal circumstances would probably not rape become rapists.

    Yes, there’s no question at all that a man’s social circumstances have a lot to do with whether or not he becomes a rapist. As a corollary, it is, of course, extremely important that everybody becomes more educated about human rights – rights for women, homosexuals, those of a religious or ethnic background, transgendered people, people of color – so that respect and understanding is engendered and less violence is perpetrated in the name of hate born from ignorance. And you’re correct in saying that particular step is probably more pertinent in what we can do now to reduce such violence.

    So, let’s say that’s a given. While we’re at it, let’s also propose that no matter what your genetic disposition, or even your possible background with yourself as a victim of abuse, there is no possible viable excuse for you to commit violence against another person.

    So now that we’ve divorced ourselves of those two extremely emotionally heavily-laden burdens, don’t we want to find out how much genetics contributes to a person’s behavior, and how much their upbringing contributes to it? I think it’s an important question, and, having followed it, I haven’t seen evidence on either side of the argument that’s too convincing. In my humble opinion, the answer, if we ever discover it, is going to be a complex mixture of both. If there’s something you’re aware of that you think I should read, please let me know. The brain / mind remains an almost complete mystery to scientists. Isn’t this an extremely interesting field of study? I think it is, but I’m a huge science nerd.

    Anyway, to answer your question in a little more detail, let’s think about it in a slightly different way. You spoke of Darfur, and other social environments where rape is more heavily perpetrated because (and excuse me for paraphrasing you), society is more accepting of it. That’s exactly right, and anybody who doesn’t correlate the two is insane. But let me propose a few possibilities.

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  28. Kevin

    1. There’s nothing (or an insignificant amount) in the human genetic code that modifies human behavior that inclines men to rape. This seems to be your position. Under this scenario, violent sexual crime is a result of social behavior, relatively easily modifiable by education.

    2. There is something in the genetic code of some people whose genes are more or less confined to certain geographical areas. These genes make it more likely for the carriers towards violent action, social unrest, political upheaveal, and rape.

    3. The “rape gene” is pretty much completely dispersed amongst all humans. When males have the opportunity, according to social convetion, they will rape and pillage if they can get away with it. This behavior appears less often in modern society, and more often in third-world situations amongst unrest and political upheaval.

    – Kevin

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  29. Kevin

    Maybe I should take this opportunity to say that I’m a victim of sexual abuse, so that may skew my opinion in a certain direction. But I’d be interested in your perspective on the above.

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  30. Cara Post author

    Well I would say that 2 fails to make sense on a completely logical level. Why? Because rape as a war tool has been used all over the world. Though Cambodia and Darfur are particularly extreme examples, they are far from the only ones. The U.S. army has used rape as a tool of war, as has the Japanese army, just off the top of my head. In fact, I would be hugely shocked if you could present me with a single army that was created more than 50 years ago and has fought in a war that does not have a history of rape as a war tool. And, by your own admission, genes do not die out nearly that fast.
    As for the third option, I can only interpret that in one of two ways:
    1. The propensity to rape is a part of (male) human nature.
    2. The existence of a rape gene is utterly moot because nearly everyone has it, and so it’s just about as relevant as the fact that nearly all people have genes that allowed them to develop a liver, and yet most people do not completely destroy said liver with alcohol consumption. In the end, because nearly every male has it and yet such a disproportionately small number of people use it, the gene itself cannot play a huge role, and so it must be some other factor that causes the actual propensity to rape.
    Also, for the record, I don’t think that being a victim of sexual abuse is playing a huge role here . . . I have also been sexually abused, and clearly the two of us are holding different views on the subject matter, here!

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  31. EG

    How exactly are these traits rewarded? By facilitating reproduction?

    Indeed. Because survival of your genes isn’t just about reproduction–it’s about how many of your offspring survive to mate themselves, and that has to do with parental care. So the idea that a man has to spread his seed far and wide–is that going to lead to more surviving children than staying with one woman and making sure their offspring survive? I do doubt it. And if a man rapes a woman and she does conceive–well, abortion may be a recent thing but infanticide and abandonment aren’t, and having been raped seems to me like a powerful incentive for both.

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  32. Jenee

    kissmypineapple, there are several major flaws in your understanding of evolutionary theory, and I am inclined to believe that is why you think it is useless. “Rewarded” in the sense that I was using it was specifically referring to one’s genes being present in future generations. An organism that has traits that increase reproductive fitness (this term can refer to having more offspring, having offspring with traits that are beneficial for one reason or another) are more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation. The positive trait that allowed them to have more offspring with their genes will then (sometimes) be passed on to their offspring, making THEM more likely to have children with higher reproductive fitness. There is no external body that is “rewarding” the individual, it is just making it more likely that whatever trait they possess will show a greater incidence in the populations of successive generations. This is the very basis of natural selection and evolution. Please read an article/book that outlines the basics of evolutionary theory (Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins is a great start). Once that is explained, my comments can be put into a more relevant context.

    Reply
  33. kissmypineapple

    Kevin, you just implied that given the opportunity and with the promise of not getting caught, all men would rape given the chance. That’s so insulting it hurts. Not all men are rapists or potential rapists. Quite a few men are incredible human beings, and that’s just disgusting to suggest that the only reason they don’t all rape is because of a fear of getting caught. My brother, my boyfriend, my close male friends don’t rape. Why? Because they have respect for other human beings; because they know it’s disgusting and wrong; because they would never want to bring that much pain to another person; because they have no interest in asserting power that they did not earn over other human beings. Not b/c they might get caught.

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  34. Jenee

    Option 2 sounds a lot like classifying different “breeds” of humans. Be careful. As Cara mentions, these behaviors crop up all over the globe for certain periods of time, which is inconsistent with a hereditary basis, as these populations would consistently show unrest if it were hardwired into the genome. Also, I don’t believe that there has been enough genetic isolation within those populations to create the fundamental genetic differences you speak of, which would require a great degree of isolation for a very, very long period of time.

    Reply
  35. Jenee

    kissmypineapple, look at the Milgram study of human behavior under the influence of authority. If a group of people believe something is sanctioned or required by a perceived authority figure, they will often engage in behaviors that most people (including those very individuals) find to be abhorrent. It’s one of those parts of human nature that are the most upsetting to think about. People are willing to torture and kill others if they believe that it is expected or required of them by a figure they perceive to be a source of legitimate authority and if they are allowed to claim that the responsibility for their actions fall on the authority figure that wants them to do it.

    Additionally, the instances of Cambodia and Darfur, for example, there is a great deal of racism going on at the same time. Those who are victimized are seen to be part of a “subhuman” ethnicity so that individuals can justify their horrific treatment of others. People in those circumstances can often hold a rigid “morality” when dealing with the “humans” of their own ethnicity, while finding little problem harming the “subhumans” of another. Combining this with the information from the Milgram study and you have a recipe for pretty much anyone engaging in the horrific treatment of another under the right circumstances.

    Reply
  36. Cara Post author

    Agreed, Jenee, but I do think that’s very different from what kissmypineapple was talking about. Yes, all of us probably have the capacity to kill. But that doesn’t mean we all have the same likelihood of being a murderer. Kissmypineapple seems to be referring to cases when there are not extreme, extenuating circumstances (though correct me if I’m wrong, KMP). But I agree with you, Jenee — I have already argued at length on this thread that the propensity to rape is highly social, and though I would like to think that there are people out there — many people, in fact — who would resist horrible acts against others, even if it did cost them their own lives. But as history, and the present, have shown us, there are at the very least many, many people who will commit evil acts, either because their lives are at stake or simply because they have been granted the permission.

    Reply
  37. kissmypineapple

    I’m well acquainted with the Milgram study, as is anybody who took psych 101, thankyouverymuch. That study is not relevant to what I said. I said that it’s insulting to say that all men would rape if they thought that they would not get caught. I did not say that no man would rape if they were ordered to by an authority figure, if they thought their own life or safety was in jeopardy, or any variation on those themes. I said not all men are potential rapists. Like Cara said, I have the capacity to kill, and given the right circumstances I’m sure that I would. That does not mean that if I believe I wouldn’t get caught that I would murder someone.

    Separately from my above points, the milgram study, while utterly unethical, helps people to be aware of what they are capable of committing, and I think having that knowledge makes it possible to resist falling into that trap. Knowing that I have the capacity to torture someone to death under those conditions helps me to resist slipping into that if and when those conditions occur. I’m not saying it’s a failsafe, but knowing the absolute darkest parts of the human condition can help prevent you from going there.

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  38. rich

    Kevin didn’t imply anything by what he said, so really it should not be taken as an insult. He offers 3 possibilities, and does not express preference for any of them.

    Reply
  39. Jenee

    That is a good point.
    I suppose I was reading into your comment and connecting it to my interpretations of Kevin’s comment when you had not explicitly connected the two.

    I was trying to point out that everyone has a capacity to behave in ways that deviates greatly from how they (or others) would characterize them and trying to put it in the context of the extreme circumstances Kevin was referring to, which were often references to areas of ethnic cleansing. In those areas, I feel that rape in those situations are often accepted and encouraged, either explicitly or subtly, by a governing body, which is in most cases considered to be a legitimate authority figure. Thus, in those instances, I don’t feel that those men are committing those acts just because they aren’t afraid of getting caught, but because they feel they are expected to by an authority figure. And, given the Milgram study, to say that one individual would or wouldn’t behave in a certain way under those circumstances is tricky, to say the least.
    Further, I was trying to point out that one’s belief in the sanctity of a human in those ethnic cleansing situations as the victims have already been stripped of their humanity, thus allowing the individual to behave in ways that are abhorrent and barbaric without reflecting on their views about the moral treatment of a human. Obviously, in actuality it does reflect on their moral treatment of humans, but in the perpetrator’s mind, the two are separate.

    I, too, would hope that knowing about the human capacity to harm under the pressure of authority would alleviate that effect to some degree or another.

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  40. Jenee

    Sorry, I accidentally cut out an important pair of words in one paragraph.

    Further, I was trying to point out that one’s belief in the sanctity of a human in those ethnic cleansing situations IS IRRELEVANT as the victims have already been stripped of their humanity, thus allowing the individual to behave in ways that are abhorrent and barbaric without reflecting on their views about the moral treatment of a human. Obviously, in actuality it does reflect on their moral treatment of humans, but in the perpetrator’s mind, the two are separate.

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  41. Kevin

    Kevin, you just implied that given the opportunity and with the promise of not getting caught, all men would rape given the chance. That’s so insulting it hurts.

    You’ve misinterpreted what I’m trying to convey. First of all, I wasn’t implying that any of the scenarios I proposed were definitely true. Secondly, I also strongly place the responsibility for an individual’s actions on the individual. Obviously, “not getting caught” is not the only incentive to not being a rapist.

    Reply
  42. Kevin

    The existence of a rape gene is utterly moot because nearly everyone has it, and so it’s just about as relevant as the fact that nearly all people have genes that allowed them to develop a liver[…]

    This is a good point, and I thought that the conversation was moving in this direction, but didn’t want to jump the gun. It’s not necessarily moot, and I’ll tell you why. This is not how genetic traits necessarily manifest. While all humans have genetic code that gives us a liver, some genetic code can exist that is either turned on or turned off depending on its involvement with other genetic information.

    As genetic study progresses, very soon we are going to be in the position to take a look at our own genetic information and see what it tells us about our own physiological and behavioral inclinations. Within a few decades, new parents may be presented with information about their newborn children that tells them something like, ‘your child has a 80% chance of contracting leukemia’ or ‘your child will probably have ADHD’ or even ‘your child might grow up to be a sociopath’. This is a really touchy slippery-slope subject, and many people advocate that we should ignore this kind of information completely.

    But let’s say that you’re considering having a child with someone, and you have the possibility to get a genetic test that will tell you whether or not that union will result in a child that will probably turn into a violent criminal. Would you get the test done? And if you did, and it seemed likely that the child had tendencies towards violent behavior, would you modify your parenting techniques in any way to more vigorously dissuade that?

    Pithy questions.

    Reply

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