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Moham Monifi
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The following is taken from Radical Feminism Facebook page.

fun and thoughtful look at women and science from cartoonist Randall Munroe of xkcd.

Polish physicist and chemist Marie Skłodowska-Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and remains the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in multiple sciences (Physics and Chemistry). For several books for young readers about this incredible scientist and a fun Marie Curie finger puppet, visit A Mighty Girl's "Marie Curie Collection" at http://www.amightygirl.com/character-collection/historical-characters-2/marie-curie

For Mighty Girl books about famous women trailblazers in the sciences, arts, sports and much more, visit our "Biography" collection at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/history-biography/biography

To see more from xkcd, the popular webcomic of "romance, sarcasm, math, and language," visit http://xkcd.com/
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GANG RAPE
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Born to rape?

All men are potential sex criminals, say two evolutionary psychology proponents in a controversial new book.
By Margaret Wertheim


It was a figure I kept hearing again and again: 50 percent of South African women can now expect to be raped sometime during their lives. Everywhere I went on a recent visit to the beautiful troubled city of Cape Town, people were talking about rape. An elderly neighbor of the couple I was staying with — a women in her 80s — had not long before been brutally raped in her home, then bound and gagged and imprisoned in a closet. Her son had found her several days later, and she died soon afterward in the hospital. After hearing several not dissimilar stories and endless accounts of the endemic rape in the squatter camps and black townships, I began to see that the horrific statistic might just be true.
For the past 30 years, rape has been seen as a byproduct of social conditioning and chaos. According to this line of reasoning, the situation in South Africa must be explained by a complex set of factors including the destruction of traditional tribal cultures, 50 years of apartheid and the aftermath of several centuries of colonial oppression. But a new book challenges such sociocultural accounts of rape and asserts that it is a built-in adaption that has evolved naturally because it confers a reproductive advantage on the men who do it.
“A Natural History of Rape: The Biological Basis of Sexual Coercion” sets out a strictly Darwinian view. Writing recently in the Sciences, the authors, biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig Palmer, state their position bluntly: “We fervently believe that, just as the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck are the results of aeons of past Darwinian selection, so is rape.” Elsewhere they proclaim: “There is no doubt that rape has evolutionary — and hence genetic — origins.” If so, South Africa must be a hothouse for such genes.
As the latest salvo from the burgeoning “evolutionary psychology” movement, the book is a symptom of an increasingly heated border war — the fight over who controls the intellectual territory of human behavior. Traditionally, the study of what people do and why they do it has been the domain of the social sciences — cultural anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and political scientists — but increasingly, evolutionary biologists are claiming that the key to human behavior lies not in our culture and social structures but in our biological makeup. In the case of “A Natural History of Rape,” this is more than just a rhetorical battle; our whole approach to rape prevention is potentially at stake.
Ground zero for Thornhill and Palmer is the notion that rape is a strategy for helping males to procreate. Central to their argument is a rather Aristotelian distinction between what they call “ultimate” and “proximate” causes. While they acknowledge there may be social situations that enhance the likelihood of a man raping, according to them these must always be understood as just the immediate or proximate cause of his actions. Underlying all such causes, they say, is the ultimate cause, which is a biologically built-in mechanism. In other words, whatever cultural conditions prevail, the “true” explanation for rape — and in their view the only legitimate explanation — is to be found in a man’s genes.
In support of their evolutionary view, Thornhill and Palmer point out that the majority of rape victims are young women at the peak of their fertility and hence of their child-bearing potential. Why? At great length they explain that Darwinian evolution would have selected for mechanisms in males that would target these young women for rape. Since, in their view, procreation is the “ultimate” goal driving rape, it is only logical that this sexual strategy would focus on women at their reproductive zenith.
To corroborate this view the authors assert that studies have proven that it is women of child-bearing age who suffer the most psychological trauma in the aftermath of rape. Child rape victims and elderly victims supposedly suffer less because, although they have been physically violated, their reproductive potential has not been compromised. To quote: “The more a woman’s reproductive success would have contributed to the genetic success of her mate or her relatives in evolutionary history, the greater the suffering of those individuals is likely to be after she is raped.” It is married women in particular, they say, who suffer most from mental anguish after rape because a married woman risks reprisal or even rejection from her husband and his relatives.
Feminist arguments against all this will be thrashed out at length elsewhere — and rightly so — but what astonishes me as a veteran science writer and someone trained as a physicist, is what mind-bogglingly sloppy science this constitutes. To steal a quip from Anthony Lane, I’ve had bowls of spaghetti that were more tightly structured than this argument.
For a start, although the authors never say so explicitly, their text is suffused with the assumption that U.S. patterns of rape are universal. A 1992 national study they cite reported that 13 percent of American women over the age of 18 say they have been raped. The study did not include any figures for those under 18, but with this group included the total percentage may actually be higher. The same study reports that 29 percent of adult women surveyed were under the age of 11 at the time they were raped. Another study (not cited by the authors) has reported that 45 percent of rape victims were under 16. Since rape of children and teenagers is on the rise, the researchers I spoke with all expressed the view that the overall percentage of rape in America was now higher than 13 percent — perhaps as high as 20 percent, several suggested. But even at 13 percent that’s one in seven women, and this is still far higher than in many other societies, says Peggy Reeve Sanday, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is an expert on rape and the author of “A Woman Scorned: Acquaintance Rape” and “Fraternity Gang Rape.”
As the author of a cross-cultural study on rape in 95 different tribal societies, Sanday stresses that its incidence varies wildly from culture to culture and there are many societies in which rape is rare. Far from being the norm, she says, America is one of the most rape-prone of all contemporary cultures. If the biological imperative to rape is as powerful, and as universal, as Thornhill and Palmer insist, why does its frequency vary so much from culture to culture?
Mary Cameron, an anthropologist at Auburn University, points to another flaw in Thornhill and Palmer’s thesis: “It doesn’t begin to account for male-male rape, or incest,” neither of which confer any evolutionary advantage. If, by the authors’ own admission, almost one-third of rapes are inflicted on children under 11, it is hard to see how reproductive imperatives could possibly be responsible.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, a research biologist at Brown University, questions the very foundation of Thornhill and Palmer’s thesis: “If rape is about reproduction,” she says, “then how many rapes end in pregnancy? I’d want to see the data on that.” Such figures are notably absent from “A Natural History of Rape.” And there could well be other explanations for the fact that the majority of rape victims are young women of peak child-bearing age. After all, most rapists are themselves young men and they may simply be raping within their peer group.
Particularly woolly is the authors’ claim that women of child-bearing age suffer from more psychological trauma than children or elderly rape victims. In perhaps the book’s most eyebrow-raising chapter the authors try to convince us that this is a proven fact, but I must say I found their “evidence” entirely underwhelming. Children who have been raped can suffer a lifetime of psychological scarring (in addition to serious physical harm), and an informal poll of my female friends suggests that for many women there are few more traumatic prospects than the thought of being raped in the heightened physical vulnerability of our old age.
Trying to quantify a human being’s anguish and measure it against the suffering of another is the sort of notion that ought to make any sensible scientist run screaming from the room. It’s not just that it’s repugnant to say that a raped 7-year-old feels less pain than a raped 21-year-old, it’s also simply daft to insist that any such “objective” comparison can be made. The whole exercise is reminiscent of medieval attempts to quantify sin.
Furthermore, while the authors are right that married rape victims may indeed fear reprisal from their husbands or relatives, the very fact that the consequences of rape are so much worse in some societies than they are in others indicates that we’re talking about cultural forces here. For example, religious women in Muslim communities probably fear this more than secular women in America; it’s the difference between a fundamentalist and a liberal value system — not biology. Do the authors of “The Natural History of Rape” have any clear understanding of the distinction? Thornhill and Palmer might just as well assert that black men in the Bronx feel nervous around the NYPD because they’re hard-wired to dread authority figures.
All of which raises the question of scientific standards. To quote Fausto-Sterling: “When you make a hypothesis you really need to be able to back that up with data.” Yet data is just what is missing from this book. As with so many other neo-Darwinian accounts of human behavior now being offered by proponents of the new “evolutionary psychology” movement, Thornhill and Palmer’s analysis of rape relies not on hard evidence, as they would have us believe, but on speculative flights of fancy. Taking a leaf from Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Jay Gould has dubbed such theories “just-so-stories.” (His point being that they have not a whit more validity than Kipling’s fanciful tales of how the leopard got its spots and the tiger its stripes.)
For most of its 150-year history, evolutionary biology has relied on careful field work, but now, says Fausto-Sterling, “What you have is this new group of ‘evolutionary psychologists’ who have very different standards of proof.” Thornhill and Palmer are part of this movement, which is in effect E.O. Wilson’s old “sociobiology” under a new name. Although still in its infancy, the movement is rapidly gaining adherents, to the consternation of many scientists — most notably Gould, who has written at length on the patent inadequacies of much of this work.
The social agenda behind “A Natural History of Rape” comes into clearer focus as the authors claim that not only is evolutionary theory the only way to understand why men rape, but the only way to understand how to combat this heinous crime. Having offered their explanation for the former they end their book with a suggested program for the latter. Since, according to them, all men — by their very nature — are potential rapists, they advocate that young men be required to attend a rape education course before being granted a driver’s license. By stressing the evolutionary basis of rape, these courses would teach men where such urges come from and thus empower them to resist those urges.
Ironically, by insisting that all men are, in essence, rapists, Thornhill and Palmer are propagating a view similar to that of feminist extremists like Andrea Dworkin. The authors are aware of the parallel and it seems to unsettle them, feminists in general being a group they despise. When feminists do make this kind of claim, the public reaction is almost universally negative — Dworkin is routinely portrayed in the media as a half-crazed man-hating harpy — yet in Thornhill and Palmer’s hands the same proposition magically becomes acceptable. Respectable publications like the New York Times and the Sciences are now giving this idea a serious number of column inches.
However, according to Thornhill and Palmer, education about rape prevention must also extend to women. Since evolution has predisposed men to rape, women must understand these innate drives and the conditions that exacerbate them. In particular, they should realize that provocative clothing and flirtatious behavior can have violent biological consequences. Here, of course, “A Natural History of Rape” departs from the Dworkinian theory of who’s to blame for rape. Thornhill and Palmer strongly imply that the rapist is the one breed of criminal who, if sufficiently inflamed by miniskirts and cleavage, can’t be held entirely responsible for his crime.
Dworkin aside, Thornhill and Palmer rail against feminist views of rape throughout their book. Feminists and other social theorists, say the authors, are misguided, forever driven by ideology. Evolutionary psychologists like themselves, however, are supposedly clear of
this “sin” and are guided only by the “pure” light of reason.
With increasing vehemency, evolutionary psychologists and their champions (men such as E.O. Wilson and MIT’s Steven Pinker) have reiterated this casting of the social sciences as an impediment to a “true” understanding of human behavior. In his 1998 book “Consilience,” Wilson led the charge by declaring that in the coming decades most social science departments will be made irrelevant as their subjects of enquiry are taken over by evolutionary psychology. Thornhill and Palmer reiterate such sentiments; for them, as for Wilson, there is only one legitimate source of illumination when it comes to human behavior, and that is Darwinian theory.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that in the battle for who gets to define human nature, the proponents of evolutionary psychology take no prisoners. It seems they can’t stop at simply asserting a role for their own science in understanding human behavior — they have to annihilate the competition. And it’s not hard to guess that these attacks are the covert motivation for “A Natural History of Rape” itself.
According to Thornhill and Palmer, social science approaches to rape are not simply wrongheaded; by not being based on a “true” understanding of the problem, such strategies “may actually increase it.” We are offered no explanation of why this may be so, but again and again we are told that as long as the “social sciences view of rape” prevails the problem will never be solved. Their hearts on their sleeves, the authors write: “In addressing the question of rape, the choice between the politically constructed answers of social science and the evidentiary answers of
evolutionary biology is essentially a choice between ideology and knowledge. As scientists who would like to see rape eradicated from human life, we sincerely hope that truth will prevail.”
But what is “truth”? For Thornhill and Palmer, as for most evolutionary psychologists, it is a Platonic reality untainted by social or political force, a reality that only “pure” and “unadulterated” science can discover. But how “pure” can science ever be when it’s dealing with such complex and politically charged issues as rape? And how “scientific” can Thornhill and Palmer’s own assertions be when they’re based on interpretations of data that can’t be subjected to rigorous testing? The history of biology — when the science has been extrapolated to explain human behavior — is riddled with ideology posing as science, as Fausto-Sterling’s “Myths of Gender” and her current book, “Sexing the Body,” as well as Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” have shown. Ideology posing as science was also at the heart of the eugenics movement — both here in the United States, and more devastatingly in Nazi Germany. To paraphrase philosopher of science Donna Haraway, biology is politics by another name.
The ideological proof in Thornhill and Palmer’s pudding is clear from the fact that although they devote several chapters to berating social scientists’ understanding of rape, they give us no analysis whatsoever of the actual rape prevention programs and strategies arising from that understanding. With mantralike frequency they tell us that current approaches to rape prevention are wrong, but by what criteria? By what standards are they evaluating those programs?
It only stands to reason that before you dismiss a program as ineffective you should check its results to make sure that it doesn’t actually work. But despite the cloak of disinterested, objective science Thornhill and Palmer have wrapped around their work, they’re not really interested in the facts or a careful, cautious weighing of all evidence. The powerful irrational emotions underlying “A Natural History of Rape” and other similarly reductionist theories indicate how close the mania for evolutionary psychology comes to religious fundamentalism. While the Christian fundamentalist takes the Bible as his foundational text, insisting on the most literal interpretation, so these new scientific fundamentalists insist on the most doggedly literal interpretation of their chosen “text.” Here the “words” are not those of the Hebrew scriptures, but the codons of the DNA chain — which take on for them an almost divine status.
It goes without saying that Thornhill and Palmer’s book does women an immense disservice. But even more depressing to me is the disservice these authors do to science. Over the past decade the once-golden image of science has been sorely tarnished and there is a growing perception that scientists are an arrogant elite, many of whom are out of touch with ordinary people’s lives. When books like this offer up such a sloppy, illogical and downright lazy analysis of such a complex social problem they only help to fuel that perception. If this is the kind of rubbish that “science” turns out, is it any wonder people are turning away?
Fortunately, the brand of Z-grade analysis that reigns in “A Natural History of Rape” is not indicative of the majority of scientific thinking, or of evolutionary thinking, and there are many scientists who find the current abuses of evolutionary psychology as irksome as I do. Those of us who love science and believe in its potential have an obligation to expose this nonsense for what it is. If we don’t, then who will?
Margaret Wertheim is the author of "Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars," and most recently "The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space From Dante to the Internet" (W.W. Norton).
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A Natural History of Rape by Thornhill and Palmer is grounded in Darwinian theory. The authors argue that rape is a sexually motivated behavior, not an act of power and control. Rape is viewed as adaptation to historical environmental changes, although the two authors do not agree as to whether rape is an adaptation designed to increase males’ reproductive success or whether it is an adaptational by-product that facilitates males’ access to consenting females. Both authors do agree, however, that the rape adaptation in human males is psychological. As support, they use the example of male scorpionflies who have a notal organ (clamp) located on the top of their abdomen that, as far as the authors can tell, was designed specifically for rape. This organ is only used to gain sexual access to unwilling female scorpionflies when males have no nuptial gift (hardened salvia or a dead insect). Human males do not have a similar rape organ, but the authors argue that the rape adaptation is found in the male psyche.
However, it is not only the male psyche that leads to rape. Thornhill and Palmer spend Chapter 2 discussing the evolution of sex differences that create an environment conducive to male rape. In short, in this environment females control access to what males want—sex—for whatever purpose—copulation or reproduction. It was this situation that set the conditions for male competition for voluntary sexual access to females or involuntary sexual access in the form of rape. While the two authors do not agree which of two competing evolutionary hypotheses is correct—that rape is a byproduct of men’s adaptation for the pursuit of casual sex with many partners, or that rape is an adaptation in and of itself—they do view rape as being centered in men’s evolved sexuality. Their argument seems to be that under the right set of environmental conditions, all men will rape. As a social scientist I do not believe that all men will rape, and if I were a man I would find this book highly offensive. Thornhill and Palmer argue that if females were less discriminating and agreeable to more sexual activity with males, there would be no need for the rape adaptation. Likewise, if males were more discriminating and desired only sexual intercourse with consenting females, rape would not be needed. The only reasons human males rape—and they argue that rape is a male-only phenomena—is that the evolutionary selection process favored one adaptation over another.
As Darwinists, these authors see themselves as having the only valid explanation of rape. Throughout the book they dismiss social science and feminist theories and research as being nonscientific. Because of this assertion, the authors propose that rape prevention programs should direct attention to the sexual dimensions of rape rather than to the theory of power and control proposed by feminists and many social scientists. The authors propose in Chapter 8 that schools develop rape prevention programs that teach males about their sexuality and how they must learn to control their natural sexual impulses to prevent themselves from raping. They offer some possible incentives such as “take the course or you don’t get a driver’s license.”
However, if males rape because women deny them access to sex whenever and with whomever they desire it, then females must be educated about the differences between male and female sexuality. The authors propose that females, separately from males, also be required to take a rape prevention course. The course would focus on learning about males’ natural sexual impulses, which under certain conditions lead to rape, and the females’ responsibility for preventing this. What are their suggestions for females? Avoid dress, behavior and situations that increase the risk of rape. In Chapter 10, the authors propose some age-old and modern-day practices. These include separate bathrooms, chaperoned activities, self-defense for women and programs that teach both males and females the dangers of the two sexes being alone in isolated and private areas. The authors quote an evolutionary anthropologist from New Guinea: “Men and women both assume that if a young woman is encountered in an isolated area by a man who is not closely related, that man will rape her” (p. 186). This type of thinking reinforces the belief that if women are raped it is their fault.
For those in the criminal justice system, Thornhill and Palmer note that rape may be entirely based on biology, but men can consciously choose not to rape. They argue that rape could be prevented if laws and punishments treated it as having only a sexual origin. The authors suggest that incarceration is a good deterrent because it removes young males from the competition at a critical period in their development. Monetary penalties that reduce their social status and thus their attractiveness to females would also be good deterrents. Acknowledging that modern societies, for ethical reasons, would oppose literal castration, the authors advocate for the use of chemical castration and hormonal treatments that reduce sexual drive. They view current treatments and penalties that do not consider rape a sexual act as doomed to failure. I, however, do not see the treatment model for sex offenders proposed by Thornhill and Palmer as a viable alternative to current programs that emphasize the importance of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional components as well as the sexual aspect.
As a social scientist, feminist and woman I found this book offensive, as I believe will most men and women who do not agree that all men, given the opportunity, will rape and that women play a role in their rape victimization. The tone of the book is also extremely condescending with respect to the social sciences. For example, the authors state that “not only is the bulk of the social science literature of rape clearly indifferent to scientific standards; many of the studies exhibit overt hostility toward biological approaches. The message of these studies is clearly political rather than scientific” (p. 148). This is only one of numerous “put downs” of social science and feminist studies of rape.
Further, from this reviewer’s perspective, Thornhill’s and Palmer’s book is seriously flawed. First, the book does not provide convincing answers to such questions as why men rape, how rape can be prevented, and what the penalties and treatments should be. There are too many equally or more plausible explanations for rape than those derived from Darwinian theory. Throughout the book the authors criticize and dismiss feminist and social science explanations of rape and related research. Their view of culture and learning is that an individual’s cultural behavior is merely a product of environmentally-related genetic adaptations. It was in opposition to this narrow view of human behavior that social science and feminist theories and corresponding research emerged. Thornhill and Palmer would have us return to the days of Darwinism, yet provide less than convincing data to support their position. Most examples used to support their view come from the insect world, with very few references to primates, such as apes and monkeys, to which humans are more closely related in the evolutionary chain. The few cited studies that make use of human populations are flawed and based on nonrepresentative samples.
In addition, the book presents an image of all males as little more than sexual predators who must be controlled by environments that prevent them from raping. This means that females must be continuously on their guard so as not to excite males sexually and, likewise, not place themselves in situations where they can be raped. This line of reasoning returns us to the “blame the victim” attitude that feminists have so long fought to eradicate and replace with an attitude of “perpetrator responsibility.”
The Darwinian theory used by these authors has as a premise the idea that only males can rape. The definition of rape used by the authors is: “an event that occurred without the woman’s consent, involved use of force or threat of force, and involved sexual penetration of the victim’s vagina, mouth or rectum”—but both males and females can rape and be raped, and more than a penis can be used to accomplish rape. A weakness of the book is that the authors do not pursue or present their theory with any in-depth consideration of these points.
As a social scientist concerned with sound scientific research as well as finding ethical and sensible strategies for rape prevention, intervention and deterrence, I would not recommend this book to those who share these concerns. Thornhill and Palmer’s book is extremely egocentric, touting Darwinism as offering the sine qua non explanation for rape. They dismiss as inconsequential all feminist and social science theory and research because it highlights power and control factors rather than the sexual dimension of rape. While not all rapists may be motivated by a desire for power and control, certainly not all rapists are sexually motivated. The thinking advocated in A Natural History of Rape would return us to the days when social policies and the justice system were based primarily on the belief that biology is destiny. If you share this perspective, this book is for you.
Sharon K. Araji is Professor of Sociology at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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