Rape is not an “adaptation”
Ugh. I got an email a week ago from the Michigan Chapter of CFI (Center for Inquiry):
Friday, April 8, 2011, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Join members of Evolution for Everyone (“E4E”) to hear a lecture on “Sexual Coercion and Forced In-Pair Copulation as Sperm Competition Tactics in Humans” by Todd Shackelford, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Psychology at Oakland University.
Dr. Shackleford will present a talk on the competing theories of rape as a specialized rape adaptation or as a by-product of other psychological adaptations. Although increasing number of sexual partners is a proposed benefit of rape according to the “rape as an adaptation” and the “rape as a by-product” hypotheses, neither hypothesis addresses directly why some men rape their long-term partners, to whom they already have sexual access.
“Forced In-Pair Copulation?” That’s called rape, in humans. Why in the world is Michigan CFI promoting this guy’s work? As someone posted on my Facebook page: “A scientific treatise on “Reasons Why Bitch Had It Coming” seems like an odd choice of lectures for CFI to promote.” (BTW, CFI is not the sponsor of this talk, but they did use their website and email list to publicize it.)
The whole field of evolutionary psychology suffers from a lack of solid data. It’s easy to speculate about the “adaptive value” of all sorts of traits, from athletic ability to rape avoidance. The most consistent criticism leveled at evolutionary psychologists is that they start with a conclusion, and gather evidence to support it. And that they ignore conflicting explanations–which is not how science is supposed to work.
Sure, all current human behavior has been shaped by our evolutionary past. But to argue on top of that truth that everything we do is not only adaptive, but must have been selected for somehow, is ridiculous and reductionist. There isn’t any data in these studies that shows that behavior is heritable, or that it conveys fitness benefits. It’s usually just “This happens a lot. Ergo, it must be important evolutionarily.”
There isn’t any LACK of information that would point out [ED] that this speaker was problematic. PZ Myers has an excellent rant about why evolutionary psychology studies of rape are “trivial drivel”. Jerry Coyne has written several times about the scientific weaknesses of these rape studies, as well as a critique of Randy Thornhill’s book “A Natural History of Rape.” Almost Diamonds has a detailed critique of Shackelford’s work, and concludes with this statement:
“In order to actually present a skeptical view of a topic, it is not enough to assert, as some evo psych advocates do, that yours is the minority viewpoint or not widely accepted. That is simple contrarianism. Skepticism and honest inquiry require that one deal with all the information available on the topic. They also require that we not use the absence of information that would allow us to choose between explanations to argue for only one of these explanations.”
I have no problem with people coming up with alternative theories about why men rape women — BUT DON’T FUCKING CALL IT SCIENCE. These stories aren’t testable or sometimes even falsifiable. And please don’t invoke evolution to try to give your hypothesis more credibility.
This kind of “research” perpetuates the idea that women who are raped had it coming. It makes up an evolutionary just-so story to imply that rape is “natural.” IMHO, it normalizes a violent crime. And that really pisses me off.
Randy Thornhill is cited copiously through the papers of Shackelford. Who is this Thornhill dude, anyway?
Thornhill claims that rape is an adaptation by low status men to reproduce. He’s a pundit that shows up on TV to talk about women’s estrus cycles and tips at strip clubs.
He’s an entomologist.
The source of his insights about women and sexuality? These insects. Scorpionflies.
“Wait a minute, Bug Girl,” you may be thinking. “This dude used his observations of forced copulation in insects to theorize about rape in humans?” Why, yes, he did go there.
And I don’t know how he got from point A to point B either, because he seems to have passed through Points Q, R, S, and 42 along the way.
Knowing that the speaker [ED: this previously said "CFI speaker, but has been edited since CFI is the promotor, not the host.] makes frequent citation of Thornhill’s publications pretty much torpedoes his credibility with me. But, I figured I needed to make sure that I wasn’t painting him with the same misogynistic brush, so I kept reading his papers. And it got even worse.
One of the evolutionary questions this speaker [ED] is researching is “how have women evolved or been selected to prevent themselves from being raped?” He helped develop The Rape Avoidance Inventory (RAI). It asks about 69 behaviors suggested by women as behaviors they performed to avoid being raped. “Avoiding appearing sexually receptive” scores highly. In other words? Don’t look like a slut.
This particular speaker seems to be spending a lot of time trying to figure out what sorts of behaviors women have been “selected for” to prevent rape. He’s starting with an assumption that “Rapers gonna rape” and puts the onus on the woman to avoid that.
Which implies that if I got raped, I was doing something wrong. Or that there might be something to the charge that the 11-year-old girl in texas was gang raped because she “dressed slutty.”
What rape avoidance behaviors did I forget? I was sitting in my own apartment with a cute boy I met in a PE class my first semester at college. Technically, as both this Speaker and Thornhill define rape, I wasn’t really raped. Only non-consensual vaginal-penile intercourse counts–Anal rape isn’t proper rape. Because you can’t make babies up the butt. And rape is about reproduction, see? It is an adaptation for reproduction by disadvantaged men.
And that is bullshit. Rape is a sexual hate-crime.
It’s not some Neanderthal Nookie legacy.
I have been as open as I can be online and IRL about my status as a rape survivor, mostly because I feel that it’s important for people to know that rape does happen, and it happens to people that they know.
There are, however, many days when I am just not up to the heavy lifting of explaining, AGAIN, what rape is really about. To discover I need to have this conversation with Michigan CFI makes it doubly exhausting and upsetting.
For anyone thinking that I am calling Thornhill out behind my online pseudonym: I’ll be at the Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting this year in November outing myself as Bug Girl. I invite Thornhill to step up and hear in person just what I think about him.
Edited 1:30pm to add: -I- personally hold Michigan CFI responsible for promoting this speaker. I think that their denial that “we aren’t the sponsor” is lame, frankly since they are using their website (see screenshot here) and their branded emails to promote him. Obviously, my views are NOT the views of Skepchick, or the other writers. I think most of our readers know we are not a Borg collective that all agree all the time about everything. To make the Michigan CFI non-sponsorship issue clearer, edits [ED] are marked above in the text where I was not clear enough.