Thus Spake Zuska

Isn’t Rape Really Just All About Sex?

I know I’m supposed to be posting installment three in the work-life balance series – and it’s coming tomorrow, I promise – but I was distracted by this post by Isis’s new co-blogger. I think there’s a relatively strong consensus that this invention is clearly a bit of Technology Gone Bad.

In a really old Saturday Night Live sketch, Gilda Radnor and Dan Akroyd play a befuddled couple at home in the kitchen, arguing over Shimmer. It’s a floor wax. No, a dessert topping. But wait! Spokesperson Chevy Chase pops in to tell them it’s BOTH!!!!!

What does this have to do with understanding rape?

Well, commenter hibob has set down a long stupid argument on the comment thread of that post by Set Oculus at Isis’s blog, trying to make the case that rape is mostly motivated by sexual desire. Because this is patently stupid, it has naturally riled everyone up, and lots of people are saying no, rape is violence. Floor wax! Dessert topping! Floor wax! Dessert topping!

In the midst of all this some commenter named Dick left this remark about the useless Technology Gone Bad that sparked the original post:

Fascinating! Do you suppose it will work equally well with variants of rape like when the assailant shoves a gun barrel up the vagina? Or ass? Just wondering.

Also: at what age should I recommend to my friends to have their daughters start using this? Babies get raped, too, sometimes.

Dick’s comment reminded me of something I once wrote in an essay critiquing Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape.

According to Thornhill and Palmer, feminists insist on a monolithic account of rape as a violent act that has nothing to do with sex. This, along with feminists’ inability to embrace evolutionary theory, prevents feminists from producing accurate accounts of why men rape and so from arriving at useful solutions. This claim itself misrepresents feminist perspectives on rape. As Natalie Angier notes, “Most of us have long known that rape is about sex and power and a thousand other things as well, and that rape is not a monolithic constant but varies in incidence and meaning from culture to culture and epoch to epoch.” Angier also rightly notes that it is feminists who “sought to have the word ‘rape’ replaced in the legal lexicon by the terms ‘sex crime’ and ‘sexual battery,’ the better to include offenses that don’t involve intercourse but are clearly sexual in nature, such as…forced fellatio, anal penetration, the shoving of a gun barrel up the vagina, and the like.” Rape clearly is not limited to a single type of behavior or pattern of behavior that is found in every case. Feminists have always been attentive to this reality, and to the fact that in the real world of sexual offenses it is difficult to ignore the ways in which sex and violence are often fused.

When douches like hibob are trying to figure out what “causes” rape, they would do well to remember that rape – more accurately, sex crimes and sexual battery – have myriad manifestations and causes. In the same essay from which the paragraph above is taken, I also quote Mart Carmill: “…it’s a mistake to argue about the causes of rape…We define [rape, murder, and war] by their properties and their effects, not their causes, and there’s no reason to think that acts that share an effect also share a cause…[A]ll homicides share the same effect…but they don’t all have the same cause…Seeking the cause of murder, war, or rape may be a fundamental mistake, like asking for the cause of things that weigh 10 pounds.”

So, Douchey McDoucherson commenter hibob, lay off the “where’s yer proof, and yer data, and how do you know rape isn’t caused by sexual desire”. Give it a rest. Why don’t you take up something more profitable – like investigating the cause of things that weigh 10 pounds.

——————

The reference to Angier is her article “Biological Bull,” in Ms. June/July 2000: 80-82.

The quote from Matt Cartmill is from his article, “Understanding the Evil That Men Do.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (39) 2000

My essay from which the paragraph above is excerpted is “They Blinded Me With Science: Misuse and Misunderstanding of Biological Theory” in Fundamental Differences: Feminists Reply to Social Conservatives ed. Cynthia G. Burack and Jyl J. Josephson, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

Comments

  1. #1 Snarkyxanf
    June 22, 2010

    This addressed something that has bothered me in the past. It seems foolhardy to come up with a single description of the cause of rape that spans everything from “date rape” to abuse of prisoners, to war rape.

    This weekend I was flipping through a book in the store (“Sperm Wars”, I think it was called. Not worth buying. The author is listed with PhD after his name, never a good sign), which got very defensive when it got to discussing rape as a reproductive strategy, implying that the author feared that feminists, like angry Valkyries, were going to descend on him from the heavens for suggesting that there might be some biological connection with rape.

    (Actually, upon examination, what he wrote appears to be a popularization of the same thing you took to pieces in your essay mentioned above).

  2. #2 Kea
    June 22, 2010

    Well, I certainly know of cases where the perpetrator of rape was ‘aroused’ right before the event, but as you clearly explain, that is really, really not the point. Do all men go around insisting on intercourse with every woman who excites them? No. So clearly, being able to STOP is part of being a human being.

  3. #3 Snarkyxanf
    June 22, 2010

    I thought this couldn’t get dumber…then I skimmed Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape on Google Books

    Could rape be eliminated from the human population by eugenic means…Behaviors that might be selected for are indiscriminate mating by females (so that rape wouldn’t matter to them)

    (Thornhill and Palmer, 153)

    I have no words.

    But in response, let me point out that men, who the authors claim have already been selected for indiscriminate mating, when raped, show a similar spectrum of trauma as women who have been raped. Indeed, even in the sub-population of men who actually engage in “indiscriminate” homosexual sex, who are raped (often in a homophobic act), enormous trauma often results.

    If I found myself putting those words on paper, I think I would send back my advance check, burn my manuscript, and forswear writing.

  4. #4 James Davis
    June 22, 2010

    I swear, this seems to be a problem for all of the equality movements. We can’t seem to explain anything about it because people still don’t get the basics…

    Seriously, it’s damn frustrating.

  5. #5 Laurent Weppe
    June 22, 2010

    Hibob never tried to “make the case that rape is mostly motivated by sexual desire“: Set Oculus claimed that “rape is not a way for a rapist to get off, but a way for a rapist and the larger culture to control women through violence and intimidation.“, Hibob answered in the comments that “Ascribing power and denying desire for sex as a motive for all acts of sexual violence [...] demands to be backed up formally or consigned to hyperbole as well” before repeatedly saying that, yes, he knew that rape was about violence, but that violence & sexual gratification could and did overlap: this was not, to use your own words, a “Floor wax! Dessert topping!” dynamic, this was a “Floor wax! Both of them!” dynamic: so what is the point of calling a douche someone who agrees with you?

  6. #6 kurukurushoujo
    June 22, 2010

    Could rape be eliminated from the human population by eugenic means…Behaviors that might be selected for are indiscriminate mating by females (so that rape wouldn’t matter to them)

    *mouth hangs open* Rape cannot be normalized.

  7. #7 kurukurushoujo
    June 22, 2010

    Oh, let me add something: it cannot be completely normalized due to its obviously damaging effects on the victim no matter if it is recognized as rape or not.

  8. #8 Helen Huntingdon
    June 22, 2010

    Wow, those Thornhill and Palmer dudes really, really hate men. The way they put it, they clearly think men are fine with being raped / so sexually indiscriminate that they’re happy to be raped. It’s like a big old, “hey guys, just go out and rape other guys — they don’t mind.”

  9. #9 speedwell
    June 22, 2010

    Are Thornhill and Palmer men? Are they asking to be raped? Or are they just saying they wouldn’t mind?

  10. #10 Zuska
    June 22, 2010

    This was hibob’s first comment on Set Oculus’s post:

    What then are the motives for consensual sex? Is there no overlap at all between the motives for consensual sex and for rape? Ascribing power and denying desire for sex as a motive for all acts of sexual violence (not just a simplification of the statement by letting the whole stand for a majority, but truly concluding that sexual desire is not a motive at all) goes back for decades, but really demands to be backed up formally or consigned to hyperbole as well.

    hibob and I are NOT saying exactly the same thing. hibob is making some version of Thornhill and Palmer’s argument – that rape is motivated, at least in some cases, by the frustrated sexual desire of men who are unable to spread their seed by “normal” consensual sex which they would regularly desire if they could get some nice girl to agree to have sex with them, but they can’t, so evolution makes them lose control and resort to rape as a backup strategy. I guess this is what we are supposed to think that date rape is. This itself is a rehashing of a book that hibob has read and wants to preach about, “Aggression and Coercive Actions: A Social-Interactionist Perspective”, which wants to tell us that “rape is an aggressive form of sexual coercion and the goal of rape is sexual satisfaction rather than power.” (See the Wikipedia article hibob linked to.) My head just spins with the thinking that goes into this. What kinds of “sexual coercion” are not aggressive? How do the authors of this book define aggressive? What’s the goddamn difference between sexual coercion and rape, when you are the woman who has been coerced? But I digress. Back to hibob’s argument.

    To back up his claim, hibob cites an article (doi:10.1016/0005-7967(86)90031-8) about sexual responses to consenting and forced sex scenarios, compared in two populations: convicted rapists, and supposed non-rapists, i.e. male undergraduates. This is hilarious in some respects, given that undergraduate women are often date-raped by the men they date, and they are not dating men in lockup. I mean, I know sociologists have to do their studies somehow, but how do you identify a population of non-rapists? Lots and lots of rape is happening out there. Lots of guys are doing it. None of them have tattoos on their foreheads identifying them as the perpetrators. Just walking onto a college campus and gathering up random undergrad guys is not going to get you an exclusive sample of non-rapists. But even so – from the article hibob cites “rapists showed an appropriate though comparatively moderate discrimination between rape and mutually-consenting episodes. They showed less arousal to rape episodes than to consenting episodes, with their weakest responses being to the most violent rape scene”. I don’t think this supports the notion that rapists are doing it because they get off on it.

    Finally, hibob says in response to a query from Set Oculus:

    [the evidence I am looking for is] Research that excludes sexual gratification as a motive for rape. I’ll certainly agree that rape is often about power, but entirely excluding sexual gratification as a motive for rape has been an unsupported but frequently heard statement for a long time.

    And then says

    My argument is simply that yes, sometimes the motive for rape is sexual gratification. [condoning rape bad, underreporting rape bad, sure] But it’s completely irrelevant to the question of whether sex itself is a motive in some rapes.

    hibob will grant the feminists that rape is about power – thanks for tossing that bone – but really, really sexual gratification, ladies! hibob absolutely insists that the feminists have been ignoring – ignoring, I tell you! – the whole rape is about sex bit since FOREVER!!!!!

    (I suppose none of the research done by feminists will do for hibob? In terms of being convincing about anything?)

    What I tried to point out in my post – perhaps unsuccessfully – is the following:

    1. Feminists have not been ignoring that rape is about sex since forever. We have always known this. See: Angier quotes above on the topic, use of terms like sex crime and sexual violence, etc.

    2. However, it is not about sex in the way hibob thinks it is. That is, it is not about sexual gratification. When I feel that itch that needs scratched and I’m all alone, I can always call on my dear friend Mr. Hand. Or get some technological aid. I have never ever felt the urge to go out and force some other human being to sexually satisfy me.

    3. When coercion is brought into the story, it stops being about sexual gratification and starts being about a whole bunch of other things – many of which, indeed, can be read about in that wikipedia article hibob linked to in his first comment on Set Oculus’s post (also given above in this comment).

    4. Whenever feminists want to talk about rape and its effects and what might be done to prevent it and change our rapetastic culture, someone like hibob will always come along and try to point out how we are totes forgetting something really important. “But Ladeez! Don’t you realize that rape is ALSO motivated by the desire for sexual gratification?” This is one of the best derailing tactics ever, because pretty soon everyone is shouting “floor wax! Dessert topping!”

    5. If somebody invites me to lick ReddiWip off their belly, that’s a whole sight different from spraying it on the floor, grabbing me by the neck, shoving my face in it and screaming “clean my floor, bitch!” And yet, you could say, in both instances, they just are motivated by wanting the ReddiWip removed from a surface by my tongue.

    6. The next time you are in a discussion about rape and someone wants to derail it with a discussion about how rape is really motivated by the desire for sexual gratification, just tell them it is time for them to go off and contemplate the many causes of things that weigh 10 pounds.

  11. #11 Laurent Weppe
    June 22, 2010

    hibob is making some version of Thornhill and Palmer’s argument – that rape is motivated, at least in some cases, by the frustrated sexual desire of men who are unable to spread their seed by “normal” consensual sex which they would regularly desire if they could get some nice girl to agree to have sex with them

    Agreeing with the idea that sexual desire is at least part of the motivation of rapists do not necessarily means that you see them as “poor, frustrated guys who would have consensual sex if it was available”. What about the possibility that the rapist is a often cold blooded bastard who could have consensual sex if he decided to go through the effort to seduce someone but willingly chooses to commit a crime because he reach the same objective with less effort and a good chance to get away with it? You don’t need to buy the bogus claim that rapists are just poor schmucks who can’t fight the imperative to spread their genes to see relevance in the “rape is also about sexual gratification” argument.

    from the article hibob cites “rapists showed an appropriate though comparatively moderate discrimination between rape and mutually-consenting episodes. They showed less arousal to rape episodes than to consenting episodes, with their weakest responses being to the most violent rape scene”. I don’t think this supports the notion that rapists are doing it because they get off on it.

    What about a cost benefit reasoning? The rapist might have the following reasonning:
    Consensual sex => Biggest benefits but also biggest cost and no guaranty of success
    “Non-violent” (uses of alcohol, etc…) rape => lower Benefit than consensual sex, but a let less effort involved and the risk of getting caught and heavily punished remains very low
    Violent rape => lower sexual gratification than coerced sex without physical violence and higher risk of getting caught and punished
    Date with Rosy Palm => virtually no cost but lowest gratification (you’re not copulating with anyone)
    and willingly decides that rape simply has the best cost/benefits ratio. Consensual sex might be the most gratifying sexual experience, but someone with little to no empathy toward his potential partners might simply decides that this is not worth the consumption of calories needed to get there.

  12. #12 Zuska
    June 22, 2010

    Laurent Weppe, I think you and hibob could have a long and mutually satisfying discussion about the cause of things that weigh 10 pounds

  13. #13 Zuska
    June 22, 2010

    And Laurent, your comment is just a poor recapitulation of Thornhill and Palmer’s evolutionary blah blah, which has been thoroughly debunked by many others, not just me. (They don’t just make the frustrated sexual desire argument – it’s a whole long book full of just-so stories like yours in comment #11.)

    Here’s an interesting question for you to consider instead, if you aren’t interested in the cause of things that weigh 10 pounds issue: why do some men choose NOT to rape, even though they can?

  14. #14 SKM
    June 22, 2010

    But Laurent, all rape is violent.

    I also don’t buy the assumptions that the rapist has lower gratification from “violent” attacks, has a higher chance of being caught, or even thinks he does.

    really, the chance of being punished for rape is so low that they probably aren’t thinking about that at all. They’ve gotten away with it before (seriously, most rapists are not one-timers), so why not again?

  15. #15 gxm17
    June 22, 2010

    The whole sexual desire as a motivation for rape is so freakin’ ridiculous. Come on, fellas. We can all agree that rape involves physical pain and emotional trauma. Yes? Now, if a person can still achieve “sexual desire” while hurting someone then it’s no longer just about the desire for sex. It’s about the desire to hurt someone. It’s about confusing the desire for sex with the desire to hurt someone.

    Inserting the “empathy impaired” angle into the argument is just more distraction. Yes, psychopaths tend to be empathy impaired. Is this the bar we judge the rest of us by?

    I am convinced that the rape apologists’ “argument” contorts into a mental shell game because they are trying to trick themselves into believing that rape and the oppression of women through violence is “natural.” It’s not natural. It’s unnatural. It is man-made and it can be man-unmade if only the rape apologists would stop grasping at excuses for terrorizing and dehumanizing half the population.

  16. #16 Zuska
    June 22, 2010

    But Laurent, all rape is violent.

    I’m going to butt in and just guess that people are using the word “violent” or “violence” in different ways or to mean different things.

    In the research paper that hibob cited and that I refer to in my monstrously long comment above, convicted rapists were, reportedly, less aroused by the “most violent” rape scenarios shown to them. I can well imagine that some d00dche could talk intellectually about a college boy spiking his date’s drink with something and then raping her while she’s passed out and calling that a non-violent rape because he didn’t beat her or “hurt” her, he “just” raped her. And others of us could label the whole thing as an act of violence against that individual woman and against women in general.

    In a way, the confusion of people like hibob and Laurent about sexual gratification as a motivation for rape and what is and is not violence is understandable, because our t.v. shows and movies blur the lines between these things day in and day out, and always present to us the woman who resisted and then gave in and and really wanted it all along, so the man who manfully coerced her really was going for sexual gratification all along – his and hers.

  17. #17 SKM
    June 22, 2010

    I had to leave before finishing my comment at #14, but my point in clarifying that all rape is violent is this: since all rape is violent, why assume that the violence is a price to be minimized, rather than part of the payoff? It’s a feature, not a bug.

    It really does not make sense, this guess that rape is a “cost/benefit” approach to obtaining sexual gratification.

  18. #18 Helen Huntingdon
    June 22, 2010

    The reason these dudes are trying to mansplain about rapists wanting sex is the mansplainers don’t have any mental concept for sex without coercion.

    If you’re used to thinking in terms of how to “get” a partner to want sex, whether through buying dinner or whining that it’s been X days or whatever, you’re already thinking in terms of your partner being someone who isn’t going to choose sex with you freely. From there, coercion just looks like a matter of degree, and we get the tools showing up splitting hairs about just how much pressure they’re allowed before it’s rape. These guys can believe rape is about sex because it hasn’t occurred to them that sex without the coercive aspect is even an option.

    Then they fuss about “natural” because they’re trying to avoid facing the fact that they get off on sexual coercion, and what that says about who they are.

  19. #19 Laurent Weppe
    June 22, 2010

    why do some men choose NOT to rape, even though they can?

    I’d say that it comes from empathy: men who chose not to rape will put themselves in the shoes of rape victims and perceive the pain they go throught, while at the same time, the possibility of maintaining a loving or friendly relationship with a sex partner will be seen as a big benefit, while the rapists don’t give a shit about this as long as they are not caught.

    Anyway, my argument was definitely NOT a rehash of Thornhill & Palmer, who are running headfirst into the old cranky biological determinism. On the contrary: my opinion is that the rapists of today are opportunists who are taking advantage of the defaults of modern society to rape while Thornhill & Palmer claim that rapists are merely reproducing the behavior of their ancestors, which makes no sense (how using alcohol, taking adventage of the fact that many witnesses will refuse to admit that rapist live within their social circle or using miniskirts as a line of defense in front of legal authorities would have been relevant 60.000 years ago?)

    And I also cannot agree with the idea that knowing the motivation of the rapists is irrelevant: knowing what make them tick is necessary, both when it comes to identify and convict an individual rapist and when it comes to define an efficient legal framework against rape.

  20. #20 Endor
    June 22, 2010

    “Then they fuss about “natural” because they’re trying to avoid facing the fact that they get off on sexual coercion, and what that says about who they are.”

    BINGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    All rape apologist arguments boil down to “how much coercion, force, and manipulation can i get away with before it becomes rape?” They’re terrified of seeing their own behaviors talked about as being rape because (they fear) without those behaviors no one will have sex with them.

    And, for the record, that’s an opinion about rape apologists collectively.

  21. #21 Laurent Weppe
    June 22, 2010

    @ SKM

    But Laurent, all rape is violent.

    By “non-violent”, I meant “not causing physical injuries prior to the act”, which should have been obvious since I used quotation marks.

    And yes, i do postulate that rapists are more calculating than most of us think, are willingly trying to lower the risks of getting caught when they commit a sexual assault and consciously taking adventage of the failings of modern society.

    @ gxm17

    I am convinced that the rape apologists’ “argument” contorts into a mental shell game because they are trying to trick themselves into believing that rape and the oppression of women through violence is “natural.”

    Well, I, for one, never claimed nor thought that rape was a “natural” (as in, “forced upon us by the almighty naturl selection”) behavior: rape is all about giving satisfaction to one individual while hurting one or more other individuals AND hurting the group as a whole. Even if, as I argue, violence is in some case more a mean than a end, it changes absolutely nothing about the fact that rape has not adaptative virtue whatsoever.

  22. #22 SKM
    June 22, 2010

    By “non-violent”, I meant “not causing physical injuries prior to the act”, which should have been obvious

    And yet it was not obvious.

    Also, to be clear, I agree that rapists are calculating. I just don’t believe that they necessarily think violence is something to be minimized.

  23. #23 Cara
    June 22, 2010

    Behaviors that might be selected for are indiscriminate mating by females (so that rape wouldn’t matter to them)

    Is this line trying to convey the idea that if women would just put out for every guy who wants them then rape wouldn’t exist?

    Just curious. The sentence, she does not scan for me.

  24. #24 skeptifem
    June 22, 2010

    We live in a rape culture where women can be raped and not realize what happened to them was rape. Men live in a culture where a lack of a ‘no’ is all it takes for them to think that they are getting consensual sex, no matter how unwilling or uncomfortable their partner seems. Sex itself is made into dominance and power for men. Sex is a thing that they have to obtain rather than something two people do together. I think sex in general is about power and dominance to most men in this toxic environment, and that it is really hard to find a man who hasn’t internalized this bullshit so strongly that they get confused about the difference between dominating a woman and having sex with her. All the guys saying that it is *really* about sex are saying the same thing as those saying it is about power- if they can keep their sexual interest in a woman they are traumatizing (or if they can’t be bothered to find out if they are), then sex is about power over another human being to them. The power imbalance is sexy to them. If it was as grotesque as it should be to commit sexual violence then there wouldn’t be an issue.

    Im leaving after this. This thread is going to mess with me too much.

  25. #25 gxm17
    June 22, 2010

    Laurent @ 19 and 21. It sounds like you are normalizing a lack of empathy. However, if your argument is “psychopaths can be motivated by sexual desire to rape” then I guess that could be true. They can also be motivated to commit murder by a desire to see people dismembered but isn’t that a more appropriate point for a discussion on the criminally insane? (FWIW, male rapists in this category often do not care who their victims are; they will rape men, women and children of either sex.)

    Back to normalizing a lack of empathy. I think that’s exactly what the rape apologists, and the rape culture that creates them, are trying to do.

  26. #26 Endor
    June 22, 2010

    #23 – yes, but there’s no way either he nor his defenders will ever admit that.

  27. #27 Laurent Weppe
    June 22, 2010

    It sounds like you are normalizing a lack of empathy

    Well, I DO think that the number of people lacking empathy is being underestimated and that modern society which still reward some agressive behaviors, is increasing the number of psychopaths. But I do not see this as normalcy but as something wrong about the inner workings of our society.

  28. #28 theshortearedowl
    June 22, 2010

    There’s a voice missing from this conversation. Does anyone want to own up to being an actual rapist? It seems like everyone’s trying to claim they know what the rapist is thinking; I want to hear it from the source.

  29. #29 Zuska
    June 22, 2010

    I would like to point out that Laurent seems to be talking about an extremely narrow conception of sexual assault/sexual violence: some form of date rape, or something that is done to more or less adult females of more or less target desirable (define that how you will) sexual attractiveness. This leaves out huge swaths of types of sexual violence that are committed against females from the age of infants to grannies, and that occur in all kinds of setting from the home to war zones.

    And with this comment I am going to close this comment thread because I fear that it is going to degenerate into something that will be exceedingly unpleasant for many of my readers. I will just wanted to make the points that I did in my post, and in my extended comment above – not provide a forum to mansplaining rape apologists on this blog.