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Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2000/ 4 Adar!, 5760

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
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Giving feminists a taste of their own medicine --
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, some students from a feminist art class at the University of Maryland covered the campus with leaflets that said, "Notice: These Men Are Potential Rapists." Listed underneath were the names of men randomly picked from the student directory (get it?).

When the action sparked an outcry, many feminists argued that the women were merely drawing attention to women's victimization and to the fact that often, the rapist is not a sex fiend lurking in a dark alley but the guy next door.

Now, a new book called A Natural History of Rape essentially echoes the thesis of those leaflets. The urge to rape, assert biologist Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico and anthropologist Craig Palmer of the University of Colorado, is part of men's biological programming. This time, it's feminists who are furious.

Thornhill and Palmer challenge the feminist dogma that rape is not about sex but about power and misogyny; rape victims, they note, are disproportionately young, and rapists seldom use more violence than needed to subdue the victim. Drawing on evolutionary psychology, they explain rape as a reproductive strategy: our male ancestors were more likely to perpetuate their genes if they stopped at nothing, including force, to spread their seed.

The authors -- who say that their lectures have been picketed -- take pains to make clear that they're not justifying rape or blaming women, and that "natural" does not mean "good."

This theory makes at least as much sense as the feminist view of rape as an anti-female bias crime. Still, it has serious flaws. Skeptical scientists point out that forced sex is virtually unknown among animals.

Critics also argue that rape is unlikely to have ever been a successful way to reproduce: any resulting offspring would be at high risk of maternal abandonment or neglect.

A fairly high percentage of sexual assault victims, moreover, are girls below childbearing age -- and boys. Thornhill's and Palmer's dismissal of clearly non-reproductive acts, from homosexual rape to gratuitously violent sexual attacks, as irrelevant "byproducts" of evolution looks like much too convenient a way to patch up logical holes in the theory.

Researchers who study real-life sex offenders, such as psychologist Robert Prentky, believe there are different types of rapists. A minority (about 20%) really are driven by rage against women; about one-tenth, by rage at the whole world. For two-thirds, sexual gratification is believed to be the primary motive -- though, of course, motives can also be mixed.

Maybe Thornhill's and Palmer's mistake is not so much to stress the sexual aspect of rape as to assert that all sexual acts must, however unconsciously, reflect a reproductive imperative.

The authors propose that before getting a driver's license, every man should complete a program instructing him about the natural forces that predispose him to force sex on women and about restraining those urges.

This is a clear example of Darwinian principles taken to an absurd extreme.

But is it any less ludicrous than the programs existing on numerous college campuses in which young men are told that the patriarchy has programmed them to rape and that they may have raped some seemingly willing women who didn't explicitly say yes?

And if we're talking preposterous ideas about rape, how about the feminist redefinition of the term to include verbal persuasion or persistent but non-forcible advances? The party line in rape prevention programs is that if any advances continue past the first "no," it's rape. Ironically, such a definition makes it all the more difficult to maintain that rape is an act of violence, not sex.

The overwhelming majority of men are not rapists (though many men and women alike have on occasion demanded sex from a reluctant partner). So why should an average guy have to sit through a course teaching him not to rape, any more than, say, we all need a course teaching us not to steal from our neighbors?

The idea is offensive, whether it's based on feminism or Darwinism.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.

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