"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 May 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
The Rape of the Log



Sometimes it's hard to be a man. Mercilessly ridiculed for our general natures, getting our balls broken by forces — both personal and political — we can neither compehend nor control, able to articulate the benefits of manhood only through tired wisecracks about having a brew and watching the game... It all seems kind of sad and empty, doesn't it?

Should we be surprised, then, when men resist having accusations of being nasty, brutish and short piled onto our heap of woes? It was bad enough when some overeducated woman proclaimed that society encouraged all men to be rapists; at least Susan Brownmiller had an interesting point about unequal power relationships and sex...that, and an awful lot of rage, of course. Early this year, when a pair of knuckledragging men wrote that evolutionary forces require (not allow, require!) all men to rape or at least want to rape, they set off a firestorm that, like the one in still smoldering in Los Alamos, continues to threaten the most preciously guarded organs of our society.

Writing in The Sciences (which isn't the same as Science, a real journal, but did once have some credibility), Randy (make your own joke) Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer argued that rape is an effective strategy for men to use to spread their genes; ipso facto, the need to rape is built into those of us with Y chromosomes.

With help from the authors, the theory attracted the kind of public outcry that naturally occurs when allegations of sexual assault are in the air. Great Ms. Brownmiller, clearly perceiving a threat to her own career-making thesis that rape is a crime not of sexuality but of violence, maced her assailants in a wonderful review of their book A Natural History of Rape. Peppered with earthy ejaculations ("This is so nuts!"), rhetorical question-bombs ("Or is he just stupid?"), and stentorian apostrophes ("WRONG AGAIN, THORNHILL."), Ms. Brownmiller's critical pan makes great summer reading.

Still, now that tempers have had time to cool, it's worth taking a second look at the Thornhill/Palmer hypothesis. The argument that all men are rapists (and child killers, for that matter) claims to rest on some pretty basic biology. Male investment in procreation (even if they send flowers and call the next morning) is a lot less than female investment, since the women have to raise the ungrateful little results. Because "selfish genes" want to spread themselves as widely as possible, men are driven to have as many children with as many women as possible and to destroy other males' children so as to give their genes a further head start. Hence murder. Hence, rape. Or, at the very least, not calling in the morning.

This is not, on its face, all that unreasonable. Child abuse is overwhelmingly a function of step-parents. Freed of the need to perform the interplanetary refueling operation that these days constitutes heterosexual relations, gay men are strikingly more promiscuous than lesbians. Men do seem to fantasize about multiple partners; and if the personals are any guide, polygamy is a far more common goal than polyandry.

Nor is The Sciences' article unique. In recent times we have been given the "new cow theory" proving men are polygamously like bulls (cf. Animal Husbandry). We're given the monkey theory, proving men are simply promiscuous (cf. The Third Chimpanzee); this is at least interesting, since our closest biological relatives, the dwarf chimpanzees, literally will fuck a leaf if given the chance. Konrad Lorenz has given us the greyleg goose theory, proving that all men are lesbians (geese form pair bonds; the biggest birds dominate; female geese are bigger than male geese; not atypically, a flock ends up being dominated by a pair of female geese). And we haven't even come to the hyenas (both sexes have appendages that look like penises), and the way octopi make love...you don't want to know.



In this, the latest saga on the theme, our heroes do not approve of the way men monkey around. Indeed, they're shocked SHOCKED to learn that men are beasts. Professors Thornhill and Palmer want us to send Mowgli and the rest of the male wolfchildren off to school to learn to deal with their throbbing impulses. Their study ends with a call for some sort of special rape-education classes. Only Monty Python could do full justice to what such a classroom would be like (and fortunately they've done it already, so you can rent it at Suncoast). For women, there's an even more bitter pill to swallow, in the form of Shiite (or at least Shalit) dress codes that remove temptation from the beastly eyes of men.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, almost all of this (except the part about not calling in the morning) is nonsense. Human beings are in some important ways bizarrely unique animals, and that uniqueness is related to the incredibly long period of helplessness of human children. As dear Fran Lebowitz has pointed out, there's not much point in being friends with children since they so rarely control significant amounts of money. On the contrary, they require the full attention of at least two adults for four years or more if they are to have any chance of surviving. Alone among primates, human infants — defenseless, stupid, tender infants — cry loudly for any and no reason, and are not devoured immediately by a passing predator. Obviously, human infants evolved under conditions of constant attention ... and as anyone who has taken care of an infant will tell you, it's just not possible to do so and get any real work done, let alone gather enough grubs and roots and Krispy Kremes for two. People evolved as couples. Males who fucked and ran didn't spread their genes, since their children didn't live long enough to reproduce. People with life spans longer than 30 years may not be cut out to live together "till death do us part." But those males whose genes survived were those who stayed to raise their children.

If you consider that, in some ways, people are actually different from most other animals — an old-fashioned position to be sure — the evidence jumps out. All sorts and kinds of weird and wonderful things flowed out of this need to maintain pairs. Women lost their body and facial hair, developed all sorts of interesting secondary characteristics, and generally put up big signs to remind their men that Hey! This one's me! I'm the mother of your child! (Men have never been all that bright in that way it seems.) Indeed, to keep these same not-very-bright men around, women developed year-round sexual interest. (Nothing else has this.) Most of what goes on in human societies, all human societies, revolves around keeping pairs together in order to raise children successfully.



Not many species form strong monogamous bonds: but all those that do (mostly avian) are those with children that are helpless for a long time. In short, the bottom line, as any real evolutionary biologist will thus tell you, is that we really are programmed to be monogamous, and faithful, and pair off two by two ... just like swans and eagles and all those other birds that also need pair bonds because it takes two to raise a helpless prefledgling.

Errr ... except, oddly enough, it turns out birds aren't really all that faithful. Genetic testing shows that about one quarter of all the eggs in the nests weren't really fathered by the dumb bird dutifully bringing home the worms to mother. The female certainly needs a good provider to bring home the grubs; she just doesn't need it to be her chick's father; as long as she can convince some poor preening male that he's the father, she's free to find whatever fun and genes she can. Contrarily, a male bird doesn't need to stay with his chicks, as long as he can convince someone else to do so, and a bird that can get someone else to raise his chicks has one hell of an evolutionary edge.



As with birds, presumably so with men and (wo)men. We may not be naturally promiscuous, but that doesn't mean we're naturally faithful either. We're hardwired for monogamy, all right, but we're also hardwired for adultery, and we're hardwired to be good at both of them. [Note: the perfect illustration for this is Lucas Cranach's "Adam and Eve," the perfect argument for original sin.] We truly can't help falling in love, swearing it's forever, meaning it ... and then trying for something on the side. All those who were different went extinct a 100,000 years ago. It's not just bad luck that no society has ever come up with a decent way of handling human sexuality; the contradictions are built in.

And talking about contradictions ... remember that unique female year-round exuality? This works well at keeping the fathers home, of course, but it presents its own problem. Having turned it on, human females needed a way to turn it off when not needed. Accordingly, there's a reason all human societies, even those that don't really wear clothes, have nudity taboos. We're stuck with them; if you can't send out pheromones you need some way to signal sexual availability and unavailability. And language is such a feeble way to communicate, what with pomo irony and all. So we ask to see some skin.

Which, oddly, may be the one horribly politically incorrect fact our heroes got biologically right: it's at least vaguely possible that men truly are wired to read such signals as tight shirts and short skirts as signaling sexual availability. Maybe we do need rape education classes after all.

courtesy of The Doctor
picturesTerry Colon