Feminists and liberals are fond of endlessly blabbering that “Rape is about power, and it is not about sex.”
I believe that the rape-is-not-about-sex doctrine will go down in history as an example of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. It is preposterous on the face of it, does not deserve its sanctity, is contradicted by a mass of evidence, and is getting in the way of the only morally relevant goal surrounding rape, the effort to stamp it out.”
(Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature)
Steven Pinker continues:
Think about it. First obvious fact: Men often want to have sex with women who don’t want to have sex with them. They use every tactic that one human being uses to affect the behavior of another: wooing, seducing, flattering, deceiving, sulking, and paying. Second obvious fact: Some men use violence to get what they want, indifferent to the suffering they cause. Men have been known to kidnap children for ransom (sometimes sending their parents an ear or finger to show they mean business), blind the victim of a mugging so the victim can’t identify them in court, shoot out the kneecaps of an associate as punishment for ratting to the police or invading their territory, and kill a stranger for his brand-name athletic footwear. It would be an extraordinary fact, contradicting everything else we know about people, if some men didn’t use violence to get sex.
Let’s also apply common sense to the doctrine that men rape to further the interests of their gender. A rapist always risks injury at the hands of the woman defending herself. In a traditional society, he risks torture, mutilation, and death at the hands of her relatives. In a modern society, he risks a long prison term. Are rapists really assuming these risks as an altruistic sacrifice to benefit the billions of strangers that make up the male gender? The idea becomes even less credible when we remember that rapists tend to be losers and nobodies, while presumably the main beneficiaries of the patriarchy are the rich and powerful. Men do sacrifice themselves for the greater good in wartime, of course, but they are either conscripted against their will or promised public adulation when their exploits are made public. But rapists usually commit their acts in private and try to keep them secret. And in most times and places, a man who rapes a woman in his community is treated as scum. The idea that all men are engaged in brutal warfare against all women clashes with the elementary fact that men have mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives, whom they care for more than they care for most other men. To put the same point in biological terms, every person’s genes are carried in the bodies of other people, half of whom are of the opposite sex. Yes, we must deplore the sometimes casual treatment of women’s autonomy in popular culture. But can anyone believe that our culture literally “teaches men to rape” or “glorifies the rapist”? Even the callous treatment of rape victims in the judicial system of yesteryear has a simpler explanation than that all men benefit by rape. Until recently jurors in rape cases were given a warning from the seventeenth-century jurist Lord Matthew Hale that they should evaluate a woman’s testimony with caution, because a rape charge is “easily made and difficult to defend against, even if the accused is innocent.” The principle is consistent with the presumption of innocence built into our judicial system and with its preference to let ten guilty people go free rather than jail one innocent.
Even so, let’s suppose that the men who applied this policy to rape did tilt it toward their own collective interests. Let’s suppose that they leaned on the scales of justice to minimize their own chances of ever being falsely accused of rape (or accused under ambiguous circumstances) and that they placed insufficient value on the injustice endured by women who would not see their assailants put behind bars. That would indeed be unjust, but it is still not the same thing as encouraging rape as a conscious tactic to keep women down. If that were men’s tactic, why would they have made rape a crime in the first place?
From Difficult Run
The original source of the idea that sexual assault is about violence and power instead of sex or lust doesn’t come from a scientist or an academic study. It comes from a feminist writer named Susan Brownmiller who invented the theory pretty much from scratch for her 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.
In a sane world, Brownmiller’s theory would have been very short lived. This is because an actual scientist stepped in with a direct rebuttal just four years later, in 1979. The book was called The Evolution of Human Sexuality and it was written by the anthropologist Donald Symons. It is no coincidence that Symons wrote from a scientific rather than a political perspective, and his book was widely heralded by some of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century, including Richard Posner, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Steven Pinker.3Symons’ thesis was very simple and aligned with common sense: he saw rape as being primarily about the satisfaction of sexual lust.4 In particular, he used evidence to document that:
“Victims, as a class, were most likely to be young physically attractive women (as opposed to older, more successful career women). On the other hand, convicted rapists were disproportionately young disadvantaged men whose low social status made them undesirable as dating partners, or husbands.” (Summary from Psychology Today)
The nature of sex and sexual violence in society has changed significantly since the 1970s, but continuing research cements Symons’ central claim that rape is a way for men to get access to sex that they can’t get in other ways.