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Rape as reproductive strategy - The Ex-Communicator

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June 26th, 2009


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10:22 am - Rape as reproductive strategy
Many evolutionary psychologists, as I assume you know, have argued that reprehensible as it might be, rape is a positive reproductive strategy. That is, although it is morally wrong, it nevertheless increases a man's chance of passing on his genes to the next generation.

My counter-argument, based just on intuition, was that the reproductive costs of rape outweigh its advantages. In a society without formal legal systems, the families of raped women will kill rapists, and the wider society will shun sexual transgressors (and being shunned is a big deal). There are of course destitute and unprotected women, without family to shelter them, but these women are in no position to raise babies. Destitute women will use abortion and infanticide, and of course lose babies at a much higher rate to disease and famine.

(ETA and there is rape in wars and in clan feuds, but these are not 'good reproductive opportunities' for child survival as we have seen in places like Rwanda. I hate to use these terms, but these are the terms that are used.)

And to be even blunter: reproductive success in humans is not mainly about 'getting women pregnant' because women are not passive receptacles and raising human children takes years of hard work, to which women must consent.

In contrast I think concubinage - keeping young women as extra 'second wives' - is actually a good reproductive strategy, although it's not great for women. So, I'm not all happy clappy saying 'nice things are reproductively successful and nasty things aren't'. Just that one particular nasty thing - rape - is only a good reproductive strategy in male fantasy land.

Anyway, some researchers studied the reproductive success rate of rape in a society with no anti-rape laws (no legal structures of any kind) - The Ache of Paraguay. They didn't observe any rapes, but did a what-if calculation based on other measurements within the society: for instance, the odds that a woman was able to conceive on any given day.
He and two colleagues therefore calculated how rape would affect the evolutionary prospects of a 25-year-old Ache. The scientists were generous to the rape-as-adaptation claim, assuming that rapists target only women of reproductive age [of course IRL this is not always the case]. Then they calculated rape's fitness costs and benefits. Rape costs a man fitness points if the victim's husband or other relatives kill him, for instance. He loses fitness points, too, if the mother refuses to raise a child of rape, and if being a known rapist (in a small hunter-gatherer tribe, rape and rapists are public knowledge) makes others less likely to help him find food. Rape increases a man's evolutionary fitness based on the chance that a rape victim is fertile (15 percent), that she will conceive (a 7 percent chance), that she will not miscarry (90 percent) and that she will not let the baby die even though it is the child of rape (90 percent). Hill then ran the numbers on the reproductive costs and benefits of rape. It wasn't even close: the cost exceeds the benefit by a factor of 10. "That makes the likelihood that rape is an evolved adaptation extremely low," says Hill. "It just wouldn't have made sense for men in the Pleistocene to use rape as a reproductive strategy, so the argument that it's preprogrammed into us doesn't hold up."

You can read the whole article here.

Modern science is limited by the imaginative and emotional limitations of practitioners. Men tend to emphasise the statistical importance of impregnation and underemphasise the importance of successful completion of pregnancy (for example) because of their social role. And the male social perspective is seen as 'objectivity' because of power imbalances in our culture.

ETA there is a good metafilter discussion of the article here. For example this comment:
What this "discipline" (evo psych) does is give the reader some sense of control of the very messy thing that is human sexuality. By providing reductionist hypotheses regarding our deepest sexual fears, we gain some level of control over our fear. It has nothing to do with the scientific method.

Though I think it is not just sexual anxiety which is addressed, but the whole anxiety of corporeality.

(19 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:gair
Date:June 26th, 2009 09:52 am (UTC)
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The other thing that strikes me as problematic is... how are they defining rape? They seem to mean 'violent sexual assault against a woman you do not know', which isn't really what is involved in most rapes, as I understand the word.

This is what always confuses me about evolutionary psychologists - they take a social construct ('rape', whose definition and the experience of which varies culturally and historically - eg what about marital rape, which I would expect is a good reproductive strategy, since my feeling is that it does away with the risk of the family killing the rapist, and with much of the risk of the woman refusing to raise the baby) and pretend it names some sort of cross-cultural, historically invariant, real 'thing'. And I just can't follow what they mean. I mean, rape is defined with relation to the victim's consent, which has so much to do with culturally and historically specific understandings and experiences of sexual desire and its relationship to power; how can there possibly be a heritable 'cognitive module' which controls 'rape' behaviour? IT BREAKS MY MIND.
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From:communicator
Date:June 26th, 2009 10:01 am (UTC)
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Yes, good point. And within 'concubinage' I should include all sorts of relationships, with questionable degrees of consent. There is also a distinction between empowering people to consent to or refuse sexual activity, and empowering them to consent to or refuse pregnancy.

However, compared to you, I do think that there is a core experience of female sexual desire which exists, bursts up like a fountain, and is prior to social roles, and will in fact break through social roles and forms.
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From:gair
Date:June 26th, 2009 10:19 am (UTC)
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I think if you took the word 'female' out of there, I'd agree with you! But I suspect that, as in everything else, male and female people's experiences of sexual desire, insofar as they are prior to and resistant to social roles and forms, overlap much more than they differ.
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From:communicator
Date:June 26th, 2009 10:43 am (UTC)
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Oh, yes, I do not doubt that male people have an inherent sexuality too, I was just talking about women because of the context. I certainly feel that my sexuality overlaps very much with male sexuality. I think women are more like men than men want to acknowledge.
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From:hawkeye7
Date:June 26th, 2009 10:21 am (UTC)
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I remember reading somewhere that cheating on your husband is a good reproduction strategy.
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From:communicator
Date:June 26th, 2009 10:44 am (UTC)
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Intuitively it feels like cheating is much more likely to 'work' as a reproductive strategy than rape.
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From:nostalgia_lj
Date:June 26th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
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Certainly it seems more likely to succeed if the woman isn't going to kil herself, induce miscarriage, or smother the baby at birth. You're rigyht, some people do tend to assume that once a woman is pregnant that's the end of it.
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From:andrewducker
Date:June 26th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Yup - seen several studies which show that women tend to prefer different types of men at different times of their ovulation cycle, indicating that they want to spend most of the month with nice child rearing types, and then "pop out to the shops for half an hour" at their most fertile moment.
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From:communicator
Date:June 26th, 2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
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I'm not convinced by that kind of study, though obviously it's not as - you know - offensive or annoying as the rape-apologetics. But I'm not certain women's sexuality works in that way either. The danger of trying to impose order on something which is not tidy.
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From:andrewducker
Date:June 26th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
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I'm not _convinced_ - most of these studies are done on small groups of people, and I'd need larger studies to be convinced.

But I do find stuff like this fascinating:
http://www.find-health-articles.com/rec_pub_17316956-facial-symmetry-detection-ability-changes-menstrual-cycle.htm
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From:communicator
Date:June 26th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
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I do too - I suppose I'm warning myself off embracing studies that interest me
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From:nostalgia_lj
Date:June 26th, 2009 11:13 am (UTC)
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And the male social perspective is seen as 'objectivity' because of power imbalances in our culture.

That's what always gets me about when studies claim male/female differences, it's that the "female" things are always of lesser value and importance, like saying that spatial maths skills are better than social skills, for instance. Quite recently I read some crap online about how men evolved smarter because they hunted while women "only" had to prepare food and raise children. I am not sure why the ability to count deer is more valid than the ability to keep track of which children you've already fed.

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From:communicator
Date:June 26th, 2009 11:21 am (UTC)
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Phew, it's a good job I wasn't there or I would have argued with them and then been guilty and worried about being bad tempered.
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From:nostalgia_lj
Date:June 26th, 2009 11:29 am (UTC)
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I can't even remember where it was, I was browsing about hitting links all over the place.

But generally I find there is a tendancy in such things to look down on "female traits" as not being as worthy or good as "male" ones, that things women do better don't count or aren't important.
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From:sjkasabi
Date:June 27th, 2009 01:18 am (UTC)
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Interesting.

I do suspect there are a limited number of situations where rape is a positive reproductive strategy (in evolutionary terms) for men, though. Basically, in situations where all those societal consequences are minimially likely to rebound on the man - and so we come back to war, tribal conflict, etc. The fact that the chances are small that a child will result and even smaller that the child will have a positive environment in which to grow up don't matter so much - the chance of conception is still non-zero, and survival to child-bearing age is all our genes want of us really, they don't much care how messed up we are. So you could see rape of outsiders not as a primary strategy, but as one that still gives a male a greater-than-zero chance of passing on his genes, and thus a marginal advantage in evolutionary rather than social terms.
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From:communicator
Date:June 27th, 2009 10:05 am (UTC)
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Possibly in extreme circumstances. Perhaps the same kind of thing gives a genetic basis to psychopathy. I don't know whether that is genetic or environmental. However I don't believe it applies to all men.
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From:sjkasabi
Date:June 28th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
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Goodness me no - I think there's a huge difference between acknowledging that certain behaviours might, by the numbers, increase a person's genes' chances of reproducing themselves, and expecting that actual humans will act that way as a result. I do believe that we are much more complicated than that.

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From:watervole
Date:June 29th, 2009 07:37 am (UTC)
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Hm. I saw a study a long time ago which showed that men were far more likely to rape if they thought they could do it without being caught.

This basically agrees with what you are saying, but does not allow for people commiting rape during periods of war (when they're just passing through), raping strangers in big cities, etc. (War leaves a lot of bastards behind)
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From:communicator
Date:June 29th, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
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I like the icon. It's interesting that nowadays we have far more opportunities to do things unobserved and uncriticised by our immediate neighbours, compared to people in tribal or village circumstances, for good or ill. Though perhaps this will not last.

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