Letters to the editor

Has evolution ensured survival of the rapists? Plus: Kiddie sales force is exploitation; hot and bothered over RealDolls sex dolls.

Published March 2, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Born to rape?


Margaret Wertheim's measured review of "A Natural History of Rape" was on target, but it could have been a lot stronger in its questioning of Thornhill's supposed science. Needless to say, as the author of "Against Our Will," I read Thornhill's mishmash very closely and caught him in many errors. My review appears on my Web site, susanbrownmiller.com

-- Susan Brownmiller

If you really want to win the holy war against the evolutionary psychologists a much better refrain would be "True, but irrelevant," as opposed to screaming "Holy apostasy!" After all, even arch-Darwinian Steven Pinker agrees that cultural explanations of human behavior eclipse Darwinian explanations. But rape (not to mention murder, theft and a thousand other human behaviors) exists throughout all human cultures and throughout all of human history. If Wertheim doesn't think there is an evolutionary explanation for the biological basis of rape, where does she think it came from? Original sin? Maybe rape was created when Eve ate the apple. If anyone is a New Fundamentalist -- upset by scientists treading on their holy turf -- it would Wertheim.

-- Steve Clymer

Why couldn't rape be explained by both genetic and cultural factors? They're not mutually exclusive! The most logical explanation to me is that genetic factors drive men toward wanting sex but that social conditioning from an early age (usually) holds us back from using violence to get it.

This all brings to my mind the words of the ancient Greek satirist Horace, who said, "A fool, in avoiding one extreme, will embrace the opposite extreme." Could it be that Wertheim is as nervously defensive over the encroachment of biologists on the traditional realm of the social sciences as biologists are eager to expand their own turf?

-- David Lichtenberg

To be honest, I don't much care if rape is natural or not. So is killing in self-defense. If it's "natural" for a man to rape me, it's equally "natural" for me to kill him for trying. Nature or nurture, he's out of the gene pool if he tries it.

Besides, it's also "natural" to drop one's pants and take a dump right where one is standing and yet we manage to shoehorn that particular urge into a socially acceptable shape.

I also find it amusing that a man can get away with saying, "All men are rapists," in effect, whereas Andrea Dworkin gets skewered for merely implying the exact same thing. The problem that most men seem to have is not that women think all men are rapists; they're perfectly happy if the whole world regards them as rapists. What they don't like is when we don't put up with it anymore.

-- Janis Cortese

An intellectual blindness to the reality and social impropriety of such a horror as rape turns the authors into apologists for the behavior of criminals and decimates their credibility in their own scientific communities.

As a biologist, I would never have made such a disgusting, socially deterministic suggestion without enough evidence to act as a solid firewall against the hailstorm of criticism that I would be deservedly calling down upon myself. These gentlemen's opinions and conclusions should be rejected out of hand of course, but they should be pitied for wasting their time deluding themselves.

-- Gregory Dyas

Rape is not even particularly good strategy for fertilization, as the human male does not have a strong indication of when the female is fertile. The best reproductive strategies requires the male have exclusive access to the female during her entire menstrual cycle, thus guaranteeing that he will be the biological father to the child. This gives us a valid evolutionary psychology explanation to much of human reproductive and sexual behavior, from going steady, marriage, harems, to the traditional honeymoon.

In mankind, sex is not only about reproduction, but also the basis of long-term male-female relationships, needed for successful raising of offspring. The fairly continuous sexual availability of the human female keeps the man around, even during pregnancy and nursing. Rape destroys relationships and weakens societies. Remember how rape was used in Bosnia as a weapon to destroy Muslim society. Well, rape has little to do with reproductive success, but a great deal to do with another form of human interaction: violence.

-- Charles Stetler

How is it evolutionarily beneficial for a male to rape when the possibility of incarceration or permanent removal from society (i.e. capital punishment) is greater than the possibility of procreation? When excluded from society, the rapist has fewer opportunities to pass along his genes. Therefore, the gene that selects for the tendency to rape fades into the background, because it isn't passed along as readily, while the gene that selects for either monogamy or promiscuity becomes prominent, because these are more socially acceptable methods of passing along genes from one generation to another. Darwinian evolution does not exist in a vacuum when it comes to the human race. Whether Thornhill and Palmer want to admit it or not, society plays a role in behavioral evolution. And it doesn't take a Ph.D. in biology to figure it out, either.

-- Brian Spears

Babes in Willy Loman-land

All the fund-raising materials our children's schools have ever sent home to us have gone directly into the trash. I've never subjected anybody else to a sales pitch for this stuff, and I ignore all those, however worthy they seem, that are directed at me. Workplace selling is the worst aspect of the whole business. Parents are coerced into becoming shills and teamsters, selling and lugging this stuff for the "good" of their kids' schools. Just raise my taxes or hold a bake sale.

-- Tim Strane

I will vote "yes" in any referendum on whether to raise taxes to benefit the schools in my city (and have done so in the past). However, I will not buy junk from small children wandering door-to-door hawking crummy merchandise. It's one thing when children do fund-raising to finance something special, like a trip; it's another thing entirely when they're being asked to sell kitsch to all their friends and neighbors (and, yes, total strangers) to buy chalk and playground equipment and other basic necessities.

I consider these sales programs to be exploitative: They exploit the desperation of teachers for more funding, the cooperative (and naturally greedy) nature of small children, the reluctance of parents to rock the boat by refusing to allow their children to sell and the kindness of strangers who don't want to say "no" to a bright-eyed little kid.

-- Naomi Kritzer

The 5-year-old needs to sell 100 products to win a $35 CD player. The writer suggests that this can be accomplished in 10 hours for a rate of $3.50 per hour. At this rate the kid is making a sale every six minutes, which is very unlikely. But it gets worse; what self-respecting parent would let a 5-year-old go out by herself? Therefore, you must divide the $35 by the 20 hours represented by two people, one of whose time is no doubt worth far more than $1.75 per hour!

-- Rowland Williams

Bob Whitby just dredged up some repressed memories from my years of attending Catholic schools -- the annual fund-raising drives. Girl Scout cookies sold themselves, but having to sell cheese and sausages and, even worse, raffle tickets where the grand prize was a Cadillac DeVille (this was in the early '80s when anything sporty and foreign was much more desirable) was sheer torture. My parents refused to help by selling at the office since they rightly considered it tacky to pressure co-workers to make purchases of useless crap. I usually ended up buying a unit or two of whatever it was I was supposed to be selling just so I could make quota for my classroom without having to endure more futile door-to-door efforts. I'm sure my parents could have handled paying the extra $20 in tuition that my sales efforts brought in, and when I have kids, I'll teach them to just say no to this kind of child exploitation.

-- Kristin Abkemeier

Future sex


I'm amazed at the hypocrisy of the feminist take on RealDolls. These sex toys are basically a silicone cover over metal endoskeleton, just like a vibrator. Yet women have been celebrating the liberating qualities of the phallic mechanical devices for decades. Are men to be branded as pigs because we finally have our version of a vibrator?

-- Michael Freeny

The statement that "women generally desire a package involving a dozen roses, candlelit dinner and a foot massage" is not merely a lie but libel. What they seek is power and money, preferably extracted under duress from men in the course of sexual-harassment suits. Men are not abandoning real women for plastic substitutes but are merely substituting one form of plastic for another.

-- Richard D. Henkus

"Fun bags?" "Glory hole?" Seems to me like the author is the target audience for the RealDoll. I am not sure whether to laugh at the pathetic losers who actually buy silicone cuties with orifices or to cry realizing there is a waiting list for this product.

Shudder. I think I am going to take a really hot shower and try to forget I ever read this article.

-- M. Davis

I was a bit disappointed that Lemons missed my favorite part of the RealDolls experience: that you can buy the torso of a RealDoll, and nothing else. If you always wondered what it would be like to fornicate with just one-sixth of a woman ... Is this item for the serial-killer-vivisectionist-necrophile market?

-- Keith Welch

The 7 vices of highly creative people



Never have I felt more vindicated or proud of my bedfellows of the past, as I did reading the brilliant piece by D.A. Blyler. My lonely anthem prior to it was a delightful standing column in Esquire magazine by Stanly Bing titled, "Way too Sober." That story appeared almost 10 years ago. I now feel it is possible to go on for another decade or so. Thank you.

-- Charles Essington Walton IV

By Letters to the Editor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Evolution Violence Against Women