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The Apes of WrathRegarding Juliet Wittman's "Origin of the Specious," in the February 10 issue:

The misguided A Natural History of Rape is similar to the books published years ago that attempted to use "biology" to explain racial differences. The racists then championing their theories behind the guise of "scientific data" were frighteningly similar to the people who now applaud this book, which is really the latest attempt to blame bad male behavior on genes, the environment, the way women dress, where women go -- everything except the perpetrators themselves. We've heard these theories before; they are unoriginal and full of the same faulty logic, but wrapped in slightly different packaging. The authors make the mistake of confusing a chosen behavior -- rape -- with a biological imperative to reproduce. In their weak hypothesis, they noticeably disregard all of the empirical data on the violence associated with rape, as well as the high prevalence of rape against men, children, pregnant women and post-reproductive women. The errors in their logic are obvious. Current crime statistics estimate 22 percent of rape victims are under the age of twelve -- not really prime mothering material.

The book also downplays the amount of physical violence accompanying rape, despite all evidence to the contrary. If the goal for the rapists is solely to impregnate a woman and ensure continuation of his genes, the method of rape seems very ineffective. The authors themselves admit that of the very few women who become pregnant as a result of rape, only 25 percent carry the baby to term. Many of these women place the child up for adoption, and for those who don't, raising a child that is a result of a rape, possibly as a single mother, and overcoming all the emotional issues that rape victims struggle with for a lifetime, hardly seems conducive to successful rearing of offspring.

The authors' suggestions for preventing rape are just as far-fetched and ill-informed. For boys, they suggest formal training (to be provided while getting their driver's licenses), teaching them to resist their "natural" impulse to rape. Isn't this message confusing and potentially damaging to young boys? (In the Washington Post,Susan Brownmiller was quoted as saying sarcastically, "What about the boys who don't drive?")

As for girls, the authors feel we should teach them that because rape is all about sex, they need to keep that in mind when getting dressed and going out to parties. (Apparently, the thousands of women and children raped in Bosnia were dressed in low-cut tops and miniskirts.) The book greatly demeans and disempowers men by underestimating their ability to control supposed impulses to rape and impregnate every available woman they come across, and suggests that we live in a society so unenlightened that the only solution to preventing rape is covering up the female body. (Muslim women apparently are never raped, as they have always kept a conservative dress code).

Perpetuating the myth that a woman's appearance and social interaction provoke rape is a dangerous road, and this book is a step backward in combating violence against women. These same misconceptions about rape were found preposterous years ago, and serious readers should not waste their time on this tired and archaic book.

Laura Hartley

via the Internet

To rape or not to rape?

That is the question. Juliet Wittman's excellent article illustrates just how potentially dangerous such material can be. The danger of A Natural History of Rapeis not the debate about rape being biologically inherited or a product of conditioning; it is what happens whenever any such material dealing with the human condition is made public. Whenever any scientist publishes anything that may have valuable insights, the first thing that happens is that the gang on Madison Avenue gloms on to said material and begins to incorporate it into their advertising campaigns to entice us into buying anything from beer and bagels to toothpaste and tampons -- all on a subliminal level. Hence it must be clearly understood that this form of conditioning is by far the greatest danger set forth by said publication, simply because it reaches the children as well as adults.

It is going to be interesting to see what kind of value judgments the next generation will harbor.

Arthur Kerndt

via the Internet

The opening image of Juliet Wittman's "Origin of the Specious" takes the authors' message out of context, and in turn perpetuates the complete ignorance surrounding this issue.

This article simply describes another bunch of people talking about something they know nothing about or haven't spent a lot of time thinking about. If that's not the case, then they are taking the book's content entirely out of context and adding emotional and moral ideals to something that was meant to reflect a purely scientific idea. The people quoted in this story have read this book (some of them, anyway) and then jumped in with the hordes of others to beat it down without really thinking about it because rape is such an awful event.

I doubt the authors intended the book to be a sympathetic theory to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy about rape. I haven't even read the book (I don't mind admitting that), but I can already tell that Thornhill and Palmer are not making excuses for rape and are not discussing anything but the science of it all. I applaud them for at least having the balls to go public with something that they felt was true and important and not hiding it for fear of what people would think.

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