Evolution, Gender, and Rape

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Are women and men biologically destined to be in perpetual conflict? Does evolutionary genetics adequately explain sexual aggression? Such questions have been much debated in both the media and academia. In particular, the notion that rape is an evolutionary adaptation, put forth by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer in their book A Natural History of Rape (MIT Press, 2000), vaulted the debate into national prominence. This book assesses Thornhill and Palmer's ideas, as well as the critical responses to their work. Drawing on theory and data from anthropology,behavioral ecology, evolutionary biology, primatology, psychology, and sociology,the essays explain the flaws and limitations of a strictly biological model of rape.

They argue that traditionally stereotyped gender roles are grounded more in culture than in differing biological reproductive roles.The book is divided into three parts. The first part, "Evolutionary Models and Gender," addresses broad theoretical and methodological issues of evolutionary theory and sociobiology. Part 2,"Critiquing Evolutionary Models of Rape," addresses specific propositions of Thornhill and Palmer, making explicit their unexamined assumptions and challenging the scientific bases for their conclusions. It also considers other studies on biological gender differences. Part 3, "Integrative Cultural Models of Gender and Rape," offers alternative models of rape, which incorporate psychology and cultural systems, as well as a broader interpretation of evolutionary theory.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
?A comprehensive refutation of A Natural History of Rape.? Publisher's Weekly

"A comprehensive refutation of A Natural History of Rape." Publisher's Weekly

"A valuable resource for anyone who is wrestling with concerns about gender dynamics, sexual aggresion, or evolutionary psychology." Joanna L. Bettmann Psychiatric Services

Publishers Weekly
Leading a group of determined scholars, Travis-professor of psychology and chair of women's studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville-conducts a comprehensive refutation of A Natural History of Rape by biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer (2000), which proposed that men are biologically predisposed to raping women because (in our evolutionary past) the act supposedly increased men's chances of reproducing. Contributors to this book regard the duo as evolutionary psychologists who practice unsound, narrow-minded science. The critiques aimed at Thornhill and Palmer include their dismissal of feminist arguments that rape has as much to do with dominance as it does with sex, their refusal to seriously account for sociocultural factors that affect rape rates, their use of data on scorpion-fly mating as correlational to human behavior and their lack of data comparing the reproductive success of rapists to nonrapists. Some of the thinkers offer compelling alternatives. One research team offers the theory that forces in family structures, school, work and the individual interconnect to shape rape's incidence. Most of the contributors write for fellow academics, though "Of Vice and Men: A Case Study of Evolutionary Psychology" is accessible, and "What Is `Rape'?: Toward a Historical, Ethnographic Approach" shows in clear language how biases can shape scientific observation. Even evolutionary straw mama "Primeval Pru" makes an appearance, with her perennial dilemma over choosing a suitable mate. Though the book is separated into 17 distinct sections, there's plenty of overlap in contributors' critiques, which highlights the collection's message that rape is a phenomenon that requires an interdisciplinary approach. Yet while contributors argue that media coverage of A Natural History exploited the public's desire for easy answers to abhorrent social behavior, too much of their own prose here is intimidating and unwieldy. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The theory of evolutionary psychology, which makes some unapologetic, politically incorrect assertions about human sexuality, has been taking a beating in both the popular and the scholarly press. In Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology, scholars Hilary and Steven Rose called Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer's recent The Natural History of Rape "perhaps the nadir of evolutionary psychology's speculative fantasies." This new collection of 17 essays by 23 scholars from various disciplines continues pounding on Thornhill and Palmer. The contributions are arranged in three sections: "Evolutionary Models and Gender," which reviews broad issues on evolution and sex; "Critiquing Evolutionary Models of Rape," which singles out Thornhill and Palmer for criticism; and "Integrating Cultural Models of Gender and Rape," in which the authors introduce social science concepts to explain rape. The erudition of proponents on both sides of this debate cannot disguise what has become essentially a scientific brawl. Achieving balance would require any library that purchased The Natural History of Rape to buy this volume as well. Kudos also to MIT Press for publishing both titles; that's why university presses are uniquely essential as suppliers in the intellectual marketplace.-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262700900
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 1/3/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Cheryl Brown Travis is Professor of Psychology and Chair of Women's Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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Table of Contents

Evolutionary Models and Gender 1
1 Talking Evolution and Selling Difference 3
2 Female Sexuality and the Myth of Male Control 29
3 Power Asymmetries between the Sexes, Mate Preferences, and Components of Fitness 61
4 Does Self-Report Make Sense as an Investigative Method in Evolutionary Psychology? 87
5 Understanding Rape 105
6 Pop Sociobiology Reborn: The Evolutionary Psychology of Sex and Violence 139
7 Of Vice and Men: A Case Study in Evolutionary Psychology 171
8 Evolutionary Models of Why Men Rape: Acknowledging the Complexities 191
9 Theory and Data on Rape and Evolution 207
10 An Unnatural History of Rape 221
11 Violence against Science: Rape and Evolution 235
12 The Origins of Sex Differences in Human Behavior: Evolved Dispositions versus Social Roles 265
13 The Evolutionary Value of the Man (to) Child Affiliative Bond: Closer to Obligate Than to Facultative 305
14 Rape-Free versus Rape-Prone: How Culture Makes a Difference 337
15 What Is "Rape?" - Toward a Historical, Ethnographic Approach 363
16 Understanding Rape: A Metatheoretical Framework 383
17 Coming Full Circle: Refuting Biological Determinism 413
Index 425
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