Moving Beyond the Social vs. Biological
By Caterina Gironda
This paper explores the pitfalls of two views of rape:
- The social constructionist position that rape is not an act driven by sexual desire but rather purely an act of violence, a tool to control and dominate women, and
- A counter argument by evolutionary psychologists which says that the drive to rape is in some sense natural, a product of human evolution.
Through an examination of Elizabeth Grosz’s reading of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and taking other feminist evolutionist perspectives into consideration, this paper will refocus the discussion of rape away from a dualistic nature/nurture debate. This may allow for a merger of feminist and evolutionist perspectives, and or a more comprehensive understanding of rape.
Many feminist evolutionists reject the evolutionary psychologists’ idea that the evolution of homo sapiens is, for all intents and purposes, something that happened in our distant past and that any changes then produced should be considered permanent and universal. Further, they suggest that environmental influences must be considered in every case and that evolutionary changes are contingent upon the context from which they emerge. This accords with Grosz’s reading of Darwin’s theory, which suggests not that the “fittest” survive everywhere and always, but rather that certain variations are most likely to increase in population in certain environments. Stressing the value of flexibility, she writes, “Fitness carries with it the notion of an openness to changing environments; it is not necessarily the best adapted to a fixed and unchanging context.”
Feminism was not wrong to fear that embracing the biological can be dangerous. History shows us that the walls separating the social and biological schools of thought emerged from a rejection of biological deterministic thinking that sought to justify gender inequality. This paper has considered the historical context in order to show that a feminist position need not be inherently opposed to biological considerations. Revisiting this division reveals that not only is it unnecessary, but also that it hinders the theoretical possibilities available to anyone working from within either school of thought. (Thus this paper is not only about rape but also about the importance of utilizing an interdisciplinary framework for approaching and tackling issues as vast and threatening as rape.)
Image is a photograph of Professor Elizabeth Grosz, author of Darwin and Feminism: Preliminary Investigations for a Possible Alliance and The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely, among many other works.