EVOLUTION, GENDER, AND RAPE

Cheryl Brown Travis, Editor . MIT Press $62 (472p) ISBN 978-0-262-20143-8 ISBN 978-0-262-70090-0

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.)

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 02/01/2003
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Paperback - 454 pages - 978-0-262-70090-0
Open Ebook - 454 pages - 978-1-282-09990-6
Hardcover - 461 pages - 978-0-262-28515-5
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