Rape Is Not Biology

Posted: November 7, 2016 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , ,

Trigger warning: this entire post is about rape.

I don’t want to talk about the US election. I’m neither American nor resident in America, but the thought of Cheeto Voldemort being elected president is still stressing me right the fuck out. If I had the emotional energy, I could write a lengthy essay on why that is, but I’m not that big of a masochist. This is only about the Republican nominee in a peripheral sense, viz: the extent to which his platform has necessitated endless new conversations about sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and rape culture.

Because the argument that comes up time and again, over and over, in specific reference to women being assaulted by men, is this, or some permutation of it: but men are just wired that way. It’s evolution, instinct, a biological impulse to ensure the continuation of the species. Women just don’t understand testosterone, how hard it is for men to stop when they get going, to look but not touch, to restrain themselves. If women did understand, they wouldn’t act or dress like temptations, they’d see why they need to submit to the needs of their husbands and partners while remaining modest and chaste around other men. It’s just a fact of life.

Here is my response to that argument: bullshit.  

Has there ever been a stranger hermeneutical alliance than the one between Evangelical puritanism and red pill evopsychology? The only thing they share is a deeply entrenched misogyny: the idea that men are fundamentally entitled to do what they like with women in general, and women’s bodies in particular, because of something that happened at the dawn of human history. Nitpick all you want about the distinction between a cherished possession and a disposable object: they’re both still forms of dehumanisation. And so, as a consequence, the working definition of rape within those groups is whittled down to a horrifying nub. Under this schema, marital rape doesn’t exist; yes once means yes forever, and possessions in any case cannot say no. Corrective rape isn’t rape at all, but medicine: a therapeutic treatment for abnormality or recalcitrance. The only rape that functionally matters to such people could be better classed as a combination of theft and destruction of property: one man’s assault on something possessed by another, and therefore an insult to him above everything else (the woman herself is largely incidental, except inasmuch as she represents his status).

(If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, he said, perhaps I’d be dating her. He saidGrab them by the pussy. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Or almost anything, even if you’re not famous. Serving three months of six a month rape sentence is, we’re told, a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.)

So let’s set the record straight, shall we?

Rape doesn’t happen because men are inherently programmed to rape; if it did, there’d be no such thing as a female rapist, and no such thing as a man who’d never struggled not to rape, let alone failed to contemplate it. Rape doesn’t happen because of a biological instinct for procreation; if it did, there’d be no such thing as the rape of pregnant women, the paedophilic rape of children, the rape of the elderly, oral rape or anal rape or any other form of rape that can’t possibly result in a future child; no rape where the rapist bothered to use a condom, or rape where the rapist knew his victim was on birth control. Rape doesn’t happen because women are drunk or dressed immodestly; if it did, then sober, modestly-dressed women, like nuns and Muslimahs in hijabs and burqas, would never be victims. Rape doesn’t happen because women are allowed to interact with men to whom they’re not related; if it did, there’d be no such thing as incestuous rape, the rape of children by adult family members or abuse between siblings or cousins. Rape doesn’t happen because it’s impossible for men to stop having sex once they’ve started; if it did, there’d be no such thing as men who stop when a partner changes their mind, let alone men who change their minds themselves. Rape doesn’t happen as an inevitable consequence of men and women working or socialising together; if it did, then situational rape in all male or predominantly male environments, like armies and prisons and boarding schools and clergical settings, wouldn’t happen; nor would it be possible for women to rape other women.

Rape happens because rapists decide to rape. That’s it. End of story. Period.

The rapist’s decision can be opportunistic or premeditated. Sometimes, the rapist understands that what they’re doing is rape. Sometimes, the rapist tries to justify their actions to avoid that understanding, whether by blaming the victim, claiming their assault was somehow necessary or inevitable or a thing they were entitled to do, or dismissing the consequences of it as unimportant. Sometimes, the rapist doesn’t realise that they’re a rapist – because their victim froze up and stopped fighting and they figured that was as good as a yes; because nobody ever told them that getting a girl too drunk to say no and fucking her while she’s unconscious is rape, not something to high five about the next morning; because they think of rape as a stranger in the bushes, not one partner pressuring another until they give in and lie still for something they didn’t want; because they’ve failed to connect their understanding of the crime to the fact of their own actions. That some rapists genuinely don’t realise that they’re rapists – that learning otherwise can appal them after the fact – is a tragedy of culture and education both. Even so, the lack of malicious intention no more stops it from being rape than a careless driver’s lack of callousness stops them from committing vehicular manslaughter. It might impact what happens afterwards – sentencing, the ability of those who were hurt to move on with their lives – but it doesn’t change what we call the crime itself, let alone prevent it from being a criminal action. Rape is rape is rape. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I do.

We all do.

Rapists rape because they see their victim as a conquest or an object, not a person; because they care more about their own pleasure than their victim’s consent; because they want to control or punish or dominate someone who can’t fight back; because they don’t think they’ll get caught; because they feel entitled to someone else’s body; because they get off on the idea of being able to take what they want by force; because they don’t think anyone in general, or the victim in particular, should be allowed to say no to them; because they see their victim, or their victim’s body, as a means to an end; because they think that wanting something badly enough entitles them to take it by force; because they want to reinforce the victim’s (in their eyes) lesser status; because they want to believe that it’s all for the victim’s own good. These are not reasons in the literal sense, because rape is never a reasoned action, however extensively premeditated or calmly executed it might be; rather, they are justifications, excuses produced to defend the indefensible.

Because rape, whatever the rapist claims, invariably boils down to just three motives: power, control and dehumanisation. A rapist thinks, I am stronger than you; therefore, I can do what I want – that is power. A rapist thinks, I am more important than you; therefore, I can do what I want to you – that is control. A rapist thinks, I am more human than you; therefore, I can do what I want to you and feel I am justified. – that is dehumanisation. Everything on top of that is a lie constructed to cast their actions in a better light, whether internally or in the eyes of others, or to make the victim doubt themselves.

If rape is only ever about biology and bodies and a primal male response to the sight of tempting womanflesh – if rape is only ever an impulse, never a calculated act intended to hurt or degrade another person – then nobody would ever threaten a stranger with rape because of something they said or did or wrote; it would simply make no sense. The very act of making a rape threat belies the claim, often made by the very same person in the very same breath, that rape is an ungovernable impulse, just as claiming that someone is “too ugly to rape” belies the adjacent belief that rapists don’t choose their victims. The whole genre of rape-as-threat-and-insult, in fact, completely undermines every “moral” or “scientific” excuse such adherents invariably employ when subsequently challenged to defend themselves. If rape can be used as a threat or a punishment, then clearly, it can arise from calculated viciousness, and isn’t just an accident of nature. If rape is awful and vile enough that you routinely wish it on your worst enemies, then clearly, we’re within our grounds to consider it a serious crime.

Rape is rape. It is not biology, and it certainly isn’t morality. Learn the fucking difference.

Pun intentional.



  1. I agree whole heartedly with you, rape is the absence of consent. It is not biology it is a Man or woman refusing consent and their wishes being ignored it has absolutely nothing to do with biology and if the person in question gets in I can see a bill Clinton situation rising a few years down the line

  2. Well said. I know I’ll be borrowing some of your points down the road.

  3. morgansd says:

    As a trans person whose friends are mostly also trans and have accessed hormonal transition, these arguments baffle me. My friends who take testosterone to alleviate their gender dysphoria have not suddenly become prone to raping and assaulting others. Nor have certain abusers I know curved their abusive behaviours after starting on estrogen and testosterone blockers. It’s utterly absurd to try to blame rape on cis men’s testosterone, for all the reasons you’ve stated and so many more.

    • morgansd says:

      Ack, I hope it’s clear that by “these arguments” I mean those of rape apologists, not yours! Yours are very well put, and I so appreciate your writing this. You’ve put into words so much of what I feel. Thanks very much for that.

  4. linatami says:

    Yes to everything! Thank you! Perfectly put.

    I would appreciate your input on one other thing that bothers me for quite some time because I see the connection to ‘rape is not biological’. I am talking about a fanfiction phenomenon that has so many of us flustered yet to me seems to argue in exactly the same way as rape culture apologists: ABO universe.

    Systematic discrimination, sexual degradation, objectification, rape and unwilling pregnancy. All tropes of ABO fics – and not simply in a kinky smutty way (like some noncon porn fantasies, i understand that) but as serious romantic fics! The argument usually is: it’s all natural. Hormones, pheromones. And the usual end of those stories? The unwilling party of the A/O couple learns to accept (aka is fucked into submission but we’ll call it love). I am frequently baffled when I encounter serious ABO fics that want to be more than smut. I am especially baffled HOW can readers think this universe is ‘romantic’?
    To me the connection to raperform culture as you have discussed above and it’s deformed image of ‘love’ is obvious.
    Your thoughts on this? Can you help me understand why fans think ABO universe is pure romance? I am at a loss here.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Short answer: kink is complex, and some people enjoy their kinks with a romantic framing.

      Medium answer: a lot of the tropes you’ve described as belonging to ABO are things that actual women deal with in the actual world as a matter of course. ABO is often used as a way of giving biologically and/or culturally cis female problems to male characters – there’s a lot of fics that address discrimination in the workplace, access to birth control, that sort of thing – which both allows women to view those issues at a remove and to highlight their absurdity. And for some of us who aren’t cis – some, not all; everyone likes different things – that alternate portrayal of biology and sexuality can be a weirdly comforting form of representation. That being so, you’ve got to account for the fact that omegaverse is basically a form of magical realism or soft SF: the “rules” of human behaviour and biology are very different, because they’re describing a fundamentally different species. In that sense, it’s like reading porn about humanoid aliens – we take our hangups with us, but we’re projecting them onto a different type of person than actually exists.

      Long answer: I’ve written about ABO at more length in one of my older essays about fanfic, which is here. I totally get that it’s not everybody’s thing, but I do think it’s a fascinating phenomena.

  5. bob k. mando says:

    Rape happens because rapists decide to rape. That’s it. End of story. Period.

    well, yes. that’s obvious.

    however, the rest of your essay is reduced to blithering idiocy due to your two primary assumptions.

    a – only men rape
    ( Marion Zimmer Bradley would like to abuse her children in front of you )

    b – only females are victims ( a large portion of most prison populations are victimized in this fashion regularly )

    • fozmeadows says:

      Uh. I’ve literally talked about both female rapists and make victims in this post? You might want to check your reading comprehension.

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