Science vs Emotion: A Closer Look at Feminist Ideas

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

One of the most popular go-to phrases or memes in the modern feminist lexicon is “rape culture”. Any time there is a high profile rape case we inevitably hear the phrase being dragged out by academic and populist feminists alike. Rape culture is one of those squishy leftist terms which has some vague, general meaning but lacks any type of consistent definition or specific criteria. What exactly qualifies any given culture as a “rape culture”? Well, it depends on who you ask. That should be your first red flag. If a term’s definition is subject to the opinion of the individual using it, that’s typically a big, fat bullshit alert.

Anyway, the closest we can get to a definition that most feminists would agree upon is the following (per Wikipedia):

“Rape culture is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.”

Using this vague definition as a basis, many feminists claim that there exists a “rape culture” in the United States. Many feminists also claim that major media outlets and/or a generally patriarchal society have created the right conditions for rape culture to thrive. Put bluntly, rape culture exists in the United States and men are to blame.

Of course, I cannot prove or disprove the existence of “rape culture” in the United States (or anywhere else for that matter). How many victims need to be blamed before we can safely call any given culture a “rape culture”? One? Two? Five hundred? There is no objective answer to this question.

However, science does have some things to say about the sources of this so called “rape culture”. Per the definition above, victim blaming is considered one of the hallmark signs of a society infested with rape culture. Modern examples of victim blaming typically entail the rape victim’s credibility being questioned. A common example is “slut shaming” – women who are criticized for their provocative conduct, dress, etc. In this sense, “blaming the victim” is typically associated with men who either subtly or outright blame the rape victim for the crime committed against them. The general theme is that men are suppressing female sexuality and promiscuity by blaming female rape victims for the heinous crimes committed against them.

As it turns out, recent research by Tracy Vaillancourt at McMaster University shows that:

“Stigmatizing female promiscuity — a.k.a. slut-shaming — has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous. Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma is enforced mainly by women.” (NYT)

In the New York Times article linked above, Vaillancourt continued:

“Sex is coveted by men,” she said. “Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”

Research similar to what Dr. Vaillancourt has done at McMaster is being conducted at an increasing rate. The old concept of patriarchy holding back female sexuality and contributing to victim blaming is becoming less believable from a scientific standpoint. Of course, men still have an evolutionarily programmed incentive to discourage female partners from promiscuity. But the truth is that this is a small part of the equation. If “slut shaming” means anything at all, its source is primarily female competition—not male protectiveness.

Earlier I mentioned that media outlets are often blamed for the existence of rape culture and, more generally, for the existence of slut shaming. As it turns out, research on this topic shows that to be off the mark as well.

“To a large degree the media reflects trends that are going on in society, not creates them,” said Dr. Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University. He found that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies did not correlate with what they watched on television at home.”

As more research is done by actual scientists and as vague feminist catchphrases are increasingly scrutinized outside the halls of the social science department’s echo chamber, we will become better off as a society. No one knows where the current research will lead, but here’s a hint: men aren’t entirely to blame. Although such a simple answer would be easier and satisfy some, it’s important to remember that social phenomena are often more complex than our ideologies would like us to believe.


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