Women, Feminism & Fear: No. 12: Sex and Violence

Dear Erin:

What I liked best about Angier’s piece in the Science Times was that it confirms scientifically something I know from personal experience and you write about in Women in the Line of Fire: All men are not the same.

From childhood, women are taught that men are only after one thing (sex, of course) and that our lives should be constructed around this. We have to be cautious, or they will attack us for sex. But it’s our responsibility to protect ourselves from this kind of attack — by being “good girls” — because men can’t control themselves.

It’s important to recognize that this is based on the fallacy that all men are alike when it comes to the potential for sexual violence, because it undercuts the “boys will be boys” defense to sexual violence.

Your theories on the relationship of maternal mortality to sexual violence — and the interesting thought that sexual and domestic violence have been accepted, or at least winked at, throughout history because of maternal mortality, except, of course, in the case of a lower status male raping a higher status woman (a property crime) — provide more useful material for figuring out how to address sexual violence as a society. The more we understand about our reactions to these issues, the easier it will be to come up with solutions that work.

The fact that certain kinds of emotional reactions made sense to our ancestors (even if they didn’t understand them at that time) does not mean we’re stuck with the same reactions today. Maternal mortality is no longer a serious problem in the developed world, and there are no medical reasons why it should be a problem anywhere. It’s time for us to shift our thinking.

Unfortunately, some people operate on the assumption that certain things are “natural” — i.e., that men are naturally sexually violent toward women. Part of the next step of feminism is educating people about how the world has shifted. Things that worked for an ancestors aren’t going to work for us.

One of the changes is that women’s lives are no longer built around childbirth and childrearing. I see this as directly related to your maternal mortality theory, and also to the drop in infant mortality, not to mention overpopulation. Survival of the species no longer depends on as many women as possible having children. Cultural values built around that theory — whether we’re talking devaluing women because of the fact that so many died young or limiting the role of women to raising children — are no longer useful to the human race. Hanging onto them is not only sexist; it’s pointless.

Nancy

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