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Cavemen: Evolution and the Theory of “Legitimate Rape”

Written by Madeline Klein on August 21, 2012.

Doesn’t the term “legitimate rape” sound strange? It sounds as if it means a type of rape that’s still rape yet somehow okay, however that would work. “Yeah, the DNA proves he raped her, but apparently it was ‘legitimate rape,’ so the DA’s not going to prosecute” (sorry, I watch a lot of Law and Order: SVU). Actually, it turns out that the term “legitimate rape” refers to, well, rape. The theory is that we apparently need a separate term for actual rape, to differentiate it from all the types of, well…not-rape. Or, as most of us would call it: “sex.”

Anyway, as you may have heard, read, or seen on the news (or, in my case, in your Facebook news feed), Republican Representative Todd Akin of Missouri believes in “legitimate rape.” And one of the things he believes about “legitimate rape” is that generally you don’t get pregnant from it. According to him, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, no matter how obvious it may seem: Akin is wrong. He is mistaken (or knowingly lying, or some self-deluded combination of both). He is not “entitled to his own opinion” in this case. Well, he is entitled to his own opinion – but he’s not entitled to his own facts (I saw this on a bumpersticker in Northern Sun catalog, but it seems to apply here).

There are no two sides to this particular issue, because that is not how human reproduction works.
But let’s run with that concept for a moment: let’s imagine, hypothetically, that a woman who is raped does not get pregnant, or only has a very small chance of getting pregnant. Now, let’s think about all the stereotypes we hear (often from Republicans or people who are generally conservative in their outlook) about the differences between men and women, romantically and sexually. The main message that comes to my mind is the hallowed notion that “men can’t help themselves.”

According to this trope, men today are descended from ruthless cavemen who did nothing but hunt, fight, and impregnate women. As a result of this, men today are naturally aggressive and horny, all the time, and will take sex with a woman in any circumstances – if she’s too drunk or high to think clearly, if she’s not particularly enthusiastic, even if she’s not actually a willing participant. “Men can’t help themselves.” This is why it’s the woman’s job to say “no,” to stop the sex, to avoid putting herself in dangerous situations (as opposed to making dangerous situations less dangerous).

Men can’t help themselves because of their caveman instincts (and yes, I know there are conservatives who wouldn’t subscribe to the “caveman” explanation, because they believe in Creationism and not evolution, but they still seem to propagate the “men can’t help themselves” myth).

Allegedly, men can’t help themselves when it comes to sex and/or rape, because they have evolved to do whatever is necessary to pass on their genes. But wait! We’ve just established that women don’t get pregnant from rape! By this logic, the cavemen who father the most offspring are the cavemen who CAN help themselves, who DO take “no” for an answer. So, according to the theory of evolution, most men have inherited the trait for initiating consensual and totally non-rapey sex, because their caveman ancestors needed this trait to pass on their genes.

So does this mean I can expect Todd Akin and anyone who agrees with him never to use rape-apologist standbys like, “she was asking for it when she went there/did that/wore that/etc?” Because there is nothing natural, normal, or manly about rape (this is true, by the way), which means it’s the fault of the person who commits it, and not the victim.

Yep. That’s totally going to happen.

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I'm a nineteen-year-old freshman at Mount Holyoke College. This is my first blog. I specialize in feminism, body image and size acceptance, autism acceptance, and disability rights.

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