Thoughts on Psychology

Biological Determinism and Violence Against Women

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When I talk about biological determinism I usually discuss its impact on views of human nature and on social policy. Here are a couple of examples that.

I have talked about how biological determinism often suggests that sexual violence is an act of lust or desire, as opposed to seeing it as an act of psychopathic violence against, particularly, women. This reflects a general body of views of gender relations amongst some in society. Fortunately this has been changing as society changes, particularly in response to feminism. I fear the acceptance of strong biological determinist views will set back such changes, and more to the point that such claims are advanced specifically in order to set back those changes, in relation to views of class, gender, race, and other characteristics that distinguish between groups. It’s difficult in the modern day to appreciate quite how bad the position of women in society has been. Historically, the English legal system characterised women as the property of men, either fathers or husbands, and this was reflected in laws around property inheritance, divorce, and sexual violence: see for example the practice of wife selling, practiced in England from the late 17th century to the late 19th. As part of this constellation of views, in times past rape has been seen as a crime against the man who owns the woman, rather than against the woman herself, akin to theft. The still quite widespread view of sexual violence as a crime of lust is reflected in phrases such as “she was asking for it”, suggesting a degree of culpability on the part of women in arousing the passions of vulnerable men. This can have some quite devastating consequences, particularly around the difficulty in obtaining convictions for rape. Even when convictions are obtained, the view can have a chilling effect, and this is where we finally get to the example I promised in the opening paragraph. There was a notorious case in the 1980s of a convicted rapist being given a fine, because his victim had dressed provocatively and was therefore guilty of “contributory negligence” – the legal equivalent of “she was asking for it”. In other cases one judge described an 8 year old victim as “not entirely an angel”, and another suggested a 12 year old victim was “asking for trouble”. There are a number of examples of the outrageous views of the judiciary here:
http://www.truthaboutrape.co.uk/2005campaign.html
The worst example to my mind is that of Sir Harold Cassel QC. I can’t bring myself to write about it.

My second example relates to the practice of forced sterilisation of the feeble minded, that I’ve mentioned several times. One of the most famous cases is that of Carrie Buck, mostly because a case was brought before the US Supreme Court seeking permission to sterilise her, which was given. It’s a tragic story, and I strongly recommend that you read about it here:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-06-23-eugenics-carrie-buck_N.htm
and here:
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2008-11-16-eugenics_N.htm
There are a number unpleasant comments to the second article, but it’s worth reading a few to get a feel for people’s views on the issue.

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