Fantasies of abuse

(54 Posts)
Tortoiseonthehalfshell Wed 11-Jun-14 03:45:29

Not a pervy thread, I promise! I'm posting here because I'm really, really struggling to articulate what I mean, and if anyone can put this into better words it's you lot. It's a really delicate area, so if I'm coming across as victim-blaming or dismissing experience, please tell me off because that's not even slightly where I'm coming from.

(For full disclosure, I'm also trying to write a blog post about this)

Okay. So here are some disjointed thoughts.

Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, etc. Romanticising abusive relationships. Classic literary trope, actually - the idea of the dominant/stalky boyfriend as true love object. Wuthering Heights, and all that.

Lots of feminist critique of these books/media. Blaming Hollywood plot lines, lazy storytelling, etc., for teaching women that controlling relationships are actually romantic. Very useful stuff, glad it exists. Important to teach young women that this is not a healthy model.

BUT. Popular culture is descriptive as well as prescriptive. And these books are targeted at, and - to our communal chagrin, I'm sure - devoured by women. So they strike some sort of chord.

There's a bit, early in The Women's Room, where young Mira is described as conjuring up elaborate sexual fantasies involving torture and rape. Which struck a chord with me, in a 'it wasn't just me!' way - and this is back when I was 12, 13, already a self-identifying feminist without any abusive or patriarchal models in my life (I was raised by an awesome single mother, with no male relatives on the scene in any significant way).

So. I guess I'm thinking that there is something about that abusive/controlling/dominant relationship model which is darkly attractive to a lot of women. Not because we're confused about consent, or because we've been lied to by Hollywood, although maybe we are those things as well. But underneath that. Why?

I mean, who knows. Chicken/egg, products of patriarchal culture, etc. I'm certainly not about to run an evo-psych argument here. But ... does anyone know what I'm trying to get at? That the reason that these storylines are so popular is not because we're confused that this is real love, but because on its own level, they tap into something that a lot of women actually do fantasise about?

Beachcomber Fri 13-Jun-14 08:55:23

What's the evopsych theory on why men as a class are abusive?

almondcakes Fri 13-Jun-14 09:06:01

'I can explain exactly why ice is slippery when you stand on it because that science is known and absolute, but for human psychology and behaviour the only things that can ever be put forth by anyone, as far as I know, are ideas.'

All ideas are not equally likely to be plausible. Some are based on an evidence base and a credible theory, while others are not. You can use Physics and Chemistry to explain why ice is slippery, but somebody else could use the language of Physics and Chemistry but use the theory of crystal healing to explain why ice is slippery. Most people would consider your idea the better one. So you using the language of evolutionary biology doesn't make your idea a good one if you are not actually working from the evidence base or using any kind of evolutionary theory. Merely saying the word 'evolution' doesn't suddenly trump people offering theories about social construction from an evidence base.

Your ideas:

1. 'But I would make the case that, given context of how badly human females seem to have been treated as a gender by human males through recorded human history, that there is plenty of reasonable evidence to infer that, pre recorded history, females had to co-exist with one hell of a lot of males who wanted to have sex with them and kill other males.'

Humans didn't evolve in recorded human history. How people have behaved from farming onwards is evidence of how people behave within the context of a series of social and technological constructions that are not present during the period of time when hominids evolved. The arguments of how people in societies like that behave is relevant to explaining how some people have evolved since the development of those societies, so why some groups are less likely to be lactose intolerant, for example. Unless of course you are making the argument that people who have a long exposure to farming and the societies that have developed from it have innately different brains to hunter gatherers, and (quite apart from the racism of that idea) there is no evidence for it.

To demonstrate that humans evolved to have a particular trait you would either have to demonstrate it is universal by including hunter gatherers. If you want to present an idea about how people behaved during the evolution of humans you would have to provide evidence from a. the behaviour of hunter gatherers who still experience similar evolutionary pressures to those that existed for our early ancestors and b. evidence based directly on human evolution in the past.

2. 'a base human survival mechanism formed millennia ago where a female was required to attempt to form a bond with an ideally strong as possible male in order to best ensure the chances of personal survival of herself and offspring.'

If females select a certain type of mate, whose traits had an evolutionary advantage, those traits would become more common in the population. For your idea to be supported, there would have to be evidence that hominid males were or became, at some point, bigger and stronger than their ancestors. This has never happened, as far as we know, from the hominid remains we have to work from, in any hominid species including our own.

High sexual dimorphism (the extent of differences between males and females) is a common trait where males fight between themselves for access to females. Hominids have always had low levels of dimorphism. There has never been a hominid species that had high levels of sexual dimorphism or any any of the traits (large canines etc) associated with male aggression. When Attenborough claims (and I haven't watched the tv series) a level of co-operation, that is because the actual physiology of hominids is one found in co-operative species and not usually in species where being an aggressive male is an advantage.

Hominids have never had high sexual dimorphism indicative of male aggression, so as far as we know, it is incompatible with bipedalism, unless a new, highly sexually dimorphic biped suddenly turns up. Pongids may well have included aggressive males, but traits associated with aggressive males were not those selected for our ancestors to evolve into hominids.

Being strong is not, in itself, an advantage in having surviving offspring. It may be incompatible with other more advantageous traits, it may simply by random not be present in those carrying other advantageous traits, and it always has an energy cost in keeping the strong body alive (energy requirements for food etc) that may outweigh the benefit of being able to get more food or fight off aggressors. At some point, weaker pongid males must have been selected for our weak male species (and all the other hominids) to exist.

Added to which, hunter gatherers now or that we have evidence of from the historical period, who actually live under similar environmental pressures to those of our ancestors, tend to be more egalitarian, including gender equality. They also don't have one common way of creating social relationships for gaining resources. In some societies, women bond with sexual partners to get food, in some with their mothers, in some with a wide community. We don't know which social relationships were most common in the past for pregnant women.

In Pre-historic hunter gatherers, there is no evidence for aggression to be a common experience. There are very few examples of females who have injuries as a result of violence, while injuries as a result of accidents, fractures from walking on uneven ground etc, are very common.

3. 'Behaviour that became entrenched in human thinking through evolution?'

Very little behaviour is entrenched in human thinking through evolution. The evidence for that is the vast diversity of human societies and ways of life that exist across the globe. What human have evolved is the ability to move into a massive and disparate range of ecological niches through socially constructing the world. That means we can change those social constructions, and inevitably will do.

On a separate note, I also think it is worth pointing out that according to psychologists, most women don't have rape and abuse fantasies most women don't read Twilight or similar abusive story line romances. Whether anybody believes it is innate, or a tendency that happens to come out in women in certain conditions, or in everyone in certain conditions (as supported by the research in the book on societal Stockholm syndrome), it is a behaviour that is not shown in most women, and I think explaining why women don't have these fantasies is as interesting as explaining why they do.

Keepithidden Fri 13-Jun-14 09:58:00

Its also true that almost any complex species under less stress reduces hostility within its ranks and that could be applied to humanity on a global scale as, pound for pound, there are far less global conflicts now than in centuries past

I'm not sure either of these are true, but I'm willing to be convinced, could you point me to a source?

I can explain exactly why ice is slippery when you stand on it because that science is known and absolute

Unfortunately, no science is known and absolute. Why ice is slippery was being talked about when I was in eductaion (a few years back now) and is still being discussed by far more intelligent people than me! It's up there with "How do aeroplane wings keep aircraft up" and "Why does liquid flow through a pipe like that" in the ever questioning world of science.

Sorry that was all a bit OT, but prompted a couple of thoughts from me.

Chachah Fri 13-Jun-14 11:12:46

almondcakes, would you have any good recommendations for solid academic criticism of evopsych theories?

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now