JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2012, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 54, fall 2012

The rape-revenge film: biocultural implications

by David Andrews

In a recent issue of Philosophy and Literature,[1] [open endnotes in new window] I argued that film studies could learn from the way in which literary Darwinists have applied evolutionary theory to questions of genre and interpretation in literary studies. At the same time, I noted that film scholars working in this biocultural vein should be careful in developing their rationales, for they can expect criticism from scholars who prefer traditional theoretical regimes.[2] (To be clear, a “biocultural” approach is one that combines biological methods—whether evolutionary, cognitive, or the like—with more traditional humanities methods.) In my view, bioculturalists in film studies will position themselves to deflect such criticism if they focus on areas of inquiry that are clearly compatible with evolutionary thinking. And they will further strengthen their position if they can show that the film scholarship in those areas would benefit from an intervention.

The rape-revenge film is one such area. A biocultural approach is relevant at the formal and psychological levels to the analysis of a widespread cinematic narrative structure whose very name conjoins two human behaviors, rape and revenge, that scientific researchers have identified as universal across human history and culture. Given this universality, it is unsurprising that scholars have recently shown that the rape-revenge meme has itself been universal across film history and culture. Unfortunately, film scholarship on rape-revenge has made little of that dual universality, in part because recent discussions of rape-revenge in film have been mostly a-theoretical and tentative. Though highly detailed, this scholarship currently offers readers few ways of theorizing the cinematic rape-revenge narrative in a general way. 

A biocultural analysis offers a way out of this impasse. By placing these rape-revenge scenarios in the context of current debates in evolutionary psychology, film scholars can gradually begin to re-imagine the logic of this narrative structure. To begin with, a biocultural analysis rooted in Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection can provide a plausible hypothesis that explains why the pairing of rape and revenge seems so “natural” in this kind of narrative. Such an analysis also offers a potential explanation of how and why rape-revenge movies construct rape as a special crime—and this inquiry can help illuminate everything from the routine use of flashbacks in rape-revenge to this fictional structure’s more recent reliance on torture porn. What is more, this analysis speculates as to why some rape-revenge scenarios, despite their plentiful brutality and nudity, have struck viewers as thematically and politically progressive while others have come across as more exploitative. Before I explore these ideas, however, I want to briefly describe the literature on the rape-revenge movie and establish a very basic understanding of sexual-selection theory as it relates to the subjects at hand.

Rape-revenge: the scholarship

Since the early 1990s, the scholarship on the rape-revenge film has been dominated by feminists, including Carol Clover, Barbara Creed, Jacinda Read, Sarah Projansky, and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.[3] This tradition first gained academic traction through “Getting Even,” a chapter of Clover’s 1992 book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Here Clover discerned a kind of feminism within 1970s and 1980s rape-revenge films like I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978) and Ms. 45 (Abel Ferrara, 1981). Clover also used these films as the basis for her theory of cross-gender identification in horror.

At the end of the decade, in her book The New Avengers: Feminism, Femininity and the Rape-Revenge Cycle (2000), Jacinda Read shifted away from Clover’s psychoanalytic methods, which were central to many early feminist approaches to the rape-revenge film. Importantly, Read proposed that rape-revenge is not a genre per se but is instead a narrative structure mapped across film genres. According to Read, this structure is best understood through its dialectical back-and-forth with second-wave feminism, a movement that was contemporary with the most iconic examples of the form. She critiqued Clover’s (and, to a lesser extent, Creed’s) psychoanalytic arguments, which did not in her view account sufficiently for historical change. Read also believed that Clover made a mistake in classifying rape-revenge generically as a sub-category of horror.

In her recent book Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (2011), Alexandra Heller-Nicholas extends Read’s move away from psychoanalysis but also claims that Read committed many of the same errors as Clover. According to Heller-Nicholas, Read had reduced rape-revenge to a handful of feminist- and postfeminist-era films and considered the form all but dead once feminism’s second wave had crested. Further, she found Read imprecise in classifying movies that do not even depict attempted rape as crucial rape-revenge movies. For her own part, Heller-Nicholas considers rape-revenge a universal phenomenon and points to examples of such films across film history, across high-low culture, and across global film industries. She thinks that Clover and Read were wrong to yoke the form too tightly to the historical period most crucial to second-wave feminism, especially the years between 1975 and 1990. Since the rape-revenge form existed before that time and is exceptionally active today, she finds “no singular or unified treatment of rape across this category when surveyed as a whole.”[4]

Heller-Nicholas’s work on the universality of rape-revenge as well as the diversity within it is a major contribution to film scholarship—one that is in its own way as crucial as Clover’s contribution. It confirms that there is something more persistent and pervasive to the cinematic rape-revenge narrative than its dialogue with second-wave feminism can explain. Unfortunately, because Heller-Nicholas is unwilling to stray too far from feminism’s traditional strictures, she seems unsure what to do with her findings and does not come to a satisfying conclusion about the implications of this narrative structure. This is surprising. Unlike Projansky, who once worried that describing rape depictions in academia might fuel the harmful rape discourses so prevalent in the mainstream,[5] Heller-Nicholas casts a wide net in her survey, bluntly examining even the most “idiotic” cases of rape-revenge.[6] Ergo, she shows a willingness to go beyond the limitations that have handicapped other projects. But it is telling that Heller-Nicholas’s main reason for looking at such a comprehensive sample of texts is her hope that by doing so she might discover moments of progressive feminist thinking in unexpected places (which, as it happens, she does). Her goal is traditional even if her method is not.

When in the past film scholars explained rape-revenge through concepts like fetishism or castration anxiety, the problem was not that they were using a universalizing theory—for as Heller-Nicholas has demonstrated, that is what the universality of this narrative structure calls for. The problem was that they were using the wrong universalizing theory. It should not surprise us, then, that the biocultural approach usefully replaces one of the ostensible functions of the psychoanalytic approach: it offers rational explanations of the aesthetic structure and psychological appeal of films that often seem primitive in their psychosexual violence. Both psychoanalytic and biocultural approaches perceive the repetitive aspects of the rape-revenge movie as speaking to human instincts and desires that are inarticulate or unconscious. Unlike the psychoanalytic approach, however, the biocultural approach assumes that the appeal of the rape-revenge narrative is rooted in evolutionary drives formed through thousands of generations of Darwinian selection—and this is a subject that is well established in the biological literature. In that respect, the biocultural approach is built on solid foundations that analyze both rape and aggression in a way that can be effectively applied to their depictions in film.

Evolutionary intertwining of rape and revenge

Before re-considering rape-revenge cinema from a more biocultural standpoint, I wish to review the account of rape that is emerging from evolutionary psychology—beginning with a few basic caveats. First, we should dispense with the naturalistic fallacy, which has often stopped humanities scholars from pursuing biology-based inquiries. We must recognize at the outset that just because a behavior like rape has evolutionary roots does not mean that it can be considered “good” or “inevitable.” Hence, those roots cannot be used to justify the continued presence of rape in our society or any other. What is more, to propose an evolutionary basis for a behavior is not to endorse a kind of biological determinism. This issue is of obvious importance to progressive film scholars interested in sex and gender, for a theoretical stance that perceives gender as a set of culturally acquired and perpetuated traits will naturally seem more forward-thinking, or at least more hopeful, than one that appears to close off the potential for social change through biological determinism. But we must keep in mind that this anxiety about biological determinism is rooted in a gross simplification. As Melissa Emery Thompson has observed, although evolutionary explanations have often been “misinterpreted as ascribing biological influence on a behavior to genetically determined inevitability,” in fact, evolutionarily

“derived traits are inherently shaped by the environment of the organism, and from the very anatomy of the organism to its behavior, the environment is critical in shaping each trait during an individual’s life.”[7]

In practical terms, what this means is that a focus on the biology of rape in no sense precludes a focus on the culture of rape, which is concomitantly important as we seek to understand how and why heterosexual rape actually happens. Finally, to these disclaimers, we should add one final caveat: the account of heterosexual rape that is now emerging from evolutionary psychology is neither settled nor monolithic. The only thing that does seem to be settled is that the universality of this male sexual behavior across all human cultures suggests that this behavior has evolutionary roots of some kind.

Evolutionary psychology’s account of rape in part derives from Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), Darwin proposed his theory of sexual selection to account for his observation that males and females across many species differ in traits that seem unrelated to differences in either environmental conditions or the basic mechanics of reproduction. For example, males often perform elaborate dances, sing exhausting songs, or display conspicuous ornamentation to attract mates. Sexual-selection theory posits that these biologically male traits evolve because they confer an advantage in competition for access to females; the more baroque males get more matings and therefore leave more offspring than their plainer rivals. If females actively choose the males with the most exaggerated displays, the result is a case of intersexual selection, or sexual selection based on female sexual choice. If sexual selection is instead based on male-male competition, or intrasexual selection, males often evolve weapons with which they can fight other males for access to females.

Biologists have derived many corollaries from Darwin’s observations. For example, one major theory in evolutionary biology today posits that males and females across many species “have conflicting reproductive interests that result from fundamental asymmetries in levels of parental investment,” a subject that Robert Trivers first theorized in 1972.[8] These differing levels of parental investment (or “parental effort”) come from the fact that one parent routinely contributes greater resources to child-rearing. This difference has many implications. As Martin Muller et al. have put it, 

“Because in most cases females invest more time and energy in offspring than do males, male reproductive success (1) is limited primarily by access to temporally rare, fecund females and (2) is potentially much higher than that of females. Consequently, males often benefit by being more eager to mate, and less choosy about their mating partners, than are females, and selection can favor male traits that override female preferences. The result is an evolutionary arms race between the sexes, in which strategies and counterstrategies are selected to minimize reproductive costs imposed by the opposite sex.”[9]

Over the past twenty years, evolutionary psychologists have hypothesized that one of the counter-strategies in this Darwinian “arms race” is rape. Because the males of some species, including several species of primates like humans and orangutans, at times use physical coercion to copulate with females, these researchers have proposed that male-female rape seems to have evolved as a male strategy to overcome the general constraint of female choosiness. To be clear, female choosiness is not identical to female sexual agency or to female consent or even to female sexual choice (which, as I have indicated above, is synonymous with intersexual selection, a subject first broached by Darwin).[10] Female choosiness is instead a broader-based sexual trait that contrasts with male reproductive interests across many different species. Those male interests are served by a relative promiscuity that maximizes mate quantity, while female reproductive interests are served by a relative discrimination, or choosiness, maximizing mate quality. Without these differences in reproductive interest and parental effort, sexual coercion and rape would make little evolutionary sense in any species.                               

Though the rape hypothesis has spurred heated debate both within evolutionary biology and between scientists and feminists,[11] the advocates of the two main positions in evolutionary psychology—described below—both tend to accept the principles of sexual selection, including the general idea that it leads to males that are larger, more aggressive, and more promiscuous in their behavior than females. But these advocates differ on whether rape in humans is an evolved tendency of human males—a rape adaptation that enhances male fitness—or whether it is just a by-product of male sexuality, that is, an extreme result of a psychology that is relatively aggressive and relatively promiscuous when compared to female psychology. As Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer put it, rape

“may be an adaptation that was directly favored by selection because it increased male reproductive success by way of increasing mate number.”[12]

Or it may simply be a by-product of the many adaptations that culminated in male promiscuity. Only in the first case would there be a psychological rape mechanism that developed in human males specifically because it provided a “net reproductive benefit,” enhancing their fitness through many generations of selection.[13]

But if theorists can’t agree on the net benefit of rape to (some) human males, they can agree on its evolutionary costs, especially those that accrue to female victims. The most direct evolutionary cost to victims comes from the violation of social structures that allow human females to exercise discrimination, or choosiness, through the exercise of agency and consent. Rape victims lose the ability to select males whom they prefer, which in an evolutionary sense robs them of the opportunity to direct the development of their family and to steer its cultural and genetic inheritance. In species other than humans, these deprivations can have dire results, reducing female fitness drastically, and this is no less true for human females, whose social, genetic, and physical standing are threatened by nonconsensual encounters. For example, if a rape victim is already in a relationship, her mate may abandon her, consciously or unconsciously to maintain paternity certainty. This result can devastate the victim and whatever offspring she already has. In a significant number of cases, victims are physically injured in rape; such injuries impact their survival as well as their future reproductive potential. Other effects include psychological traumas and social stigmas. Some of these problems may be indirectly adaptive. If we look in a more complex way at the horrific trauma of rape as a strategy in “the evolutionary arms race between the sexes,” we will recognize that rape trauma after the fact—much like the instinctual fear of rape before the fact—may actually help women avoid future rapes, just as the cognitive capacity for pain helps people avoid injuries. Speaking broadly, these costs may all be seen as results of male cheating, that is, the circumvention of female choosiness in an evolutionary framework in which sexually promiscuous males compete for access to a limited number of fairly discriminating females.

The crucial insight here—that is, the one that is most pertinent to our discussion of rape-revenge—is that the enormous pain of rape is predicted by sexual-selection theory. Because of this pain, female rape victims are predisposed to see rape as a special crime that is on a par with murder. Further, sexual-selection theory suggests why rape is often difficult to prove. For biological as well as cultural reasons, men and women have often had different perspectives on rape.[14] As Susan Brownmiller noted in Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (1975) four decades ago, official institutions demand standards of evidence that cannot be met in rape trials, which often devolve into he-said, she-said arguments. Because these standards and the systems of justice they serve often fail rape victims, culminating in the dismissal of charges against rapists, rape is under-reported all over the world, particularly when perpetrated by acquaintances. Furthermore, even when the system does work and the rapist or rapists are punished, the reporting of a rape is still a risky prospect for the victim, for it might trigger punishments of her by her partner, her family, and her social circle. The impulse not to report such a crime is thus exceptionally strong and perhaps represents an evolved tendency. All in all, then, rape is a terrible crime for female victims and one that often goes un-reported to authorities and un-punished by third-party institutions, leaving victims and their allies burdened with outrage or resentment. Consequently, even when they don’t seek revenge outside the law, rape victims, their relatives, and their male or female allies may harbor violent vigilante fantasies in which the victim’s interests are avenged.[15] 

This evolutionary account of rape, though still quite sketchy, dovetails with an emerging account of revenge. Theorists in disciplines from evolutionary psychology to the social sciences are interested in the phenomenon of revenge and how it relates to human traits like moral outrage and physical aggression. The basic assumption across these inquiries is that revenge, in tandem with the outraged behavior that so often accompanies revenge, increases human fitness at the individual and group levels.

According to theorist Tamler Sommers, “retributive behavior is in a certain sense irrational,” for it cannot “undo the harm committed by the offense and it often comes with a significant cost” in tow.[16] But this behavior is rational in the sense that without the threat of retaliation to keep offenders in check there is nothing to stop people from exploiting one another. In other words, if the cost of retaliating is often high, the cost of not retaliating can also be high. Sommers believes that human evolution solved this problem by developing “mechanisms that motivate us to behave retributively, even when the costs to our self-interests are high.” Here, the development of feelings like moralistic aggression, which arose in tandem with resentment and outrage, proved very useful in motivating “violent retaliation against defectors” despite the personal costs. [17] Together, these dispositions formed the basis of the human instinct for revenge as it evolved over the millennia. It is not difficult to see, of course, how these insights apply to rape. If there is a revenge instinct, there is almost certainly a rape-revenge instinct, for rape is one of the most fundamental human offenses there is.

However, even as the human instinct for revenge solved one of set of problems, it still left the victims of the original offense burdened with personal costs. Not only did they have to suffer the costs of the original offense, they also had to suffer the secondary costs of the retaliation, which could be just as high. To relieve the victim (and other offended parties) of these secondary costs, human cultures gradually moved toward third-party systems wherein civil authorities adjudicated and punished offenders; these systems offered the civic benefit of shouldering the costs of retaliation.

Unfortunately, in the case of rape, the human instinct for a more hands-on approach to revenge has been difficult to sublimate in third-party justice, because this form of justice has so often failed the victim and other offended parties. It is no wonder, then, that film scholars as far back as Clover have observed that, as a narrative structure, rape-revenge has had “a nervous relationship to third-party dispute settlement.”[18]

The three key observations emerging from this general overview are, then, as follows. First, as a product of sexual selection, heterosexual rape is a male attempt to circumvent the constraints imposed by the different reproductive interests of the sexes. Whether rape represents a full adaptation, however, is an open question—one that film scholars should definitely not presume they know the answer to. Second, evolutionarily, rape has had a high cost for human females and their relatives, who have come to look on it as a special crime. Third, as such a crime, rape is a reliable trigger of the human instinct for revenge, but it is not one that is easily satisfied by cultural institutions. By reading rape-revenge films through this modest Darwinian account, we can tailor a biocultural approach to an area of film studies that needs an intervention. In the next section, I begin this process by demonstrating the different ways in which rape-revenge movies define rape as a special crime, something that is crucial to the appeal of these films.

Communicating the special-ness of rape

“Motherfucker rapin’ me, I don’t want to give him a skin rash.”
Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

A rape-revenge film is one whose central narrative maneuver is to use an act of rape, on-screen or off, to motivate an act of vengeance. Or, to twist this just a bit, a rape-revenge film is, as Heller-Nicholas puts it, a movie in which

“a rape that is central to the narrative is punished by an act of vengeance, either by the victim themselves or by an agent (a lawyer, policeman, or most commonly, a loved one or family member).”[19]

Clearly, the key criterion here is the judgment of narrative centrality, which in effect excludes films whose rape-revenge segments do not seem crucial to the way in which the plot plays out. Thus, in this essay, the centrality criterion precludes discussion of films in which the rape-revenge arc is an unambiguously minor element in the film as a whole (see, e.g., Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron [1977]). It also precludes discussion of trickier cases, in which rape is a minor narrative element but a significant thematic one (e.g., Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls [1995]). The rapes avenged in rape-revenge can be male-male (as in John Boorman’s Deliverance [1972]), male-child (as in Daniel Grou’s Seven Days [2010]), or female-female (as in any number of women-in-prison films), but the most common type is male-female, or heterosexual. Because this is also the kind of rape whose evolutionary significance is clearest, the discussion below focuses on rape-revenge films in which a heterosexual rape seems to be, in this analyst’s judgment, a central narrative element, one that motivates an equally central act of revenge.[20]

In accord with the evolutionary observations note above, these rapes are perceived by the avenger figures in each film as special crimes that deserve equally distinctive acts of vengeance—a dynamic that has contributed to the use of torture-porn imagery in the revenge segments of recent rape-revenge remakes. Though revenge-oriented films often have a regressive or even right-wing slant, the political impetus of the rape-revenge film often seems different, for it is routinely wed to pro-female scenarios that support female sexual agency at the individual level and that usually sympathize with rape victims. Not surprisingly, these ideological sympathies often culminate in a progressive political impact, despite the countervailing obsession of these films with seemingly regressive or excessively voyeuristic elements like nudity, violence, and vigilantism. The exception to this rule is when the avenger figure in the narrative is the husband of the victim or when the rape only loosely motivates the revenge. Both factors are in play, for instance, in the Straw Dogs films (Sam Peckinpah, 1971/Rod Lurie, 2011), which have attracted many feminist critiques.[21] Besides the victim’s husband, the most common avengers are the victim’s parents, the victim’s female allies, and of course the victim herself. As I explain in my next section, each type of avenger may be seen as having a distinctive set of evolutionarily-derived motivations for avenging the central rape(s).

Rape-revenge films convey the special-ness of the rape—a special-ness explained and predicted by sexual-selection theory—in several standard ways. Sometimes, they do so by depicting the ferocity and sadism of a rape. This is certainly true of the original I Spit on Your Grave, in which Meir Zarchi’s heroine is subjected to three separate attacks that take up twenty-five minutes of screen time. During these attacks, the victim is raped vaginally and anally; sodomized with a bottle; subjected to horrifying taunts, shouts, and jeers; and repeatedly punched, kicked, and beaten. Though such violence may not represent the average rape victim’s experience of rape, it effectively presents rape as an exceptional crime.

Another way in which the special-ness of rape is constructed cinematically is through glimpses into the mental deterioration of the victim. The logic here is indirect. The films’ dramatic response to rape indicates the dramatic nature of the original crime. Character portrayals typically show the victim subject to post-traumatic-stress disorders, often through recurring flashbacks triggered by noise and acts of violence.[22] Today, such depictions are altogether standard, as indicated by the stylistic panache of some recent examples. See, for example, the Friday-night-football sequence in Rod Lurie’s remake of Straw Dogs. In this sequence, the reverberating traumas of rape are elicited by the pounding hits and the macho crowd noise of high-school football in small-town Mississippi. This sort of representation has obvious feminist resonance. But we should remember that the flashback in rape-revenge was used long before the second-wave critique of rape had even coalesced. Consider, for example, that three films from 1971—including the original Straw Dogs film and two rape-revenge westerns, Ron Joy’s Five Savage Men/The Animals and Burt Kennedy’s Hannie Caulder—feature heroines who manifest trauma through uncontrolled flashbacks.

Another common way that these films convey the uniqueness of rape is by placing rape in a comparative context that includes other crimes, like assault and murder. Then the films use the responses of third parties, most often parents, to evoke the unique awfulness of rape. For example, in Dennis Iliadis’ remake of Last House on the Left (2009), the victim’s father (Tony Goldwyn), a surgeon, finds that his daughter (Sara Paxton) has been shot in the back—but he is filled with markedly more horror and revulsion when he subsequently discovers that she has also been raped. Indeed, even when the “other” crime in these films is the ultimate one—murder—the rape can still seem the paramount sin, as it does in the original Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972) and in Eye for an Eye (John Schlesinger, 1996). Finally, these films also convey rape’s specialness by having their scripts directly assert that nothing can atone for rape. This happens, for example, in the remake of I Spit on Your Grave (Steven Monroe, 2010), when the victim (Sarah Butler) responds to a heartfelt apology from her rapist (Chad Lindberg) by declaring that when it comes to rape remorse “just isn’t good enough.” Such assertions in the dialogue indicate that the narrative is set up to accent rape’s exceptional nature.

By presenting rape as a special crime, rape-revenge makes the case for punishing this crime in a special way. Such punishment often requires vigilantism. Though rape-revenge often takes the necessity of vigilante action for granted, the narrative may also supply the standard rationale for it: the official legal system is a macho, patriarchal institution that is also prone to “raping” women, meaning that neither rape victims nor their sympathizers can rely on that system for justice. Movies that utilize this rationale begin by depicting an unfeeling police interrogation of the victim—a phenomenon that feminists have dubbed “the second rape”—which leads into a courtroom scene in which the victim is abused by lawyers. In the end, the charges against her rapist are reduced or dismissed by judges and juries. Though exploitation films with feminist aspirations like Rape Squad (Bob Kelljan, 1974) and Lethal Victims (Raphael Nussbaum, 1987) are the harshest in their critiques of the legal system, even mainstream productions such as Lipstick (Lamont Johnson, 1976), Extremities (Robert Young, 1986), and The Accused have little good to say about this system.

For example, in Lipstick, a super-model heroine (Margaux Hemingway) attempts to prosecute her rapist (Chris Sarandon) even though she knows that the tactic is risky. Unfortunately, the jury lets her attacker off, allowing him to rape again—and this time he rapes her sister (Mariel Hemingway). In an exasperated, oddly innocent act of rage, the heroine then opts for a hands-on style of justice. She stalks her rapist and shoots him with a hunting rifle, pumping his body with more bullets than are necessary to kill him. Here the rationale for vigilantism is spelled out against the backdrop of judicial insensitivity and ineffectiveness, which justifies a distinctive act of revenge.[23]

This narrative equation may also be turned around. The special-ness of rape may at the narrative level justify a special act of revenge. But the special-ness of that revenge may also work to reinforce the special-ness of rape, in the process yielding a new awareness of the horror of rape. Perhaps the most iconic, resonant way in which rape-revenge uses a distinctive act of revenge to distinguish rape from other crimes is through its depiction of castration. In rape-revenge, avengers frequently deprive rapists of their offending organs by biting them off (sometimes after an avenger feigns attraction to a rapist, as in the original version of Last House on the Left) or by hacking, sawing, or snipping them off (as in both the original and the remade versions of I Spit on Your Grave).

Clearly, castration is an appropriate punishment. Not only is it a properly horrific response to rape, it is also one that keeps the rapist from raping again. But this dramatic loss of sexual and reproductive potential also explains why a castration scene is more horrific to male audiences than a more generic torture scene (one in which a rapist loses some other body part) might be. To castrate a rapist is to avenge one gender-specific trauma through another gender-specific trauma—thus providing audiences, male audiences in particular, an analogue for rape that registers at the gut level (and below). 

If castration is the act of revenge best equipped to convey the instinctual horror of rape to male viewers, torture is the act best equipped to convey the feminist idea that rape is power, not sex. The difference is subtle yet significant. The feminist account of rape—which has been argued by many activists, starting with Brownmiller, and which has recently been disputed by evolutionary psychologists like Thornhill and Palmer[24]—stresses that rape requires the non-consensual control of a woman by a man (or men) over a period of time. By this definition, rape is a form of torture, for torture requires the non-consensual control of one person by others over a period of time, during which physical and psychological scars may be left on the victim. If we keep this conceptual overlap in mind, it is possible to read gender-specific implications in rape-revenge’s recent turn toward torture-porn in the revenge sections of the remakes of Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. My reading of this tendency—one best exemplified by Monroe’s remake of the Zarchi original—is that reciprocal cruelty allows an avenger to teach a rapist what it feels like to be raped, thus letting the audience in on the secret as well.

Here we should recall that elements of this motif have long been present in rape-revenge. For example, in the 1986 Farrah Fawcett drama Extremities, the heroine traps a man (James Russo) who has twice brutalized her and twice attempted to rape her. She cages him in a fireplace for an extended period, during which time she assaults him and leads him to think that she is either going to kill him or let him die from the bug poison with which she subdued him. Today, rape-revenge dramas continue to dabble with torture; see, for example, the copycat torture-rape in Descent (Talia Lugacy, 2007). It seems clear, then, that the torture-porn motifs so noticeable in the aforementioned remakes were not just slapped on the classics as quick ways of making money in a horror industry reshaped by Saw (James Wan, 2004) and Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005). They are part of the sociohistorical fabric of rape-revenge. And they make biocultural sense, too. 

Like most examples of torture-porn, these revenge scenes are extreme. In the remake of Last House on the Left, the father of the victim surgically paralyzes his daughter’s rapist (Garret Dillahunt), taunts him, and places his head in a microwave, causing it to explode in a money shot reminiscent of Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981). However, because this action is not taken by a survivor, it seems a straightforward act of parental payback, not an attempt to impress the reality of rape on a rapist or an audience. The remake of I Spit on Your Grave is more effective in this respect. It transposes the physical and psychological sadism present in the rape scenes onto the revenge scenes, creating a tit-for-tat effect that is intricate and grim. For example, the sheriff (Andrew Howard), who had earlier restrained, taunted, and anally sodomized the rape victim, is shackled in a humiliating posture and sodomized with his own shotgun while being subjected to degrading remarks. The sheriff is finally killed when one of the victim’s other attackers inadvertently pulls the trigger of his gun while it is lodged in his anus, blowing off his head and killing a second rapist simultaneously. I Spit on Your Grave even combines this feminist accent on power with a castration scene: the victim castrates her main attacker (Jeff Branson) with hedge clippers after torturing him during an extended sequence. 

By using castration against rapists, rape-revenge films imply that rape is a sexual crime that can have sexual motivations—and that it is, further, a crime that can rebound against a rapist’s sexual organ. This implication accords with the many recent assertions by evolutionary psychologists that contradict the way in which feminists have looked at rape since the mid-1970s.[25] For scientists like Thornhill and Palmer, rape is so clearly rooted in male sexual psychology that to present it as non-sexual is simply to deny the evolutionary facts. However, when rape-revenge movies resort to torture in their revenge segments, they typically corroborate the traditional feminist idea that victims experience rape not as sex but as a traumatizing loss of control. Both the newer and the older views of rape conveyed by rape-revenge are clearly correct and shouldn’t be treated as mutually exclusive. This is what Darwinian feminists like Griet Vandermassen have emphasized through their revisionary approaches to rape, which indicate how feminist accounts of rape might be integrated with biological accounts. For Vandermassen, the key is to focus on power and control, which, in the context of rape, are traditional feminist concerns that now appear to have biological underpinnings as well.[26] What I find interesting is that a culturally debased cinematic structure like rape-revenge can consistently convey this dual truth of rape.

Evolutionary investments in revenge

“You saw it. God, you saw it. The death of an innocent child, and my vengeance. You allowed it to happen. I don’t understand you. I don’t understand you. Yet still I ask for forgiveness.”
The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)

Victim-centered rape-revenge films typically have a progressive slant. Indeed, as long as a film like I Spit on Your Grave depicts the suffering of a victim and shows her avenging her own exploitation, it can confer a liberal, even feminist slant no matter how much brutality and nudity it envisions along the way. The reason for this is that these victim-centered depictions provide scenes of female empowerment, which in the context of western culture are strongly coded as progressive. But when a movie centers on a different kind of avenger—e.g., the victim’s parents, her female allies, or her husband or boyfriend—these values shift. By parsing the selective pressures on these third parties, we can discern why some third-party scenarios seem reliably progressive, while others, like those in which a husband avenges a rape, rarely seem so.

From an evolutionary point of view, a victim and her parents have a similar basis for protecting and avenging female sexual agency. For the victim, this agency gives her a chance to be discriminating in selecting a mate, thus allowing her to steer her offspring’s genetic makeup and letting her find a mate who can supply her with resources, especially parental investment. Clearly, these reproductive interests are factors to be protected and, if violated, to be avenged. The parents of a fecund adult female will have a very similar interest in her successful exercise of this choice, for she is in a sense the vehicle of their genes. In other words, if the crime of rape is a direct threat to the victim, it is an indirect threat to her parents, for it threatens the transmission of their genes. It makes sense, then, that rape-revenge films depict parents as profoundly invested in their daughters’ sexual agency, such that they feel grief and vengefulness when that agency is violated. Though this investment is instinctive and unconscious, its implications do bubble to the surface now and then. Thus, the mother (Sally Field) in Eye for an Eye at one point indicates her belief that her grief is deeper than that of her husband (Ed Harris) because, unlike her, he is not biologically related to the rape victim. Perhaps the most famous movies in this parent-centered tradition are the Last House on the Left films, which were inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish art film The Virgin Spring (1960), and which in turn inspired many knockoffs (e.g., the grisly Chaos [David DeFalco, 2006]).

For the most part, these parent-centered films reinforce traditional family values, not feminist or postfeminist values. They exude this conservative bias in many different ways. For example, The Virgin Spring constructs an aura of serious religious observance that is tied to family affection and to social cohesion. By contrast, the conservatism of Last House on the Left and Eye for an Eye is an extension of the clothing and decor of the parents’ bourgeois homes. Because the parents in these films are rigorously constructed as “ordinary,” viewers come to sympathize with their ordinariness as a function of stories that include rape, murder, and vengeance. The result is a status-quo tone that interferes with whatever radical meaning is attached to scenes in which bourgeois mothers and fathers are violently transformed into the kind of vigilantes that populate progressive, victim-centered films like Hannie Caulder, Ms. 45, or Sudden Impact (Clint Eastwood, 1983). But make no mistake: the radical subtext of these transformations is clearly there. This is most apparent, I believe, when a middle-class wife like Karen McCann (Field) comes to resemble an outlaw like Hannie Caulder (Raquel Welch).

That said, the progressive slant of the rape-revenge form is much more consistent and articulate when victims are aided by their female allies. In mainstream vehicles like Lipstick, Extremities, The Accused, and Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) as well as in exploitation vehicles like Rape Squad, Lethal Victims, and Blood Games (Tanya Rosenberg, 1990), characters express an open, gendered solidarity with one another even as they bemoan patriarchal systems of justice. Though the evolutionary root of these female alliances is not immediately clear, the scientific literature does offer a number of intriguing hypotheses that we can draw on to make sense of these relationships. Trivers’ concept of reciprocal altruism offers one way of understanding how the mutual protection and cooperative forms of vengeance that are depicted in these films might have evolved in the actual world.[27] The female alliances in evidence here also seem to correspond with the speculations of Thornhill and Palmer. Drawing on Barbara Smuts and Sarah Mesnick, these two evolutionary theorists have proposed that alliances of human females “may be explicable as adaptations against male sexual coercion.”[28] Indeed, Thornhill and Palmer have gone so far as to suggest that the growth of women’s rights since the 1960s has led to a “combination of greater mobility [for females] and less protection by mates and male kin,” resulting in “an enhanced risk of sexual coercion.” This outcome has only compounded the necessity of “female-female alliances against male coercion [such as those] seen in many other mammalian species.”[29] This evolutionary logic offers a way of understanding movies as different as Rape Squad and The Accused—for in the exploitation rape-revenge vehicle as well as in the more mainstream rape-revenge vehicle, women band together to overcome through social cohesion whatever physical and institutional disadvantages they enjoy vis-à-vis men.       

Still, as evolutionists have noted, the male-female alliances of heterosexual pair-bonding may also be viewed as a counter-strategy to male coercion. The difference is that in a cinematic narrative, a heterosexual bond between characters is quite likely to connote regressive messaging—not only because it can be tied to the social status quo but because this sort of relationship gains its protective function from biologically male behaviors considered “macho.” Male-female bonding may enhance a female’s fitness by offering her protection from sexual coercion by undesirable males, but often it only works because it activates mate-guarding tactics and affiliated male traits such as possessiveness, jealousy, and so on. In the context of contemporary culture and its program of women’s rights, these traits are coded as patriarchal and reactionary—which means that they are the traits that are often blamed, not endorsed, by the critiques of rape evident in the most progressive-seeming rape-revenge films.

Unsurprisingly, rape-revenge films in which third-party avengers are husbands often seem to cultivate regressive attitudes. Here the outstanding case is the Death Wish series, in which a husband (Charles Bronson) loses his wife and daughter to thugs who rape, steal, and murder. Though the Bronson character avenges the rapes of his wife and daughter, his vigilante tactics are folded into a critique of a 1970s and 1980s political culture gone soft. These films endorse a tough, law-and-order approach to the crime that is rampant in the mise-en-scène. Predictably, the series treats rape as just another crime. This is a long way from the victim-centered approach in which a sense of rape’s special-ness is the focus of a more progressive narrative. 

The Straw Dogs movies take a subtly different slant. In these movies, rape is not folded into a larger context of crime, for there are only a few ambiguous hints in these films that such a context even exists. And because the victim in each version (Susan George, Kate Bosworth) never reports the crimes committed against her, it is difficult to classify these films as rape-revenge. This is not to “blame the victim” or to suggest that it is unrealistic to avoid reporting such crimes. In fact, the failure to report a rape is common, especially when the rape in question is committed by acquaintances, as the rapes are here. (Indeed, as I have suggested, it seems very possible that this unwillingness to report a rape has evolutionary determinants as well as cultural ones.) But it is to say that when a rape in a movie is not reported to an avenger figure, it is difficult to see the film in which these events occur (or don’t occur) as a rape-revenge film in the classic sense.

In the Straw Dogs movies, Amy Sumner never reports her twin rapes to her husband David (Dustin Hoffman, James Marsden)—and because he is the film’s primary avenger-figure, that is, the character who is most responsible for the violence that figures as vengeance, no causal relationship is established between the rape and the revenge. Rapes are depicted in these films, and acts of revenge, too—but the latter do not follow clearly from the former. Especially in the Peckinpah film, it is more likely that David, who taunts Amy during his climactic violence, is to some extent taking his revenge on Amy for calling him a coward and for repeatedly questioning his manhood through the film. 

In both films, Amy needles David to take a stand against the village working men who have been encroaching on her body, which she wants him to view as his property. It is as if Amy is goading him into becoming more possessive. In the Peckinpah film, David refuses to take the bait, perhaps because these exchanges are to be interpreted as the last moments of a dying relationship, as the director suggested. In my view, this aspect of Amy’s depiction is among the most regressive in the film. The feminist animus directed against Peckinpah’s film has focused on the idea that Amy invited her rapes (which I don’t see) and on the fact that Amy comes to enjoy parts of the first rape after initially struggling against that rape (which I do).[30] But this critique could be sharpened if it focused on the way in which Peckinpah (and later Lurie) has Amy goad David into becoming more possessive, which is distinctly anti-feminist. David refuses to exercise mate-guarding tactics, as if this role were too primitive for him.[31] Instead, he acts as if he is choosing to engage in violence for entirely abstract reasons: he is defending his house as well as the handicapped man Niles (David Warner), whom he has taken on as a kind of ward. In this way, he proves his masculinity to Amy without giving her what she wants. No part of this picture is happy. 

In rape-revenge, when victims seek revenge on their own, they suffuse a film with a progressive aura, for they are promoting female sexual agency and female sexual consent by asserting a female ability to defend and avenge those rights. Other avenger figures also champion female agency and consent, but they often do so less progressively. For example, parental avengers, though motivated by the same evolutionary interests as the victim, often symbolize conservative values. Avengers who qualify as female allies, whose instinctive social cohesion is perhaps explained through reciprocal altruism, articulate a feminist politics and appear progressive in avenging female agency and consent against male coercion. Nevertheless, the necessity of female solidarity implies that women cannot defend and avenge their sexual rights on their own. It makes sense, then, that women also seek protection and vengeance through male partners, activating the mate-guarding tactics that western culture has deemed reactionary.

Conclusion

The rape-revenge film is an area of film studies that is both compatible with biocultural inquiry and that could benefit from such inquiry, given that the scholarship in this area is now at a theoretical impasse. By looking at how the rape-revenge narrative conveys the special-ness of heterosexual rape—an instinctual evaluation of rape that is one of the key predictions of evolutionary psychologists—film scholars can begin to gather new insights into the relationship between rape and revenge, insights that can illuminate everything from this narrative structure’s use of rape flashbacks to its more recent use of torture-porn imagery. And by speculating about the instinctual evolutionary impulses driving avenger figures in these films, scholars can begin to understand why certain types of rape-revenge film seem compatible with certain political values and valences.

But the most significant outcome of this new approach to rape-revenge may be that we can use it to integrate the newer, more biological views of rape now favored by many evolutionary psychologists with the older, more traditional views of rape still favored by most feminists. Today, evolutionary psychologists often agree that rape is an alternative mating strategy that emerged through sexual selection, but there is no such consensus as to whether rape is an adaptation or whether it is instead a byproduct of an evolved male sexual psychology. In any event, the traditional feminist approach—which holds that rape is more a demonstration of male power than a demonstration of male sexuality—need not be threatened by the emerging science.[32]

We can make this point in a meaningful fashion by reference to the rape-revenge film. Rape-revenge is a violent, often explicit narrative structure that has flourished in the United States film industry since the elimination of the Hollywood Production Code in 1968. It is also an ambivalent form of narrative that feminists have long argued appeals to women as well as men. The secret of this ambivalent appeal may be its dual perspective on rape. Rape-revenge often demonstrates that heterosexual rape is a criminal expression of the male sex drive, but it just as often demonstrates that women experience this crime as a traumatizing loss of power. Recently, rape-revenge, in its typically exploitative way, has suggested this double truth through the use of revenge scenes in which women show their rapists what it feels like to be raped. These scenes indicate that women experience rape as harassment and torture, but not as sex. A biocultural approach to rape-revenge films can help explain this persistent narrative structure by reference to evolutionary differences between the sexes rooted in sexual selection.

Notes

I would like to thank my wife, Chris, who is a senior lecturer in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago, for her help in editing this article and for her good humor and unending patience in fielding my questions. I would also like to thank Griet Vandermassen for reading this essay and Julia Lesage for her help revising it.

1. David Andrews and Christine Andrews, “Film Studies and the Biocultural Turn,” Philosophy and Literature, vol. 36, no. 1 (April 2012), pp. 58-78. For an overview of literary Darwinist methods, along with some useful hints concerning how those approaches might be applied to film, see Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, and Jonathan Gottschall, eds., Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (New York: Columbia University Press), 2010.

2. I am using “biocultural” in the way that Torben Grodal uses it in Embodied Visions: Evolution, Emotion, Culture, and Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Bioculturalists assume that “advances over the past 40 years in our knowledge of the biological functioning of the human brain have led to a convergence” between C.P. Snow’s “two cultures.” Grodal, Embodied Visions, p. 4. For Grodal, it no longer makes sense to develop foundational ideas about cultural products without theorizing the relation between those products and the natural world.

3. There are also many individual articles that address rape-revenge, including a number that have run in Jump Cut. See, e.g., Patricia Erens’ comments on I Spit on Your Grave in “The Seduction: The Pornographic Impulse in Slasher Films,” Jump Cut, no. 32 (April 1987), pp. 53-55. Available at <http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC32folder/Seduction.html>. Accessed March 20, 2012. Using both psychoanalytic and historical arguments to explain the proliferation of pornographic forms in the 1980s, Erens wonders whether the controversy surrounding I Spit on Your Grave reflected “the exploitiveness of the rape scenes” or the threat to patriarchal control inherent in “the exhilaration” of female revenge. This question is part of Erens’s larger argument: the “demands being made by women as part of their struggle for equality have created a sense of threat for men” that has contributed to the proliferation of the pornographic impulse throughout the contemporary landscape.  For another useful essay in the same issue of Jump Cut, see Jake Jakaitis, “Giving Way to Murderous Rage,” Jump Cut, no. 32 (April 1987), pp. 49-52. Available at <http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC32folder/GivingWay.html>. Accessed March 20, 2012. Finally, a very distinguished early essay on rape-revenge is Peter Lehman’s chapter, “‘Don’t Blame This on a Girl’: Female Rape-Revenge Films,” in Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, ed. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 103-116. Lehman does a particularly good job theorizing male objectification within a subgenre that he refers to as “female rape-revenge films.”

4. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2011), p. 1. For the other texts cited in this summary, see Carol Clover, “Getting Even,” Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 114-165; and Jacinda Read, The New Avengers: Feminism, Femininity, and the Rape-Revenge Cycle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).

5. Sarah Projansky, Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2001), pp. 3-11.

6. Heller-Nicholas, Rape-Revenge Films, p. 88.

7. Melissa Emery Thompson, “Human Rape: Revising Evolutionary Hypotheses,” Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females, ed. Martin Muller and Richard Wrangham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 352.

8. Martin Muller, Sonya Kahlenberg, and Richard Wrangham, “Male Aggression and Sexual Coercion of Females in Primates,” Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans, ed. Muller and Wrangham, p. 3.

9. Ibid., p. 4. Italics added.

10. In using the word “choosiness,” I am drawing on an extremely broad biological concept that is not identical to individual sexual “pickiness.” I want be clear about this, because such language could easily give offense, especially in the context of heterosexual rape.

11. The evolutionary roots of rape have been most famously traced by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer in A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), a book that stirred a great deal of controversy. Thornhill and Palmer have been rebutting critiques from scientists and feminists ever since the publication of this book. For evidence of this debate, see Muller and Wrangham’s anthology, Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans, and Griet Vandermassen’s article, “Evolution and Rape: A Feminist Darwinian Perspective,” Sex Roles 64.9-10 (May 2011), pp. 732-747.

12. Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, p. 59. Again, while accepting the general idea of rape as an alternative mating strategy, many evolutionary psychologists think more evidence is required to support the idea that rape represents an adaptation that improves human fitness; see William F. McKibbin, et al., “Why Do Men Rape? An Evolutionary Psychology Perspective,” Review of General Psychology 12.1 (2008), pp. 86-97. For a strictly ecological, quantitative argument against the idea that rape is adaptive, see Eric Smith, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, and Kim Hill, “Controversies in the Evolutionary Social Sciences: A Guide for the Perplexed,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 16.3 (March 2001), p. 133.

13. Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, p. 60. Palmer himself holds this view; so does Donald Symons in The Evolution of Human Sexuality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); see pp. 283-284.

14. Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, pp. 31-52, 85-104.

15. I believe that a major part of the psychological appeal of rape-revenge lies in the way the form taps into the human capacity for this complex, biologically ingrained fantasy of revenge.

16. Tamler Sommers, “The Two Faces of Revenge: Moral Responsibility and the Culture of Honor,” Biology and Philosophy 24.1 (2009), p. 37. Evolutionary psychologists who have written insightfully on revenge include Margo Wilson, Martin Daly, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby.

17. Ibid. Sommers is drawing on the evolutionary theory of Robert Trivers in particular.

18. Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws, p. 123.

19. Heller-Nicholas, Rape-Revenge Films, p. 3.

20. For economy, this article also focuses on American rape-revenge films from the post-1968-era, a period in which the form had a chance to bear out all the explicitness implicit in the designation “rape-revenge”—explicitness that had been specifically curtailed by the Hollywood Production Code. Nevertheless, as my discussion of Heller-Nicholas suggests, rape-revenge has a much longer and far more international history than this focus implies. Today, numerous trends visible in the American films discussed here are also visible globally. Hence, torture-porn effects are evident in the revenge segments of rape-revenge films from many different film industries, as demonstrated by the highly effective French Canadian movie Seven Days.

21. For example, on Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, see Molly Haskell’s comments in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1974; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) or Joan Mellen’s comments in Big Bad Wolves: Masculinity in the American Film (New York: Pantheon, 1977). 

22. Thus, a subset of these movies—e.g., Demented (Arthur Jeffreys, 1980), Ms. 45, etc.—includes a heroine who is driven to psychosis by rape.

23. As Julia Lesage has observed, such scenes can be satisfying for women viewers, who may experience a vicarious thrill through scenes of vengeance against male rapists. For more on female rage, see Julia Lesage, “Women’s Rage,” Jump Cut, no. 31 (1985). Available at <http://pages.uoregon.edu/jlesage/Juliafolder/womensRage.html>.  Accessed March 21, 2012. See also Peter Lehman, “‘Don’t Blame this on a Girl.’”  

24. Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, pp. 124-128. On torture in the cinema, see Julia Lesage, “Torture Documentaries,” Jump Cut, no. 51 (Spring 2009). Available at <http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc51.2009/TortureDocumentaries/index.html>. Accessed March 20, 2012.

25. Again, see Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, for an extended critique of the post-Brownmiller idea that rape is power, not sex. Feminists in biology, like Barbara Smuts and Sarah Mesnick, do not deny the sexual implications of rape; they do, however, challenge the idea that rape is only sexual in its motivations and hence they often highlight issues of sexual control. See Vandermassen, “Evolution and Rape,” pp. 732-734, 738-744. (See also note 26.)

26. Thus, in paraphrasing Smuts, Vandermassen synthesizes a biologically oriented account of why men want power over women: “because they have an evolved desire to control female sexuality and the offspring women produce (in order to ensure paternity).” This “desire to control” can lead to violence and rape. Vandermassen, “Evolution and Rape,” p. 738. According to Vandermassen, it is Smuts’s stress on the “element of control,” something that is not stressed by Thornhill and Palmer, that makes her theory “compatible with traditional feminist accounts of rape.” In the torture-porn scenes discussed above, the feminist import of the scenes is evident in their stress on control, not sex.

27. See Robert Trivers, "The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism," Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 46 (1971), pp. 35-57.

28. Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, p. 55; also pp 97, 103. See Barbara Smuts, “Male Aggression Against Women: An Evolutionary Perspective,” Human Nature 3 (1992), pp. 1-44; Barbara Smuts and Robert Smuts, “Male Aggression and Sexual Coercion of Females in Nonhuman Primates and other Mammals: Evidence and Theoretical Implications,” Advances in the Study of Behavior 22 (1993), pp. 1-63; and Sarah Mesnick, “Sexual Alliances: Evidence and Evolutionary Implications,” Feminism and Evolutionary Biology: Boundaries, Intersections, and Frontiers, ed. Patricia Gowaty (New York: Chapman and Hall, 1997), pp. 207-260.

29. Thornhill and Palmer, A Natural History of Rape, p. 103. See also Vandermassen, “Evolution and Rape,” pp. 738-740.

30. See, e.g., Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape,pp. 361-364; and Heller-Nicholas, Rape-Revenge Films, pp. 45-50.

31. As Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have asserted, “male sexual proprietariness is an evolved motivational/cognitive subsystem of the human brain/mind,” one that dictates everything from mate guarding to sexual jealousy. Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, “Coercive Violence by Human Males against their Female Partners,” Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans, ed. Muller and Wrangham, p. 275. See Vandermassen, “Evolution and Rape,” pp. 740-741.

32. For evidence, see Vandermassen, “Evolution and Rape,” pp. 738-741.


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