Much of the “wiring” of both men and women – what makes them tick – has changed little in the last 200 000 years. Many of these drives and urges are adaptive in that they enable modern humanity to continue to survive and thrive. Others seem anachronistic, barbaric throwbacks to an era of survival of the “fittest” – in the sense of the strongest, the most brutish and the most aggressive.
Sociobiological theories of rape explore how evolutionary adaptation influences the psychology of rapists. Such theories are highly controversial, as traditional theories typically do not consider rape to be a behavioural adaptation.
But what if rape is in fact a behavioural adaptation? What if, for similar reasons of adaptation, men want sex more frequently than women do, and some at least will do whatever it takes to redress the unequal, and to them highly unfair, imbalance between supply and demand? According to this theory, all men are potentially rapists although in practice most are able to exercise restraint. I find that hard to accept. But if there is even a grain of truth in this idea, what could we do to address it?
The first step is awareness. I recently became conscientised by two powerful books, Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates and Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf. They have profoundly changed the way I view myself. At the time I read them I began to loathe myself and despise men both as individuals and as a group.
You may feel that my reaction is melodramatic but I challenge you to spend an hour at www.everydaysexism.com . Laura Bates started the website for girls and women to record their experiences of sexism and the response was enormous, and led to the publication of the book. I was horrified and ashamed to read about girls’ and women’s experiences of harassment, sexual assault and rape, and so much of it “everyday”.
From Naomi Wolf’s book I gained shattering insights into rape and the impact on the resilience, creativity and spiritedness of a woman who has been raped. It clarifies the sickening logic behind the mass wartime rape of women in some African countries in recent years. Rape in such instances is engineered to destroy these women’s confidence and resistance. The book also suggests that the use by men of violent language, in particular gendered insults, does significant psychological harm.
Thanks to many brave and outspoken activists and advocates, social mores have evolved beyond pure ‘adaptation’. Civilisations are rightly judged based on the way in which the rights of the poorest and weakest in society are protected and promoted. We are universally grateful for this hard-won progress, especially the movement towards equality of the sexes and the recognition by some of us at least that “there are very few jobs that actually require a penis or a vagina”.
Yet sexism – and far worse besides – persists in society. If we assume for the sake of argument that this is partly fired by our obsolete programming, how can we, as men and perhaps as women too, be “rewired”? How can we change our outlook so that we treat people as fellow human beings first and foremost?
As a friend bluntly put it: “You have two options: 1) Don’t think about it. 2) Do something.”
I considered two approaches, though there are many others, to doing something. The first was to become a full-time activist and dedicate my life to the cause. The second was to make a more modest contribution by chipping away at the fabric of sexism in society by quietly taking on those individuals I encounter who practice or tolerate harassment of and violence against women.
In our professional and personal lives, we must not allow any complacently misogynistic words or deeds to go unchallenged. This often requires considerable courage. By consistently taking this stand, we will help empower the girl or woman who may be the victim of or witness to the exchange. We will also contribute to an improved quality of life for all people, both men and women.
Let that be our ‘adaptation’.
Rufus Dalton is an advocate of respect and equal treatment for women in all aspects of life. He would like to contribute towards a reduction in violence against women in society.
 Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion , The MIT Press, 2000
 Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism, Simon and Schuster, 2014
 Naomi Wolf, Vagina: A New Biography, HarperCollins, 2012
 Florynce R. Kennedy, in Gloria Steinem, “The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq,” Ms. (1973)