Is Rape Culture Darwin’s Fault?

Via Brooks Hall
on Sep 26, 2011
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Has the remnant that was inspired by Darwin‘s research on natural selection that has been popularized, “survival of the fittest” given us the permission to tear at each other at will? …like whenever the opportunity strikes or the weakness of another is seen?

I’ve found myself questioning the values of the culture I’m living in. It’s a culture that tends to look the other way when many people are raped. Why? Why is it that people out late at night, or intoxicated, in prison, dressed like “sluts”, gay, transsexual, lesbian are blamed for how they express themselves when they are victims of the crime of rape?

It is never the victim’s fault when it comes to a sexual assault. It is never okay to rape another person. This is what I think.

The subject is on my mind right now because I recently taught a yoga class that benefitted Rape Victim Advocates. And I realize that participating in this event has allowed me to use my voice to say what I think about this important issue.

I left the class feeling deeply satisfied. I spoke my truth with words, service, time and money. My small contribution felt so good.

If we misinterpret what Charles Darwin was saying we might think or believe “only the strong survive.” And in this case we might feel like we have to dominate one another as much as possible just to get by.

The “blue balls” idea that there were certain times that men had to have sex is an old myth. Men never need to assault another being for biological reasons.

Nobody is ever dressed so sexy that they are asking for it.

Sexual assault is a crime of domination and violation, not sexual desire that can’t be stopped.

I think that raping someone should be thought of as just as horrible and wrong as slavery or cannibalism. And rape should never be tolerated. It is wrong to rape.

Why does anybody think it’s okay to do that to anyone else under any circumstances?

“Survival of the fittest” when misinterpreted could paint an image of procreation as the only meaningful act in life. Someone blinded in a domination mindset might think that the species survives through the sexual expression of man, so others should step aside or look the other way as a man does what he was put on the planet to do: spread his seed.

It seems nuts to me, but I’m trying to understand why the world is like this. Why is rape basically condoned in many cases? Why do so many men and women in this culture blame the victim in a rape crime?

Sex should always be consensual. Always. And never coerced. The trouble with this is that the forces of coercion are so deeply embedded in the fabric of life that it can be hard for individuals to be clear enough to consent to having sex. There is a lot of pressure to be sexual.

I want this culture to clear its vision to see that that all people are so much more than their bodies. There is someone to honor and appreciate in every body (including your own).

The following is an excerpt from the article ‘Survival of the Interesting’ by David Rothenberg, Parabola, Vol. 35:4. He doesn’t mention the culture’s propensity to rape, but I think it fits with the content.

The idea of survival of the fittest might inspire you to compete ever harder against all your friends and colleagues, or it may instill in you a vision of the world as a rat race from which you wish you could jump off. If this sounds like a picture of all life as some kind of free-market capitalist paradise, at least know that this is not the world as Darwin saw it. He knew that we don’t have a world designed perfectly, as even chance might design it. Instead we have a world of crazy beauty, improbable solutions to life’s greatest problems, a wild and wonderful mess.

Beauty perplexed Darwin his whole life. “The peacock’s tail!” he exclaimed. “There is something that really makes me sick.” How could evolution produce anything as outlandish as that?

Clearly, rape culture is not Darwin’s fault, but our tendency to oversimplify thoughts might be partly to blame for the perpetuation of a crime that has been committed over and over on those considered by rapists to be weaker or somehow deserving of violation and domination.

And someone might wonder if this is too intense of a subject to bring into a yoga class, but it might actually be a great place to do some healing around this issue. A friend pointed it out to me that the victim of a rape crime can experience a profound separation of body, mind and spirit, and yoga along with other help can be a way to invite healing. Also it’s a way to hold an important issue as a caring community, as well as raise awareness and support one another in building a more compassionate and caring culture.

When we come together and see that we agree on something like this it means something and builds strength of conviction.


About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at:


62 Responses to “Is Rape Culture Darwin’s Fault?”

  1. carriw says:

    very powerful strong message well done xo

  2. yogijulian says:

    scientific observations about the underlying principles of evolution merely seek to find the truth at that level of inquiry. so the problem is with a) suggesting that these incredibly powerful and accurate observations shape our values and b) with the implication that we could somehow decide that these observations were not true and that this would make for a better world!

    no darwinian has ever suggested that morality, altruism and kindness are not part and parcel of the evolutionary process – it is a gross misrepresentation of evolutionary theory and completely unfair and incorrect to suggest that it somehow justifies violence of any kind.

    we may have certain biological drives as well as certain pathologies that have their roots in our genetics and evolutionary history =- but asserting this should in no way be confused with a cold hearted unempathetic worldview that sees violent crime, rape etc as ok!

    richard dawkins game changing and often misquoted book by people who haven't read it called "the selfish gene" is all about how in higher apes, and especially humans our evolving genes compel us toward altrustic, self-sacrificing behavior as a way to ensure the survival of our genes…

    the confused idea that any true scientific observation about reality somehow encourages us to be less human, more callus etc is simply ill-considered.

    • Brooks_Hall says:

      Thanks yogijulian! I find myself thinking about how our evolutionary situation of standing to reveal our hearts offers an imperative… I actually wrote a post about 'Pelvic Evolution' here:

      I just find difficulty in trying to understand the unsaid foundations that perpetuate our violent culture. I think that it needs to be brought out into the light, though, to allow healing. And maybe we can get smoothly on to spiritual connection and a loving culture.

      • yogijulian says:

        understanding the actual underpinnings of our biology and therefore behavior makes it more likely that we can keep figuring out how to become more loving and less violent.

        believe it or not this is the LEAST violent time in human history! we get less violent all the time – we are evolving, but denying our origins and the part aggression has played in our evolution is not the way forward.

        deny the reality of our instincts at your own peril! we would ironically create a worse situation by denying reality and/or pretending we can just change the data.

        • Brooks_Hall says:

          Who's denying? …trying to change data? I just want to understand. And I'd like to think that healing leads to LOVE!

          • yogijulian says:

            it seemed like you were trying to create a link between what biological science has revealed: "survival of the fittest" and a tendency to either a) be violent and b) turn a blind eye to violence as if it is inevitable…

            this is a common mistake amongst critics of darwin – AS IF pointing out what the evidence reveals somehow is an endorsement of what is observed. this is kind of like saying that someone who presents the evidence for certain snakes being poisonous is in favor of children dying from snake bites and if we could just have another view of snakes it would save children!

            when i say we can't change the data or deny our instincts that is what i mean – science just observes as objectively as possible what is the case….. if the case is that we are naturally competitive and violent then that is the reality, and acknowledging that gives us then a platform from which to try and change!

            we can't just a) ignore the science and pretend this is not our evolutionary history and still at play in us today or b) just willfully "choose" to believe something different!

            by knowing the facts we can more realistically create change, no?

            and the facts are: a) biological life is competitive but b) mammals, especially apes and humans have evolved empathy, altruism, self-sacrifice and c) therefore the world actually keeps getting less violent as we evolve more of a shared worldview that violence is unacceptable.

            you will not find a SINGLE evolutionary biologist evoking darwin as a reason to justify being amoral, unempathetic and turning a blind eye to evidence – it is an absolutely straw man argument, a gross mischaracterization of darwin, evolution and science in general and confuses ethical philosophical inquiry with scientific observation of biological reality.

          • yogijulian says:

            all of that said i am 110% with you that rape is unacceptable and the victim should never be blamed.

            i also acknowledge that you said if one misinterpreted survival of the fittest it might lead to such attitudes – but i think you would have a very hard time finding anyone who does this kind of misinterpretation.

            in fact it is our evolution that allows us to come to the place of realizing that rape is unacceptable!

            you might actually take a look at the other side of the aisle for your target – religion is a much bigger player in terms of oppressing women, suppressing sexuality, blaming women for men's sexual misdeeds, creating the madonna/whore complex in which any woman in touch with her sexuality is labelled a slut who gets what she deserves if she is mistreated…

            i also wonder though where these people are who condone rape – i don't know any, who are you talking about?

    • Brooks Hall says:

      Thank you for offering your thoughts.

      Here is a great article on the misinterpretation of Darwin:

      The title: Evolution Myths: ‘Survival of the Fittest’ justifies ‘Everyone for Themselves’ 
      says a lot. I just wonder how deeply imbedded this misinterpretation is in the cultural psyche. It’s been blamed for free market capitalism that doesn’t take into account the wellness of others in the community and world. And I just found my mind stretching into wondering if this ‘everyone for themselves’ sensibility might also help someone justify inappropriate sexual behavior.

      Thank you.

      • yogijulian says:

        read the article brooks – thanks.

        still find that it's a flawed premise and plays into the hands of the weird anti-science bias that haunts pop spirituality.

        no offense though – i follow what you were trying to get at. 🙂

        also what is this "culture of rape" and who are the people who condone it? strange assertions…

    • elephantjournal says:

      Amen. "Survival of the Fittest," I understand, is itself a gross simplification of Darwin's findings and conclusions. Rape is as horrible and cruel an act as exists in this crazy, wonderful, sad, sane world—it's okay under no circumstances. That said, staying safe and walking home with a friend and staying out of harm's way…does help reduce one's danger. I live in a college town and am continually nervous for the safety of drunk young women (and men). Advising safety and commonsense in no way "blames the victim"—it's always the aggressor's responsibility and fault alone.

      Thanks for this, Brooks–we can't have enough of such important issues and questions here on #elej.



  3. Sorry, Brooks, but I'm not with you on this one. Do you really think rape culture worse in our modern culture than in traditional societies? Are attitudes toward rape worse than they were in the past? With the possible exception of some northern European societies, where modern, scientific thought–including Darwin–is far more accepted than here, as well as a handfull of matriarchal societies sprinkled through the history of the world, the answer is most certainly, categorically NO.

  4. Suri kate says:

    Sorry still cant see the connection between "the institution of science" and rape.

    • yogijulian says:

      let's get this clear once and for all: science is merely the attempt to find out as honestly as possible what is demonstrably true with as little bias as possible – and it is the most spectacularly successful project in the history of human consciousness…

    • Brooks Hall says:

      Hi Suri kate. Thank you for visiting and commenting. I honor your independence on the subject, and don’t expect that all readers will process the subject matter as I do. Be well.

  5. Ben_Ralston says:

    Rape is abuse. One form of abuse – admittedly, an extreme form, but nevertheless abuse (violation of boundaries).
    Our society is abusive. Invading other countries, journalists hacking phones, the death sentence, corruption, etc are symptoms of this.
    The real cause of abuse – survival instincts. When a person's consciousness gets blocked and locked into the survival instinct 'Fight' (or variations such as Dominate, Kill, Subdue etc) then that person needs to fight, dominate, etc in order to fees SAFE. They are a victim of their own unconscious association between safety and 'fight'.
    At the same time, almost always, the victim of abuse has poor boundaries. This means, basically, that the victim's consciousness is usually blocked and locked into the survival instincts 'Flight' (variations: hide, run away, disappear, escape) or Freeze (variations: numbness, paralysis, passivity, inaction). So the abuser is attracted to the victim. That is why most victims of abuse have not suffered one isolated incident of abuse, but more likely a lifetime, or pattern, of abuse. Because until the trauma and the poor boundaries are healed, the cycle perpetuates itself.
    Please, please note: I am not saying that the victim is in any way to 'blame'.
    I have come to these conclusions after working with almost 500 clients over the course of two years (almost all of whom have abuse trauma). And based on my own personal experiences of being a victim of abuse, and healing it.
    It sounds complicated – it's not. It's actually really, really simple. And healing it is also simple and easy, and nobody has to 'relive' anything.
    I'm writing articles about abuse at the moment, I hope very much that they'll be widely read, because personally I feel that this is THE biggest issue of our times. If we as a species can deal with this, our society will become more peaceful and responsible.

    • Brooks_Hall says:

      Hi Ben! I appreciate your support of my article. Thank you! And I think you raise some good and interesting points.

      [Note: You have me until you say, “It sounds complicated…”

      I wish that you’d let me decide if I feel something is complicated or not. I don’t need to be told this. I don’t find your ideas complicated. I find them worthwhile to ponder. I just don’t like to be told how to think about something. I (and other readers) can choose that.]

      And I agree that these are important issues: they may have the potential to save us.

      Thanks, again.

  6. yogijulian says:

    i wish people in our community would just get some basic distinctions right:

    science proceeds by observation and evidence – it is not an ideology, a religion or even a belief system, it is simply an attempt to honestly find out what is actually true with as little bias as possible.

    is science materialist? well as it turns out in 400 years of inquiry there has been no evidence for anything immaterial – so because reality appears thus far to be material, science therefore has many layers of facts, evidence and theory based on observations of a material world.

    if there was a single instance of evidence for anything immaterial it would be included in science – because science is not an ideology or a religion – it is a way of finding out what exists and how it works.

    the lack of evidence for anything immaterial and the preponderance of evidence for our material universe and explanations that rely on materialism does not indicate a bias – that is like saying i am biased against the possibility of rocks having consciousness because i have never seen one that does and there is no reason given everything we know about rocks and everything we know about consciousness that this could be possible.

    the moment a conscious rock appears, science will have to revise everything it knows – the likelihood of this being the case is so close to zero that reasonable people are comfortable putting the question aside and thinking about more realistic possibilities…

    it is precisely because science is not an ideology that it's discoveries can be used by anyone in any way- in and of itself science is just about discovering actual knowledge. because knowledge is power it can be misused as well as used for good….. the problem of misuse of technology is not to be solved by limiting science – rather by having more respect for ethical philosophy and for hot to use scientific discoveries in ways that help humanity.

    likewise the problems with people distorting science for financial gain is a problem of administration – this is bad science and corrupted science and says absolutely nothing about the scientific method itself. good science can then be done to find out what is actually true and prove the science corrupted by big business wrong.

    the problem of rampant unregulated capitalism in medicine and pharmaceuticals is not a valid critique of science or scientific method but of government and human greed, it is also NOT a critique of darwin or evolution.

    the attitude of skepticism towards bad science is entirely in keeping with science itself.

    skepticism toward the scientific method though is a complete contradiction in terms – because the only way to demonstrate a supposed problem with scientific method is to use scientific method! otherwise you are just expressing opinions/beliefs based on anecdotes etc…

    science is in no way a threat to emotions, love, compassion, creativity, introspection, psychological awareness or spiritual growth/. the moment one moves out of literalist belief in impossible mythic or magical ideas, science and the humanities and contemplative life live happily side by side….. but we cling to magic and myth to our own detriment and make science the bad guy for pointing out that santa is not real.

    science cannot tell us a lot of things about subjective experience – for that we have poetry, mythology, meditation, psychotherapy art, etc…. but when any of these disciplines make claims about objective reality, well then it is wise to subject these claims to scientific method.

    • Thaddeus1 says:

      Just for your reading pleasure…

    • Suri kate says:

      Jogijulian , dude this is beautiful , the world needs more of this ….your argument is just strong and coherent and i wish more people could realize that huge amonts of money are being invested in the deliberate manufacture of lies in order to confuse us about the validity and realness of science …behind this machination ….ofcourse a bunch of religious groups, oil and chemical industries , politicians etc etc

  7. Scott_Newsom says:


    Its good to see that you are still around and posting these really thought provoking articles. When I was researching my dissertation many years ago, I ran across some interesting studies in cultural anthropology that looked at a similar issue. There is this idea, not necessarily a Darwinian idea, that aggression/dominance among pack/tribal mammals leads to greater opportunities to pass along one's genes. This was the prevailing wisdom in anthropology until women started doing field research. They started carefully observing the females and less dominant males. What they discovered was the the males who were most cooperative actually got many more chances to copulate than the one male who appeared to be dominant. This was found to be most prevalent in primates who had a habit of procreating while face to face.

  8. elephantjournal says:

    Just in case my comment gets buried above…I'm late to this discussion, apologies.

    Amen. I'm glad to see this discussion is for the most part respectful and earnest and kind and to the point. Brooks, thank you as always for raising important questions and connecting them to our path and practice. It's tough sometimes to put yourself out there, and then be the subject of people's projections and all. You however did a great job laying out your thoughts and your comments add a great deal more.

    "Survival of the Fittest," I understand, is itself a gross simplification of Darwin's findings and conclusions. Rape is as horrible and cruel an act as exists in this crazy, wonderful, sad, sane world—it's okay under no circumstances. That said, staying safe and walking home with a friend and staying out of harm's way…does help reduce one's danger. I live in a college town and am continually nervous for the safety of drunk young women (and men). Advising safety and commonsense in no way "blames the victim"—it's always the aggressor's responsibility and fault alone.

    Thanks for this, Brooks–we can't have enough of such important issues and questions here on #elej.



    • Brooks_Hall says:

      Thanks, Way!

      I think I understand what you are saying about wanting drunk young women (and men) to stay safe. I find myself thinking about that, 'cause, well, practically speaking we do live in a time where we need to take precautions to try to stay out of harm's way. But I can also speak about the fear involved in being in a female body, and when "walking with a friend" becomes a safety measure instead of a joyful activity, or "staying safe" means not expressing ones self with authenticity I see the oppression inherent in the current state of our culture.

    • guest says:

      not just oversimplified, constantly misunderstood. with "survival of the fittest" Darwin meant "the one who is best adapted to their environment". that's all. not strongest, not prettiest, best adapted to the environment (a fact that can't be planned, either you have an adaptation or not. There is no "closed for construction" in evolution)

  9. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  10. Chuck says:

    I do not think that rape is done out of a belief but out of negative emotions. The goal is to hurt someone. It is all about the saying "Misery loves company." According to Jesus one should "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." So the answer to rape and all acts of hurting others is individual conciousness.

    The higher it is in a society then the less rape there is. In fact you can say that people have violence and love in them. The more violence in them, the less love in them and this influences their actions. So doing yoga is not about a certain crime. It is about increasing consciousness and increasing the love to violence ratio in one. Note that I just made that up about love to violence ratio but I have seen this in my own life. I have been doing yoga since age 12.

  11. Chuck says:

    I re-tweeted this article to my 28,000 Twitter followers. I forgot to mention that if you look it up now, you see that evolution is not survival of the fittest but survival of the adequate. You do not need to be the strongest or fastest animal to survive. The animal only needs to be adequate to survive.

    • Brooks Hall says:

      Thanks, Chuck! I appreciate your generous Twitter support, and the ideas in your earlier comment, too. Increase the love! And when we practice yoga we are way beyond adequate.

  12. dan says:

    Article on the “science” behind domestic violence, kind of epitomizes what can be so infuriating about this kind of research (from several angles/perspectives) (not exactly about rape, but relevant):

    • Brooks Hall says:

      Yes, that article uses the concept of ‘evolution’ to legitimate violence against women, as well as supporting notions that women who are wealthy, smart and beautiful have higher “value” and that this “value” makes them vulnerable to attack.

      This is a quote from the article:

      “He predicts that domestic violence will be more likely when a man has a female partner of higher “mate value” – a woman who earns more, is more intelligent or is considered more physically attractive than him. He says men in such circumstances may resort to violence to deter the woman from straying, or else to reduce her own perception of her value by lowering her self-esteem.”

      Really? I think this article is simply rephrasing the language of oppression to keep women in fear. And it is especially insidious because it is under the label “science” which is associated with unbiased observations as earlier commenters have noted.

  13. […] Is Rape Culture Darwin’s Fault? […]

  14. […] is what I know: there is no excuse or reason pertaining to the victim. […]

  15. […] in some ways, I have three problems with it: 1. It identifies the problem to be all men, not the rape culture that we live in and constantly participate in. Women can have just as many of these red flags, and […]

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