Sex Abuse and The Chimpanzee Lecture
This lesson/lecture is amazingly effective at getting students (as well as adults) to reflect on how they respond to social/sexual interactions and how biology plays a hand in sex abuse. It is culled from a wide variety of readings but you can find most of these ideas in two books: The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (1991); [and even more importantly]: Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1997). Both by Jared Diamond the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel.
This post is part 4 of a 5 part series on sex abuse education and what I try to teach my students. Part 1 is about Mixed Messages. Part 2 is about my personal experience with sex abuse in Hollywood. In Part 3 I examined a common misunderstanding of the law (Attractive Nuisance), empathy and social norms. Part 4 (The Chimpanzee Lecture) is my biology teacher’s reason for not being surprised at the misunderstandings or power plays that lead to sex abuse. I have used this lesson in my classroom when teaching about sexual relations. Part 5 is about how Hollywood ‘romantic movies’ actually teach men to abuse women in order to be loved.
This is not about blaming or excusing anyone.
This is not about declaring any one gender or opinion right (i.e. I’m not trying to say that the girls should learn to act or feel like guys or vice versa). It’s about understanding the biological differences in what we feel and what needs to be taught to everyone. This is not intended for those broken souls who are incapable of learning. There will always be those humans who are so crazy, or so convinced that the way they see the world is the way everyone else does or should, that they are not bound by any social norms. But we’ve got to start somewhere and these are things which need to be taught.
As I said before: I do have my own experiences and a few suggestions which I offer here. Make of this what you will. I believe that if we don’t share as much information as possible we won’t ask the right questions; and if we don’t ask the right questions we won’t arrive at the right answers. So I offer these experiences (which I also discuss with my students in the classroom) as additional information in our mutual quest to teach everyone to treat others with dignity and respect.
What got me started on teaching this lesson.
I started developing this lesson after trying and failing to get our girls to think about how they were dressing. It got so bad [see Naive Sophistication] that, one day, in frustration, a female administrator came over the school PA system and said, “You girls have got to start covering up. This ain’t no barbecue and we don’t need the meat!” I used The Chimpanzee Lecture in my life skills classes, my financial planning classes, and any time a student asked a personal/social/sexual question in which I thought this lesson would be helpful.
I always give the following warning to my students. This warning concluded my last post (Attractive Nuisance): we ignore biology at our peril. Having equal rights socially does not mean we have the same goals biologically.
I quoted Rosalind Wiseman from her excellent book The Guide:
Girls are “…trying to achieve the impossibleby pleasing both girls and straight guys,
two groups with competing agendas.”
So what does biology teach us about what those competing agendas really are?
“…natural selection favors both males and females that leave many offspring, the best strategy for doing so may be different for fathers and mothers. …behavior that is in a male’s genetic interests may not necessarily be in the interests of his female co-parent and vice versa. That cruel fact is one of the fundamental causes of human misery.” (Diamond, 1997 pp. 18~19)
These quotes would lead to a lengthy discussion of reproductive biology, which I will spare you here except for one important point. I would emphasize that women’s bodies are only able to reproduce once a month. Men’s bodies are able to reproduce 24/7, 365 (that’s one reason why men seem to be constantly thinking about sex). Once a woman has been fertilized she is cut off from reproducing more offspring for a lengthy period of time, frequently being left to rear a child on her own. Men can go on to another sexual encounter and produce more offspring.
How or Why is this so…
I would start by telling my students about change. Depending on how you classify human (hominids), humans have been around for a few million years, but humans we would recognize as ancestors have only been around for about 50 to 200 thousand years. Agriculture, slavery, and cities have been around for 4 to 6 thousand years. We have been a science based [don’t laugh] industrial culture for only about 1 or 2 hundred years, and finally, we have only been a technological information based culture for only a few decades. Why is this important? It is important to teach people that even though you think social norms that exist have been around forever, they have not. And over such a long history, some norms change quickly, some norms (and behaviors) are glacially slow to change, and there is a lot of picking and choosing (depending on gender and social status) of what behaviors are considered acceptable or not.
The Biology: Concealed or Advertised Ovulation
Perhaps you’ve already heard of The Lizard Brain – that part of our DNA which reacts without thinking (fight or flight response being the most common example). I tell my kids that there is also a Chimpanzee Brain. It too will react without thinking (the most dangerous reaction being about sex). I then tell my students that we share (depending on which expert you read) ≈98.4% of our DNA with chimpanzees. They are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. A few of the traits we share are: living in social groups, using tools, vocalizing, and making war on our own species.
One very significant trait that we do not share is advertised ovulation [See Diamond (1997) for a detailed analysis]. In brief: Animals send signals to attract mates. These signals vary from species to species and they have different purposes. Some signals have evolved to show certain characteristics or traits that are conducive to successful passing of the best genetic material to the offspring. This could include strength in men, wide hips for easy delivery of babies in women, or the peacock’s bright tail. Other signals tell prospective mates when the female is ovulating and ready to mate. These signals could be enlarged breasts, brightly colored or engorged sex organs, or something subtle as certain smells. This is advertised ovulation. These “…species confine sex to a brief estrous period around the advertised time of ovulation.” (Diamond 1997, p.64).
Humans conceal their ovulation. Even the woman herself can’t be sure of exactly when she is ovulating. So humans can and do have sexual relations at all times of a woman’s cycle. So what? Well remember, “…eighteen species, including baboons and our close relative the chimpanzees, advertise ovulation conspicuously.” (Diamond 1997, p.78) So… when women dress by showing off cleavage or dressing in a way that accentuates the buttocks they are stimulating the Chimpanzee Brain in men.
As Sir Mix-A-Lot said in Baby Got Back:
“When a girl walks in with
an itty bitty waist and a round thing in your face
you get sprung!”
This shouldn’t change anything but your attitude.
This doesn’t excuse men or women for acting like fools, or for uninvited touching, or for using any kind of rude language (“tease”, “slut” or worse). I still say women should be free to dress how they like. But women have to understand the effect they have on men. Women who dress attractively have to understand that they aren’t only attracting the man of their dreams. They are attracting all men. But is there scientific proof about this?
Fake Tits and the Tail of the WidowBird
I’ve heard women say, “Can’t they tell those are fake. How can a man be attracted to fake tits?” How can a man be attracted to breast implants? They don’t care. Those breasts are a signal to the Chimpanzee Brain. They say to a man that the woman is ovulating (even if she is not) and ready to mate with any male big enough and strong enough to overpower other rivals and the female herself and have sex with her (whether she wants to or not). “Animal signals… [that] …appeal to the opposite sex may depend on specific parts of the body as is well known for humans.” (Diamond 1997, p.130)
“In an experiment demonstrating this point, the tails of male Long-Tailed Widowbirds, an African species in which the male’s 16 inch tail was suspected of playing a role in attracting females, were lengthened or shortened. It turns out that a male whose tail is experimentally cut down to 6 inches attracts few mates, while a male with a tale extended to 26 inches by attaching an extra piece with glue attracts extra mates.” (Diamond 1997, p.130).
I teach: Fake parts as well as real parts can and do cause a biological reaction.
This is what needs to be taught:
Men and women both need to be taught that biological reactions exist and are real. But having a reaction is not license to act on that reaction. Men need to be taught that we no longer tolerate overly aggressive attempts to show dominance or to mate no matter how a woman looks or is dressed. Men and women need to constantly ask themselves, ‘If I’m dressing attractively, who or what am I trying to attract?’
We need to get a better conversation going (which includes some sort of agreement) as to what signals are appropriate and in what situations. Mixed Messages need to be throughly examined, understood, and hopefully, rejected as a way of communicating sexual interest.
Women have got to learn the profound effect they have on men. I like the way women dress when they are trying to be attractive – but I also have self control and don’t act on every thought that goes through my head. For many men it can be quite distracting and uncomfortable to be around a beautiful woman (or any woman showing a lot of flesh). We have been allowing the Chimpanzee Brain do much of the thinking for us for generations. Men have to learn that the Chimpanzee Brain is ancestral and they will need to exercise self control in the contemporary, modern world. If women want the right to dress how they want (which I believe they have every right to want and deserve) then, before they go out into the world, they need to figure out their strong boundaries for dealing with the impulsive, reactive, undereducated Chimpanzee Brain.
You wouldn’t buy a car with no door locks
so don’t go out into the world without some
Epilogue – If you still aren’t convinced here’s an example with Will Farrell on SNL:
I had no trouble believing that the way a woman looks or dresses can be very distracting for a man even before I read Jared Diamond. When I worked in night clubs as a musician I got to see women from all over Los Angeles dressed in the most attractive ways they could think of. I exerted profound self control socially, but unfortunately it did distract me in my playing [read what the drummer said in the third paragraph]. But maybe you’ve never felt distracted by the way someone looked. SNL has the perfect example.
In this segment Will Farrell shows up at a business meeting dressed totally inappropriately. It is so shocking and so revealing that even though the other cast members were ready for an outrageous view, you can tell that they are distracted and having a tough time concentrating on their performances because of shock and/or laughter.
So Ladies: watch this video and ask yourself if you’d be distracted by such a display of flesh. Then next time you are going out wearing something attractive or revealing (or both) imagine this video and ask yourself, “Who or what am I trying to attract? Will I be a distraction?” Some women like being a distraction and that’s okay too. Just know thyself.
And remember that Willie Dixon tune that Muddy Waters sang
The Same Thing:
Why do men go crazy over woman wear her dress so tight?
Must be the same old thing made a Tom cat fight all night.
Oh that Same Thing.
Tell me who is to blame?
The whole world fighting about that Same Thing