Sexual assault is seen as an ugly constant in our culture. Males are viewed as potentially dangerous, and women need to be on guard at all times. Researchers have always thought that this was just a staple of humanity. What is often forgotten is that we think our society is “natural” because its culture has spread over the globe via colonization, conquest, and mass media. This means many behaviours we think are natural are actually anything but.
American anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday decided to find out if this was true for sexual assault. In 1981 She looked at dozens of societies from 1750 B.C.E. to now, and found that 18 percent were rape prone (our current culture), 35 percent rarely had rape, and 47 percent were rape-free. Rape-free society. Think on that phrase for a moment. For most, this idea is impossible, like peace on earth or clean energy.
According to Sanday, in rape-prone societies, sex occurs when a person overcomes the resistance of another, which is often achieved with intimidation and violence. In heterosexual relationships, women are traditionally seen as reluctant, while men initiate sex. A little Victorian, no? Secondly, she finds, these societies hold that one gender is superior, and the traits of the other are inferior. Being emotional or gentle in our society is seen as weak and feminine, while being emotionless and hard is seen as strong and male. Sexual assault in rape-prone societies can be by ritual (such as a wedding ceremony), religion, or “natural” dominance.
On the flip side, a rape-free society sees little shame in the roles men or women play. A woman can hunt, and a man can care for children without being judged. These groups take on decisions through discussion, as power distribution is relatively equal. Both genders are part of religious ceremonies, and consent is inherent to sex. These societies revere feminine qualities. In fact, being able to give birth is sacred and often attached to status. These groups thrive on solving conflict, instead of letting it escalate. Even violence with outside forces is rare.
These societies are a constant in history. Which means that with education, we can change the way future generations act. We can teach our children that both genders are equal and that being feminine or masculine is not defined by strict behavioural codes.
Andrew Oliveira is a young writer who is currently strolling about Ottawa. He spends time between his writing, entertaining his cat Atticus, worshiping his muse and partner Barbara, saving virtual worlds from a plethora of crises with the power of his thumbs, and dusting his diploma from the University of Ottawa. His poetry has been published in Bywords and in Ottawater, and he has an enthusiasm for fiction, non-fiction, and scientific writing.
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