Back to the Burqa?

As I noted last week, we keep reading and hearing of rape. Almost always it is men who do it to women, rarely the opposite. There are three reasons for this, all of them important. First, as the French sage Denis Diderot (1713-84) once wrote and the absence of male brothels indicates, perhaps the most important difference between men and women is the formers’ greater ability to enjoy the embraces of strangers. Second, there is the overall difference in physical strength. In lower body it is as five to three; in upper body, as two to one. Third, there is the obvious anatomical difference between the genitalia of people of both sexes. For a woman to rape a man is almost impossible; even if she can overcome him in a hand to hand struggle, or else by threatening him weapon in hand, when the critical moment arrives his apparatus may very well not function.

The three factors are linked. Women’s physiology puts them at risk of becoming pregnant and also makes them more vulnerable to STD. As a result, throughout history they have had more to lose from casual intercourse than men did. True, the introduction of modern contraceptives has gone a considerable way to alleviate these problems. But this does not change the fact that women, having weaker bodies overall, still have more to fear in one-on-one encounters where most sex takes place.

The difference in strength means that, other things equal and except under rather unusual circumstances, the only ones who can save women from being raped by men are other men. Occasional suggestions, put forward by feminists and others, that women should take self-defense classes or carry some kind of weapons from pepper spray upwards tend to be not only useless but counterproductive. Men, after all, can learn judo and the use weapons at least as well as women can. That is why chances are that, if women take up these suggestions, they will only add physical injury to the unpleasantness, humiliation, and psychological trauma that being raped entails.

Rebus sic stantibus—and I do not see that they are going to change any time soon—the only remaining question is: Which men should do the protecting, and what forms should the latter assume? Note that, during the first ninety-something percent of their existence on earth and in many places until very recently, humans have lived in tribes. One outstanding characteristic of tribal life is the absence of a strong, centrally-run, police force able and willing to deal with crimes of every kind. All the more so, of course, in case the tribe in question is nomadic as most were for a long, long time. Rather, should any kind of crime be committed, it is the victim and his or her relatives who are expected to deal with it by demanding revenge and inflicting retaliation.

Focusing on rape, an excellent example of the way these things worked is provided by the book of Genesis (34.1-31). “And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Schechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her… And it came to pass… that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each men his sword and came upon the city boldly and slew all the males,” Schechem and Hamor included. Taken to task by Jacob their father, who feared the possible consequences, the two retorted: “Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?”

With the shift to more settled societies, things gradually changed. The more hierarchical, strongly governed and policed a community, the greater the pressure on women’s male relatives not to resort to self-justice but leave the task of apprehending, judging and punishing the perpetrator to the authorities. However, progress in this direction tended to be slow. As late as the nineteenth century European women, for fear of being harassed and attacked, were strongly advised not to travel on their own. By one story, those of them who did so by rail were told to put needles in their mouths to prevent strangers from kissing them while the train was passing through dark tunnels. The higher women’s own social rank and that of their relatives, the more true this was. In less developed countries women who travelled often disguised themselves as men, as the British explorer Gertrude Bell did.

Nor is the change by any means complete even today. In her 1998 book, Desert Flower, former supermodel and U.N special ambassador Waris Dirie recounts how, during her youth in her native Somalia, she was threatened with sexual assault. In response, her father—the same, incidentally, who insisted that she should be circumcised—went about armed with a knife. As, on pain of his honor and following a centuries- if not millennia-old tradition, he was supposed to do. Two decades later there still is no shortage of countries where powerful but thoroughly disciplined (disciplined, also in the sense that their members will not themselves turn into rapists) police forces do not exist. By default, it is women’s male relatives who are entrusted with the task of protecting them.

The protection women demand, however, will come at a price. To obtain it a woman must, as far as possible, be sequestered and kept within the home. Even if that means she cannot work or go to school. If she goes out nevertheless she must not only be chaperoned but dressed in such a way as to conceal her, as far as possible, from prying male eyes. Her freedom to communicate with the opposite sex must also be limited—because, unless it is, her male relatives, trying to save her from being raped, are going to get a knife between their ribs or a bullet into their backs. These facts go a long way to explain, and to some extent justify, the way Islamic societies, many of which remain tribal in spite of the recent move towards urbanization, treat their womenfolk. Including, among other things, the recently lifted Saudi ban on driving.

And the future? Starting in the late eighteenth century when the first modern police forces were set up in countries such as France, there has been a strong trend to abolish the right to self-defense. To the point that, if one catches a burglar and injures him during the subsequent struggle, one may well end up by being prosecuted.

There is, however, no guarantee that the trend will continue. Take Europe. Owing to a combination of modernity and a dense population, it has long been perhaps the most strongly-policed continent of all. Now, however, the presence of large numbers of immigrants has created enclaves where the police is afraid to go. The enclaves are inhabited by populations whose ideas concerning what is and is not allowable, is and is not desirable, in relations between men and women differ sharply from those of the native majority.

Even in Germany, the country which a century ago gave rise to the so-called FKP (Freie Korper Kultur, aka nudism), that movement is now on the retreat. As I myself, having visited the lakes of Potsdam every year over the last eighteen years, can testify. There was a time when many people went swimming naked; now it is mostly old people who do. And they seem to be dying out. Meanwhile more and more parents are warning their daughters to avoid going out at night, visit dark and lonely places, and the like. With good reason, let me add. Separate swimming classes, separate taxis, and separate hotel floors are gaining in popularity. Social change is driving fear of rape, and fear of rape is driving social change.

How far these changes will go, and where they will lead, no one knows. Back to the burqa, perhaps? If so, don’t be surprised.

Two Articles Caught my Attention Last Week

Last week being international women’s day, two articles caught my attention and drove me to do a little more research. One dealt with the fact that, as of the early years of the twenty-first century, in only a handful of fields do women make more than men. The other argued that most women—between two thirds and three quarters of them, in fact—prefer men who are taller than themselves. How to explain these facts, and what do they mean for the present and the future?

lioness-and-lion-love-i12First things first. In a previous post (“Women Outperforming Men,” 10.12.2015) I noted that, in most of today’s “advanced” countries, women make about two thirds as much as men do. As best we can calculate, that figure has not changed much since at least the time of ancient Rome. Indeed it has been claimed that, should present trends continue, women will need another 177 years to draw level with men. The article that caught my attention claimed that men out-earn women not just in general but also in almost all professions separately. Out of three hundred professions on one list, only in ten do women make as much as, or more than, men. That applies even to fields that are overwhelmingly dominated by women, such as teaching.

This is strange. Normally being a minority means being discriminated against, which in turn leads to lesser earnings. So why do men, who in the teaching profession are outnumbered by about two to one (U.S figures), earn more than their female colleagues? A mystery—or perhaps, given the physical advantage men enjoy even in the most sedentary professions such as being a professor of history, not so great a mystery after all.

That brings me to the second article. Women’s preference for tall men is easy to explain. As I also pointed out in a previous post (“The Indispensable Sex,” 11.2.2016), among many mammalian species, primates included, it is the task of the males to defend the females and their young. Even at the cost of their lives, if necessary. The fact that it is lionesses which do the hunting does not contradict this arrangement. If male lions do not leave the home but stay with the kids, then that is because they alone can protect them against predators. To enable male mammalians to carry out their appointed task, nature has made most of them considerably larger and stronger than their female counterparts. In the case of lions it has also given them their powerful roar. The larger and more powerful a lion, the more attractive he is to females and the better his chances of having multiple offspring.

The difference in size, known as dimorphism, is easily visible among humans as well. Only a small minority of women are as large as the average man. True, humans are less dimorphic than many other mammalians. But the difference between the sexes is sufficiently large to put most women at the mercy of most men. That, incidentally, is why much of the advice that tells women to practice “self-defense” is misguided. Should they try, then usually the outcome will be injuries. It also explains why, starting when they are toddlers, boys are always warned against hitting girls. Even if, as often happens in early puberty, they are larger and heavier than them. Doing so is considered “not nice” at best and can lead to serious consequences at worst.

Part-HKG-Hkg10109760-1-1-0But there are other repercussions as well. Many “less advanced” societies do not have strong police forces. Instead it is the task of the male members of each clan to protect their own womenfolk. That is why women are subjected to so many restrictions. Such as prohibitions on leaving the home, taking up work outside it, and, in Saudi Arabia, driving. When they do these things they are obliged to cover their bodies and faces and/or take on a male escort. A woman who stays inside, or who is escorted when she goes out, is less vulnerable to sexual assault and the consequences it may bring. So is one who instead of wearing provocative clothing, hides her face behind a veil.

Against the prevailing social and cultural background, all these measures make excellent sense. Thanks partly to the police, partly to what a famous twentieth-century scholar used to call “the civilizing process,” life in the West today is relatively secure. As many researchers have pointed out, the number of crimes per 100,000 of population has been declining for the last two centuries or so. That, incidentally, is one reason why the death penalty is being reserved for more serious crimes, and used much less often, than was the case before 1800. Still women before they need anything else need security. Something tall men, big men, strong men, can normally provide better than weak men, small men, short men can.

Let’s assume, as I, on the basis of the research I did for a number of my books do, that the best days of Western liberal democracy are behind it. And that, as a result, the future is likely to see civil society upset by growing crime, terrorism, and various combinations of the two. In that case women will need protection more than ever. In Europe, where wave after wave of Muslim immigrants are arriving, this is already happening. No doubt men will do their best to provide that protection. But they will do so at a price: to wit, obedience and the inequality it implies. Not necessarily because they are oppressive by nature, as so many feminists have foolishly claimed. But because you can only protect those whom you control.

To put it in different words, were feminism and women’s lib spawned by a relatively peaceful world that is even now coming to an end? If so, what a pity. It was a nice try.