Punk Science talks sex, violence


Welcome back my fellow punk scientists! This time around I thought I would delve a little deeper into the bottomless pool that is sex and pornography and discuss some of the cultural aspects of sex as they pertain to our very own society. While I don’t anticipate there to be anything particularly offensive about the ensuing discussion, I will point out that this week’s topic is sex and violence.

To start, when discussing pornography last week, I mentioned that, in America, there is a particularly intricate and hostile relationship with sex and violence. From the often male-dominated porn fantasies of “rough sex” to the very real culture of sexual violence that we inhabit, there is a vast well of subject matter to cover. Let’s start off with the beginnings of rape culture and then see where the rabbit hole goes from there.

It all started in Rome. (At least, for the purposes of our discussion, this is where our journey will commence.) I’ll go out on a limb and assume that most of you will know what Rome is and some of the more basic history associated with that ancient empire. There is, however, one event in early Roman history that I want to draw attention to in order to start unwinding this ball of string.

The event in question was called either the “abduction” or in some cases, “rape” of the Sabine women. Now, for the sake of brevity, let me explain the scene. The early Roman king Romulus and all his merry men decided that they needed wives. Romulus reached out to the neighbouring Sabine culture and asked their king if he could spare any of his women folk that were just, I don’t know, lying around. The Sabine King refused and in response, the Romans held a festival and then captured all the women that showed up and carried them off to be their wives, killing many of the Sabine men in the process.

There is some debate among historians about the incident and whether there was in fact any rape at all during this affair, but the point I want to make stands regardless. This was an act, on a large scale, in which one culture used the male conquest of females in the name of their empire. This isn’t something new by any means, and throughout history there has been an unnerving precedent for sex and violence to be used as tools of domination and state-building.

From Rome until today, sexual violence, especially in warfare and nation construction, has played an unsavoury role throughout history. The accounts of various rising nations and empires show us that rape and other acts of assault were used to control an enemy population or demoralise foes. England did it to the Scots and America did it to the native peoples more often than I’m sure citizens of that time would like to admit.

All of this brings me back to the concept of a rape culture that I mentioned previously. For context, rape culture is defined as “the sociological concept for a setting which is rape-pervasive and normalised due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.” The Wikipedia definition goes further by outlining some of the common practices of rape culture, such as: slut-shaming, victim blaming, and sexual objectification along with various callous attitudes towards rape and its consequences.

Sound familiar? I can imagine that many of you are probably scratching behind your collars in embarrassment or throwing up your hands and shouting, “Duh!”

As you can see, many if not all the points listed are issues that we are experiencing today. Right now. For example, Rush Limbaugh was given the Medal of Honor, even after he made comments about a Georgetown University woman being a slut for seeking contraceptives. Think too about the Kavanaugh case in which Christine Blasey Ford was ridiculed, blamed, and disbelieved by a large portion of the American population for her allegations that she had been a victim of sexual misconduct.

When you couple these occurrences with some of the trending abuse fetishes in mainstream porn, it becomes alarmingly clear that we are facing a crisis of sexual violence in our culture that needs to be dealt with, one way or another. I want to leave this discussion with the following call to think about this dual-faceted relationship with violence and sexuality. Start a conversation about it with someone, and think about ways that society can mitigate or even eradicate this kind of systemic cultural behaviour. In the meantime, keep challenging the ideas in the world around you. As always, farewell from Punk Science: where we’re making science cool again.