Crickets, Science and Rape

Segments about animals are some of the most interesting and subtly political pieces in Quirks and Quarks, the CBC’s national science show. One segment i listened to over the past week – a piece from summer 2005 – provides a case in point.

Under the heading Some Crickets Like It Rough host Bob McDonald interviewed Dr Karim Vahed, a Reader in Behavioural Ecology at the University of Derby, who studies “reproductive conflict” amongst insects.

Dr Vahed has studied a rare kind of Alpine cricket which has abandoned the regular cricket practice of singing for sex, and instead relies entirely on what Vahed and McDonald refer to as “coercive copulation”; what we would normally call violent rape.

No anthropomorphizing here, obviously as insects not people whatever these bugs are doing i have no idea how it is parsed by their consciousness… but i doubt that two woman science-geeks would have the same jovial humorous androcrentric discussion of “coercive copulation.”

Also fizzing in my brain was that if (as Vahed seems to suggest) a reproductive culture based on coercion or consent can be established amongst the same population of insects depending on environmental factors, how much greater must the options be for us humans…

Quirks and Quarks has many many such segments, about spiders or hyenas or whatever and how they fuck or eat or die, and again i gotta stress that i’m not suggesting any socio-biological argument, like “Well, the red back spiders are obviously a matriarchy and the crickets a patriarchy” or any such. But the way in which these different animals are studied and spoken about is of social significance, because whether we like it or not it either reinforces (or subverts) tendencies within our human society to view certain things as “natural” and this superior, or at least unchangeable.

For example, citing the same cricket study by Dr Vahed, BBC published an article under the title Alpine cricket is ‘rough lover’ in which the male crickets who force sex on female crickets (and even infants) are referred to as a “lothario” and “stallion of the insect world,” in much the same way that McDonald himself referred to their lack of song as a result of their being “so virile they don’t seem to have any time for any of that gentlemanlike behaviour.”


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