Written by Alex Collins.
Content Warning: Contains mentions of sexual assault, intercourse between animals, and graphic imagery.
Rubbing the raised hair on my arms, I leaned forward to turn down the air-con, only to receive a hard kick in the back of my chair. ‘It’s boiling back here! Don’t you dare touch it,’ my sister growled. The traffic hadn’t moved for the last twenty minutes and, having lost the shotgun battle for the front seat, she’d spent the time stewing. I twisted to smirk at her sweaty, flushed face before returning to gazing out the window at the small herd of cows in the paddock beside the road.
They were all were laying in the shade of three eucalyptus trees, lazily flicking at flies with their tails, except for two, who appeared to be playing chasey. The pair were throwing their heads about and kicking up the baked dirt as they ran along the fence line. The chaser, a large black cow, began to headbutt the smaller, brown cow in the hip, forcing her into a corner of the fencing. Now trapped, she glanced back over her shoulder, a look of fear widening her eyes as the black cow launched itself over her rump and up onto her back.
Horrified, I watched as their game of tag quickly became some sort of wrestling match. The small cow reared and bucked, tossing her head from side to side as the black cow’s forelegs clung to her back.
‘Mum!’ I gasped, panic for the brown cow swelling inside me. ‘That cow is hurting her. They’re being a bully!’
But Mum was shaking her head. ‘No, honey. That’s not a cow, that’s a bull. And he’s not being a bully, they’re having—’ She paused for the briefest of moments, glancing at my sister in the rear-view mirror, ‘Having sexual intercourse.’
As she spoke, the bull continued to shove himself against the struggling cow over and over again. Eventually, he climbed off her back and wandered toward the onlookers lying in the shade.
‘What’s sexual inter-a-course?’ piped up a voice from the backseat.
And that’s the story of how my mother ended up giving my sister and I ‘the talk’ while we were stuck in traffic on the road to Anglesea. I was nine, and my sister was seven-and-a-half. I remember Mum turning to our pale faces after explaining the nuts and bolts of sex in exceptional, horrifying graphic detail, and asking, ‘So—what do you think?’
I’d huffed out the breath I’d been holding and announced, ‘That sexual inter-a-course is plain disgusting! Definitely, only people over forty-five should be allowed to do it.’
I was reminded of this childhood milestone recently when I overheard a man justify rape as ‘naturally occurring in the animal kingdom’, and it occurred to me that while my opinion of sex has most certainly evolved since that day, perhaps, my first thought to cast the cow as a victim and the bull as the perpetrator wasn’t all that wrong. Was what I witnessed rape? Was it natural? And perhaps more importantly, does this make me, a woman of the 21st century, the social equal of the animal kingdom’s cow?
The man argued that as animals, we homo sapiens shouldn’t be considered above the primal instincts of the earth’s multitude of other creatures. He contended that what today’s hysterically politically correct society terms rape is, in fact, the healthy instinct of the genetically superior men to sow their seed.
I’ve heard many variations of this opinion in my time and have concluded that the theory has several gaping plot holes, the largest of which being its use of grandiose generalisation. One doesn’t need to be a zoologist to know that each and every species on the planet features a plethora of differences. Elephants don’t roar like tigers, kangaroos don’t climb trees, and the platypus doesn’t swim in schools. Just as the female members of the homo sapien species don’t mimic the praying mantis as she bites off and eats the head of her lover (Bittle and Main, 2008). Unlike the octopus, female humans don’t strangle their partners during consummation before enjoying him as a post-sex snack (Courage, 2014). Furthermore, juxtaposed to alpha female meerkats, women don’t kill the babies of other mothers in order to ‘free up’ a nanny for her offspring (Rutherford 2019). Therefore, assuming that one animal can be expected to behave in exactly the same way as all others on this vast planet is idiotically naive at best, and at worst, positively life-threatening.
Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes says, ‘Nature is not cruel; it is simply indifferent’ (Rutherford, 2019). His research suggests what I witnessed between the bull and the cow was one creature’s ‘disregard for other living things, rather than malice’ (Rutherford, 2019). He contends the brutality between animals is dictated by a survival instinct, uninhibited by a capacity to consider their impact on others.
Rutherford argues our intellectual capacity to consider others and our impact on them is a key separator between the animal kingdom and humankind. He concludes the ‘behavioural modernity’ of the homo sapien species has ‘eased our struggle for existence away from the brutality of nature’ and allowed for conscious decision-making ‘unavailable to our evolutionary cousins’ (Rutherford, 2019). Consequently, as humans are evolutionarily capable of moderating our innate survival instincts with a moral code and consideration for others, an act of brutality cannot be chalked up to natural indifference, like the bull’s.
So, it seems even science agrees the ‘it’s natural!’ justification of rape doesn’t hold water, which is good news for me as I don’t have to hurry off and adopt post-coital cannibalism. However, it occurs to me that perhaps those individual’s hell-bent on maintaining their animal status won’t mind being castrated along with the bulls …?
J. Bittle & D. Main 2018, It’s Praying Mantis Mating Season: Here’s What You Need to Know, National Geographic, <https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/its-praying-mantis-mating-season-heres-what-you-need-to-know.aspx>
K. Courage 2014, Female Octopus Strangles Mate, Then Eats Him, Scientific American, <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/octopus-chronicles/female-octopus-strangles-mate-then-eats-him/>
A. Rutherford 2019, Can a Dolphin Really Commit Rape?, The Atlantic, <https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/03/animals-rape-murder-morality-humans/585049/>