“I can’t help myself, I’m a man” – rape apologia, circa 1840

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in July 2013

300 words / 1 min.
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Does this rape defense sound familiar to anyone else? “Man is susceptible to the inclinations of the female sex.”

Please note that this post is from 2013. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

Does this defense sound familiar to anyone else?

In California in 1840, Cornelio López entered the room of María Ygnacia Elizalde and attempted to force her to have sex with him: “Why don’t you want to have relations with me? Haven’t you already been with others?” She filed a criminal complaint, with her husband presenting the case for the prosecution.

The defense, headed by Juan Cristóbal Vejar, argued that Elizalde’s biological sex as a female and López’s as a male were to blame for his behavior: “Man is susceptible to the inclinations of the female sex,” Vejar argued. “That the defendant approached an honorable woman is not a crime.” Lopez’s behavior may have been improper, but it was not criminal, and it was initiated by impulses of the flesh beyond his control.

(From p. 37 of Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s by Miroslava Chávez-García and the Alcalde Court Records at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, vol. I, pp. 506-62 (1840).)

If you need modern examples of what I’m talking about, see: