Are men really bred for promiscuity, while women seek a stable provider? Just one of the myths being exploded by new evolutionary research, says Barbara Ehrenreich. Get ready for the femaleist revolution
Medically, too, women are different A History By BARBARA EHRENREICHIt's always been classier, and a lot more dignified, to be a woman than a female. Thanks to 30 years of feminist striving, the category woman has expanded to include anchorpersons, soccer moms, astronauts, fire fighters, even the occasional Senator or Secretary of State. But female still tends to connote the oozing, bleeding, swelling, hot-flashing, swamp-creature side of the species, its tiny brain marinating in the primal hormonal broth. From Aristotle to Freud, the thinking on gender has been that only one sex had fully evolved out of the tidal pool, and it wasn't the sex that wears panty hose.Biology has usually been only too glad to claim the human female as its slave. The sociobiologists of the '60s and '70s, followed by the evolutionary psychologists of the '90s, promoted what amounts to a prostitution theory of human evolution: Since males have always been free to roam around, following their bliss, the big challenge for the prehistoric female was to land a male hunter and keep him around in a kind of meat-for-sex arrangement. Museum dioramas of the Paleolithic past still tend to feature the guys heading out after the mastodons, spears in hand, while the gals crouch slack-jawed around the campfire, busily lactating. The chivalrous conclusion is that today's woman can do whatever she likes--start a company, pilot a plane--but only by trampling on her inner female.
Yet a new attitude is bubbling out of that old female hormonal swamp, powered by new research and, at least in preliminary form, fresh perspectives on the gender-bifurcated human condition. There are signs of a growing acceptance of the female body with its signature cycles and turning points. Some midlife boomers are finding ways to celebrate the menopause, while a generation of grrrls is coming of age, with a new view of the menstrual period as an emblem of primal female power. At the same time, some of the sacred tenets of evolutionary psychology--that men are innately more aggressive, more promiscuous and more likely to fall for cute young things--have come under fresh challenge. As the century turns, it could be, Goodbye, women's lib; hello, female liberation!