Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

Features
The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

News
Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Departments
Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Robin Morgan, an award-winning writer, feminist leader, political theorist, journalist, and editor, has published seventeen books, including the best-selling The Demon Lover (Washington Square Press), and the now-classic anthologies Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970), and Sisterhood Is Global (1984/1996). A founder of contemporary U.S. feminism, she has also been a leader in the international Women's Movement for decades. Her latest books include A Hot January: Poems 1996-1999, and Saturday Child. A Memoir (2000). A recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Prizelover (Poetry), the Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism, the Feminist Majority Foundation Award, and numerous other honors, she lives in New York City.


Biologically Correct
By Natalie Angier

From Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium, Edited by Robin Morgan

Chat w. Robin Morgan 4/23, 3pmEST

In all my years as a science writer, I've sought to encourage friends, relatives, and other members of the laity not to be so afraid of science. Science doesn't belong only to scientists, I've exhorted, any more than art belongs only to artists, or politics to the Eeyores and Dumbos of Washington, D.C. Science is the property of the human race. It's one of our greatest achievements, and it doesn't take nearly as much effort as nonscientists believe to become reasonably literate in a particular discipline, to the point where you may even venture an opinion on, say, the rights of a U.S. consumer to drive an SUV, global warming be damned, versus the rights of a citizen of Bangladesh to continue living above sea level.

But I'm afraid that when it comes to my most cherished of subjects, evolutionary biology, the concept of scientific populism has been taken too far. It seems practically everybody is now an amateur Darwinist, willing to speculate grandly on the deep Plio-Pleistocene origins of all modern vices known to man, woman, or Tony Soprano. Lawyers bring evolutionary reasoning into the courtroom. Psychologists discuss the evolutionary basis of depression, neuroticism, anorexia, alcoholism, a wicked sweet tooth. Theologians insist the human brain evolved to believe in god, who may or may not return the favor by believing in evolution.

Now, I don't believe evolution is a "theory," any more than I believe gravity and the second law of thermodynamics are theories. I consider myself a Darwinist right down to my DNA, which I'm happy to share 98.5 percent of with our cousins, the chimpanzees. But it's one thing to revel in Darwin's magnificent, overarching theory of evolution by natural selection, and another to play Spin-the-HMS Beagle of a Saturday night and call the results "science." Yet to my disgust and occasionally crippling sense of despair, many of the slap-happy, data-free Darwinesque theory-ettes to emerge in recent years have been widely dispensed and accepted, to the point where they, too, are considered the biological equivalents of E=MC². And nowhere has the acceptance of evolution-tinged notions been greater, more credulous, and more insidious than for those purporting to explain the supposed differences between the sexes. Darwinophiles, particularly the subspecies who label themselves "evolutionary psychologists," love to talk about the gulf that separates men and women. Everywhere I turn, there they are: thematic variations of the dreary old ditty, "Higgamus hoggamus/women are monogamous; hoggamus, higgamus/men are polygamous." Or, in another mildewed rendering: men are ardent, women coy. Or how about: men want quantity, women quality. Or take that: men want sex, women want love. Evolutionary psychology has newly proved old verities to be true. Not necessarily with data, mind you -- how much data do you need to prove the obvious? -- but with nifty new theoretical constructs and sufficiently high jargon-wattage terminology to lend a spangle of rigor to the field.

For example, evolutionary psychologists (evo psychos) love to talk about "mental modules," little cerebral fiefdoms that supposedly operate independently and subliminally to prevent us from behaving in the rational, integrated, thoughtful manner that we deluded femi-Nazi types might strive to accomplish. As a result of these finely honed modules, which evo psychos liken to the separate tools in a Swiss army knife, we will do things that may seem illogical and even counterproductive to our lives overall -- say, by choosing a dumb mate just because he's tall or she has big breasts and our "mate-finding" module sees the person as a bearer of good genes or a fecund womb, thus the best tool for the job of reproducing. So what if our intellectual or kinship-bonding modules disapprove of what our mate-finding module brought home? And so what if there is as yet no evidence for the existence of these mental modules? Evo psychos also emphasize the "differential reproductive potential" between men and women, transmutating the numeric discrepancy between a man's sperm cells and a woman's egg cells into any and all sex-linked inequities you care to mention: the rarity of female CEOs or Nobel laureates; the spareness of the average female's salary; the disparity in gumption, motion, get-up-and-go-tion.

No longer are the "evolved" differences between men and women presumed hypothetical until proven actual, as they might have been as recently as the early 1990s; now they are pretty much post-factual. For example, in his essay "The End of Courtship," bioethicist Leon Kass (chosen by President George W. Bush to head a national bioethics advisory panel), quotes the tired hoggamus doggerel, declaring -- without apology, footnote, or citation -- that "Ogden Nash had it right." (Memo to Kass: the verse was written by William James.) This keeper of the nation's moral compass asserts that a "natural obstacle" to courtship and marriage is "the deeply ingrained, natural waywardness and unruliness of the human male." One can make a "good case," Kass continues, "that biblical religion is, not least, an attempt to domesticate male sexuality and male erotic longings," although how good a case depends on whether you consider an Old Testament hero like King Solomon, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, to be an exemplar of domesticated masculinity. As for modern women, Kass pities us as we hop unnaturally from bed to uncommitted bed, "living their most fertile years neither in the homes of their fathers nor their husbands." Far from enjoying "sexual liberation," he says, we are awash in quiet desperation, "unprotected, lonely, and out of sync with their inborn nature."

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Event

Live in DC? Join Ellie Smeal, Pat Schroeder, Frances Kissling, and Robin Morgan at a reception and book reading for Sisterhood is Forever. April 9 @ 6:30 pm. More info. >>

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