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 Angie

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

Apart from the general yuckiness of Kass's aspartame-tainted nostalgia, I wouldn't mind terribly if such self-styled neo-Darwinists restricted their pontificating to insisting that men are, on average, more sexually rapacious and prone to philandering than women. I don't believe that claim, and in fact some evidence indicates otherwise: while performing routine prenatal screening tests for the presence of disease genes, genetic counselors have found incidentally that anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of babies are fathered by somebody other than the mother's husband -- and surely not all these women were forced against their "inborn nature" into adulterous copulations.

Nevertheless, I can keep my erotic longings to myself, and if it makes a fellow feel better to insist that his are bigger and more unruly than mine, he can insist away. What is far more disturbing, and what I cannot accept without mounting my soapbox for a lusty rant, is the tendency of the evo-psycho crowd to attribute to men not only greater sexual ardor, but greater ardor for life. Kass writes that men are not only innate sexual "predators," but are also "naturally more restless and ambitious than women; lacking women's powerful and immediate link to life's generative answer to mortality, men flee from the fear of death into heroic deed, great quests, or sheer distraction after distraction."

Others are even more presumptuous. On a computer list populated by academic sex researchers, one member recently asked for commentary about the following quote from an unnamed source:

As a consequence of differential evolutionary histories, human genetic males, on average, differ from genetic females in fundamental behavioral ways. Males are more competitive, aggressive, creative, and inquisitive than females. These behavioral characteristics are evident throughout human societies to one degree or the other, and in aggregate are irrefutable. These average differences are clearly reflected in the dominance and achievements of males over the course of human history in politics, architecture, science, technology, philosophy, and literature, among other areas of human activity and intellectual concentration. It is reasonable to posit that these average differences between human males and females are functions of the differential environmental demands human males encountered over tens of thousands of years in human evolution. Today these differences are founded in the genetic and hormonal constitution of the human male.

My reaction on reading this was, Huh? Are you joking? Men by their "genetic and hormonal constitution," are more "creative" and "inquisitive" than women? Sez who? Sez what data? To my dismay, other members of the list were unperturbed. "It is pretty standard evolutionary psychology of sex differences," shrugged one professor, referring to various popular books about evolutionary psychology, including the bluntly titled, Why Men Rule: A Theory of Male Dominance. Woe to this professor's female students if he conveys to them his settled opinion that males have a hardwired advantage in exactly those traits necessary to excel in his class. Well, every trait except cleavage.

I don't mean to be flip and sarcastic. OK, I do. But I also want to express my frustration at how readily and arrogantly so much evolutionary blather can be bandied about, with hardly a whimper of complaint or an attempt at alternative interpretation. Remember, I'm a big fan of Darwinism, convinced that by considering the deep roots of our past we can enrich our lives now, if only because understanding always trumps ignorance and denial. I also believe that evolutionary biology is a growth industry, and that we will be seeing ever more effort, inside and outside of academia, to examine contemporary human behavior from a Darwinian perspective. Fine. But maybe we shouldn't leave the analysis to a small, self-referential cabal of evolutionary psychologists, who attempt to reify the status quo with a few sweeping, simplistic, binary formulations.

Maybe we should seek to use Darwinian principles to our own nefarious ends -- beginning with a fresh understanding of feminist impulses. Many mainstream neo-Darwinists try to dismiss feminism: "We're scientists! We seek the truth about human nature, however unpleasant," they self-righteously maintain. "We must resist the forces of 'political correctness' and get at the truth."

But what this smug dismissal fails to address is the fact that feminism and its attendant egalitarian impulses are very much part of human nature. Hence, any system that purports to explain the primal origins of our desires must also explain why any of us want to be feminists in the first place. I would argue that feminism is an evolved trait -- part of the puzzle to be solved, not a distraction from it. If it takes evolutionary biologists who double as feminists to tackle this particular puzzle piece, they can fairly be said to be at their most "scientific" just when evo-psycho critics are pooh-poohing them for being driven by "political" motives.

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Robin Morgan on the Ms. Bookshelf


* Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium
* Sisterhood Is Powerful
* Saturday's Child

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