Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
* * * *
this is what a feminist looks like

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

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

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

Send a Letter to the Editor
>> click here

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

Some scientists do see the need to move beyond clichés toward a more nuanced picture of human motivation, a recognition of the suppleness of human nature, the capacity for men and women to adjust their social and reproductive strategies as conditions around them change. Male as well as female scientists lately have argued for broadening the field of evolutionary psychology to incorporate the notion that our psychology does in fact evolve, is designed to evolve, even in the absence of genetic evolution. There is a reason why we have managed, for better or worse, to colonize virtually every habitat on the earth's surface, and to turn the planet and its glorious diversity into a vast playground for Homo sapiens. It's because we are omnivores in every sense of the word -- nutritionally, culturally, behaviorally. Any theoretical framework that slights our plasticity, that declares all or most men to be like this, and all or most women to be like that, is a framework fit only for kindling.

Here's an example of rigid absolutism, again from Sexnet, which made me run for my matchbook. A hard-core evolutionary psychologist presented his little gedanken, then kindly told us just how to gedank about it: "There is a contest," he wrote. "If you win you get either of two prizes: unlimited store credit at Saks Fifth Avenue for a 10-day period -- that is, you can have anything you can walk away with -- or have 10 extremely attractive total strangers of the preferred sex, a different one each night, come to your room, rip your clothes off, and have mad sex with you. I guarantee you that close to 100 percent of young men will choose the latter, and close to 100 percent (or literally 100 percent) of women, young or older, will choose the former."

The old Sex vs. Saks dilemma. When I read this, I thought, "Neither of the above, sir." I won't go into what my fantasy prize might be -- or might have been in the days when I was a single woman without kids -- but these boxes don't hold me and never did. Nor do they hold a lot of people, including a lot of good evolutionary scientists. I expressed my annoyance to David Sloan Wilson of the State University of New York at Binghamton, a scientist I mostly adore (with the exception of his occasional fits of didacticism that seem endemic to the scientific trade). Wilson has criticized much of the current evo-psycho literature while still considering himself an evolutionary psychologist, so I knew he'd sympathize with my desire for a more inclusive, expansive approach to understanding the evolution of human nature. I sent him the gedanken, and described my surly feelings about it. Darwin bless him for his delicious reply: "Your 'Neither of the above' answer can be given a serious scientific formulation. The evolutionary psychology view assumes that all resources for women flow through men, leaving only the 'strategies' of 'find the best husband' or 'maximize your returns from sexual favors.' The option that is not listed is 'self-determination,' or calling one's own shots. With this simple addition, feminism finds an evolutionary voice capable of silencing the evolutionary psychology voice on its own turf." Wilson then paused for a pious commercial break, warning me that whenever I sought to argue against "the narrow evolutionary psychology view, or any other objectionable evolutionary theory of human behavior," I must do so from an evolutionary perspective of my own, lest I "leave the opposition holding the banner of Darwinism," crowing about the stupidity of their critics for rejecting evolution altogether. "As an aside," Wilson went on, "even in its shriveled form the Sex vs. Saks experiment wouldn't work. Any guy with a brain (an oxymoron in most cases) would choose the Saks option and amass so much stuff over 10 days that he could have more than 10 women long enough to actually impregnate them. If he could choose Abercrombie & Fitch instead of Saks, he'd probably throw it all away for a single fishing pole. The boneheads who chose the women would probably have second thoughts by night 5 and would beg numbers 8, 9, and 10 to watch TV instead of having sex." In the words of George Bernard Shaw, Wilson concluded, " 'They are barbarians who mistake their own customs for human nature.' "

What can we do to reclaim the blessed turf of Darwinism? How can we think afresh about our contemporary selves in the light of several million years of thrashing around in the grim and shank of nature? Let me toss out a few ideas I feel have been neglected in most pop renditions of neo-evo. Let me try, to the best of my ability as a serious if not officially credentialed Darwin hobbyist, to present an ancestral Eve who had greater or at least more complex aims in life than a Stone Age shopping spree.

I'll start with the answer I give whenever anybody asks me what I think the real, primal, non-negotiable differences between men and women may be. I preface my response by claiming the ignorance we all suffer under in any discussion of the roots of something as intangible and free of fossil evidence as human nature. But there is one big difference -- which amounts to an amusing similarity, with profound consequences. A woman, like any female primate, has two core desires. First, access to resources, which means food, shelter, and -- ever since we were so rudely and coldly depilated -- clothing, for herself and her young. Second, control over her sex life and her reproduction. What are a man's core desires? He, too, wants access to resources and control over the means of reproduction, which, in the absence of male parthenogenesis, means control over women. There's nothing inherently wrong with this desire. But the fact that women and men are tussling over the same piece of valuable real estate -- the female body -- means that the tedious, endlessly vivisected "war between the sexes" is pretty much built into the system. I'm by no means arguing that men and women can never get along. The best of friends and allies are often cunning competitors. Consider the Greek warriors in the Iliad who, during intermissions in the Trojan War, could think of no zestier way to spend their leisure than holding mini-Olympics to see who could run the fastest, throw the farthest, jump the highest -- all in the nude, no less. Recall as well that even the most seemingly like-minded, bodily bonded of dyads, mother and infant, engage in subtle conflicts. The fetus wants to grow very big very fast, while the mother wants to keep its dimensions compact and manageable to preserve her body for future trials, which is why some fetus-specific genes are designed to enhance the growth of the placenta, and the maternal equivalents of those genes help suppress placental ambitions. The child wants to stay on the breast year after year, the better to forestall births of rival siblings through the ovulatory suppression that nursing imparts; the mother wants to wean her greedy suckler and maybe have a few more kids without depleting her calcium stores and risking every osteocyte in her body.

Yet such subconscious clashes of interest do not mean that mother and young are "really" enemies rather than the great lovers they often appear to be. Instead, they are living creatures, bound together by fourteen-carat compromise, trading up Paradise Lost for Paradox Found, and relishing the match. So, too, can men and women love each other wildly without necessarily, or even desirably, seeing eye to eye -- provided everyone's eyes are wide and gimlet.

Past Articles by Robin Morgan

* Dispatch from Beijing (Spring 2002)
* Long Memories (Summer 2002)
* Excerpts from The Demon Lover (Winter 2002)

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009