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The Woman That Never Evolved: With a New Preface and Bibliographical Updates, Revised Editionby Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
Synopses & Reviews
What does it mean to be female? Sarah Blaffer Hrdy--a sociobiologist and a feminist--believes that evolutionary biology can provide some surprising answers. Surprising to those feminists who mistakenly think that biology can only work against women. And surprising to those biologists who incorrectly believe that natural selection operates only on males.
In The Woman That Never Evolved we are introduced to our nearest female relatives competitive, independent, sexually assertive primates who have every bit as much at stake in the evolutionary game as their male counterparts do. These females compete among themselves for rank and resources, but will bond together for mutual defense. They risk their lives to protect their young, yet consort with the very male who murdered their offspring when successful reproduction depends upon it. They tolerate other breeding females if food is plentiful, but chase them away when monogamy is the optimal strategy. When "promiscuity" is an advantage, female primates--like their human cousins--exhibit a sexual appetite that ensures a range of breeding partners. From case after case we are led to the conclusion that the sexually passive, noncompetitive, all-nurturing woman of prevailing myth never could have evolved within the primate order.
Yet males are almost universally dominant over females in primate species, and Homo sapiens is no exception. As we see from this book, women are in some ways the most oppressed of all female primates. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is convinced that to redress sexual inequality in human societies, we must first understand its evolutionary origins. We cannot travel back in time to meet our own remote ancestors, but we can study those surrogates we have--the other living primates. If women --and not biology--are to control their own destiny, they must understand the past and, as this book shows us, the biological legacy they have inherited.
Book News Annotation:
Arguing that while humans are the extreme case of sexual sophistication, they are by no means a unique one, Hrdy (anthropology, U. of California), surveys the sexual habits of female primates in an effort to debunk the conception that women are by nature monogamous and men polygamous. She finds that female primates have a diversity of sexual habits, often tending towards the bold solicitation of many partners. In a final chapter she explores the social construction of sexuality in human societies and argues that the monogamous/polygamous distinction is false one forced upon women by the dictates of patrimony.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Hailed as a ground-breaking synthesis of feminism and evolutionary theory when first published, The Woman That Never Evolved is a bold and refreshing answer to contemporary versions of social Darwinism that shoehorn female nature into narrow stereotypes. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a leader in modern primatology, argues that evolutionary theorists' emphasis on sexual competition among males for access to females overlooks selection pressures on females themselves. In a vivid account of what female primates themselves actually do to secure their own reproductive advantage, she demolishes myths about sexually passive, "coy," compliant, exclusively nurturing females. Her lucid and compelling account of the great range of behaviors in many species of primates expands the concept of female nature to include the full range of selection pressures on females, and reminds us of the true complexity and dynamism of the evolutionary story.
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
About the Author
<>Sarah Blaffer Hrdyis Professor Emerita of <>Anthropology at University of California — Davis.
Table of Contents
Preface, 1999: On Raising Darwin's Consciousness
1. Some Women That Never Evolved
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History and Social Science » Anthropology » Cultural Anthropology