Book Reviews

The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World.

Helen Fisher.
Review by William A. Spriggs
October 23rd, 2008

How do you review a perfect book?  You would think that it would be very easy: point out the major points and praise, praise, praise, and never find a fatal nor harmful point in the book’s arguments.  That pretty much sums up how I feel about this book, but I think that the real message that floats easily to the surface for me: It’s about time.

It’s about time that women take a firm stand and shed all the self-doubts and self-derogations, that they, themselves have heaped upon themselves over the past several hundred years by believing religious and social masculine dominated hyperbole.  It’s about time for women to throw down the veils of beliefs that “inferior” women have been forced to wear within their cultures.  It’s about time that women come to the self-realization, that they are not The Second Sex, as Simone de Beauvoir, declared in her 1949 book that claimed: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Hence, the title of Helen Fisher’s book.  She understands the importance of the female sex in the complex co-relationship with males, but believes that women are evolving into something higher that some societies are just not ready to accept.  She doesn’t care because she has science on her side. She doesn’t just get “it,” but believes “it,” down to the depths of her soul. 

And I say, Amen, Sister.

This is the start of a new revolution in thinking because it confirms that both male and female behaviors have a solid basis in evolutionary mechanisms that lead both sexes in certain directions that are unalterable.  But, it is the first solid, scientific justification for this new wave of evolutionary feminism that is emerging that I have found.  But you must read all four of her books in succession.

The evolutionary – and revolutionary -- thought that is emerging is that women really are the slightly superior sex, and the only thing that has held them back from discovering this meme is that women themselves have bought into the cultural norms in their local environments, that,  without males to assist them in child-rearing, they are worthless and unworthy.  There are certain evolutionary forces at work that reinforce and prop up those cultural norms, but changing global economics are quickly leveling those evolutionary pressures.   It’s the coming “flat” economies of the futures that we help women finally find their full potential.

Yes, I said cultural forces are important while seemingly betraying my opening of the review that framed the review with a biological importance to the new, emerging, 21st Century Women.

Yes, I believe that the biological foundation of human behavior is embedded within the evolutionary perspective, but here is also solid proof that culture and social norms within the local environments that we find ourselves has perhaps an even larger affect – perhaps as much as 60%. (That’s my theory).

The fact that girls play with Barbie Dolls and boys play with GI Joe are just as much a part of the way children grow up in 2008 as much as past history teaches us that young girls helped mom with sewing and cooking on homesteading prairie homes as their younger brothers helped their dads with wood cutting and plowing the fields.  So, we can not discount local cultures when we consider human behaviors; Dr. Fisher agrees:

“Environment and heredity are eternally intertwined, locked in a pas de deux”. P. xvi.

As we being our voyage within the book, we begin to understand Helen Fisher’s position on the intertwining of environment and heredity.  (Yes, I know, “voyage” is a “journey via sea vessel,” but when I started the web site, Evolution’s Voyage in 1995, I secretly named it after the TV series, Star Trek Voyager.  At the helm of the “ship” was Captain Janeway, of the Starship Voyager – she was played by Kate Mulgrew.  The seven year series provided TV viewers with a strong and noble women lead in a command position.  But of course, she was a lot smarter than Barbie, and I am sure that the TV series helped to instill in young American women, that yes, they too, could someday command a starship; command a corporation, or, perhaps, be Commander in-Chief. [Don’t get me started with that TV series!]  .  The TV series Star Trek Voyager ran from 1995-2001).

Let’s quote Ms. Fisher:

“So here is my immodest proposal: As women continue to pour into the paid workforce in cultures around the world, they will apply their natural aptitudes in many sectors of society and dramatically influence twenty-first-century business, sex, and family life.  In some important parts of the economy, they will even predominate, becoming the first sex.  Why? Because current trends in business, communications, education, law, medicine, government, and the nonprofit sector, known as civil society, all suggest that tomorrow’s world will need the female mind.” P. xvi.

At the beginning of the book, Dr. Fisher wastes no time in dipping into the biological:

“At conception the embryo is neither male nor female.  Around the eighth week of fetal life, however, a genetic switch flips…[scientists] all agree that if male hormones do not kick in to sculpt the growing embryo, it will become a girl…As a result of these findings, scientists regularly refer to woman as the default plan…I read these data differently.  ‘Women’ is the primary sex—the first sex.  You have to add chemicals to get a man.  Hence the first sex from the biological perspective is emerging as the first sex in many sphere of economic and social life.”  P. xvii & xviii.

Dr. Fisher makes a logical and excellent point about the aging baby boomer females who are now more educated and financially secure than at any other time in modern history:

“But middle-aged women also get a dividend from nature.  With menopause, levels of the estrogens decline, unmasking natural levels of testosterone and other androgens in the female body.  Androgens, male sex hormones, are potent chemicals regularly associated with assertiveness and rank in many mammalian species, including people.  As this tidal wave of baby boomer women reaches middle age, they will be equipped – not only economically and mentally but also hormonally – to make substantial changes in the world… ‘Such a critical mass of older women with a tradition of rebellion and independence and a way of making a living has not occurred before in history,’ writes historian Gerda Lerner.  We Stand at the doorway of what may become an age of women.” P. xix.

I could go on and on, and continue with my usual detailed book review that I have done in the past, but I am going to stop here.  I have the next book in Helen Fisher’s series to read, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, and I have noticed that there is a fifth book due out soon.

I’m sorry that my outside activities in the real world of people and local Lakewood Colorado politics is taking me away from my reading and studying more and more.  Hmm….is that good or bad?  Stay tuned.

Well, anyways, buy the book.  The detailed separation between male and female behaviors that appeared in The First Sex that I have linked below should really get you interested in her work.  This is feminist history being made here ladies; I should know, I’m a man and even I can see that this will be your Century to change the course of history.

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I have included a link to male-female difference that I found within the DSM-IV dated Feburary, 1998.

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