Evolutionary Feminism
A Book Review

Woman: An Intimate Geography
by Natalie Angier

Hardcover - 398 pages (April 1, 1999)

Other Editions: Audio Cassette (Abridged)

Review by Jennifer Goehring

November 4, 1999  So, I guess it's about time I submit another addition to my column.  I've had a couple of months to sit back, read scads of email responses, two books by supposed female "rivals" within the evolutionary debate, and settle into what seems to be the next logical step in this ongoing pursuit of scientific insight.

Given my latest, rather unforgiving critique of Evolutionary Psychology's latest feminist opponent, Natalie Angier, The Boss decided it would be kinda cute to have me review her book for my next article.  Lucky for me, I didn't resist the opportunity to benefit from the advice of someone older and wiser than I, because Angier's book, Woman: An Intimate Geography, turned out to be a most enjoyable read.   So much so that I'll be strongly inclined to give it as a gift to most of the women in my life this coming Christmas; and believe me, I'm a pretty hard sell.

To even attempt to summarize, or categorize, Angier's work in ten words or less is proving more than a little difficult; especially when others' first question to me when I recommend a book is usually, "Well, what's it about?"  It's not a nonfiction piece about feminism, or biology, or evolution, or the typical, melancholy call for a fairer and more just approach to issues that affect women; yet it is all of these things.  And believe me; I have read a library's worth of literature authored by everyone from society's most reactionary feminist to its most dull and technical scientist.  What I found from Angier is that she brings to her writing the best of all of these worlds; the valuable information from science, the poignant insight of a cultural commentator, and the encouraging celebration of dimensions of the female sphere that we have so long ignored and devalued-- but without all the crap.

Woman: An Intimate Geography is exactly that; an elaborate and fascinatingly provocative exploration of womanhood; from basic biology, to instinctive behavior, to the more complex facets of female consciousness.  Angier glides effortlessly from one dimension to the next, deconstructing long-held notions of the origin and function of everything considered to be 'female' in nature.  She provides what I consider to be a long-absent and much needed scientific and evolutionary explanation for many of the elements of female biology we have never bothered to fully understand, before now.  Although some would argue that we have far from grown out of our youth as a species, from the days when phenomena like "female intuition" were regarded as some kind of mystical and evil threat to the sanctity of humankind, we have never bothered to fully deconstruct biases of this nature and approach femininity from a truly rational perspective, and with truly open eyes.

After a lengthy cultural history of continually misrepresenting and bastardizing all things female, Angier provides our first glimpse into reality:  namely, that women, and femininity in general, offer critical and priceless   contributions to not only the survival and perpetuation of our species, but our actual elevation to levels beyond what we need merely to survive.  Progress.   Growth.  Evolution.  It is not, nor has it ever been, the masculine strengths demonstrated by the males of our species that can take sole credit for even a single stage of our development.

Given the vigor with which I had originally challenged Angier's writing, in my previous article, The Evolutionary Perspective of Women, Sex and Monogamy, I would imagine you are all waiting for the proverbial "But..."  Throughout most of the book, I found myself wondering why it was that Angier's article from the Times could have rubbed me the wrong way, when her book had the exact opposite effect.  To my surprise, her piece from the Times turned out to be the last chapter of the book; a chapter devoted solely to uprooting Evolutionary Psychology.  Fortunately for me, this eliminates the dilemma of inconsistency I had thought I was facing; my only criticism of Angier is just as it had always been.  You see, the majority of her book was devoted to a fascinating elaboration of ideas regarding the origin and function of various elements of female biology and femininity-- ALL of which just happen to coincide nicely with current prevailing theories within the field of Evo. Psych.  Angier's only problem is, she just doesn't realize this yet.  I can only assume that she has yet to familiarize herself with the most recent literature within the field.  Although the most "memorable" and stereotypical theories to come from Evo  Psych had designated female sexuality to tend toward monogamy and modesty by nature, this is no longer the prevailing ideology.  Due to the long-awaited awakening of this field, and the work of all the brilliant minds and theorists it has attracted, outdated ideas of female sexuality and femininity have been truly upended.  And whether she likes it or not, with the exception of the last chapter, if I were to locate her book anywhere in a bookstore, it would be in the Evolutionary Psychology section.

Natalie Angier, if you are reading this, I would like to assure you that your problem was never with Ev Psych, but rather with some of the ideas produced by theorists within the field.  (Although Einstein's theories were not consistent with previous mathematical models, his problem was never with the field of mathematics.)  This new revolutionary field could use intuitive minds like you, Ms. Angier.

And on that note, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the club. And as for you guys, I want you to buy this book!
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