Historically, polyandry was much more common than we thought.
by Alice Dreger / Northwestern University / theatlantic.com
For generations, anthropologists have told their students a fairly simple story about polyandry — the socially recognized mating of one woman to two or more males. The story has gone like this:
While we can find a cluster of roughly two dozen societies on the Tibetan plateau in which polyandry exists as a recognized form of mating, those societies count as anomalous within humankind. And because polyandry doesn’t exist in most of the world, if you could jump into a time machine and head back thousands of years, you probably wouldn’t find polyandry in our evolutionary history.
That’s not the case, though, according to a recent paper in Human Nature co-authored by two anthropologists, Katherine Starkweather, a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri, andRaymond Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska. While earning her masters under Hames’ supervision, Starkweather undertook a careful survey of the literature, and found anthropological accounts of 53 societies outside of the “classic polyandrous” Tibetan region that recognize and allow polyandrous unions. (Disclosure: I first learned of Starkweather’s project while researching a controversy involving Hames and he is now a friend.)
Indeed, according to Starkweather and Hames, anthropologists have documented social systems for polyandrous unions “among foragers in a wide variety of environments ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, and to the desert.” Recognizing that at least half these groups are hunter-gatherer societies, the authors conclude that, if those groups are similar to our ancestors — as we may reasonably suspect — then “it is probable that polyandry has a deep human history.”
Rather than treating polyandry as a mystery to be explained away, Starkweather and Hames suggest polyandry constitutes a variation on the common, evolutionarily-adaptive phenomenon of pair-bonding — a variation that sometimes emerges in response to environmental conditions.
by Annalee Newitz / io9.com
We call those deadly spiders with the red hourglass shapes on their abdomens “black widows” because they eat their mates as part of the sex act. But black widows are far from the only spiders who sexually cannibalize, and some insects and fish do it too. It’s just a natural part of some animals’ reproductive process. So why use a term like “widow” for a creature who has no notion of marriage, and who is part of a species that evolved to eat or be eaten during sex? That’s what British biologist Emily Burdfield-Steele and her colleagues wanted to find out.
Their hypothesis was that people, including scientists, were grossly misunderstanding spider reproduction because they couldn’t stop anthropomorphizing the creatures involved. Instead of seeing a natural spider sex act, they kept seeing “widows” and “male sacrifices.” Those are decidedly human ideas. To find out whether this anthropocentric bias was pervasive, the biologists conducted a survey of 47 scientific papers about sexual cannibalism, to see how the act was described. Not surprisingly, they discovered a lot of non-scientific (and inaccurate) terms like “rapacious” and “voracious” attributed to the females; the males were called “unwilling” and “suicidal” in some cases. They created a fascinating chart of the most popular human-centric terms used to describe the spidery experience of sexual cannibalism.
In their paper published earlier this month in Animal Behavior, the researchers describe what you’re seeing in this chart:
Frequency of terms used when describing male and female behaviour of sexually cannibalistic species considered separately for (a) studies in which cannibalism occurs before and/or during copulation (26 papers) and (b) studies in which cannibalism occurs only during and/or after copulation (17 papers), excluding reviews. See the appendices for references and excluded words. The frequency for each sex is the number of articles the term appears in, in the context of describing behaviour. Words were also classified by three independent observers as active (a), reactive (re) or neutral (n). Terms marked with an asterisk were classified differently by at least two of the parties and so could not be given an overall classification.
It’s fascinating to see how the females are more often described as “attacking” or “predatory” if they eat their mates before or during sex, versus afterwards. Maybe eating somebody after sex doesn’t strike us as being quite so aggressive?
Indiana Univ study reveals sex to be pleasurable with or without use of a condom or lubricant [iu.edu]
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — American men and women rated sex as highly arousing and pleasurable regardless of whether condoms and/or lubricants were used, according to a study led by Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington researchers and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Data were from the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, which involved the administration of an online questionnaire to a nationally representative probability sample of U.S. adults. Results showed that men and women consistently rate sex as highly arousing and pleasurable with few differences based on condom or lubricant use. More than twice as many women than men were unsure whether the condom was lubricated — 26.6 percent vs. 11.4 percent — or from what material it was made — 23.6 percent vs. 8.9 percent.
“This may be because men are more likely than women to purchase condoms and to apply condoms,” Herbenick said. “However, it’s important for more women to become familiar with the condoms they use with their partner so that they can make choices that enhance the safety and pleasure of their sexual experiences.”
Additionally, no significant differences were found in regard to men’s ratings of the ease of their erections based on condom and lubricant use.
“The U.S. continues to grapple with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unintended pregnancies,” Herbenick said. “We need to understand how people make choices about the products they use, or avoid using, and how these products contribute to the safety and pleasurable aspects of their sexual experiences. This is particularly important as the products themselves evolve and become more mainstream in American society. We also need to understand what men and women know, or don’t know, about the products they use so that we can better target public health education messages to individuals and groups.”
“The epidemiologic studies assessing human sexual function and behavior in the U.S. that were started 60 years ago by Kinsey are continued now by Herbenick and Reece. Gathering sexual data regarding condom use is highly relevant,” said Irwin Goldstein, M.D., editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Understanding current condom use offers health care providers an opportunity to educate those people uncomfortable with condoms but for whom lack of use may lead to significant sexually transmitted infection health risk.”
A PDF of “Characteristics of Condom and Lubricant Use Among a Nationally Representative Probability Sample of Adults Ages 18-59 In the United States” is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or online in the Wiley Press Room for media with log-in access. (To request a login, click here). It will appear in the February issue.
The study was supported by Church & Dwight, Inc., the maker of Trojan Brand condoms and vibrators. Co-authors include Vanessa Schick, Nicole Smith and Brian Dodge, Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington; Stephanie Sanders, The Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender and Reproduction and Department of Gender Studies, College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington; and J. Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., IU School of Medicine.
Gabe’s Care Map: Cristin Lind, Mom, Illustrates What It Takes To Raise One Boy With Special Needs [huffingtonpost.com]
by Lisa Belkin / huffingtonpost.com
Cristin Lind couldn’t find the words, so she drew a picture.
The artistic inspiration hit about a year ago, after she’d been asked to speak to a meeting of primary care physicians, telling them what it took to manage the complex care of her special needs son. Her page was still empty, despite hours trying to collect her thoughts, so she found some colored markers and began drawing circles.
Inside a small purple circle, smack in the middle, she placed a G, for her son Gabe. “He’s not always the center of the universe,” she says with a smile. “But for these purposes he was.”
Around him, she drew another purple circle containing the rest of the family: Cristin, her husband Dan, and their daughter, Dagny. She built outward from there: the health care providers in blue — pediatrics, endocrine, cardiology, orthopedics; school-related specialists in red — everyone from the teacher to the bus driver to the special education director; turquoise for the world of advocacy and support groups; pink for recreation; lavender for those who do the assessments and testing; orange for those who help fight against the rules and for the money.
We each have scaffolding in our lives, usually unseen. We are surrounded by a web we don’t always know is there, but every so often — usually in crisis or its aftermath — makes itself visible. By the time Lind finished drawing, there were 70 labeled ovals on her page, which she calls “Gabe’s Care Map.”
She felt overwhelmed, yet empowered, just looking at it.
by Ben Fulton, The Salt Lake Tribune
Resplendent in gold jewelry and black-brown ensemble, Anita Hill is having far more fun during this year’s Sundance Film Festival than she did 22 years ago in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I can never go back to the person I was at that moment,” Hill said during a brief interview inside a lounge on Park City’s Main Street. “We grow. We develop. We move on. Hopefully, we evolve into that person we want to be.”
Today a professor of law, social policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University, Hill speaks tirelessly on behalf of women’s equality.
At the same time, she knows her name will forever be tied to those October days in 1991. That’s when as a young, soft-spoken law professor she stunned the nation with graphic testimony against then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas, bringing the issue of sexual harassment out of the workplace and into the public arena.
Hill turned down past offers to have her story told on film. In Freida Mock, Academy Award-wining director of “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision,” Hill said she at last found a filmmaking voice she knew she could trust. “You feel really flattered when someone as accomplished as she is approaches you,” Hill said.
“Anita,” which Mock said she appropriately began shooting three years ago on Martin Luther King Day, reminds audiences that, behind every brave face going public, the personal story informing their decision is never far behind.
The film, which received its world premiere Saturday at Park City’s Marc theater, walks back into time to tell the story of Hill’s rural Oklahoma upbringing. The youngest of 13 children, her parents raised her under the saying familiar to many black children, “You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as much.” The Yale Law School student who graduated with honors in 1980, and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar that same year, did not disappoint.
“When people ask how I got my courage I say, ‘You can start there [with my family], particularly with my mother,’ ” Hill said.
by Katie Halper / jezebel.com
It’s awkward when you realize you don’t want to hook up with a guy who you’ve invited into your apartment for that purpose. But you can and should always be able to stop a hook up you don’t want to have. (Duh). This [Law and Order dum-dum] is my story.
The Background: A few years ago, I was working on a documentary film about a play. One of the actors was very talented and good looking. We didn’t really get to know each other over the course of the week-long shoot, but we exchanged small talk and smiled at each other, like, a lot! The last night there was a cast party. As I was about to leave the party, the actor asked me where I was going. I told him I was going home and when he asked me what neighborhood I lived in, it turned out, that, lo and behold, he was going to the same neighborhood! It was late, so, being two economical people, in a terrible economy, pursuing our artistic passions and hence not making any money, we decided to share a cab.
Game On? During the cab ride, he was perfectly fine and we were getting along swimmingly. So, when we got to my apartment and he asked if he should come up too, I said, “Sure.”
Realization: Once we were in my apartment, however, his behavior changed. He seemed sure of an imminent conquest, and started acting like a douchebag. He started asking me questions about the sex life of my lesbian friend and colleague (whom he met through the shoot). It was a charming mix of bro-ish enthusiasm for all things lesbian and casual homophobia. While I had been attracted to the guy five minutes ago, now the idea of even kissing him viscerally repulsed me.
She appeared to be the perfect plaintiff in a case that changed America’s political landscape: Roe v. Wade, decided by the Supreme Court 40 years ago this month. But Norma McCorvey, now 65, was never what she seemed: neither as the pregnant Texas woman who won fame as abortion-rights icon “Jane Roe,” nor as the pro-life activist she would become.
by Joshua Prager / vanityfair.com
It is a spring night in rural Texas, and crickets sing as a woman in her 60s with broad shoulders and short brown hair stops a pregnant young woman on an empty sidewalk. The older woman has heard that the younger woman, her neighbor Lucy Mae, may be seeking an abortion. “You don’t have to do this,” she says, her brown eyes and long loose cheeks filling with emotion. “Children are a miracle—a gift from God!”
The women are performing a scene in Doonby, a movie about a drifter who awakens a sleepy Texas town to its spiritual possibilities. The movie, tentatively set to be released this year, is directed by Peter Mackenzie, a Catholic filmmaker from Britain. It stars John Schneider, best known for The Dukes of Hazzard, who is a born-again Christian.
The older woman is born-again, too. Her name is Norma McCorvey. She is not a professional actress. But back when Nixon was president, McCorvey landed the role of a lifetime: that of “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in what would become one of the most divisive legal actions in American history.
Forty years ago, on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wadethat women had the right to an abortion “free of interference by the State,” as Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote in the Court’s majority opinion. The decision greatly expanded the legal boundaries for abortion in the United States, allowing women to terminate a pregnancy at any point during the first 24 weeks—that is, through the first and second trimesters. (Roe did, however, permit states to impose regulations in the second trimester, including who could perform abortions and where. It also gave states the right to ban most abortions in the third trimester.)
McCorvey, under the pseudonym Jane Roe, had brought the precipitating lawsuit in 1970, when she was pregnant for a third time and living in Texas, where abortion was prohibited unless the life of the pregnant woman was threatened. (The Wade in Roe v. Wade was Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade, the named defendant.) Roe v. Wade was a watershed legal ruling. But it also helped to turn abortion into the great foe of American consensus. Subsequent cases have made it clear that the Supreme Court majority in favor of abortion rights has been eroding, from 7 to 2 in Roe to 5 to 4 in cases decided in more recent years (with the majority deciding against abortion rights in a number of cases). Roe is undoubtedly the most familiar legal ruling in the minds of most Americans—not for nothing did Katie Couric ask Sarah Palin in a 2008 interview to cite any Supreme Court case except that one. But few people know much about the woman who prompted the ruling in the first place.
Norma McCorvey, now 65, has presented a version of her life in two autobiographies, I Am Roe(with Andy Meisler, 1994) and Won by Love (with Gary Thomas, 1997). In McCorvey’s telling, the story is a morality tale with a simple arc: An unwanted pregnancy. A lawsuit. Pro-choice. Born-again. Pro-life. Peace. The truth is sadder and less tidy. And with the help of a cache of documents retrieved two years ago from the clutter of a Texas home she had abandoned, as well as interviews with people once close to her, the story can be more accurately told.