Magazine article Herizons

[Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, & Natural Selection]

Magazine article Herizons

[Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, & Natural Selection]

Article excerpt

As someone firmly committed to the 'nurture' side of the old 'nature versus nurture' debate, I admit that I may have met my match in Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Blaffer Hrdy is convinced that a better understanding of our evolutionary heritage is essential for feminists. She makes a very persuasive case, as she argues for a wholesale rethinking of mothers and children.

This extraordinary book explores the complex relationship between mothers, infants and evolution. One of the points made in this sprawling, exhaustively researched book is that mothers do not always conform to the conventional expectation that they be innately tender, self-less creatures.

Rather, she is at pains to point out that even apparently 'inhuman' acts-including infanticide, child neglect leading to death and child abandonment as well as lesser acts of maternal with-drawal-express a maternal logic. When mothers make such choices, moralists recoil in horror: the scientist in Blaffer Hrdy leads her to consider the evolutionary adaptiveness behind such behaviour.

Maternal commitment, writes Blaffer Hrdy, is "contingent commitment." This is very far from the myth of a 'maternal instinct,' which both past and present conservatives assume leads women to unreflexively and automatically place the interests of their children ahead of the needs of their own.

Among the many questions tackled is the age-old feminist question: why don't males mother? Blaffer Hrdy is confident that there is something older and much deeper than culture that produces this chasm between aloof fathers and involved mothers. …

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