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Woman: An Intimate Geography

BOOK: Woman: An Intimate Geography
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cover<br/>

 

 

title
:
Woman : An Intimate Geography
author
:
Angier, Natalie.
publisher
:
Houghton-Mifflin Trade and Reference
isbn10 | asin
:
print isbn13
:
9780395691304
ebook isbn13
:
9780585102481
language
:
English
subject
Women--Physiology, Women--Psychology, Sex differences.
publication date
:
1999
lcc
:
QP38.A54 1999eb
ddc
:
612.6/2
subject
:
Women--Physiology, Women--Psychology, Sex differences.
Page i
Woman
 
Page ii
BOOKS BY NATALIE ANGIER
Natural Obsessions: Striving to Unlock the Deepest Secrets of the Cancer Cell
The Beauty of the Beastly: New Views of the Nature of Life
Woman: An Intimate Geography
 
Page iii
WOMAN: AN INTIMATE GEOGRAPHY
Natalie Angier
A PETER DAVISON BOOK
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston New York
 
page_iv<br/>
Page iv
Copyright © 1999 by Natalie Angier
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Angier, Natalie.
Woman: an intimate geography / Natalie Angier.
p. cm.
"A Peter Davison book."
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-395-69130-3
1. WomenPhysiology. 2. WomenPsychology.
3. Sex differences. I. Title.
QP38.A54 1999
612.6'2dc21 98-47634 CIP
Book design by Anne Chalmers
Type: Adobe Minion; display: Linotype-Hell Fairfield and Font Bureau Eagle
Printed in the United States of America
QUM 10 9 8 7

 

Page v
FOR KATHERINE IDA
 
page_vii<br/>
Page vii
Contents
Introduction: Into the Light
ix
1. Unscrambling the Egg: It Begins with One Perfect Solar Cell
1
2. The Mosaic Imagination: Understanding the "Female" Chromosome
17
3. Default Line: Is the Female Body a Passive Construct?
36
4. The Well Tempered Clavier: On the Evolution of the Clitoris
57
5. Suckers and Horns: The Prodigal Uterus
82
6. Mass Hysteria: Losing the Uterus
110
7. Circular Reasonings: The Story of the Breast
123
8. Holy Water: Breast Milk
144
9. A Gray and Yellow Basket: The Bounteous Ovary
162

 

page_viii<br/>
Page viii
10. Greasing the Wheels: A Brief History of Hormones
177
11. Venus in Furs: Estrogen and Desire
193
12. Mindful Menopause: Can We Live Without Estrogen?
207
13. There's No Place Like Notoriety : Mothers, Grandmothers, and Other Great Dames
216
14. Wolf Whistles and Hyena Smiles: Testosterone and Women
238
15. Spiking the Punch: In Defense of Female Aggression
263
16. Cheap Meat: Learning to Make a Muscle
285
17. Labor of Love: The Chemistry of Human Bondage
300
18. Of Hoggamus and Hogwash: Putting Evolutionary Psychology on the Couch
322
19. A Skeptic in Paradise: A Call for Revolutionary Psychology
355
References
369
Acknowledgments
383
Index
385

 

page_ix<br/>
Page ix
Introduction: Into the Light
This book is a celebration of the female body its anatomy, its chemistry, its evolution, and its laughter. It is a personal book, my attempt to find a way to think about the biology of being female without falling into the sludge of biological determinism. It is a book about things that we traditionally associate with the image of woman the womb, the egg, the breast, the blood, the almighty clitoris and things that we don't movement, strength, aggression, and fury.
It is a book about rapture, a rapture grounded firmly in the flesh, the beauties of the body. The female body deserves Dionysian respect, and to make my case I summon the spirits and cranks that I know and love best. I call on science and medicine, to sketch a working map of the parts that we call female and to describe their underlying dynamism. I turn to Darwin and evolutionary theory, to thrash out the origins of our intimate geography why our bodies look and behave as they do, why they look rounded and smooth, but act ragged and rough. I cull from history, art, and literature, seeking insight into how a particular body part or body whim has been phrased over time. I pick and choose, discriminately and impulsively, from the spectacular advances in our understanding of genetics, the brain, hormones, and development, to offer possible scripts for our urges and actions. I toss out ideas and theories about the origins of the breast, the purpose of orgasm, the blistering love that we have for our mothers, the reason that women need and spurn each other with almost equal zeal. Some of the theories are woolier than others. Some theories I offer up because I stumbled on them in the course of research and found them fascinating, dazzling like Kristen Hawkes's proposal that grandmothers gave birth to the human race sim-

 

page_x<br/>
Page x
ply by refusing to die when their ovaries did. Other theories I pitch for their contrariety, their power to buck the party line of woman's "nature," while still others I throw out like rice at a bride for luck, cheer, hope, and anarchy.
Admittedly, a Dionysian state of body is not easily won, for the female body has been abominably regarded over the centuries. It has been made too much of or utterly ignored. It has been conceived of as the second sex, the first draft, the faulty sex, the default sex, the consolation prize, the succubus, the male interruptus. We are lewd, prim, bestial, ethereal. We have borne more illegitimate metaphors than we have unwanted embryos.
But, women, we know how much of this is trash: very pretty, very elaborate, almost flattering in its ferocity, but still, in the end, trash. We may love men and we may live with men, but some of them have said stupendously inaccurate things about us, our bodies, and our psyches. Take the example of the myth of the inner sanctum. Men look at our bodies and they can't readily see our external genitals; our handy chamois triangle, that natural leaf of
pubis ficus
, obscures the contours of the vulva. At the same time men hunger to breach the portal of fur and the outer pleats, to reach the even more concealed internal genitalia, the sacred nave of the vagina. No wonder, then, that woman becomes conflated with interiority. Men want what they cannot see, and so they assume we relish, perhaps smugly, the moatness of ourselves. Woman the bowl, the urn, the cave, the musky jungle. We are the dark mysterium! We are hidden folds and primal wisdom and always, always the womb, bearing life, releasing life, and then sucking it back in again, into those moist, chthonic plaits. "Male sexuality, then, returning to this primal source, drinks at the spring of being and enters the murky region, where up is down and death is life, of mythology," John Updike has written.
But, sisters, are we cups and bottles, vessels and boxes? Are we orb-weaving spiders crouched in the web of our wombs, or blind spiders living in the underground of our furtivity? Are we so interior and occult? Hecate, no! No more or less than men. True, men have penises that appear to externalize them, to give them thrust and parry in the world beyond their bodies, but the sensations their penises bring them, like

 

BOOK: Woman: An Intimate Geography
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