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JUST LIKE A WOMAN by Dianne Hales


How Gender Science Is Redefining What Makes Us Female

by Dianne Hales

Pub Date: March 9th, 1999
ISBN: 0-553-10228-1
Publisher: Bantam

An overview of recent gender-specific research that is redefining womanhood, drawing on biology, anthropology, and psychology. Hales (author, most recently, of Caring for the Mind: The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health) challenges the long-held scientific notion that woman is “abnormal and inferior [to men]—in body and therefore in mind and spirit.” This has influenced among other things, medical research and its emphasis on male health. While celebrating a new research focus on women (due, she says, to an increase in the number of women scientists), she acknowledges that our lack of knowledge on the subject of woman-ness is still appalling. She also acknowledges—but disagrees with—the view strongly held by some that gender-based research will perpetuate a notion of women as second-rate organisms. Hales doesn’t have the heavy-duty scientific credentials to put this notion completely to rest, but she does mount a convincing argument that the process of evolution would have long ago eliminated “the stereotyped ‘female’—docile, dumb and totally dependent .” Her report here is loosely divided into three sections. She first looks at anthropological and biological research on female roles in various species and societies. Part II concentrates on the stages of women’s lives, including such hot issues as “childfree” living, fertility, perimenopause, and menopause. Finally, Hales considers “The Woman Within”—how mental, emotional, psychiatric, sexual, and spiritual issues may differ in women from the accepted standard that has been set by studies done only on men. Readers who are up to date on health columns in women’s magazines will find few surprises here—Hales doesn’t carry the scientific weight (of, say, Bruce Bagemihl’s recent Biological Exuberance) necessary to challenge an outdated, thoroughly entrenched scientific frame of reference. And she does slip too easily into unenlightening cheerleaderish prose (“No longer the girls they once were, women at midlife are smarter and savvier than they’ve ever been”). But as a general look around and update on research into women’s health and life cycle issues, this is fine.