Changes in female sexuality were the impetus for the rapid development of Homo sapiens as a species unlike any other, argues the author of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (1998).
California surgeon Shlain is unafraid to tackle huge topics outside his area of expertise, venturing boldly into the worlds of evolutionary biology and primatology with a grand and unifying theory that explains almost everything. He argues that the ancestral female of the species, dubbed Gyna sapiens to distinguish her from her male counterpart, was confronted by a crisis when large-brained babies began to make childbirth a life-and-death matter. Her evolutionary response was the loss of estrus and concomitant year-round sexual receptivity, which altered the relationship between Gyna and Homo; now she could choose when to have sex and use this power as a bargaining chip for provisions and long-term protection. The regular appearance of menses, coincident with the lunar cycle, endowed Gyna with foresight and the concept of future time, which brought with them an understanding of the link between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. She shared this new knowledge with Homo, making him aware for the first time of his own mortality. Not entirely comforted by the notion that paternity could give him a measure of immortality, Homo invented religious convictions that included belief in an afterlife. The need for women and men to negotiate sex with each other spurred the development of speech, Shlain contends, going on to explain how a limited proportion of homosexual men and women might benefit a tribe (as might male balding, color-blindness, and left-handedness) and how incest came to be taboo. The author links Gyna’s veto power over sex to the rise of patriarchy and misogyny, expressions of men’s drive to control female sexuality and reproduction. The generally stimulating text, however, is marred by an unfortunate and unnecessary decision to call evolutionary processes “Mother Nature” and to depict imaginary scenes between a Gyna named Eve and a Homo named Adam.
Not necessarily persuasive, but imaginative at least. (b&w illustrations)