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How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories

How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories
    Book Description:

    So how did women get their curves? Why do they have breasts, while other mammals only develop breast tissue while lactating, and why do women menstruate, when virtually no other beings do so? What are the reasons for female orgasm? Why are human females kept in the dark about their own time of ovulation and maximum fertility, and why are they the only animals to experience menopause?

    David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton, coauthors of acclaimed books on human sexuality and gender, discuss the theories scientists have advanced to explain these evolutionary enigmas (sometimes called "Just-So stories" by their detractors) and present hypotheses of their own. Some scientific theories are based on legitimate empirical data, while others are pure speculation. Barash and Lipton distinguish between what is solid and what remains uncertain, skillfully incorporating their expert knowledge of biology, psychology, animal behavior, anthropology, and human sexuality into their entertaining critiques. Inviting readers to examine the evidence and draw their own conclusions, Barash and Lipton tell an evolutionary suspense story that captures the excitement and thrill of true scientific detection.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51839-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 On Scientific Mysteries and Just-So Stories
    (pp. 1-12)

    “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”—this is how Winston Churchill described Russia in 1939. The same can be said today of fully one-half the human race: women. Particularly enigmatic, it turns out, are their bodies.

    And so please join us in exploring an array of unsolved evolutionary mysteries, such as: Why do women menstruate? Why do they have breasts when not lactating? Why do they conceal their ovulation, experience orgasm, undergo menopause? These detective stories aren’t “who-done-its” but rather “why-is-its,” and as it happens, most of them are sexual puzzles as well. Let’s be clear: these...

  5. 2 Why Menstruate?
    (pp. 13-46)

    The first mystery begins the moment a young girl starts to become a woman. At some point in adolescence, perhaps as early as age ten or as late as age seventeen, she will begin to menstruate. In all likelihood, she will have been somewhat prepared for this event, informed by parents, teachers, books, television shows, or even pamphlets from her doctor, and also probably misinformed by friends and frightened by her own fear of embarrassment, as in this account from the early teenage hero/heroine of Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel Middlesex:

    I was aware that something happened to women every so often,...

  6. 3 Invisible Ovulation
    (pp. 47-76)

    Here is John Berryman’s account of an attractive woman sitting near him in a restaurant:

    Filling her compact and delicious body with chicken paprika, she glanced at me twice, Fainting with interest, I hungered back And only the fact of her husband & four other people

    kept me from springing on her.¹

    Nothing much happens (no one springs on anyone) except that Mr. Berryman concludes his meditation by raising a show-stopper question, which is also the key inquiry of the present chapter: “What wonders is she sitting on, over there?”

    Even if Berryman’s ephemeral inamorata were totally naked, the poet...

  7. 4 Breasts and Other Curves
    (pp. 77-116)

    At first glance, the purpose of breasts seems as evident as they themselves are. Like all mammals, human infants require milk, and adult females are equipped to provide it. This combination should obviate any puzzlement over why breasts are widely seen as not only aesthetic, but also erotic—although to varying degrees in different societies—and not just as milk-delivery systems. Even in topless cultures, female breasts and nipples are typically considered to be sexually charged and are fondled during intercourse.¹ Insofar as sex appeal is related to indications of health, fertility, and the promise of evolutionary benefit conveyed by...

  8. 5 The Enigmatic Orgasm
    (pp. 117-146)

    It used to be conventional wisdom among biologists that human beings are unique in experiencing female orgasm, but no longer. Nonetheless, female orgasm remains both a marvelous phenomenon and a contentious, unsolved mystery among evolutionary biologists. Given the longstanding and widespread sexual repression of women in both Western and Eastern societies, it is not surprising that only recently has anorgasmia (failure to experience orgasm) been identified and treated. Nonetheless, the real biological mystery isn’t why some women don’t climax, but why some do.

    Aside from the scientific controversy it has generated, the likelihood is that female orgasm—even more than...

  9. 6 The Menopause Mystery
    (pp. 147-186)

    Menopause—sometimes oddly called the menopause—is yet another biological mystery. Less engaging than orgasm, less obvious than breasts, it is in many ways closer to its linguistic partner, menstruation, in being at least semisecret, hormonally hard-wired, and the matching bookend to a woman’s reproductive career: beginning with menarche and concluding with menopause. Menopause also shares with menstruation the paradox of seeming to speak of “men” although it occurs only among women (in the word menopause, those first four letters are a learned borrowing from the Greek meno, “month”). Just as some young women can’t wait for the onset of...

  10. Epilogue: The Lure of the Limpopo
    (pp. 187-190)

    In one of Kipling’s Just-So Stories, “The Elephant’s Child,” we learn how the “elephant’s child,” overflowing with curiosity, stuck his short, stubby nose into the “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River,” only to have it bitten by a crocodile and stretched into a trunk. For those similarly endowed with biological curiosity, here is some good news: more enigmas remain to be pondered, but, compared to the tribulations of Kipling’s petite pachyderm, any such excursions will be less painful and more fulfilling, stretching one’s consciousness rather than one’s proboscis.

    The brief poem that accompanies Kipling’s story of how the elephant got his...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 191-206)
  12. Index
    (pp. 207-210)