QOTD: Dr Holly Dunsworth on the “ideal” pelvis

From a fascinating article at ScienceDaily.com on a new theory about why humans gestate pregnancies for as long / as short as they do – which overturns the traditional idea that our gestation is shorter so babies’ heads don’t get too big to pass through the birth canal.

“We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

“If it didn’t, we’d have gone extinct.”

The research itself is fascinating, but – being a big feminist meanie – I think it’s also really important to consider that point above. We often tend to perceive science as this perfect, rational system for ascertaining information about the world around us. But scientists are human. They’re raised in the same cultural environments as the rest of us, with the same assumptions and biases as anyone else.

This doesn’t mean they’re evil, or involved in some diabolical moustache-twirling conspiracy to oppress all women with bad data. It just means some things get overlooked. Some things get taken for granted. Some assumptions aren’t questioned.

It’s not like we needed advances in technology or cutting-edge physics to figure out that human gestation isn’t actually shorter than other primates’, or what happens to pregnant people’s metabolisms during the course of a pregnancy. That information was there to be found – and it wasn’t until now, because until now no one felt the need to question the idea that wider (assumed to be “women’s”) pelvises mean you can’t walk good.

And we simply can’t look at that idea in a vacuum. We have a patriarchal society which treats women as lesser. We have Judeo-Christian traditions which teach us that Woman is a (flawed) offshoot of God’s actual handmade creation, Man. We believe women aren’t as physically capable as men, that childbirth (which we assume is entirely experienced by women) is a weakness or a punishment.

In that context, it’s easy to assume “male” hips are “normal” and “female” hips are “flawed” because of our “curse”.

It’s great to see scientists challenging those assumptions. But we have a long way to go before those ingrained prejudices about gender, race, biology and destiny are erased.

The problem with paleo

Jason Wilson has a fascinating post up at The Guardian discussing some of the problems with the paleo “lifestyle” which is currently very en vogue:

The assumptions underpinning paleo have a superficial plausibility. While technology and culture have changed, it’s argued, our bodies have pretty well stayed the same. We evolved to be hunter-gatherers, and contemporary life, with its carbs and computers, is a mismatch with our biological make-up.

It’s shame, then, that the entire enterprise is to my way of thinking intellectually bankrupt.

I don’t judge people on the food they choose to eat, whether it fits today’s definition of “healthy” or not – it’s an individual choice laden with so much social pressure and judgement that it’s safer to leave people to decide what’s best for them.

(Statement of the obvious: when people are endangering their children’s lives with toxic broth or lack of food, I’m judgey as anyone; and secondly this doesn’t mean ignoring issues around access, resources and inequality which mean a lot of people have far less “free choice” than I do.)

So I don’t have a problem with people choosing to eat paleo. What does concern me is when anyone starts making grandiose statements about what’s “natural” or “proper” behaviour for human beings, as though humans are as monolithic and unvaried as your average one-episode Star Trek species. As Jason Wilson notes, this kind of thinking raises some big red flags around reinforcing a very socially-conservative view on gender:

[Paleo author John] Durant constructs an image of the “natural” that is entirely ideological. The real appeal of hunter-gatherer life is what he imagines to be its strict partition of gender roles, where “Men were hunters, women were gatherers” and where “women rewarded great hunters” with sex. Paleo eating is here connected with an image of society which reproduces itself largely through masculine competition.

It’s also – like many of the food “movements” of the past few decades – a lifestyle which really requires you to already be pretty well off in terms of money, knowledge, time, and access to the “proper” kinds of food. There’s an innate paradox in preaching a return to our “natural” ways of living while enjoying many of the fruits of modern “civilisation” – and of course, no one promoting the paleo lifestyle is talking too loudly about the 33-54 year life expectancy our ancestors enjoyed.

All this is really just a set-up for my favourite paleo punchline, the anecdote which undercuts everything about paleo philosophy. At paleo site RobbWolf.com, Amy Kubal addresses a terrible dilemma of the meat-loving life: the increased risk of cancer from eating delicious char-grilled BBQ. Kubal’s second suggestion for mitigating your risk?

Nuke it!  Pre-cook your meat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes before putting it on the grill.  Microwaving releases some of the compounds that contribute to HCA formation.  Additionally, starting the cooking process reduces the grilling time.

That’s right. Microwave your meats … exactly the same way our ancestors did.

Bingo time: being a killjoy feminist thought policewoman

A bingo board of responses to a one-word comment I made on The Standard yesterday, criticising someone’s “joke” about a cis woman’s appearance and comparing her to a trans woman.

(It isn’t nearly as pretty as Waitangi Bingo but I’m an amateur.)

misandry bingo

I especially like the Gerry Brownlee reference, since I’m often one of a very few people on that site who does actually say “let’s stop making fat jokes about Gerry Brownlee (or Paula Bennett, another favourite), there’s plenty of valid things to criticise him/her for.” I usually get much the same dismissive crap for my trouble.

The thing is, I’ve been doing this being-a-woman-who-has-opinions-online thing for a while. And I can already tell you that if I posted this bingo board at a site like The Standard, the responses to it would go along much the same lines, only with a few additions like, “But I never said I hated you for being a woman, so my comments can’t be sexist” or “It’s got nothing to do with the fact you’re a woman, it’s about the fact you’re a nagging/shrill/bitchy/catty/oversensitive/overemotional/PMSing cow.”