“Mom and Mommy, Where Do Babies Come From?”

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Venus symbolsThe 1989 book, Heather Has Two Mommies, normalized for my kids the idea that two women could care for a child and create a fine family. The controversy it met with seemed increasingly quaint as research showed that kids like Heather grow up very much like average children, although they are less homophobic.

Even quainter now seems the battle over the first “test-tube baby.” Louise Brown, born in 1978, was hailed in headlines as “Superbabe” and “The Lovely Louise,” but she also met with many negative expectations. Yet in 2010 Robert Edwards shared the Nobel Prize for the work that led to her birth, celebrating with Ms. Brown and her own son. Today five million people conceived in this way walk among us, indistinguishable except in the luck of their existence.

But suppose these two lines of research could be joined. Suppose Heather had two biological mothers—because one of their eggs was fertilized with the DNA  of the other. Since the offspring of such a union could have only X chromosomes, the headline “Superbabe” might take on a new meaning, although “Supergirl” or “Superwoman” would be better. How close are we?

Last year Britain passed a law that allows a baby to have three biological parents: a father, a mother, and a mitochondrial mother. In rare cases Hannah (say) has a rare disease of mitochondria—our cells’ energy stations—that she will pass down to her daughters. To help Hannah and her partner avoid that, Marian volunteers her mitochondria. Or more exactly, Marian volunteers an egg, which has the main DNA from its nucleus—her biological essence—replaced by Hannah’s DNA. Only the mitochondria are still Marian’s. And the baby will still be half Jack or Joe.

This is not the future, it is happening today. Now imagine transferring the second mom’s DNA into a sperm, and using that to fertilize the first mom’s egg. Science fiction? Slightly, but there is something easier on the horizon. Various laboratories are reprogramming adult cells to make what are called germ cells, which in turn become eggs or sperm.

So now Heather’s two mommies—Rachel, say, and Rebecca—have a choice before she is conceived. Instead of having Rachel become pregnant with a man’s sperm, and then maybe giving Rebecca her own turn at pregnancy, Rachel can (theoretically) have some of her cells reprogrammed into germ cells—creating, in effect, female sperm. After that, we’re only talking (in technical terms) about the same sort of in vitro fertilization that has already given a start in life to millions.

There is a slight hitch, although some may see it as an advantage. Since neither Rachel nor Rebecca has a Y chromosome, all their babies will be girls. Heather can be named before she is conceived.

The end of men? Not really, at least not right away. Same-sex couples are a minority, and perhaps only a few of them will choose this method if it becomes available. Why couldn’t men do it too? Well, they could with the same kind of reprogramming, and there are technical reasons to believe it might be easier. They could even have babies of both sexes.

But: they would need a womb. There are limits to surrogacy. Perhaps in the long-term future this obstacle could be overcome, with completely artificial gestation. But that seems much farther away, while in the foreseeable future lesbian couples, or any two women, should be able to have a baby without involving a man. In time, girls would begin to outnumber boys.

Worldwide, this would first correct the imbalance already created in much more questionable ways. There are 85 to 100 million “missing” women, mainly in Asia, a skewing arrived at through differential neglect, gender-biased abortion, and infanticide. The resulting excess of men may lead to more crime, social unrest, and often-unruly male sexual frustration.

Won’t we produce an excess of women? Yes, but the consequences would be very different. There would probably be less, not more violence. Given that most women seem to want to keep men around, a dwindling male contingent might have better sexual chances. Women, for their part, might become more bisexual, doubling their fun. Some, no doubt, would choose to give birth to boys.

Sexual science fiction aside, male-less reproduction could be just around the corner. Some ethicists will object—some indeed decried the process that gave us Louise Brown—but the ethical dilemma here is about choice. Legal same-sex marriage has swept the land, and if not only two lesbians but (with a little help from their women friends) two gay men want to join their biological essence as other couples do, and see in the faces and lives of their children the strange joy of two literally becoming one, whose moral compass would lead us to deny them that choice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Suffrage is 95 Years Old!

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her proper place

It’s a great day to celebrate women’s movements past and present, but does feminism require the belief that women are basically like men?

This was at least an implicit claim of Second Wave feminists, modeled on prior movements for ethnic and racial equality. Read more

Blowback 2

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I said in my last posting that I expected Women After All to offend four groups. The biggest and most vulgar response has been from the “men’s rights” movement—really Quavering Male Chauvinists (QMCs) who can’t wrap their minds around the fact that women are pushing the boot off their neck and even starting to twist the foot around the ankle. Steady for the toppling, boys. Don’t hit the deck too hard.

The second group has been much more polite than the QMCs but no less critical: feminists who see my claims as a warmed-over, old-style, pseudoscientific male chauvinism; worse, Read more

Blowback

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Women After All cover hi res reducedMy new book—Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy, published by Norton on March 9th—has produced some highly predictable, in fact predicted, reactions.

I’d written on p. 17, “this book will have something to offend almost everyone.” Three of the four groups I mentioned specifically were those (not all) feminists who deny that any important things about men’s and women’s behavior are influenced by biology; discouraged women who think I exaggerate the pace of change; and of course, the flat-earthers who think evolution didn’t happen and won’t read past the subtitle.

But the nastiest blowback by far has been from men. The first wave  Read more

Is Misogyny Maladaptive?

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islamic_womenPart of my friend’s question that I didn’t answer last time was about misogyny, which he hopefully speculated is now maladaptive. I deferred this because from an evolutionary viewpoint it is in a different category from xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. Let me state clearly at the outset, as I did about the other categories of prejudice: I think we are gradually creating conditions in which misogyny is maladaptive, and we must continue to do that.

However, it has to be recognized that for the long span of human evolution Read more

Is Genocide Now Maladaptive?

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David Blumenthal, a good and wise friend who is a Jewish studies professor and a rabbi wrote me recently asking about the former adaptiveness and present maladaptiveness of xenophobia. The operative passage in his letter was, “In the global world, however, survival requires the cooperation of varying and different groups. Humanity, in its groups, cannot survive without the quintessential other. Xenophobia has ceased to be adaptive. So has antisemitism, racism, orientalism, and misogyny.”

I have little trouble agreeing that at some times in the past these behaviors were adaptive for the perpetrators. Read more

Crybaby Boomers

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We need to help our kids avoid a Boomer Bust.

boomers1On the last night of 2010, after the ball fell in Times Square, toasting the New Year, a couple I’ve known for decades looked pretty glum. “Why are these people celebrating?” my friend—let’s call him Jim—wondered as he looked over at the bright, smiling, cheering, mostly young faces on TV. “We’re all just another year closer to being dead.”

“Come on,” I said, the anthropologist in me stirring. “This is one of the great rituals of the modern world. We dance, we make noise, we even sing Auld Lang Syne even though nobody knows what it means. Read more

Teen Suicide: Can It Always Be Stopped?

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An American between 15 and 24 commits suicide every two hours.

teen1My last posting about the tragic and very public suicide of a sixteen-year-old boy on the grounds of my niece’s Charleston school, produced two anonymous comments (on the Psychology Today website):

CALL ME A PESSIMIST BUT—
I see first all those who failed Aaron, and a group being sad and responding after a tragedy, yes, but also acts that are self preserving of the remaining group, and few answers. Read more

Triumph of the (Teenage) Human Spirit

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Resilience is sometimes astounding, and we need to acknowledge it.

school-group-wearing-red-c-uA boy, in flames, is running, screaming, across the parking lot of his school on an otherwise ordinary morning. The image evokes Vietnam or Bosnia, but it is Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 8. The school happens to be the number-one ranked Academic Magnet High School in the United States, and it shares a campus with a highly regarded School of the Arts. The burning boy is running toward the magnet school’s front doors. Read more