File Name: mothers and others hrdy .zip
The author reflects on some of the papers that were published in Studies in the Maternal in the last decade, in particular on the theme of childlessness.
As I explored in my article, "Women and Children First" , Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has faced innumerable challenges in the course of her scientific career. However, part of what makes her work so innovative and exciting to read is how she's used those challenges to gain a deeper perspective into the process of evolutionary change.
While it used to be universally assumed and in some circles it still is that males in many species will often seek out multiple sexual partners, the evolutionary logic for females was moored in Victorian ideas of female chastity.
Ironically, all it took was for biologists to pay attention and document what the female of the species was actually up to in order to undermine a century of scientific assumption. Hrdy's work, beginning with The Woman That Never Evolved , was central to a change in perspective that has occurred during the last thirty years.
The recent approach her work has taken with Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding offers nothing less than a reorientation of what it means to be human. If, as Hrdy proposes, we are a species that has thrived as a result of cooperative breeding--a childrearing strategy in which a network of individuals helps to raise a healthy child--it challenges many of the individualist assumptions that Western society is based on, particularly in the United States.
How we can shift our society to reemphasize community will be the project that this generation will grapple with. Fortunately, there are scholars like Hrdy to offer their insight so that we won't feel all alone while we do.
Eric Michael Johnson: You made a difficult decision, just before you got your offer to write Mother Nature , to choose a different life-work balance than the standard tenure track career. How was your work in primatology influencing your decisions as you were thinking about family life and having children?
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: In I actually submitted a proposal to the Guggenheim foundation to write a book on the natural history of mothering. So I was already thinking about it. I had three children and then my brother and mother died within a year of each other. As my mother was dying I was very torn between the needs of my children and my job back in California.
I was very close to her and she needed me in Texas. I began to suffer all of these psychosomatic illnesses such as back and neck pain, migraines. It was not working for me. Plus I had always wanted to be a writer, like you I think.
Hrdy: The balance of my life did not feel right. Furthermore, the state of my field was such that teaching in an anthropology department was not bringing me a whole lot of satisfaction.
But, basically, I wrote a book proposal, submitted it to publishers, there was an auction, the book was sold, and I immediately resigned from the university. I was offered to take the status of Professor Emerita, which I thought was an attractive offer. Johnson: I know that all too well. You were mentioning earlier the importance of attachment in child development. How do you see that playing out today? Hrdy: Remember that terrible case of Andrea Yates , the mother who was left on her own when she was already suffering from postpartum depression?
She may have even been suffering from worse mental conditions that that. I think she had five children under the age of 8. The focus was on how awful this was, and, of course it was awful. But there was no deeper questioning.
What was this mother--already identified as suffering psychological duress--doing alone with five children without social or institutional support of any kind? We have forgotten to put events like these murders into a larger perspective. We have these powerful social prescriptions about this with really no data to back it up.
The studies have all looked at married versus unmarried or nuclear family versus single mother. We need to do much more before we can make these kinds of claims. Judges are making decisions about whether or not children can be in a particular school or who can have custody of children depending on this assumption that children are better off in certain kinds of family configurations.
But there is so little science actually informing these pronouncements. Historians of the family and many social workers have felt for a long time that children actually do better in extended families. There are actually special rooms so that in-laws or grandparents can live with nuclear families. I think part of the reason for this is, of course, financial since people are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage.
Hrdy: Actually, yes. For example, in countries like Mexico they still have very intact traditions of extended family. However, like us, and for the same reasons, they are moving away from that. We seem to have a greater concern with privacy and owning individual homes surrounded by their own yards.
Hrdy: Well, for one thing, a lot of child abuse and neglect. Compared to earlier phases in Western civilization children are better off today. But not compared to our Pleistocene ancestors. Child survival rates are exponentially higher today. But those children who did survive back then were actually much better off in terms of the kind of nurturing environment that they experienced. Rates of child mortality were high, but there was no child abuse or emotional neglect. Child abuse would not have been tolerated.
Other group members would have intervened, the perpetrators socially ostracized, possibly even expelled from the group if they harmed a child. It was not acceptable. I think we have an epidemic of emotional neglect of children today that has gone completely unrecognised. Johnson: Why do you think cooperative breeding disappeared as a parenting strategy?
Hrdy: I think what disappeared was the flexibility in residence for women. I think as hunter-gatherer groups became larger and more complex people had to begin defending the more compressed territories where they made their living. This was certainly the case with the Neolithic revolution and the invention of agriculture. To defend fixed areas it made sense to remain near brothers and fathers.
Male kin alliances became much more important. But you also had group boundaries that were no longer as porous as they had been. I think that was the first big transition, women lost their autonomy over their own childrearing assets.
Johnson: In what ways did this play out? What was the effect on women and children? Hrdy: Consider the customs in very patriarchal societies, like the practice of suttee in parts of India, where after her husband dies a widow is expected to throw herself on the funeral pyre and burn herself alive. This protects patrilineal interests since the widow can't remarry and confuse family lines or property claims, or dishonor the patriline by inappropriate sexual conduct.
But this is only one way to look at it. If you look at it from the point of view of children you see how they are being deprived of these critically important allomothers, their great-aunts and grandmothers and sometimes even their mothers.
In societies where women have more say and purchase, women tend to be better off. While patriarchal ideologies promote fertility, they undermine child well-being. In recent history this has become tied to other traditions of the woman being responsible for everything that happens to her children. If anything goes wrong, blame the mother. We need to rethink that. If we evolved as cooperative breeders, when things go wrong we need to say that a larger community is at fault than just the mother.
Johnson: How did your research in primates influence your own parenting choices? Hrdy: As a primatologist I was familiar with chimpanzee mothers who carried their babies everywhere.
I was preadapted to be impressed by attachment theory. To me John Bowlby has made the greatest contributions to human well-being of any other evolutionary researcher with his recognition and validation of the needs of human infants to feel secure. Thus when Katrinka was born in I felt like any good Great Ape read chimpanzee! I needed to be in continuous contact with my baby and respond immediately to her if she cried or signaled some need, ensuring that she would feel secure.
I was absolutely convinced that this would produce a more confident and independent child, saving us a lot of grief later on. This was in stark contrast to how I was raised.
Educated women in my mother's generation thought that if you responded to a crying baby you would be conditioning that baby to cry more and to be more demanding. Of course, today we know the opposite to be the case. You want to respond to a baby right away and I understood this.
Bowlby was very influenced by primatology and I was influenced by Bowlby, so essentially this kindly Victorian evolutionist was right in there in the nursery with me. I adored my baby. Yet as a woman turning my life over to this little gene vehicle, I was surprised by how ambivalent I felt. I have always felt that my gestations were the average length and my sexual responses seemed to be average, so I had no reason to think that my reactions to motherhood were abnormal.
I just figured I needed to understand maternal ambivalence a lot better than I did and I made that a research priority. The resulting book Mother Nature is really about maternal love and ambivalence. Human maternal ambivalence I came to realize is completely natural.
If, instead of evolving like chimpanzees where mothers are turning themselves over in a totally dedicated, single-minded way to their infants, we had evolved as cooperative breeders, it makes sense that I would feel the need for more social support and more help rearing these children than an American woman living in Cambridge in the s was likely to get as a postdoc.
This made me rethink how maternal emotions and infant needs are playing out in our own species. By the time my third child was born, I felt I had my ducks in a row. I understood what my children needed much more and I also understood what their mother needed.
I needed others around to help me provide the emotional security that these children required. Johnson: When you reflect back on the series of nannies that raised you, how do you feel about that given everything you know now?
Somewhere in Africa, more than a million years ago, a line of apes began to rear their young differently than their Great Ape ancestors. From this new form of care came new ways of engaging and understanding each other. How such singular human capacities evolved, and how they have kept us alive for thousands of generations, is the mystery revealed in this bold and wide-ranging new vision of human emotional evolution. Mothers and Others finds the key in the primatologically unique length of human childhood. If the young were to survive in a world of scarce food, they needed to be cared for, not only by their mothers but also by siblings, aunts, fathers, friends—and, with any luck, grandmothers. Out of this complicated and contingent form of childrearing, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy argues, came the human capacity for understanding others. Mothers and others teach us who will care, and who will not.
In Mothers and Others , she situates this pivotal mother—infant pair not in an empty expanse of savanna, waiting for a man to arrive with his killed game, but where it actually belongs, in the dense social setting of a hunter-gatherer or, before that, an ape or monkey group. Here as elsewhere she urges caution and compassion toward women whose maternal role must be constantly rethought and readjusted to meet the demands of a changing world. Women have done this successfully for millions of years, and their success will not stop now. But neither Hrdy nor I nor anyone else can know whether the strong human tendency to help mothers care for children can produce the species-wide level of cooperation that we now need to survive. Human infants are too helpless and too expensive in their demands for care and resources.
As I explored in my article, "Women and Children First" , Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has faced innumerable challenges in the course of her scientific career. However, part of what makes her work so innovative and exciting to read is how she's used those challenges to gain a deeper perspective into the process of evolutionary change. While it used to be universally assumed and in some circles it still is that males in many species will often seek out multiple sexual partners, the evolutionary logic for females was moored in Victorian ideas of female chastity. Ironically, all it took was for biologists to pay attention and document what the female of the species was actually up to in order to undermine a century of scientific assumption.
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Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, Hrdy's much-awaited new book, is another mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting, rigorously scientific yet eminently readable treatise.Reply
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I am an anthropologist and primate sociobiologist who seeks to understand, step by Darwinian step, how apes could have evolved to imagine and care about what the lives of others might be like.Reply
She is considered "a highly recognized pioneer in modernizing our understanding of the evolutionary basis of female behavior in both nonhuman and human primates".Reply
Mothers and Others finds the key in the primatologically unique length of human childhood. Renowned anthropologist Sarah Hrdy argues that if human babies.Reply