Women As Child Bearers

Just as men have become anatomically improved as hunters, so women have become modified by virtue of their roles as child-bearers, food-gatherers and socially active organizers.
            Again, this shows even at birth. The female baby is less vulnerable to disease than the male baby, and she retains this advantage throughout life. As a potential child-bearer she is reproductively less ‘disposable’ than the male and requires extra protection.
            So, although females may not be as strong as males in a muscular sense, they are stronger in a medical sense. Not only do they suffer from fewer diseases and fewer accidents, they are also less likely to be stillborn or to suffer from physical deformity. They are less likely to suffer from colour-blindness and the difference is enormous, with men being 75 times more likely to show this particular weakness. They are also less likely to suffer from acute depression and therefore less likely to commit suicide.
            Other forms of ‘extra protection’ include a more generous layer of body fat. Females have twice as much fat as men 25 percent of their body weight, compared with only 12.5 per cent for males. This gives them a much greater resistance to famine and, therefore, a better chance of getting their infants through lean periods. Back in the days of hunting and gathering this was especially important because, at that stage, our ancestors had  to face a feast-and-famine economy whenever they expanded into the less hospitable regions of the globe.
            In addition to providing our female ancestors with an emergency food store, rather like a camel’s hump, the extra fat also offered them improved insulation much appreciated on cold nights or in freezing climates. Unlike the camel’s hump, the human female’s fat is spread over almost her entire body, which also gives her, incidentally, one of her most characteristic female gender signals the curvaceousness of her body outline. Hence softly rounded curves became synonymous with female well being and therefore with female sexuality.
            (In ancient times, the high fat content of the human female body also had another, somewhat gruesome effect. According to the Greek historian Plutarch, ‘Those whose business it is to burn bodies always add one woman to every 10 men. This helps the burning of bodies because the flesh of the woman is so fat that it burns like a torch.’)
            As regards their sense organs, female infants have better hearing, touch and smell than males. Again, these advantages last a lifetime. These are qualities that, as we shall see later, are of special benefit to the adult female when she becomes  a mother.  In their play, female infants show move caution and are more adept at activities involving sensitive manual dexterity. In their verbal skills girls are more fluent, while boys are more original. As with the studies of male infants, these findings support the idea of a deep-seated division of personality in our species, which, in turn, reflects the deep-rooted division of labour in our evolutionary past.
            The child-bearing specialization of the human female has affected her adult body shape. Because women give birth between their legs, the female pelvic girdle is much broader  than the male’s and their legs are set wider apart. This influences female behavior in several ways. They have a different style of walking, taking steps that are tiny compared with the long strides of the typical male. In many cultures, females who wish to emphasize their femininity have exaggerated this feature.  To encourage this, they have often worn unusually tight skirts or precariously high heels. The abbreviated steps that then have to be taken create a super-female impression. The geishas of Kyoto in Japan, for example, have taken  this trend to extremes and can be seen teetering along the  streets of the city with minute, bird-like steps.
            Evolution gave the primeval male hunter a longer stride that carried him further in his pursuit of game. And evolution gave the human female the best walk possible without damaging her ability to give birth. So, essentially, the female pelvic girdle is a compromise, performing two important tasks that make conflicting demands upon it. This inevitably limits the typical female’s athletic ability, a fact that become particularly obvious in the running woman when she is observed from directly in front. The rotation of her legs is immediately obvious, compared with the straight movement of the running male.
            This strange, leg-swinging movement of the average female is easily overlooked because almost every time we do watch this particular activity it is being performed not by an average female but by a specially trained and selected female athlete. Those woman who do become successful as athletes do so because they have an unusually masculine shape to their bodies, with narrow hips and masculine gait. Watching the Olympic Games can give us a very distorted picture of the normal actions of the typical female body.
            The shape of the human pelvis does not just influence the way we walk and run, but also the way we sit down. There are four different kinds of leg-crossing in the human species. Two of them are common to both sexes, one is typically male and one is essentially female. The most widespread is the knee-on-knee cross. This is done equally by both sexes, as is the more formal ankle-on-ankle. But the ankle-on-knee is predominantly male, even when women are wearing trousers. The fourth kind of leg-cross is the leg-twine, which is almost entirely female.  In this crossed-over foot is tucked round and behind the other leg.  If men are asked to do this they find it extremely difficult and usually impossible. Some men refuse even to attempt this kind of leg-crossing when requested to do so, perhaps because they intuitively feel it is effeminate and will make then look foolish. This sex difference in leg- crossing is another example of the way in which the wide pelvis of the female has had an impact on other patterns of love .
            The wider setting of the female legs has not only given them an extra form of leg-crossing, it has also enabled them to excel at the popular sport of horse-riding. Because the legs are set wider apart at the point where they meet the trunk the female rider has always had an advantage over her male companion. This advantage met a cruel blow in earlier centuries, however, when it was considered impolite for a woman to open her legs  wide in public. This was because the open-leg posture was associated with the female position during copulation.
            It was considered to be unladylike to display this position even when it was clearly linked to a non-sexual pursuit. A Byzantine historian made his feelings quite clear when he complained that woman who ride like men were ‘Little better than whores.’
            The solution for women who insisted on riding was a strange invention called the side-saddle. First introduced in the in the fifteenth century, this consisted of a normal saddle with the addition of two curved, leather-covered side-flanges or pommels. The female rider mounted the horse so that she sat sideways and then hooked her thighs over the two flanges which held her firmly in place. From a distance, with her riding-skirts spread  out, she appeared to be perched precariously sideways on her horse and seemed to be in danger of slipping off if the animal began to gallop. She was in reality held firmly in place by the two hidden side-flanges, which she gripped between her clamped thighs.
            The side-saddle went out of fashion in the 1930s, swept away in the rush to ‘join the boys.’ The new emancipated woman wanted to make a point, and riding like the men became a political statement. The situation remained unchanged until very recently, when some young women, now sufficiently confident in their independence, decided to return to the side-saddle posture.  In Britain the Side-Saddle Association now has 1200 members, with more joining each year.

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