Woman: An Intimate Geography

Woman: An Intimate Geography

by Natalie Angier

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Overview

National Book Award Finalist: This look at the science of the female body is “a tour de force . . . wonderful, entertaining and informative” (TheNew York Times Book Review).

From a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who covers science for the New York Times, Woman is an essential guide to everything from organs to orgasms and hormones to hysterectomies. With her characteristic clarity and insight, Natalie Angier cuts through still-prevalent myths and misinformation surrounding the female body, the most enigmatic of evolutionary masterpieces. In addition to earning a nomination for the National Book Award, Woman was named one of the best books of the year by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and People, among others.
 
“One knows early on one is reading a classic—a text so necessary and abundant and true that all efforts of its kind, for decades before and after it, will be measured by it.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Ultimately, this grand tour of the female body provides a new vision of the role of women in the history of our species.” —The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547344997
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/06/1999
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 349,633
File size: 768 KB

About the Author

Natalie Angier is a Pulitzer Prize–winning science columnist for the New York Times. She is the author of The Canon, The Beauty of the Beastly, and Natural Obsessions. Angier lives outside Washington, DC.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

UNSCRAMBLING THE EGG

It Begins with One Perfect Solar Cell

Put a few adults in a room with a sweet-tempered infant, and you may as well leave a tub of butter sitting out in the midday sun. Within moments of crowding around the crib, their grown-up bones begin to soften and their spines to bend. Their eyes mist over with cataracts of pleasure. They misplace intellect and discover new vocal ranges — countertenor, soprano, piglet. And when they happen on the baby's hands, prepare for a variant on the ancient Ode to the Fingernail. Nothing so focuses adult adoration as a newborn's fingernail, its lovely condensed precocity. See the tiny cuticle below, the white eyebrow of keratin on top, the curved buff of the nail body, the irresistible businesslike quality of the whole: it looks like it really works! We love the infant fingernail for its capacity to flatter, its miniature yet faithful recreation of our own form. More than in the thigh or the eye or even the springy nautilus shell of the ear, in the baby's nail sits the homunculus, the adult in preview. And so, we are reminded, the future is assured.

Myself, I prefer eggs.

At some point midway through my pregnancy, when I knew I was carrying a daughter, I began to think of myself as standing in a room with two facing mirrors, so that looking into one mirror you see the other mirror reflecting it, and you, off into something approaching an infinity of images. At twenty weeks' gestation, my girl held within her nine-ounce, banana-sized body, in a position spatially equivalent to where she floated in me, the tangled grapevines of my genomic future. Halfway through her fetal tenure, she already had all the eggs she would ever have, packed into ovaries no bigger than the letters ova you just passed. My daughter's eggs are silver points of potential energy, the light at the beginning of the tunnel, a near-life experience. Boys don't make sperm — their proud "seed" — until they reach puberty. But my daughter's sex cells, our seed, are already settled upon prenatally, the chromosomes sorted, the potsherds of her parents' histories packed into their little phospholipid baggies.

The image of the nested Russian dolls is used too often. I see it everywhere, particularly in descriptions of scientific mysteries (you open one mystery, you encounter another). But if there were ever an appropriate time to dust off the simile, it's here, to describe the nested nature of the matriline. Consider, if you will, the ovoid shape of the doll and the compelling unpredictability and fluidity of dynasty. Open the ovoid mother and find the ovoid girl; open the child and the next egg grins up its invitation to crack it. You can never tell a priori how many iterations await you; you hope they continue forever. My daughter, my matryoshka.

I said a moment ago that my daughter had all her eggs in midfetushood. In fact she was goosed up way beyond capacity, a fatly subsidized poultry farm. She had all her eggs and many more, and she will lose the great majority of those glittering germ cells before she begins to menstruate. At twenty weeks' gestation, the peak of a female's oogonial load, the fetus holds 6 to 7 million eggs. In the next twenty weeks of wombing, 4 million of those eggs will die, and by puberty all but 400,000 will have taken to the wing, without a squabble, without a peep.

The attrition continues, though at a more sedate pace, throughout a woman's youth and early middle age. At most, 450 of her eggs will be solicited for ovulation, and far fewer than that if she spends a lot of time being pregnant and thus not ovulating.

Yet by menopause, few if any eggs remain in the ovaries. The rest have vanished. The body has reclaimed them.

This is a basic principle of living organisms. Life is profligate; life is a spendthrift; life can persist only by living beyond its means. You make things in extravagant abundance, and then you shave back, throw away, kill off the excess. Through extensive cell death the brain is molded, transformed from a teeming pudding of primitive, over-populous neurons into an organized structure of convolutions and connections, recognizable lobes and nuclei; by the time the human brain has finished developing, in infancy, 90 percent of its original cell number has died, leaving the privileged few to sustain the hard work of dwelling on mortality. This is also how limbs are built. At some point in embryogenesis, the fingers and toes must be relieved of their interdigital webbing, or we would emerge from our amniotic aquarium with flippers and fins. And this too is how the fixture is laid down.

The millions of eggs that we women begin with are cleanly destroyed through an innate cell program called apoptosis. The eggs do not simply die — they commit suicide. Their membranes ruffle up like petticoats whipped by the wind and they break into pieces, thence to be absorbed bit by bit into the hearts of neighboring cells. By graciously if melodramatically getting out of the way, the sacrificial eggs leave their sisters plenty of hatching room. I love the word apoptosis, the onomatopoeia of it: a-POP-tosis. The eggs pop apart like poked soap bubbles, a brief flash of taut, refracted light and then, ka-ping! And while my girl grew toward completion inside me, her fresh little eggs popped by the tens of thousands each day. By the time she is born, I thought, her eggs will be the rarest cells in her body.

Scientists have made much of apoptosis in the past few years. They have sought to link every disease known to granting agencies, whether cancer, Alzheimer's, or AIDS, to a breakdown in the body's ability to control when pieces of itself must die. Just as a pregnant woman sees nothing but a sea of swollen bellies all around her, so scientists see apoptosis gone awry in every ill person or sickly white mouse they examine, and they promise grand paybacks in cures and amelioratives if they ever master apoptosis. For our purposes, let us think not of disease or dysfunction; let us instead praise the dying hordes, and lubricate their departure with tears of gratitude. Yes, it's wasteful, yes, it seems stupid to make so much and then immediately destroy nearly all of it, but would nature get anywhere if she were stingy? Would we expect to see her flagrant diversity, her blowsy sequins and feather boas, if she weren't simply and reliably too much? Think of it this way: without the unchosen, there can be no choosing. Unless we break eggs, there can be no soufflé. The eggs that survive the streamlining process could well be the tastiest ones in the nest.

And so, from an eggy perspective, we may not be such random, sorry creatures after all, such products of contingency or freak odds as many of us glumly decided during our days of adolescent sky-punching (Why me, oh Lord? How did that outrageous accident happen?). The chances of any of us being, rather than not being, may not be so outrageous, considering how much was winnowed out before we ever arrived at the possibility of being. I used to wonder why life works as well as it does, why humans and other animals generally emerge from incubation in such beautiful condition — why there aren't more developmental horrors. We all know about the high rate of spontaneous miscarriages during the first trimester of pregnancy, and we have all heard that the majority of those miscarriages are blessed expulsions, eliminating embryos with chromosomes too distorted for being. Yet long before that point, when imperfect egg has met bad sperm, came the vast sweeps of the apoptotic broom, the vigorous judgment of no, no, no. Not you, not you, and most definitely not you. Through cell suicide, we at last get to yes — a rare word, but beautiful in its rarity.

We are all yeses. We are worthy enough, we passed inspection, we survived the great fetal oocyte extinctions. In that sense, at least — call it a mechanospiritual sense — we are meant to be. We are good eggs, every one of us.

If you have never had trouble with your eggs, if you have never had to worry about your fecundity, you probably haven't given your eggs much thought, or dwelled on their dimensions, the particular power that egg cells enclose. You think of eggs, you think food: poached, scrambled, or forbidden. Or maybe you were lucky enough as a child to find in your back yard a nest with two or three robin's eggs inside, each looking so tender and pale that you held your breath before venturing to touch one. I was unhappily familiar in my girlhood with another sort of animal egg, that of a cockroach; usually I found the empty egg case after its cargo had safely departed, a sight as disturbing as that of a spent shotgun shell and more evidence of the insect's supremacy.

The symbolic impact of the egg in many cultures is as an oval. The egg of the world, thick toward the bottom to ground us, thinner at the apex as though pointing toward the heavens. In medieval paintings and cathedral tympana, Christus Regnans sits in a heavenly ovoid: he who gave birth to the world was born unto the world to secure it from death. At Easter we paint eggs to celebrate rebirth, resurrection; in the egg is life, as life is cradled in the cupped, ovoid palms of the hands. The Hindu gods Ganesha and Shiva Nataraja sit or dance in egg-shaped, flame-tipped backdrops. In painting her vulval flowers, the petals opening onto other petals like abstract pastel matryoshkas, Georgia O'Keeffe evoked as well the image of the egg, as though female genitalia recapitulate female procreative powers.

The egg of a chicken or other bird is a triumph in packaging. A female bird makes the bulk of the egg inside her reproductive tract long before mating with a male. She supplies the egg with all the nutrients the chick embryo will require to reach pecking independence. The reason that an egg yolk is so rich in cholesterol, and thus that people see it as gastronomically risqué, is that a growing fetus needs ample cholesterol to build the membranes of the cells of which the body, any body, is constructed. The bird gives the egg protein, sugars, hormones, growth factors. Only after the cupboards are fully stocked will the egg be fertilized by sperm, sealed with a few calciferous layers of eggshell, and finally laid. Bird eggs are usually oval, in part for aerodynamic reasons: the shape makes their odyssey down the cloaca, the bird's equivalent of a birth canal, that much smoother.

We gals have been called chicks, and in Britain we've been birds, but if our eggs are any indication, the comparison is daft. A woman's egg, like that of any other mammal, has nothing avian about it. There is no shell, of course, and there really is no yolk, although the aqueous body of the egg, the cytoplasm, would feel a bit yolky to the touch if it were big enough to stick your finger in. But a human egg has no food with which to feed an embryo. And though one springs to fullness upon ovulation each month, it most certainly is not the pitfaced, frigid moon.

I have another suggestion. Let's reject the notion that men have exclusive rights to the sun. Must Helios, Apollo, Ra, Mithras, and the other golden boys take up every seat in the solar chariot that lights each day and coaxes forth all life? This is a miscarriage of mythology, for a woman's egg resembles nothing so much as the sun at its most electrically alive: the perfect orb, speaking in tongues of fire.

Dr. Maria Bustillo is a short, barrel-bodied woman in her midforties who frequently smiles small, private smiles, as though life dependably amuses her. She is a Cuban American. Her features are round but not pudgy, and she wears her dark hair neither short nor long. As an infertility expert, Bustillo is a modern Demeter, a harvester and deft manipulator of human eggs, a magician in a minor key. She helps some couples who are desperate for parenthood get pregnant, and to them she is a goddess. But others she cannot help. For those others, it is no metaphor to say they flush many thousands of dollars down the toilet with each cycle of IVF or GIFT or other prayers by alphabet. That is the reality of infertility treatment today, as we have read and heard and read again: it is very expensive, and it often fails. Nevertheless, Bustillo smiles her small amused smiles and does not coddle gloom. She manages to seem simultaneously brisk and easygoing. Her staff loves working with her; her patients appreciate her candor and her refusal to condescend. I liked her instantly and almost without qualification. Only once did she say something that reminded me, oh, yes, she is a surgeon, a wisecracking cowgirl in scrubs. As she washed her hands before performing a vaginal procedure, she repeated a smirking remark that she'd heard from one of her instructors years earlier. "He told me, 'Washing your hands before doing vaginal surgery is like taking a shower before taking a crap,'" Bustillo said. The vagina is quite dirty, she continued, so there is nothing you could introduce into it with your hands that would be worse than what's already there. (This bit of orificial wisdom, by the way, is an old husbands' tale, a load of crap, as we will discuss in Chapter 4. The vagina is not dirty at all. Really, is it too much for us who mount the gynecologist's unholy stirrups to ask, "Physician, clean thyself'?)

I am visiting Bustillo at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York to look at eggs. I have seen the eggs of many species, but I have never seen the eggs of my own kind, except in pictures. Seeing a human egg is not easy. It is the largest cell in the body, but it is nonetheless very small, a tenth of a millimeter across. If you could poke a hole in a piece of paper with a baby's hair, you'd get something the size of an egg. Moreover, an egg isn't meant to be seen. The human egg, like any mammalian egg, is built for darkness, for spinning stories in visceral privacy — and you can thank that trait, in part, for your smart, fat, amply convoluted brain. An internally conceived and gestated fetus is a protected fetus, and a protected fetus is a fetus freed to loll about long enough to bloom a giant brain. So we lend new meaning to the term egghead: from the cloistered egg is born the bulging frontal lobe.

How different is the status of the sperm. A sperm cell may be tinier than an egg, measuring only a small fraction of the volume, so it is not exactly a form of billboard art either. Nevertheless, because it is designed to be externalized, publicly consumed, sperm lends itself to easy technovoyeurism. One of the first things Anton van Leeuwenhoek did after inventing a prototype of the microscope three hundred years ago was to smear a sample of human ejaculate onto a glass slide and slip it under his magic lens. And men, I will set aside my zygotic bias here to say that your sperm are indeed magnificent when magnified: vigorous, slaphappy, whip-tailed tears, darting, whirling, waggling, heading nowhere and everywhere at once, living proof of our primordial flagellar past. For mesmerizing adventures in microscopy, a dribble of semen will far outperform the more scholastically familiar drop of pond scum.

A woman's body may taketh eggs away by apoptosis, but it giveth not without a fight. How then to see an egg? One way is to find an egg donor: a woman who is part saint, part lunatic, part romantic, part mercenary, and all parts about to be put under the anesthesia that Bustillo calls the "milk of amnesia," so she will not feel her body crying bloody hell on the battlefield.

Beth Derochea pats her belly and booms, "Bloated! I'm full of hormones! I tell my husband, Stay away!" She is twenty-eight but looks a good five years younger. She is an administrative assistant at a publishing company who hopes to work her way up to an editing position. Her hair is long, dark, parted on the side, casual, and her smile is slightly gappy and toothy. "I hope nobody inherits my teeth!" she says. "Anything but that — I've got really weak teeth." Derochea is a woman of gleeful, elaborated extroversion; even being in a flimsy hospital gown doesn't make her act shy or tentative. She bounces; she laughs; she gestures. "She's so good!" a nurse in the room exclaims. "I'm so broke," Derochea says. "I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I'm in debt." That's one of the reasons she's here, at Mount Sinai, to donate eggs, her pelvis tender, her ovaries swollen to the size of walnuts when normally they would be almonds, tubing about to be slipped into her nostrils to bathe her in milky amnesia.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Woman"
by .
Copyright © 1999 Natalie Angier.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Table of Contents,
Copyright,
Dedication,
Preface,
Introduction,
Unscrambling the Egg,
The Mosaic Imagination,
Default Line,
The Well-Tempered Clavier,
Suckers and Horns,
Mass Hysteria,
Circular Reasonings,
Holy Water,
A Gray and Yellow Basket,
Greasing the Wheels,
Venus in Furs,
Mindful Menopause,
There's No Place Like Notoriety,
Wolf Whistles and Hyena Smiles,
Spiking the Punch,
Cheap Meat,
Labor of Love,
Of Hoggamus and Hogwash,
A Skeptic in Paradise,
APPENDIX,
Biologically Correct,
The Scientific Method: "Do Straw Men Have DNA?",
Opposites Attract? Not in Real Life,
Skipping Spouse to Spouse Isn't Just a Man's Game,
References,
Acknowledgments,
Index,
About the Author,
Footnotes,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"...a remarkable document of universal interest.... a tour de force, a wonderful, entertaining and informative book."—Abraham Verghese

"...dazzling.... What you'll see through her eyes will startle and amaze you."—Marilyn Yalom The New York Times

"The revolution already has a manifesto in the form of the ebullient Woman: An Intimate Geography. There are other female-positive books hitting the stores - but it's Angier who most decisively lifts the concept of the human female out of its traditional oxymoronic status. You gotta love a self-described female chauvinist sow who writes like Walt Whitman crossed with Erma Bombeck and depicts the vagina as a Rorschach with legs. Woman is a delicious cocktail of estrogen and amphetamine designed to pump up the ovaries as well as the cerebral cortex. " Time Magazine

"In Woman, Angier wields her poetic scalpel to explore female biology, and the result is awesome."—Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book

"[Angier] is my kind of feminist. Unlike, say, Catherine MacKinnon, she has a sense of humor about the war between the sexes. .... It is the open-mindedness of Woman that is so beguiling. Natalie Angier encourages us to celebrate the diversity of human nature and to realize that the process of cultural evolution is only just beginning."—Erica Jong, The New York Observer

"O joy, O rapture unforeseen! Natalie Angier's fascinating book about the female body is a hilarious romp through, well, our innards. In a deliciously irreverent, energetic, and clear writing style, she demystifies and de-mythicizes women's anatomy and biological workings. Along the way, Angier leaves no metaphor unexplored....She reveals the mysterious universe of women's bodies for even the most scientifically impaired souls. Like the evolution she describes, Angier is self-selecting in what she writes about, but her passion for what make us gals tick is infectious. Her explanation of chromosomes veritably sings. Woman: An Intimate Geography will leave the reader, male or female, in sheer awe of the complexity and power of women's bodies."—Ms. Magazine

"A delightfully mischievous yet serious book on the biology of the female body. Mischievous in that the science is interpreted in terms of modern feminism. It is a great read."—Phillip Sharp, MIT professor and Nobel laureate

"A delighted and delightful book, scientifically intelligent, politically astute, and replete with the intense complexity and fascination of biology. The writing is wonderful and the humor and sensibility are as rare as they are welcome."—Perri Klass, M.D.

"Woman is so captivating I couldn't put it down. It is jam-packed with fascinating, carefully researched facts I never knew before about how we women work. Best of all, Angier's abundant sense of humor and colorful writing style make this an irresistible read for everyone interested in women's bodies and women's health."—Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., Strong Women Stay Young

"In this witty, learned, adventurous book, Angier gives feminism a cheerful, evolutionary twist. Her deflation of the 'new science of evolutionary psychology' is a brilliant combination of hard science, humor and common sense exactly right."—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"Angier has brought both her considerable intellect and wry sense of humor to this book. The result is brilliantly accessible and wonderfully subversive."—Dr. Christiane Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

"Having occupied a woman’s body for nearly sixty years, I didn’t think any book would have much to teach me. How wrong I was!"—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, ethologist and author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

"Passion and intelligence meet in a gorgeous book about what it means to be a woman today, yesterday, and forever. Herein lies a fund of knowledge beautifully conveyed, as well as questions that have yet to be answered." Kirkus Reviews

"It's hard not to sound effusive about Woman: An Intimate Geography, since it's fabulous. Angier's book contains more facts about women than anything I've read since the Boston Women's Health Collective published Our Bodies, Our Selves in 1973. My advice about Woman is, get three copies, one for the beach, one for the bathroom and one to read under the covers with a flashlight." Elle

"To read Woman is to banish the gods of negative body image. It is transformative in the way Our Bodies, Our Selves was in the '70s, and no less radical. In fact, if Our Bodies, Our Selves has become the bible of women's bodies, let Woman: An Intimate Geography be our Shakespeare." Mirabella

"It's exhilarating to follow Angier's subversive logic as she dismantles the misogynist mythologies once advanced as the scientific gospel of the female body and replaces them with theories more congenial with the female soul....Angier's brilliant and witty fantasia will inspire women to believe in their powwers." Boston Globe

"One knows early on one is reading a classic—a text so necessary and abundant aand truuuuue that all efforts of its kind, for decades before and after it, will be measured by it. ... After a careful reading of this essential book, men should pass it along to someone they love-—their sons, daughters ... lovers and spouses. For a fresh look into the life's sciences ... and the pure pleasure of language in service to the facts of life, Angier's Woman is as good as it gets."—Thomas Lynch, Los Angeles Times

"The chief manifesto of the new 'femaleist' thinking, this ebullient and provocative treatise on women's bodies reads like a mixture of Walt Whitman and Erma Bombeck."—Barbara Ehrenreich, TIME cover story, "The Truth About Women's Bodies"

Reading Group Guide

"Natalie Angier's dazzling new book calls upon biology and evolution to celebrate the female body. Its upbeat message. . . is supported by rigorous scientific underpinnings." —The New York Times

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Woman: An Intimate Geography.

1. Angier describes her book as "a celebration of the female body" (p. xiii). Having read her chapters on the intricacies of the egg, the clitoris, the uterus, the breast, and so on, are your ideas about the female body substantially altered? How?

2. In her introduction, Angier quotes cultural commentator Camille Paglia, who writes of the menstrual cycle as follows: "The ancients knew that woman is bound to nature's calendar, an appointment she cannot refuse. She knows there is no free will, since she is not free. She has no choice but acceptance" (p. xvi). Why is Angier so opposed to this kind of thinking?

3. Angier discusses medical evidence purporting that whether a person becomes a male or a female is a matter of chance, dependent upon the switching on or off of certain genes and the sensitivity of certain tissues to hormones while the fetus is forming. How does the evidence presented here affect your understanding of sexual difference, and the relative importance of biological and cultural determinants of sexual identity?

4. Do you agree with Angier's assessment that "the clitoris is designed to encourage its bearer to take control of her sexuality" (p.76)? What is the evolutionary purpose of the clitoris if, as it appears, it is an organ "dedicated exclusively to sexual pleasure" (p.70)?

5. Given the cases of Jane Carden, Cheryl Chase, Martha Coventry (pp. 28, 84-85) and others like them, should surgeons alter the genitals of infants and children whose bodies they consider abnormal? How similar is such cosmetic alteration to the genital cutting practiced in many African countries? If it is true that surgical alterations are made to womens' bodies far more often than to mens', what are the cultural assumptions that account for such inequity?

6. The use of HRT—hormone replacement therapy—for post-menopausal women has stirred much controversy, as has the widespread use of hysterectomy as a solution to the problem of fibroids. How does Angier's approach to these issues affect your position? Should the body be left to follow its own natural course, or do such medical interventions improve upon nature?

7. Angier contends that the institution of patriarchy belongs exclusively to the human species: "Only among humans is the idea ever floated that a male should support a female, and that the female is in fact incapable of supporting herself and her offspring, and that it is a perfectly reasonable act of quid pro quo to expect a man to feed his family and a woman to be unerringly faithful, to give the man paternity assurance and to make his investment worthwhile" (p. 302). Is there any evidence that patriarchal thinking has weakened in contemporary American life? Why has patriarchy been so successful in suppressing most expressions of female power except for those crucial to the domestic and maternal areas of life?

8. Following her discussion of the role of post-menopausal women in primitive societies, Angier presents her opinion of the necessity of female bonding, both within and beyond the group of one's age mates. Extrapolating from her own experience, Angier claims that "we keep looking for our mothers and those mythical creatures our female mentors" (p. 257). How widespread is this desire among women?

9. Angier has said, "I really object to the idea of females as more cooperative and less aggressive than men, both in terms of sexual drive and ambition....I know it's not true that women don't have an innate hunger to succeed" [Interview in Los Angeles Times, June 28 1999, page E1]. What then explains the fact (p. 361) that as recently as 1996, only four of the Fortune 1000 companies were headed by women? If, as Angier claims, "our strongest aggressions and our most frightening hostilities may be directed at other women" (p. 295), is it possible that women inhibit one another's success?

10. Angier notes that "most female animals are promiscuous" (p. 381) and strongly disagrees with evolutionary psychologists who "insist on the innate discordance between the strength of the male and female sex drive" (p. 364). Do you agree with her that women are as interested in sex as men? Do you think women pursue their sexual desires as aggressively as men do?

11. What message is being sent in the movie Thelma & Louise about what happens when women go in search of independence? Why do you think the film ended the way it did? If the film was made today, would the ending be the same? Is there any evidence that Americans are becoming less conventional and more flexible in their thinking about the independence of women?

12. Epidemiological studies show that, in terms of longevity and health, men benefit from marriage more than women do. Angier points out that this data conflicts with the position of evolutionary psychologists "men are 'naturally' ill-suited to matrimony" (p. 386). How do you make sense of this seeming contradiction?

13. Angier says, "It is still too costly to behave in a way that risks the investment and tolerance of a man, of the greater male coalition—We reject the idea of sisterhood and of female solidarity. We make fun of it" (p. 309). Still, she argues, female bonds are important, and women need them. Is she right in saying that in our culture, feminism gets no respect? If so, why have the energies of feminism dissipated since the 1970s?

14. Gloria Steinem calls Woman "nothing less than liberation biology," and says that Angier "proposes revolutionary possibilities for both men and women." How would women's lives be different if mainstream culture shared Angier's perspective on women's power and potentiality?

15. In Chapter 18 Angier takes issue with evolutionary psychologists who claim that we still live under the sway of prehistoric instinct when it comes to choosing a mate. Women, they say, seek stability and economic security, while men tend to seek youth and beauty. Why have the ideas of Robert Wright, David Buss, and others in their field gained such wide acceptance? Does Angier ultimately come closer than they do to answering Sigmund Freud's famous question, "What do women want"?

16. Why are women's relationships with their mothers often so difficult? What do you think of the wish Angier expresses for her relationship with her daughter, once her daughter is herself an adult, "that my daughter's need for me may prove larger, more enduring, and more passionate than the child's need for meals, clothes, shelter, and applause" (p. 258)? Do women in fact need their mothers more, not less, as they get older?

17. Woman is a very personal book for Natalie Angier. What has Angier risked—and what has she gained—by speaking of her own experience so freely, by making use of her quirky sense of humor, and by being so playful with language? How do the author's voice and prose style affect your experience of the book?

18. Remembering a conversation in 1987 between herself, her grandmother, her mother, and her cousin in which all four women agreed that if given the choice they would have chosen to be men, Angier ends the book by rejecting that wish: "the wish to be a man is a capitulation to limits and strictures we never set for ourselves. It is lazy"—and by inviting her women readers to celebrate their womanhood. "Our tribe is the tribe of woman. It is our tribe to define, and we're still doing it, and we will never give up. We live in a state of permanent revolution" (p. 401). Do you find this inspiring, liberating, or simply unrealistic?

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