In Women’s Studies we call it biological gender essentialism and it’s not thought to be a good thing. According to this article, recent studies have found, apparently, that women with bigger thighs and bottoms have more intelligent children. Professor Lassek of the University of Pittsburgh and author of Why Women Need Fat says:
You need lots of fat to make a nervous system and the fats in these areas are also enriched in DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] which is a particularly important component in the human brain.
It looks as if women have evolved to accumulate these fats and hold on to them — until a baby arrives.
Another researcher makes a similar claim:
David Bainbridge, a professor at Cambridge University, has backed up these findings in his new book Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape.
He says that this phenomena has also affected the type of women that men have evolved to be attracted to – those with curvier hips are likely to give birth to healthier and more intelligent babies – although he does also admit other factors come into it.
So what’s wrong with biological essentialism? People use it not just to explain women’s bodies but then, by implication, to make normative arguments about what women are best suited for. One day they’re telling us that women’s bodies are the way they are to make babies. The next thing you know, making babies is what women are meant to do.
That means they’re not all that well-suited for careers, public life, pursuits outside of the domestic realm. These are dangerous arguments for equality and they lurk fairly close the surface of prevalent attitudes about who, ideally, should be doing what. If you don’t believe me, take a look at stats about who does the majority of child care and domestic labor as opposed to who occupies the highest offices of government, and who comprises the majority of CEOs.
It’s also a bit odd, given how pervasively an ultra-thin female body-type is marketed as the feminine ideal, to read that men have evolved to be attracted to women with curves. If that’s the case, then lots of men didn’t get the memo.
Of course, I haven’t read the studies. I’ve only read a brief report about the studies. News reports about studies are of interest to me because, even if they are not accurate, it’s the reports and not the detailed science that goes out to the public and shapes people’s attitudes. As the last quote says, Bainbridge “does admit other factors come into it.” But the report says nothing about what these “other factors” might be.
I’m intrigued by the idea that these men have devoted their careers to providing evolutionary/biological arguments to explain that women are fatter so they can make healthier, smarter babies. This may sound like a neutral attempt to explain a biological fact. But I can’t help feeling wary about the broader impact of scientific research that suggests that the primary purpose of the female body is to have children.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having kids, or even that women’s bodies aren’t designed to play a certain role in reproduction.
But there are lots of other things we can do with our bodies, too. And they’re also kind of amazing.