Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man?

Author: Samuel Metz 

Date: 12/07/05

 


The November 2005 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed medical journal, carried a stunning editorial by Dr. Malcolm Potts of the University of California School of Public Health (Malcolm Potts: Why Can't a Man Be More Like a Woman? Sex, Power, and Politics. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Nov;106 (5 Pt 1):1065-70). The editorial was originally presented as the Samuel A. Cosgrove Memorial Lecture at the 53rd meeting of the American College Obstetrics and Gynecology, San Francisco, California, on May 9, 2005.

The fee requested to reproduce the editorial in full was prohibitively high. Instead, the abstract and final paragraph appear below. Readers wishing to read the complete article may contact the journal directly or search a medical database.

The abstract reads:

Conflicts between male and female reproductive agendas continue to play out in contemporary issues of sex, power, and politics. Viewing gender through the lens of biologic evolutionary psychology reveals persistent controversies surrounding women's rights. The history of oral contraceptives compared with that of erectile dysfunction drugs is just one example of the disparity between female and male reproductive choices. Contraceptives, maternal mortality, abortion, and domestic violence are issues directly influenced by politics, religion, and gender biases. Ultimately, everything that can we can do to give women control over their bodies and their fertility is not only just and humane, but it also changes the world for the better. The United States must restore its leadership in international family planning-ensuring reproductive freedoms could be the genesis of other freedoms.

The final paragraph reads:

In his second Inaugural address in January this year, President Bush called for "freedom in all the world," and he spoke specifically of the "humiliation and servitude" that women still suffer in many countries. If we are to help lift women out of "humiliation and servitude" then we must restore U.S. leadership in international family planning. Not only is freedom from the tyranny of unwanted pregnancy a basic freedom, it is often the genesis of other freedoms-as is happening in Iran. In the long run, injectable contraceptives and intrauterine devices may prove more powerful weapons against conflict and terrorism than Abrams tanks or F-16 war planes-the Pill, I suggest, is mightier than the sword.

A friend sent the complete article to me. My response appears below.

December 7, 2005

A provocative essay from an unlikely source. All his points are legitimate. Our world would be better if politics followed his direction.

Dr. Potts writes for an audience that already agrees with him. Perhaps this is deliberate. Perhaps his goal is to arm his partisans and inspire them to become activists. If so, this is a good start.

However, it is unlikely that a reader who is equivocating on these issues or has heartfelt feelings that contrast with Dr. Potts will find him convincing. Like many who fight against the tide of social fundamentalists, he is better at understanding the merits of his own position than at understanding why so many otherwise intelligent voting US citizens believe that women who have sex should be punished.

Granted, Dr. Potts cleverly uses selected Catholic commentary to make his point, but if I were a religious fundamentalist, this would not be convincing.

Dr. Potts did not follow his trail far enough. Men may harbor secret desires to be rapists, but under those urges are deeper feelings that sex is bad. Lust is bad. Sexual activity, even erections, are permitted only if sheltered under the guise of creating children. Sex for pleasure cannot be tolerated.

Implications of this terror of sex include the following:

1. Men cannot accept that their sexual desire arises from within - it must be generated from without: i.e., from women. Women provoke sexual desire in men so women's sexual desire and sexual attractiveness must be curtailed. Thus some societies compel women to cover themselves with burkas, or to shave their heads after marriage, or cut off their vulva, or simply not appear in front of any man not their husband or family. These are consistent with the male concept, "If I feel unwanted sexual desire, some promiscuous woman must be responsible, and punished."

For every erection, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

2. Homosexual relations make no pretense whatsoever of child-bearing. Their sole purpose is satisfaction of sexual desire. Ergo, all such relationships must be extinguished.

3. Men bear no sequelae of sexual activity, whereas women may become pregnant. Pregnancy is the result of indulging sexual desire, which is forbidden. Ergo, pregnancy is both the consequence of and punishment for female sexual sin. Tampering with this divine retribution not only violates divine law, it suggests that someone other than the woman should be punished. And men absolutely do not want that blame.

As noted by others, if men were compelled to carry, deliver, and raise a child after sexual activity, contraceptive pill dispensers would be more common than Starbucks.

Interestingly, some social fundamentalists will permit abortion in cases of rape or incest. This implies that if a woman did not enjoy sex, she need not be punished for it.

Dr. Potts deserves our gratitude for articulating our objections to social fundamentalists. Our next task is to have the social fundamentalists articulate their objections to us.


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