Why Can't a Woman be More Like
Author: Samuel Metz
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
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
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
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.