Reviewer Sandy Graham: Born and raised in Canada, Sandy spent 35 years with The Boeing Company in a variety of engineering and management positions. After retirement, he satisfied a long-standing urge to delve into creative writing. Sandy has authored three novels, Two Loves Lost, The Pizza Dough King and Murder – On Salt Spring?
Author:Melvin Konner, M.D.
Publisher:W.W. Norton & Company
Women After All, an attention grabbing title for a thought provoking journey through the many permutations and combinations of sex and gender behavior from single cell organisms to tomorrow’s humans. At the outset, let me make clear this review is from a layman’s viewpoint. Other more scientific reviews attest to the book’s validity.
Early chapters provide a background of various reproduction methods and gender behavior that roughly parallel the evolution of life on our planet. New to some of us is the concept that females existed first (though not named that until males appeared) and males came about through the introduction of enzymes that in simple terms convert female anatomy to male. And in combination with testosterone modify even brain development. Many species survive well without males and at least one evolved back into a single gender driving its males to extinction.
This picture makes one question why males ever appeared. The answer is to provide a richer mix of gene variations to enhance survivability through advantageous mutations. An unfortunate by-product is the introduction of either male or female dominance and much of the book explores examples and effects of each. With this background in place, Doctor Konner turns to the human species.
He points out that for the thousands of years we were hunter-gathers there was roughly equality between genders. Both contributed to survival. However, when population outgrew the resources available, agriculture and animal husbandry became necessary. This in turn led first to tribes and eventually to civilizations we know today. Unfortunately, the male role changed to capture and protection of territory and resources, including female reproduction. So along with this aggression came male dominance that persists to this day.
Much of the remainder of the book deals with the evil effects of male dominance on society in general and women in particular. On the bright side, women’s progress back towards equality over the past century or so has allowed them to apply their unique attributes toward building stronger, peaceful societies. From an anthropological viewpoint, Doctor Konner suggests this trend will continue and, perhaps putting words in his mouth, be the salvation of the human race. Suppression of male dominance and aggression is the goal. Looking at extremist and terrorist cultures today, one wonders if that goal can be realized. Yet evidence to support his conviction is certainly apparent in much of the world.
Women After All is a synthesis of a multitude of anthropological and social psychology studies—sort of making sense of it all. The rich variety of examples and Doctor Konner’s style keeps one reading. As a scientist he feels compelled to identify all his sources which leads to a string of names mostly meaningless to the average reader. With seventy pages of notes at the end, it would have been preferable to have the names replaced in the text by a reference number. Regardless, the book is both entertaining and provocative. It should be mandatory reading for aggressive politicians, corporate leaders and extremists. For the rest of us, it can be a guide for better selection of our leaders, male and female.