Choice by gender

September 1, 2000

I am not sure which is the more disturbing, the photograph of the young Pakistani mother and her twins, where the boy is four times the size of his starving sister, or the framework of understanding of the photograph presented by Robin Dunbar in his review of Ever since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality by Malcolm Potts and Roger Short (Books, THES, August 25).

Does Dunbar think that the choice of which child to breast feed was made by chance? How does he explain the gender imbalance in the populations of India and China? Does the superiority of breast milk over bottle fully explain the emaciated state of the girl? Poverty is acknowledged but apparently given no explanatory role. Does the reported "belief" on the part of the mother that she does not have enough milk of her own for two not beg questions about cultural influences, given that breast feeding two children simultaneously is perfectly possible? This is biological reductionism at its most offensive.

To adapt Dunbar's summary of the book: those evolutionary psychologists who continue to doubt the social sciences' relevance to human behaviour would do well to read Alas Poor Darwin, edited by Hilary and Steven Rose before adding further to a depressingly ill-informed debate. Or perhaps Dunbar is well aware of counter perspectives and is attempting to establish hegemony by deliberately failing to acknowledge alternative explanations.

Lorna Chessum

Principal lecturer in education

De Montfort University

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