Menopause Advances Civilization?
Who wants to be old in America? Menopause is treated like a disease
here, the land of youth. It was different in other countries, in earlier
times. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wrote in The World of Yesterday
about his childhood in late nineteenth century Vienna:
The doubt, that young people were not quite reliable, was common in
every circle . . . .
Newspapers recommended substances to hasten the growth of beards. Twenty-four
and twenty-five year old physicians who had just passed their examinations
grew great beards and wore gold-rimmed eye-glasses, even when their eyes
were fine, just to give the impression of experience to their first patients.
Now Dr. Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah has proposed that post-menopausal
women, freed of childbearing concerns, could have advanced civilization
by helping out with others' babies and children, and doing work younger
women are unable to perform. This is the case with the Hadza people of Tanzania,
which Hawkes has studied extensively, as reported in the latest issue of
Current Anthropology. Natalie Angier wrote a fascinating article about Hawkes'
research and competing ideas about menopause in the 16 September issue of
the New York Times.
Hawkes suggests that grandmothers enabled early humans to spread to
new habitats and create the world we see today.
"The Grandmother Hypothesis gives us a whole new way of understanding
why modern humans suddenly were able to go everywhere and do everything.
It may explain why we took over the planet," said Dr. Hawkes.
Read Angier's article also for some interesting ideas about the "reasons"
for menopause, possibly even evolutionary advantage.
I wonder how this could tie in with the "crone" idea of certain
varieties of feminism?
Genetic Material of the Fetus in Mothers' Blood
Instead of having to withdraw amniotic fluid from the mother to search
for genetic defects of a fetus, it may be possible to use the mother's own
blood in the future.
The British journal Lancet (vol. 350, page 485) reports that researchers
from Great Britain and Italy have found fetal cells in mothers' blood, possibly
present because of the programmatic death of cells in the fetus.
The journal cautions that the examination of this genetic substance
must be considerably refined.
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