QOTD: Dr Holly Dunsworth on the “ideal” pelvis

From a fascinating article at ScienceDaily.com on a new theory about why humans gestate pregnancies for as long / as short as they do – which overturns the traditional idea that our gestation is shorter so babies’ heads don’t get too big to pass through the birth canal.

“We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

“If it didn’t, we’d have gone extinct.”

The research itself is fascinating, but – being a big feminist meanie – I think it’s also really important to consider that point above. We often tend to perceive science as this perfect, rational system for ascertaining information about the world around us. But scientists are human. They’re raised in the same cultural environments as the rest of us, with the same assumptions and biases as anyone else.

This doesn’t mean they’re evil, or involved in some diabolical moustache-twirling conspiracy to oppress all women with bad data. It just means some things get overlooked. Some things get taken for granted. Some assumptions aren’t questioned.

It’s not like we needed advances in technology or cutting-edge physics to figure out that human gestation isn’t actually shorter than other primates’, or what happens to pregnant people’s metabolisms during the course of a pregnancy. That information was there to be found – and it wasn’t until now, because until now no one felt the need to question the idea that wider (assumed to be “women’s”) pelvises mean you can’t walk good.

And we simply can’t look at that idea in a vacuum. We have a patriarchal society which treats women as lesser. We have Judeo-Christian traditions which teach us that Woman is a (flawed) offshoot of God’s actual handmade creation, Man. We believe women aren’t as physically capable as men, that childbirth (which we assume is entirely experienced by women) is a weakness or a punishment.

In that context, it’s easy to assume “male” hips are “normal” and “female” hips are “flawed” because of our “curse”.

It’s great to see scientists challenging those assumptions. But we have a long way to go before those ingrained prejudices about gender, race, biology and destiny are erased.

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