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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Sex, Time and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution by Leonard Shlain (Viking) From the best selling author of Art and Physics and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess comes a provocative new book, Sex, Time and Power, that will change our views of human sexuality and evolution.

According to Leonard Shlain, Chief of Laparoscopic Surgery at California Pacific Medical Center , there is no clear and compelling explanation for the sudden emergence of glib, big-brained Homo sapiens 150,000 years ago. In his latest book, he proposes an original thesis that variations in female sexuality changed the course of human evolution.

Many women assume the invention of the Pill was the most important sexual event in history. But many eons earlier, they acquired a far more potent power: they became the first female of any species to gain the mental grit necessary to override their sexual urges and demand sex on their terms. Men, who craved sex more than any other mate animal, were suddenly faced with a crisis unknown to other species—they confronted females firmly in possession of minds of their own. A woman’s veto over sex became the source of her power and the root of his frustration. For the first time among the animals, men had to negotiate sex with women.

Bipedalism, narrow pelvises and enormous fetal heads precipitated a crisis for our species resulting in a legion of changes. Women, facing the grave threat of dying during childbirth, needed to grasp the link between sex and painful labor nine months later. But, first, they had to learn how to maneuver in the dimension of the future. They lost estrus (heat), acquired a menses accompanied by heavy bleeding and painful cramps, and began to experience orgasms, all necessary evolutionary adaptations allowing them to discover time.

Women then taught the majestic secret of foresight to men, who used it to become the planet’s most fearsome predator. Men learned, to their dismay, that they were mortal. Finally, upon figuring out their role in impregnation, men realized they could live on through their children. These insights changed how men related to women and why they adopted the role of husbands and fathers.

In Sex, Time and Power, Shlain explores how these archaic insights dramatically altered all subsequent human culture, from the nature of courtship, to the origin of marriage, to the evolution of language, funerals, and religions. He offers carefully reasoned, and certain to be controversial, discussions on such subjects as menstruation, orgasm, puberty, circumcision, male aggression, menopause, baldness, left-handedness, the evolution of language, homosexuality, and the origin of marriage.

Written in a lively and accessible style, Sex, Time and Power is a compelling book that challenges accepted views of human sexuality and is sure to stimulate new thinking about old ideas and generate heated debate in the media and among readers interested in human evolution and the history of sexuality.

The Science/Fiction of Sex: Feminist Deconstruction and the Vocabularies of Heterosex by Annie Potts (Routledge) What can we learn from exploring the differences in male and female orgasmic experience? Is the penis an entity with a mind of its own?

These issues and others, such as the popular portrayals of male sexuality as active and outwardly focused, and female sexuality as passive and internally located, are discussed in The Science/Fiction of Sex. Part of the series, Women and Psychology, which brings together current theory and research on women and psychology, it bridges the gap between abstract research and the reality of women’s lives by integrating theory and practice, research and policy. Each book in the series addresses a ‘cutting edge’ issue of research.

Exploring contemporary feminist and post-structuralist theories of sex and gender, Annie Potts, who teaches critical sexuality studies in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, investigates how people make sense of such concepts as heterosexuality, orgasm, sexual dysfunction, femininity and masculinity.

As explained in the book, there are three prevalent discourses operating within contemporary sexology: the biological imperative, the coital imperative, and the orgasmic imperative. The biological and coital imperatives say that penile-vaginal intercourse is the normal and natural sexual activity between men and women, since it serves to procreate the species. The orgasmic imperative says that sexual activity culminates most healthily in orgasm. The Science/Fiction of Sex analyzes and challenges these three dominant discourses in terms of both female sexual pleasures and safer sex.

Potts asked men and women about their actual experiences of heterosex. This interview material, combined with excerpts from sexological and medical texts and features from film and television, draws attention to the ways in which western cultural constructs influence our ideas and experiences of the body, sex and gender. Contemporary theories of sex and gender are explored alongside an investigation of how people make sense of such concepts as heterosexuality, orgasm, sexual dysfunction, femininity and masculinity, and safer sex practice.

The Science/Fiction of Sex will be of great interest to those studying women and psychology as well as gender studies, cultural studies, feminist studies, sociology, philosophy, public health and education.

Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World: Readings and Sources edited by Laura K. McClure (Interpreting Ancient History: Blackwell) explores the fascinating world of sex and gender roles in the classical period. It provides readers with essays that represent a range of perspectives on women, gender and sexuality in the ancient world. They are accessible to general readers whilst also challenging them to confront problems of evidence and interpretation, new theories and methodologies, and contemporary assumptions about gender and sexuality.

The essays in Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World represent a range of perspectives on women, gender, and sexuality in the ancient world. They are accessible to a general audience while at the same time challenging readers to confront problems of evidence and interpretation, new theories and methodolo­gies, as well as their own contemporary assumptions about gender and sexuality. They also address a range of different literary genres, from ancient medical writings and inscriptions to more canonical works such as epic, lyric, elegiac, and dramatic poetry. From a pedagogical stand­point, all of the essays may be paired with a diverse array of primary sources; for example, Helen King's essay, "Bound to Bleed," responds not only to ancient Greek medical writings but also to literary accounts of Artemis such as those found in Athenian drama. Moreover, the essays represent a broad spectrum of scholarly perspectives, and somewhat trace the debates and currents of the field from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Part I (Greece) contains four essays on Greek literature and society and Part II (Rome) includes four essays on Latin literature; Part III (Classical Tradition) concludes the volume with a consideration of the Procne and Philomela myth in both Greek and Roman sources and its relevance for feminist scholars.

An attempt has been made to include perspectives not only on ancient women, but also on men and masculinity in classical antiquity. Many of the essays that deal explicitly with women and their representation also illuminate the construction of male subjectivity. Some consider similar, issues but from different angles or periods, such as King's essay on women in Hippocrates and Richlin's on Pliny. The essays by Zeitlin and Dover both aim at elucidating a larger issue, the function of gender categories in classical Athens, although they do so by exploring the different genres of drama and oratory. Winkler and Richlin, while exam­ining very different types of sources, both deploy a similar approach drawn from women's history that views women as agents capable of resisting male systems of control rather than victims. Both Joshel and Wyke relate the literary representation of women in Roman texts to their political environment. Unfortunately, space restrictions played a much larger role than I would have liked in formulating this volume. The focus has been restricted to literary texts, even though numerous books and articles on gender, sexuality, and the visual arts have appeared in recent years (see Kampen 1996; Stewart 1997; Koloski-Ostrow and Lyons 1997; B. Cohen 2000). These constraints also compelled me to omit many stimulating and seminal essays, some of which are included in the References and Further Reading at the end of this introduction.

To summarize the contents of the volume, it opens with an influential essay by Dover that lays out Athenian attitudes toward sexuality and serves as a good introduction to basic aspects of Athenian sexual practices and social organization. Dover discusses the seclusion and protection of reput­able women, prohibitions against adultery and sexual relations outside marriage, including prostitution and homosexuality, the value placed on virginity for both males and females, and the relation of homoerotic behavior to political life and social status. Because this essay focuses mostly on fourth-century prose, including oratory and philosophy, it has been paired with an excerpt from Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium about the origins of the two sexes.

Winkler's reading of Sappho situates a female voice in a discursive universe created and transmitted by men. He shows how Sappho's poetry appropriates traditional heroic and masculine vocabulary to articulate a private, feminine world. But in contrast to the univocal narrative of the Homeric tradition, these poems reflect multiple perspectives and shifting identifications. This "many-mindedness," Winkler suggests, reflects the difficulties encountered by women in a male-dominated culture in which they are forced to become bilingual, proficient both in the culture of the linguistic minority and in the majority language of men. This essay repre­sents one approach to women's history that views women as agents rather than as victims, empowered by their own subculture and thus capable of resisting male control. Translations of two of Sappho's poems accompany this piece, and two passages from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to which they are compared.

King explores the meaning of female virginity, a topic also briefly ad­dressed by Dover, in ancient Greek thought and myth. She begins with the premise that the concept of woman for the Greeks always involved ambi­guity. Focusing on a short medical treatise entitled Peri Parthenion (On Unmarried Girls), King draws on structuralist theory to analyze the role of the goddess Artemis in the female life cycle, especially menstruation. The treatise elucidates the importance of menstruation and pregnancy for female health: the inability to menstruate, in Hippocrates' view, induces disease and even madness. King then explores the contradictory functions of Artemis in female life: she does not bleed but governs bleeding transi­tions; she both binds, causing suffocation and strangulation, and releases, thereby facilitating childbirth. These two contrary motions provide a conceptual framework for understanding the meanings of female transi­tions in ancient Greek culture. A translation of the Hippocratic treatise and a passage from Euripides' Hippolytus concerning virginity conclude the chapter.

While King focuses primarily on fifth-century medical writing, Zeitlin provides another perspective on the male representation of women in a different but contemporary literary genre, that of Athenian tragedy. Influenced by social anthropology and structuralist and psychoanalytic theory, Zeitlin analyzes how tragedy constructs and deconstructs categor­ies of masculine and feminine. She argues for tragedy as a feminizing , genre that functions as an "initiatory process" with the ultimate purpose of strengthening male civic identity. Athenian tragedy thus exploits the female as an Other through which the male spectator comes to understand himself. In the theater of Dionysus, female characters serve as a vehicle for exploring the "male project of selfhood." Passages that illustrate some of Zeitlin's discussion follow the essay, including Deianira's speech announ­cing her intention to restore her husband's love by means of magic and Heracles' final condemnation of her in Sophocles' Women of Trachis, and the metatheatrical scene of cross-dressing in Euripides' Bacchae.

Like the Dover essay in Part I, Finley's piece offers a general introduc­tion to the study of women - although not sexual behavior - in Roman society. The essay emphasizes the problems facing social historians who attempt to study Roman women, since they appear only in male authors predisposed to the "salacious and scandalous." Finley traces the problem to the Roman practice of denying women social subjectivity: they lacked individual names in the proper sense and their virtues - beauty, evenness of temperament, chastity, and childbearing - served to reinforce the male­governed familia. Only religion provided an outlet for Roman women's energies and talents. The essay has been paired with a range of Roman funerary inscriptions for departed wives and daughters that highlight the traditional female virtues and even praise some non-traditional ones.

Observing that Livy's history of Rome is full of raped, dead, or absent women, such as Tarpeia and the Sabines, Joshel examines the role played by violence against women in Roman myths of foundation. She focuses on Lucretia, a virtuous wife raped by an arrogant king, who commits ; suicide to protect her reputation and to provide a public lesson about female chastity, and on Verginia, a daughter killed by her father to defend her from the threat of rape. Joshel seeks to understand why each of these stories precedes or catalyzes a revolutionary moment in the political prehistory of Rome. Influenced by Theweleit's Male Fantasies (see Works Cited in Chapter 7), an account of masculinist ideology in Nazi Germany, she juxtaposes images of violence against women in Rome, Nazi Germany, and the contemporary United States to interrogate representations of gender in the formation and destruction of empires. The women in these texts therefore comment not only on the status of women in Roman society, but also on the Roman construction of man­hood. A translation of Livy's account of Lucretia from The Founding of Rome accompanies the essay.

Wyke addresses more fully the question of the relation between literary representation and social reality raised earlier by Finley in connection with Roman women. Her essay also fruitfully engages with the issue of com­promised masculinity raised by Zeitlin, albeit from the angle of the mis­tress, or puella domina, of Latin love elegy. Focusing on the figure of Cynthia in Propertius, Wyke attempts to "read through" the poems to a living woman as a means of elucidating the difficulties of relating women in texts to women in society. She argues that Cynthia's representation is inextricably bound to issues of poetic practice: although realistically drawn, Cynthia as mistress is a poetic fiction that conforms to the require­ments of the elegiac genre, related not to the life of the poet, but to the "grammar" of his poetry. At the same time, Wyke shows how this literary construction engages with contemporary political discourses on women in the early Empire. The essay is paired with translations of Propertius 1.8a-b and 2.5 as well as a passage from Cicero's Pro Caelio on another notorious mistress, Clodia, the real-life lover of the poet Catullus.

Richlin's analysis of Pliny the Elder's treatise on the curative and harmful powers of the products of the female body in his encyclopedic Natural History, especially breast milk and menstrual fluid, concludes the Roman section. This essay examines some rather obscure material, "a little-known wilderness" that could be characterized as folk medicine, to understand Roman ideas about female sexuality; in doing so, it engages directly with work on women in the Greek medical writers, such as that of King. Pliny's text considers the mundane aspects of female life, including menstruation, fertility, contraception, abortion, aphrodisiacs, pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care, topics of little interest to the Roman poets. She shows how Pliny's discussion attributes a dangerous power to the female body and its reproductive capacity that reveals how deeply ambivalent the Romans felt about women. Richlin argues that Pliny can serve as starting point for two different approaches to women's history, one that views women as the victims of male oppression, the other that sees them as agents able to subvert the male system. In the former view, Pliny reinforces ideas about Roman society as an oppressive patriarchy; in the latter, he shows the fundamental power this society attributed to women and their bodies. The essay concludes with a translation of the relevant passage from Pliny's Natural History.

In the final essay, Joplin examines the myth of Philomela, a woman raped and then brutally silenced by her sister's husband, and its meanings for feminist scholars. The tragic poet Sophocles coined the phrase, "the voice of the shuttle," to refer to the tapestry that Philomela wove to tell her story. Joplin critiques the appropriation of this phrase by a male scholar to celebrate male literary creation rather than "the violated woman's emer­gence from silence." By beginning with this critique, Joplin shows the reader how traditional critics reinforce the cultural assumptions of the texts they interpret. Approaching Ovid's version of the myth from a structuralist perspective, she demonstrates how such classical myths, even violent ones, may empower feminist critics. For example, the Philomela myth posits woman as an agent who shapes her own destiny, as an artist and creator, while the successful weaving stratagem shows the ultimate failure of male domination. Readings that resist traditional interpretations may therefore rescue classical sources for feminist scholars and writers. The essay concludes with a selection from Ovid's Metamorphoses that tells the story of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela.  

Gender, Sexuality, and Early Music edited by Todd C. Borgerding (Criticism and Analysis of Early Music: Routledge) This collection addresses questions of gender and sexuality as they relate to music from the middle ages to the early seventeenth century. These essays present a body of scholarship that considers music as part of the history of sexuality, stimulating conversation within musicology as well as bringing music studies into dialogue with feminist, gender and queer theory.

"Music is indeed well suited to women, and perhaps also to others who have the appearance of men, but not to real men; for the latter ought not to render their minds effeminate and afraid of death."' The well‑known declaration of a Renaissance courtier reminds us, perhaps better than any other document, that attitudes connecting gender and sexuality to music inherited from antiquity occupied a central position in the epistemology of early modern music. And while the men populating Castiglione's court ultimately reassure the reader (and themselves) that, by the authority of Plato, Aristotle, Lycurgus et al., music need not necessarily negate masculinity, yet the anxious note of their discourse shows that they did not forget those women, or those emasculated men, whose presence they so acutely sensed. This is worth remembering if only because we have for so long accepted male heterosexuality as normative; but the rhetoric of the courtiers exchange, proceeding from a norm (women, effeminate men) in order to define the exception ("real men" who play music) suggests that the situation in early modem Europe was somewhat more complicated than that.

Recent musical scholarship on early modern repertories has, in fact, been busy complicating the discourse of musicology. Scholars drawing on the traditions of feminism, gender studies, and queer studies (who have sometimes been described as practicing the "New Musicology") have a long tradition of being received with a polemic that reproduces the anxiety of Castiglione's courtiers. However, it might be claimed that the unease with which the topic of gender and sexuality has been sometimes met in the modern academy has lessened since the years when essays by such scholars as Susan McClary or Suzanne Cusick would raise a maelstrom of opposition, with the masculinity of not only music, but the discipline of musicology at stake. Now, if controversy exists, its tone is somewhat less strident, and the study of gender and sexuality has become a part of our mainstream musical culture. These topics appear regularly in leading journals, and no national or international meeting of music scholars seems complete without a contribution exploring feminitity, masculinity, or one of a variety of sexualities. Polemics between "Old" and "New" musicologies are increasingly supplanted by intelligent assessment of what is learned about music when we bring fundamental questions of the human condition to the table. Such work as that by Robert Kendrick' and Craig Monson on nuns,' Suzanne Cusick on the gendering of the MonteverdiArtusi debate,' or Laura Macy' and Kate van Orden on eroticism in secular repertories,' has been met not so much with outrage as with excitement.

The writers for this volume owe much to these and other scholars, but, as will become apparent, do not adhere to a single methodology in their approach to gender, sexuality, and music. The question of female patronage is taken up by Donna Cardamone Jackson, who reassesses the tragic biography of Isabella d'Este in order to place her contributions in the context of a gendered society. Biography also occupies Thomasin LeMay, who blends modern feminist scholarship with historical record to produce a fresh view of the life of Madalenna Casulana. The musical and visual portrayal of martial women on stage is the topic of two important studies here. Kelley Harness shows how a female regency in early 17th century Florence promoted the cult of virgins and female warriors through music in order to solidify its political position, and Nina Treadwell unravels the influence of patronage in the appearance of female warrior in Ferrarese spectacle. Several essays provide fresh readings of important pieces or repertories. Laurie Strass explores the development of a gendered modal language by madrigal composers before Monteverdi, while Christina Fuhrmann reveals the erotic undertones in a madrigal comedy by Alessandro Striggio. Lianne Curtiss listens for a feminist voice in music based on the poetry of Christine de Pizan, and my own contribution suggests through a reading of Planxit autem David that early renaissance musical rhetoric was connected to a culture of homoeroticism. Instrumental music emerges as an important category in this volume as well: Rose Pruixma shows how ethnic dances were erotically colored in ballet de cour and tragedie lyrique, and Andrew dell' Antonio unpacks the construction of desire in early 17th century Italian instrumental music.

While important for what they contribute, these essays also point out that the field is far from exhausted. Leaving aside the question of musics earlier than the renaissance (which ultimately fell outside the scope of this volume), we are faced with centuries teeming with erotically texted madrigals and chansons; sacred music devoted to a pantheon of saints, the Virgin Mary, and Christ (whose bodies and sexualities were central to their sanctity); issues of patronage­all of which need to be assessed with cultural and historical sensitivity. This volume, then, represents the ongoing discussion of we other courtiers, who seek to better understand the music and culture of early modern Europe.

Contents: Series Editor's Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction Todd Borgerding 1. Isabella Medici-Orsini: A Portrait of Self-Affirmation Donna G. Cardamone 2. "Simil combattimento fatto de Dame": The Musico-theatrical Entertainments of Margherita Gonzaga's balletto delle donne and the Female Warrior in Ferrarese Cultural History Nina Treadwell 3. Madalena Casulana: my body knows unheard of songs Thomasin LaMay 4. Chaste Warriors and Virgin Martyrs in Florentine Musical Spectacle Kelley Harness 5. La nonne della ninfa: Feminine Voices and Modal Rhetoric in the Generations Before Monteverdi Laurie Stras 6. Gossip, Erotica, and the Male Spy in Alessandro Striggio's Il Cicalamento delle donne al bucato (1567) Christina Fuhrmann 7. Construction of Desire in Early Baroque Instrumental Music Andrew Dell'Antonio 8. Music, Sex, and Ethnicity: Signification in Lully's Theatrical Costumes Rose A. Pruiksma 9. Sic ego te dilegebam: Music, Homoeroticism, and the Sacred in Early Modern Europe Todd Borgerding 10. Christine de Pizan and 'Dueil Angoisseux'ii Liane Curtis Postscript: Dancing with the Ingrate Suzanne Cusick

Y : The Descent of Men by Steve Jones (Houghton Mifflin) Steve Jones is a best-selling British science writer, host of a hit BBC science series, & witty science popularizer. His sardonic wit, makes Y great general interest science, as fascinating to women as to men. This entertaining, irreverent, offbeat but scholarly primer on the male anatomy & male mind allows us, the general public, to follow along through the complexities of genetics and even molecular biology to find out about the precariousness and peculiarity of the male creature.

In a nutshell, Jones declares that it’s men, not women, who are the weaker sex. Among other unlikely facts you might not have wanted to know: the average length of a man's penis is less than six inches, while that of a blue whale is ten feet. Here’s more of the growing list of male biological shortcomings:

The “prince of chromosomes” is not so royal after all. The Y chromosome essentially exists to shuttle genes between females.

  • Men survive the death of a partner far less well than women do.

  • Over the past ten thousand years, genes show, most of the time men have stayed at home and women have migrated.

  • Men’s sperm undergo more mutations than eggs of women the same age do.

  • Chemical pollution is driving down sperm counts.

These are only a few of the facts that spill out in Y. With literary flair and a jaunty style, Jones offers a landmark exploration of maleness, based on today's explosion of biological research about what makes a male – a topic of consuming interest to at least half the population. From novel insights into men's hormones, to hair loss and the hydraulics of man's most intimate organ, Jones lays out the case for and against masculinity. But this self-proclaimed "biologist in the bedroom" goes far beyond discussing straight science. He writes, for instance, of a meeting between Napoleon and Alexander the Great in which they discussed baldness cures rather than matters of state. And, as many angry males have found out, to the law, fatherhood means more than genes – a father who is not a biological parent but who leaves a family with children still has paternal responsibilities.
Steve Jones marshals recent research to reach a conclusion that many women have long held: men are the second sex. Compared with their partners, men are in relative decline, whether in social status or in length of life. Both halves of the population have to learn to cope with the Y chromosome.
Y helps show them how.

When released in Britain a few months ago, Y created a media stir; in the Sunday Times Mark Ridley reported that Jones, “is an expert, but somehow makes his readers feel like an equal.” Although the bad news is that men are increasingly genetically expendable, the good news is that Jones makes this bitter pill seem like a fun romp in the hay.

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