Raising Darwin’s Consciousness: An Interview with Sarah Blaffer Hrdy on Mother Nature

Sarah-Blaffer-Hrdy2Eric Michael Johnson interviews Hrdy over at the Scientific American blog Primate Diaries (image “Sarah Blaffer Hrdy” by Nathaniel Gold):

Eric Michael Johnson: Why do you think it’s important to look at mothers and infants from an evolutionary perspective?

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: If we really want to raise Darwin’s consciousness we need to expand evolutionary perspectives to include the Darwinian selection pressures on mothers and on infants. So much of our human narrative is about selection pressures but, when you stop to think and parse the hypotheses, they’re really about selection pressures on males: hunting hypotheses or lethal intergroup conflict hypotheses to explain human brains. Well, does that mean that females don’t have brains?

Johnson: In an autobiographical sketch published in the book Leaders in Animal Behavior you wrote that: “It was no accident that I would later become interested in the evolutionary and historical origins of patrilocal marriage, male-biased inheritance, female sexuality and peoples’ obsessive concerns with controlling it.” When did you start becoming interested in these topics and what were some of the leading motivations you had at the time?

Hrdy: You have to take into account where I grew up and when. It was in south Texas. I was born in 1946 so I was growing up in the 50s. This was a very segregated and really quite patriarchal society. Growing up in Houston was a lot like growing up in South Africa. Also within my family males had a very special role. The good news, in a way, is that I was the third daughter born in a family eventually of five. It was a very wealthy family and I was sort of the heiress to spare. So they didn’t pay too much attention to what I was doing, though they certainly had very set ideas about who I should marry and what sort of life I should lead. But once I was out of sight off at school, I was pretty much out of mind which was good for me. So I went off to school when I was 16 and that really was the beginning I think of my intellectual development.