Natalie Angier, the feminist writer for Science Times, best known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Woman: An Intimate Geography," hailed by Gloria Steinem as "nothing less than revolutionary biology," has a strange way of writing up Mother’s Day. She turns to the animal kingdom, and notes that many species are anything but maternal. On the front page of Tuesday's Science Times section, The article began:
"Oh, mothers! Dear noble, selfless, tender and ferocious defenders of progeny: How well you deserve our admiration as Mother’s Day draws near, and how photogenically you grace the greeting cards that we thrifty offspring will send in lieu of a proper gift." Then she explains that in nature, animal mothers are often heartless and cruel, from the guinea hen to the panda bear to the African black eagle.
Even if readers didn’t peruse the rest of the article, they could be disturbed by the Lou Beach illustrations. The primary picture is of a woman in a sleeveless gym shirt and shorts, seated on a bench, holding a lit cigarette, but wait – the body has the head of a rabbit. Underneath the bench are a gaggle of bunnies. The caption explains that Rabbit Mommy is evil: "WILLFUL NEGLECT: What a gal. She plopped out 10 pups and, without a welcoming lick, closed up the burrow’s entrance, turned tail, and hopped away."
Next to that is a woman in a sleeveless dark dress with a tattooed arm, with the head of a pig: "ACCESSORY TO MURDER: Some pig. She looked the other way when some of her piglets turned on the littlest one, slicing its fact and starving it half to death. Then she rolled over and crushed it to death."
Underneath the Evil Bunny picture is a fake mug shot of a panda in pearls, complete with nez-perce eyeglasses, and the evil-panda-mama caption: "ABANDONMENT: Cute? You think so. But this mother gave birth to two cubs and when one of them thrived, she left the ‘spare’ behind without a backward look."
Angier elaborated: "What is wrong with these coldhearted mothers, to give life then carelessly toss it away? Are they freaks or diseased or unnatural? Cackling mad like Piper Laurie in ‘Carrie’? In a word – ha. As much as we may like to believe that mother animals are designed to nurture and protect their young, to fight to the death, if need be, to keep their offspring alive, in fact, nature abounds with mothers that defy the standard maternal script in a raft of macabre ways. There are mothers that zestily eat their young and mothers that drink their young’s blood. Mothers that pit one young against the other in a fight to the death and mothers that raise one set of babies on the flesh of their siblings."
(At least at the end, Angier explains that rabbit mothers rarely attend to their young so that they don’t give their location away to predators. She did not explain that they don’t smoke.)
Most readers probably get the hint that the article is coming from a frustrated feminist who’s not wild about women being pigeonholed into cozy, submissive stereotypes of motherhood. As the official Random House reading guide to her book explained,
Remembering a conversation in 1987 between herself, her grandmother, her mother, and her cousin in which all four women agreed that if given the choice they would have chosen to be men, Angier ends the book by rejecting that wish: "the wish to be a man is a capitulation to limits and strictures we never set for ourselves. It is lazy"—and by inviting her women readers to celebrate their womanhood. "Our tribe is the tribe of woman. It is our tribe to define, and we're still doing it, and we will never give up. We live in a state of permanent revolution" (p. 401).
Perhaps, to Angier, the idea of females being just as savage as males has an attractive appeal, and the humanoid smoking bunny is her idea of a romantic rebel.