Contemplating the impact of the Grandmother Hypothesis in her Pulitzer Prize winning book Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier writes:
If young women have long needed older women, and if that need was an organizing principle in early human society, then our constitutional hunger for our mothers cannot, should not end at puberty. It is much stronger than that. It is like the river of our lives. It flows on, and we must navigate it, and it surges and howls and falls, but it doesn’t end and we must ride it.
Angier is among the fleet of authorial women who have forever transformed my view of womanhood. Like Regena Thomashauer and Naomi Wolf, she has put words to what I’ve always known in my bones: that “female” is not the lazy X in our genes that didn’t want to put in the effort to be a Y, or the much resented reproductive medium required by nature for continuity.
No, to be woman is to be divine. It is to have all of the world in your bones.
The female is not just the reproducing gender. She is very likely the reason for all we have today.
In Woman, Angier explores “the grandmother hypothesis,” which proposes that postmenopausal women are absolute necessities in human society and responsible for the wonderful world we have today.
The idea is that older women not only mother their own children and grandchildren, but provide support to extended relatives and other young children in their families and their communities. Though, we daughters may be overly critical of our mothers and spend much time loathing them and the ways they’ve fallen short, it’s actually due to a bone deep desire for this symbolic older woman, a desire that is as ancient as homo sapient.
The Grandmother Hypothesis
These older women, of ancient times and present day, make it possible for us to live longer lives: they provide wisdom and support that has elevated and sustained tribes and neighborhoods before the dawn of time. Most fascinatingly, the older woman makes it possible for humans to possess such a highly developed intellect, capable of immense creativity. While other female primates fade with their ovaries, the menopausal woman is able to live a long, robust life, still vibrant with color, sensations, and passion. And the longer grandmama lives, the longer childhood lasts, which gives the body time to build for a long, sustainable future. AND time to build a better brain. The presence of the older woman, also makes it possible for us to have fully dependent children that don’t require a geo-locked tribe, making migration possible.
Based on this hypothesis,
Women not only birth the world, but carry it’s potential. The future needs female.
What does the grandmother hypothesis mean for you?
When you hear female, think power and ingenuity – it is the feminine that defines nature. This Mother’s Day, celebrate the feminine, that mothering energy within all of us.
What it meant for me and my imperfect relationship with my mother
I was moved to tears by Angier’s writing when I read it months ago. I could see in my own searching, the search for this symbolic older woman, seeing her energetic imprints in everything I’ve snuggled against and been in awe of all my life. Learning to mother ourselves is a journey all women must make, because eventually you must realize that what you are searching for is already within you.
That divinely wise and knowing woman, the breath of the goddess, resides in you. You are her.
Though I’ve had a turbulent history with my own mother, I have chosen peace for both of us, releasing all expectations of what either of us should be like. This Mother’s Day, I choose to see and feel love for all the women who have mothered me, listened to my story, and bared witness to my growth.
I invite you to do the same.
And with that, I leave you with Angier’s endearing hope for the future of her own relationship with her daughter. Wherever you are with your relationship to your mothers, remember that sisterhood is our birthright. We ban together by need, desire, and love.
May we all have the joy of mothering, whether it is to ourselves, our own children, or another child or dragoness in need.
Angier’s heartfelt hope for her relationship with her own daughter
I have great, wild hopes of finding my daughter as she will be in adulthood, when she nominally stops needing me, when she is past the seizures and denunciations that I expect will come at adolescence because they came so brutally for me. I hope that I’m right in my interpretation of the organic grandmother, that mother hunger is a primal trait of womanhood, and that my daughter’s need for me may prove larger, more enduring, and more passionate than the child’s need for meals, clothes, shelter, and applause.
I hope that she needs me enough to show me who she is, to give regular dispatches, her intellectual progeny, and to trust me with their safekeeping. I hope that she likes to barter—Youth and Experience haggling over Notoriety. May she spit fire and leave me gladly, but sense in her very hemoglobin that she can find me and rest with me and breathe, safely breathe, if only for the fleeting intermission between cycles of anger and disappointment. For as long as they last, my bones, brain, and strength are her birthright, and they may not be much, but they’re tenacious by decree, and they’ll comply happily with the customs of dynasty. When Youth comes calling, Experience gets out her shovel and digs.Woman: An Intimate Geography