The Ascent of the Vag

Photo credit: McCarter Theatre
Photo credit: McCarter Theatre

I realize few people reading this are going to be able to make it out to Stony Point, NY to see the newest production of Sarah Treem’s play “The How and the Why,” but the Times’ review should encourage all you New Yorkers to hop on a train for Westchester. I normally despise evolutionary biology because I can only read so many books written by pseudo or somewhat legitimate scientists who attempt to explain all gender difference with the oh-so-convincing “But that’s what the cavemen did” argument. Why do men cheat? Because early man needed to spread his seed. Why do women often become attached after sex? Because it behooved early woman to attach herself to one strong mate. Why do girls overanalyze text messages? I’m sure it has something to do with early woman and her need to know which man would provide her with the best dead moose. Basically, 99% of this reasoning is ridiculous and seems based on scientists watching The Clan of the Cave Bear too many times on AMC. But this doesn’t stop some men (and it’s mostly men) from blaming all their flaws on our hominid ancestors as though evolution somehow provides a classier, scientific version of the it-wasn’t-me-it-was-my-penis defense.Treem’s play discusses evolutionary science through the lens of the defining feature of evolution: change. Not progress but change. Despite what the ascent of (wo)man image referenced in this article would have you believe, evolution has never been solely about progress. Evolution is simply a series of opportunistic adaptations, so being highly evolved doesn’t equal being better. Humans have many primitive mammalian traits, yet we seem to have done pretty well for ourselves.  We have adapted to our surroundings because of our large brains and subsequent ability to learn. But just because we have learned a behavior doesn’t mean we are destined to repeat it. If so, we would still all be foraging for berries and dying at thirty.

I’m really hoping to see this play because it uses this fraught field of science to highlight generational changes and the progressive stages in women’s lives. In a year when politicians seem to be utterly incapable of understanding even the basic mechanics of female reproduction yet feel free to characterize our bodies as a scary, site of moral failure, it’s nice to see an artist using the female body not in a sexualized or moralistic manner but simply as a means to discuss the necessity of change. If only it were playing in DC.

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