The current thinking is that we manifested them as a means of self-defense. Take, for example, Oophaga granulifera, the granular poison frog, which evolved camouflage first, and then poisonous skin.
It was like that. In the beginning, we tried to blend: we adopted prey behaviors, traveled in herds. We learned when to run, when to freeze. We tried to fashion armor out of empathy, we offered multitudinous excuses for our predators. It was our fault, we said, our eyes on the tips of our shoes. We should have been more docile. More modest. We wore loose jeans and low heels good for running.
Our new camouflage was useful, on occasion. But camouflage only works so long as the prey keeps still, keeps quiet. Sometimes (often) the prey gets eaten anyway. We couldn’t keep still forever.
So we evolved.
Tiny nodules appeared on a small but steady percentage of pubescent girls’ inner labia. Cilia, the doctors called them at first, as if the vulva were growing a set of tails and was beginning to behave like sperm. The outgrowths seemed harmless, at first.
Then they grew bigger. They calcified. It took decades to study the condition closely—not enough funding. Numerous grant proposals were rejected on the grounds that the increasingly common skin disorder among girls was too niche to warrant much investment or investigation, even when the oldest patients began to report that the protrusions had sharpened. “They come out whenever I’m scared,” said one early patient. She was twelve years old.
Years passed. Then: an attempted rape turned partial castration. (The rapist sued. He won.)
Suddenly: funding for the disorder that, by now, one in five of us had developed. Suddenly: a resurgence of Freud. Finally, a new (old) way to make monsters of us. A name dug up from antiquity: Dentata.
That was many years ago, but not too many. Our grandmothers remember those first reports on the evening news of what was then clumsily called prehensile labial tissue disorder. We’ve become more precise, since then. We’ve sharpened. Or perhaps the most secret parts of us were always the most sharp.
Five years ago, the United States government finally implemented mandatory consent classes for primary school students starting as young as preschool. They were the last Western country to implement such a policy, and the bill’s passage was accomplished largely due to significant lobbying from Gentlemen’s Activist groups, who claimed such classes were necessary on the grounds of young boys’ self-defense.
In the classroom, a variant of the popular children’s game Mother, May I? is the primary mode of instruction for beginning consent learners of all ages, though the paternalistic epithet has been dropped. The game is now, simply, May I? As in:
May I share your snack? Yes, have some.
May I touch your hair? No, please don’t.
May I hug you? Not right now.
Initial results from children’s training programs appear promising, though it’s too early to tell. Results from adult programs have been mixed.
On the playground, girls and young women alike try their best to hide their accidentally-bloodied fingers. (It takes years to learn proper retraction.) The expression “caught red-handed” has developed newly-layered meaning.
Meanwhile, every media outlet is frenzied with speculation about what will happen to humanity if too many girls are born like this:
“What will happen if men become more afraid of sexual acceptance than of rejection?” the pundits ask. Then they remark, again, how it’s a wonder so many brave young men function at all, under the weight of so much castration anxiety.
Yesterday’s headline in the Post: Tokyo University of Science Pioneers Program in Sexual Robotics.
The Future is Femmebot: Dentata and the End of Women has been a New York Times bestseller for 38 weeks running.
A fledgling pro-dentata movement has sprung up in a few rich, Western countries. Though its merchandise, emblazoned with its rallying cry Show me your teeth!, is marketed worldwide, it has so far gained little traction outside of academia. The opposite reaction is more common, as shown by the increasing percentage of women with dentata who choose lives of voluntarily celibacy. Semi-monastic communities similar to the Beguines of 13th century Europe, have proliferated all over the world.
In the social discourse, both men and women debate how best to protect themselves. A new line of spiked conDoms™ were briefly marketed, then pulled after several thousand mutilations. Class action. Punitive damages. Knockoffs, made overseas and available online, still exist.
Does it count as evolution if the conditions inspiring the evolution don’t change? According to recent worldwide reports, cases of vaginal rape have decreased nearly 93%. However, cases of anal rape have risen 39% across all genders, and underreporting is common. Cases of vaginal mutilation and female infanticide have increased steadily, and, in some countries, laws against them have been subtly loosened.
Several generations after its initial discovery, possession of dentata is still classified as a skin disorder, and as such, women with dentata are not recognized as a specially protected class by most legislatures. According to current research, there are no clear predictors of race, ethnicity, or genetics that determine which women will develop dentata, but the number of reported cases rises yearly. Geneticists are hopeful they will be able to isolate a “dentata gene” so that it may be edited out of female fetuses in utero.
When Oophaga granulifera evolved, its poisonous skin changed color, the boggy bluish-green sharpening to bronze, burnt orange, and, finally, red. Five-Alarm red. Don’t-Eat-Me red. You’ll-Be-Sorry red. Red toxic enough to kill a grown man after very little contact.
As of yesterday, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List reclassified the granular poison frog as “Critically Endangered.” A few generations ago, they were only “Vulnerable.” According to the IUCN’s report, the frogs’ reclassification is due to “habitat destruction.” Evolution has not saved them. Day by day, they disappear.
Emily Rose Cole is the author of a chapbook, Love & a Loaded Gun, from Minerva Rising Press. She has received awards from Jabberwock Review, Philadelphia Stories, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2018, Carve, and River Styx, among others. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is a PhD candidate in Poetry and Disability Studies at the University of Cincinnati.