This book blew my mind, and it's the perfect review for International Women's Day. Immediate reactions upon putting this one down:
Female scientists are my new personal heroes.
Female animal species are fiercely bad ass.
Evolutionary biology is downright hilarious.
Lucy Cooke enters Charles Darwin’s world of male-dominated evolutionary biology and slaps it silly. Most of what we know about the animal kingdom comes from the heavily Victorian sexist views of Darwin’s time; males are dominant, driving the evolutionary process, and females are passive, primly waiting around for the male species to lead the charge in determining evolutionary change. Not only did Darwin’s own letters implicate his sexist viewpoints, but studies from other prominent male scientists during this era have since been discovered as invalid for eliminating data that did not jive with Darwin’s assertions of male dominance. Who’s going to refute “The Father?” Thankfully a lot of female scientists pointed out the problems with these convenient omissions.
Cooke drives home this point with a dizzying array of examples from the animal world. One contribution to evolutionary bias is the fact that female genitalia simply hasn’t been studied as much. Duck vaginas have adapted into a spiral shape in an opposite direction of their male counterparts thus allowing them to control paternity. Dolphins control insemination of their eggs. As female sex organs are studied more, the assertion that male anatomy is dominant peters out. Sexual selection has also been controlled by the scientific community’s androcentric view. Darwin theorized that males are always the aggressors, but the animal world proves otherwise. One particular antelope species finds the females doing the fighting, using their antlers to fight for the best males during mating season. Scientists assumed the female antlers were evolutionary remnants with no significance, but this has been proven incorrect. Ringtail lemurs in Madagascar are fully dominant over territory and harass males in terrifyingly violent ways for food and prime sun spots. Cooke also spends a lot of time laying out evidence for how sex defies rigid binary limitations. For example, 40% of albatross monogamous partners are lesbian. A Hawaiian species of morning gecko repopulates by cloning their own babies without sperm. The entire population of gecko is female. When scientists begin eliminating natural biases about sex and evolution, a whole new fluid world of understanding is revealed. Cooke manages to make evolutionary biology a rollicking good read; her humor is randy but raucous in the most perfect blend.
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.