239 pages, no illustrations
Scientific discoveries about the animal kingdom fuel ideological battles on many fronts, especially battles about sex and gender. We now know that male marmosets help take care of their offspring. Is this heartening news for today's stay-at-home dads? Recent studies show that many female birds once thought to be monogamous actually have chicks that are fathered outside the primary breeding pair. Does this information spell doom for traditional marriages? And bonobo apes take part in female-female sexual encounters. Does this mean that human homosexuality is natural? This highly provocative book clearly shows that these are the wrong kinds of questions to ask about animal behavior. Marlene Zuk, a respected biologist and a feminist, gives an eye-opening tour of some of the latest developments in our knowledge of animal sexuality and evolutionary biology. Sexual Selections exposes the anthropomorphism and gender politics that have colored our understanding of the natural world and shows how feminism can help move us away from our ideological biases.
As she tells many amazing stories about animal behavior – whether of birds and apes or of rats and cockroaches – Zuk takes us to the places where our ideas about nature, gender, and culture collide. Writing in an engaging, conversational style, she discusses such politically charged topics as motherhood, the genetic basis for adultery, the female orgasm, menstruation, and homosexuality. She shows how feminism can give us the tools to examine sensitive issues such as these and to enhance our understanding of the natural world if we avoid using research to champion a feminist agenda and avoid using animals as ideological weapons.
Zuk passionately asks us to learn to see the animal world on its own terms, with its splendid array of diversity and variation. This knowledge will give us a better understanding of animals and can ultimately change our assumptions about what is natural, normal, and even possible.
"An engaging, highly readable, and thought-provoking book."
– Nicholas Pound, Red Nova
"Writing in an engaging, coversational style."
"Zuk's analogies are better than anyone's – pithy, insightful, and funny. Who said feminists lack humor? Zuk made me laugh with deep pleasure more than once, as she reviewed the lessons of feminism for our understanding of non-human animals. Her main point – that studying the lives of non-humans should not be for the lessons they seem to provide for our political purposes, but for the pleasure of knowing nature on its own terms – will be compelling reading for all naturalists, feminists and not-feminists alike."
– Patricia Adair Gowaty, editor of Feminism and Evolutionary Biology
"Marlene Zuk uniquely combines a great breadth of knowledge about the behavior of animals with an ability to challenge conventional wisdom. She also writes with a graceful style and a mischievous wit. The result is a bold, fresh and feminist book about how our sex lives evolved."
– Matt Ridley, author of Genome
"This is an engaging and much needed book, which I hope will be widely read."
– Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species
Note on Species Names
Introduction: An Ode to Witlessness
Part One. Sexual Stereotypes and the Biases That Bind
1. Sex and the Death of a Loon
2. Substitute Stereotypes: The Myth of the Ecofeminist Animal
3. Selfless Motherhood and Other Unnatural Acts
4. DNA and the Meaning of Marriage
5. The Care and Management of Sperm
Part Two. Unnatural Myths
6. Sex and the Scala Naturae (or, Worms in the Gutter)
7. Bonobos: Dolphins of the New Millennium
8. The Alpha Chicken
Part Three. Human Evolutionary Perspectives
9. Soccer, Adaptation, and Orgasms
10. Sacred or Cellular: The Meaning of Menstruation
11. That’s Not Sex, They’re Just Glad to See Each Other
12. Can Voles Do Math?
Conclusion: Unnatural Boundaries
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Marlene Zuk is Professor of Biology at the University of California, Riverside, and coeditor, with J.E. Loye, of Bird-Parasite Interactions: Ecology, Evolution, and Behaviour (1991).