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Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Hardcover – May 17, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This brilliant and accessible work of biological criticism has the potential to revolutionize the way readers conceive of gender and sexuality in the natural world. Roughgarden, a professor of biology at Stanford University and a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, argues that the diversity of gender and sexuality one finds in many species suggests that evolutionary biologists of a strictly Darwinian bent are often misguided, since, according to Roughgarden, they erroneously assume a universally applicable gender binary in all species. The first half of the book brings that sexual diversity to light through innumerable examples among birds, reptiles, fish and mammals provided in highly readable anecdotes. The significance of this first section lies not only in this startlingly original portrait of nature, but also in how it suggests that contemporary Darwinian sexual selection theory is in part a result of cultural bias, since it "predicts that the baseline outcome of social evolution is horny, handsome, healthy warriors paired with discreetly discerning damsels." Roughgarden critiques this theory through an expansive study of biological scholarship, highlighting the frequent contradictions between such claims and the data used (and, she argues, manipulated) to prove them. The second and undoubtedly more controversial section discusses sexual diversity in humans. Taking as a given the presence in our own species of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual and intersex persons, she reads current scientific writing-on a supposed "gay gene," on gender reassignment and other issues-through a perspective that sees diversity as an advantage, not a handicap. Readers more accustomed to traditional categories of gender and sexuality in humans will undoubtedly be surprised at how different a portrait emerges from Roughgarden's deeply personal and insistently ethical point of view.
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"A fun read with laudable politics." -- Out Magazine
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All of her discussions, though, serve another purpose, and that is to contrast how certain aspects of what Darwin believed have been supplanted. For example, there is little reason in Darwinian thought as to why there could possibly be any evolutionary advantage in having a small percentage of gay or transsexual individuals in a population, as they don't typically reproduce. However, Roughgarden shows how having adult members with no offspring actually can increase the odds that the young that are produced survive until they are able to breed. So it is not just about breeding, which is what much of Darwinian thought revolves around, but rather breeding AND ensuring that the young live to sexual maturity and mating themselves.
All in all I found this an engaging, clearly-written, solidly documented work that doesn't require you to be a biologist, just a person with some understanding of science and a willingness to learn new ideas. highly recommended!