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Since Charles Darwin, evolutionary biologists have been convinced that the males of the animal kingdom — dominating and promiscuous — are the interesting ones. Females are dull, passive, and devoted, lying in wait while males rule the kingdom. In other words, we’ve been told that patriarchy was part of our DNA.
Lucy Cooke aims to change that viewpoint in her latest book, Bitch. She writes, “as an egg-making student of evolution, I couldn’t see my reflection in this fifties sitcom of sex roles. Was I some kind of female aberration? The answer, thankfully, is no. A sexist mythology has been baked into biology, and it distorts the way we perceive female animals.”
Whether investigating same-sex female albatross couples that raise chicks, murderous mother meerkats, or the titanic battle of the sexes waged by ducks, Cooke shows us a new evolutionary biology, one where females can be as dynamic as any male. This isn’t your grandfather’s evolutionary biology. It’s more inclusive, truer to life, and fun.
Not only does Cooke shed light on the animal kingdom, she highlights the consequences of learning strictly through a male perspective. In order to fully understand our world, she argues, “we need more diverse scientists: ‘a mixture of sexes, sexualities, genders, skin colours, classes, cultures, abilities and ages.’” (The Guardian, 2022)
With more voices like Cooke and her cheeky look at the queens of the animal kingdom, we may very well shift our whole understanding of evolution.
Lucy Cooke is the author of The Truth About Animals, which was short-listed for the Royal Society Prize, and the New York Times bestselling A Little Book of Sloth. She is a National Geographic explorer, TED talker, and award-winning documentary filmmaker with a master’s degree in zoology from Oxford University.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.