Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Basic. Jun. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9781541674899. $30. SCI
Cooke (The Truth About Animals) freshly analyzes a hot-button topic—the use of “sex” and/or “gender” to describe human sexuality, identity, and social roles—in terms of the zoological kingdom. She makes a clear argument that notions of binary sex or gender are even more ambiguous in animals than in humans. Today, assumptions about evolution and the female role linger from Darwin’s Victorian-era writings, clashing with current zoological research that seeks to “fight the scientific phallocracy with data and logic.” Cooke’s case studies analyzing the five types of sex (chromosomal, gonadal, hormonal, morphological, and behavioral) prove that each category has fluidity and instances of non-fixed sex; as examples, she offers spiders, the common mole, and the female spotted hyena, whose physiology and behavior defy categorization. Cooke expertly explains current scientific research with engaging humor, interspersed with first-person accounts and an impressive number of interviews with scientists who are rewriting the binary narrative. Her book encourages reflection but never overwhelms with information, even when, for instance, debunking accepted wisdom about XX and XY chromosomes.
VERDICT Zoological notions of gender will challenge general readers to appreciate sexual diversity in animals and reassess human notions of “female.”
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