Cover image for Sexual selections : what we can and can't learn about sex from animals
Sexual selections : what we can and can't learn about sex from animals
Zuk, M. (Marlene)
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 239 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1450 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL761 .Z85 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Marlene Zuk is Professor of Biology at the University of California, Riverside

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Zuk (Univ. of California, Riverside) has written an intriguing book on how our biases and social agendas influence our interpretations of animal behavior. Sexual behaviors in animals have been used, depending on one's ideology, to espouse either the stereotypical roles of men and women or the feminist agenda. Zuk argues that neither is scientifically sound. Instead, animals should be observed on their own terms and not be used to reflect people's preconceived ideas. The book is organized into three parts. The first describes how human stereotypes distort interpretations of animal behavior. A broader insight can be gained by using a female perspective, which expands the questions scientists ask and how they answer them. The second section describes how the incorrect view of the "ladder of life" influences our thinking. The fact that humans are closely related to other primates does not necessarily mean that our behaviors mirror theirs. The third section describes four human behaviors--female orgasm, menstruation, homosexuality, and spatial ability--and explores how they evolved and whether they are adaptive. Zuk presents her ideas in an engaging style that is highly recommended for anyone interested in the biology of the sexes. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. E. H. Rave Bemidji State University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Note on Species Namesp. xi
Introduction: An Ode to Witlessnessp. 1
Part 1 Sexual Stereotypes and the Biases That Bind
1 Sex and the Death of a Loonp. 21
2 Substitute Stereotypes: The Myth of the Ecofeminist Animalp. 34
3 Selfless Motherhood and Other Unnatural Actsp. 47
4 DNA and the Meaning of Marriagep. 61
5 The Care and Management of Spermp. 76
Part 2 Unnatural Myths
6 Sex and the Scala Naturae (Or, Worms in the Gutter)p. 93
7 Bonobos: Dolphins of the New Millenniump. 107
8 The Alpha Chickenp. 121
Part 3 Human Evolutionary Perspectives
9 Soccer, Adaptation, and Orgasmsp. 139
10 Sacred or Cellular: The Meaning of Menstruationp. 153
11 That's Not Sex, They're Just Glad to See Each Otherp. 168
12 Can Voles Do Math?p. 184
Conclusion: Unnatural Boundariesp. 200
Selected Readingsp. 213
Referencesp. 219
Indexp. 229