Cover image for Evolution's rainbow : diversity, gender, and sexuality in nature and people
Evolution's rainbow : diversity, gender, and sexuality in nature and people
Roughgarden, Joan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
474 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1360 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH541.15.B56 R68 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In this innovative celebration of diversity and affirmation of individuality in animals and humans, Joan Roughgarden challenges accepted wisdom about gender identity and sexual orientation. A distinguished evolutionary biologist, Roughgarden takes on the medical establishment, the Bible, social science--and even Darwin himself. She leads the reader through a fascinating discussion of diversity in gender and sexuality among fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals, including primates. Evolution's Rainbow explains how this diversity develops from the action of genes and hormones and how people come to differ from each other in all aspects of body and behavior. Roughgarden reconstructs primary science in light of feminist, gay, and transgender criticism and redefines our understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality. Witty, playful, and daring, this book will revolutionize our understanding of sexuality.

Roughgarden argues that principal elements of Darwinian sexual selection theory are false and suggests a new theory that emphasizes social inclusion and control of access to resources and mating opportunity. She disputes a range of scientific and medical concepts, including Wilson's genetic determinism of behavior, evolutionary psychology, the existence of a gay gene, the role of parenting in determining gender identity, and Dawkins's "selfish gene" as the driver of natural selection. She dares social science to respect the agency and rationality of diverse people; shows that many cultures across the world and throughout history accommodate people we label today as lesbian, gay, and transgendered; and calls on the Christian religion to acknowledge the Bible's many passages endorsing diversity in gender and sexuality. Evolution's Rainbow concludes with bold recommendations for improving education in biology, psychology, and medicine; for democratizing genetic engineering and medical practice; and for building a public monument to affirm diversity as one of our nation's defining principles.

Author Notes

Joan Roughgarden is Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. She is the author of Primer of Ecological Theory (1998), Anolis Lizards of the Caribbean: Ecology, Evolution, and Plate Tectonics (1995), and Theory of Population Genetics and Evolutionary Ecology: An Introduction (1979).

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Roughgarden (Stanford Univ.) provides a thorough examination of diversity in gender and sexuality across nature, with examples ranging from various animal populations to modern human communities. The observed diversity in gender expression and sexuality found in the natural world challenges the established tenets of sexual selection and basic evolutionary theory. New concepts such as "social selection" and the idea of the "genial gene" provide readers with an uncommon perspective on the origins and evolution of sexuality, sex, and gender. Specifically, the author argues that control of access to resources and mating opportunities in gregarious animals emphasize social inclusion rather than sexual selection in the development of diversity in sexual behavior and orientation. Neither the medical establishment nor the Bible is above reproach in this critical discussion of one of today's contentious issues. Readers also learn how such biological diversity develops from an interaction between genetic and hormonal factors, and how individuals come to express variation in form and behavior. An insightful blend of biology and social science, this work presents a fresh evolutionary perspective on sex, gender, and sexuality, with widespread implications for modern societies. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels. R. A. Delgado Jr. CUNY Hunter College

Table of Contents

Introduction: Diversity Denied
Part 1 Animal Rainbows
1 Sex and Diversity
2 Sex versus Gender
3 Sex within Bodies
4 Sex Roles
5 Two-Gender Families
6 Multiple-Gender Families
7 Female Choice
8 Same-Sex Sexuality
9 The Theory of Evolution
Part 2 Human Rainbows
10 An Embryonic Narrative
11 Sex Determination
12 Sex Differences
13 Gender Identity
14 Sexual Orientation
15 Psychological Perspectives
16 Disease versus Diversity
17 Genetic Engineering versus Diversity
Part 3 Cultural Rainbows
18 Two-Spirits, Mahu, and Hijras
19 Transgender in Historical Europe and the Middle East
20 Sexual Relations in Antiquity
21 Tomboi, Vestidas, and Guevedoche
22 Trans Politics in the United States
Appendix Policy Recommendations