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Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

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4.04  ·  Rating details ·  729 ratings  ·  95 reviews
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 dis ...more
Hardcover, 474 pages
Published May 17th 2004 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Alok Vaid-Menon
People weaponize nature to justify homophobia and transphobia. They say that being LGBTQ is “against nature” because many of us don’t reproduce. But LGBTQ people aren’t faulty aberrations. We are fundamental to species and ecosystems. We should always question who gets to speak for nature. Often times the only stories we learn about nature are filtered through a patriarchal lens.

Biology has incorrectly been leveraged as a vehicle to enforce rigid universals. Nature actually templates a plethora
...more
Alok Vaid-Menon
Ecologist and evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden (who happens to be a trans woman) challenges Darwin’s theory of sexual selection by exposing how human-centric conceptions like heteronormativity and the sex binary have caused scientists to misapprehend both gender and genetic diversity across species. In doing show, she presents a powerful and refreshing approach to biology which understands science as a profound argument for the power and dynamism of natural diversity.

Biology has incorrec
...more
Brownbetty
Sep 21, 2014 rated it liked it
This is an entertaining, educating, and fairly persuasive book. Roughgarden is very deliberately writing this book primarily to make an argument, and secondarily to educate. This is sometimes a slightly infelicitous mix; she uses general, rather than scientific vocabulary, most of the time, sometimes to the detriment of the argument she is making.

Roughgarden is an evolutionary biologist, and some of the arguments she is making are are far more relevant to the field than to the layperson, so I ma
...more
Prithvi Shams
Dec 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book seemed a bit unpalatable at first as I was not used to seeing gender and sexuality as something that defies rigid categorization. The merit of this book lies in convincing the reader that gender is not necessarily affixed to sex, that gender need not be a binary phenomenon. Transgendered, intersexed, bisexual and homosexual people are not "diseased" merely because they're different from the heterosexual norm; these people are just different colours on the rainbow of gender and sexualit ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I mostly read/flipped through this in a systematic fashion, hunting for information on specific topics (hermaphrodism and sexed/gendered division of reproductive labor). The rest of this though ... argh. Keep your politics out of my science please? (Even though in general I likely agree with the author's basic perspective.) And stop stretching things and inaccurately applying your paradigms to make points, even if they're points I agree with? ...more
Rachel
Jan 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I LOVED the first two-thirds of the book. The author made a wealth of scientific information not only readable but fascinating. Her arguments for modifying evolutionary theory are convincing. As she points out, theories are affected by cultural assumptions. Looking at biology and animal behavior through a lens of cooperation for mutual benefit, rather than one of domination and trickery, gives rise to many interesting possibilities, some of which seem to be a better fit with reality. I also love ...more
Kimia
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
The book gave no explanation about reasons and mechanisms. It was just a loooong handbook of examples.
Nathan
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very fascinating read all around - the first third has a lot of technical information, which I actually appreciate, even if I don't completely understand what is being said about the effects of chromosomes and genes and their interaction, or if I have a hard time digesting statistical data. This aspect of the book might turn off a layperson, but it is balanced out with well-written anecdotal explanations.

The book is split into three parts - the first describes and illustrates diversity in nat
...more
Nathan Cottrell
Oct 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
This is not science. While it's good to see that someone is trying to dispel myths about human sexuality and encourage acceptance of all people, to make the claim that this is science is beyond understanding.

The author claims that she has "disproved" Darwinian Sexual Selection, but this is not the case at all.

Does anyone really believe that one "gender" of bullfrog is an immature non-mating male and another "gender" of bullfrog is the same male as an adult???? Ridiculous. This isn't shifting gen
...more
Adam
Progressive discourse about gender online has become so bold and ubiquitous that it's easy to assume we've come to some kind of consensus about what it is and where it comes from. But if take all of the standard talking points and try to put them together into something coherent, it quickly becomes apparent that they're either misunderstood (gender is a social construct) or simply a repudiation of old concepts (sex is a spectrum, trans, nb, and intersex people are valid, gender can't be assigned ...more
Becca
May 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
I had some extreme ambivalence about this book. Ultimately, it is an extremely ambitious book with a broad scope, aiming to be one of the major pieces of gender and sex literature for several groups, including biologists, educators, trans, intersex/people with differences in sexual development and genderqueer individuals, queer groups debating whether to include trans issues, politicians and doctors. So the fact that it was a little weak on some of these fronts was to be expected and cannot be s ...more
Cheryl
Feb 16, 2022 marked it as library-priority
Shelves: okc
I know that evolutionary biology and gender studies are both rapidly developing fields, and so I wasn't sure that I wanted to read this book that's almost two decades old. But omg the Introduction alone is worth reading, just to get an idea of all the provocative ideas she's going to develop in the book proper. Clearly we're still not studying ourselves and other animals accurately, free of the bias of traditional binary roles of 'passionate male and coy female.' And clearly there's a lot of wor ...more
Danika
Aug 13, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is more engaging for what it could be than what it is. It skims wonderful ideas, but tries to take on too much, encompassing gender and sexuality in culture, zoology, and human biology. This is an impossible task for one book, considering that more than a dozen books have been written about Two Spirited people, for example, which is just one cultural take on gender. I found the author slightly unreliable, especially when it came to the cultural aspects of gender.

That being said, I th
...more
Roxanne
Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very ambitious, yet readable, work. Roughgarden takes on the binary in sex, gender and sexuality. She takes to task Darwin's sexual selection theory, evolutionary biologists, social scientists, psychologists and physicians.

She spends a lot of time at the beginning laying out dozens of examples of non-binary social and sexual arrangements in nature. This could get tedious, but I suggest sticking it out as best you can; she makes a convincing argument for reworking the sexual selection t
...more
Sarah
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Unapologetic and courageous.
Caitlin H
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, science
I really was hoping to Like this book, with a capital L. And while there's a lot of legitimately interesting things to learn in here, there were things that, ultimately, made me side-eye the author, as well as feel flat-out angry.

I found the first part, detailing gender & sexual variance in animals, the most interesting. I'm not a biologist, but there i did feel Roughgarden made valuable points for throwing out theories based on animals supposedly deceiving each other. It makes sense to me that
...more
Paige McLoughlin
popular and scientific books on biology are mostly products of majoritarian and dominant groups. Science is awesome and the best method for understanding the world. However dominant groups often bleed what passes for common sense into narrative accounts of biology. Of course, metaphorical descriptions, especially in popularization, reach for stereotypes of the dominant culture to make a point about animal behavior and it has been going on since Darwin. This bias that leaks into biology can colo ...more
Natik
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very rigorous scientific book that's definitely a step above in complexity compared to most "pop sci" books. Nonetheless, she does give enough background that a non-biologist could make sense of things (probably with some extra Internet searches).

The main argument here really rams home that animals (and people) WITHIN one species can be drastically different. We then no longer think of "the rule" and some weirdo mutant "exceptions" but start really appreciating the full range of variat
...more
Sidewalk_Sotol
Oct 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Stanford researcher and biology theorist Joan Roughgarden boldly challenges the core tenets of evolutionary biology, dispelling generalizations about intraspecies interactions for sexual reproduction. She persuasively heaps evidence against assumption after misguided assumption, building her case ultimately to question the key tenet of evolutionary biology: competition drives change over long periods of time. Rather, Roughgarden argues that cooperation - whether between organelles of a cell, bet ...more
Danny
Dec 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Roughgarden is incredibly biased, and she admits as much from the get-go. Nonetheless, there were many moments during this book that her clear sense of bias made me question the validity of the claims she was making. Some chapters in particular seemed to be included so that she could share her opinions on a given topic that didn't necessarily feel as if it contributed to her overall arguments.

This book is dense and she covers a lot of ground. It's a good read, but be sure to get a degree in biol
...more
Joshua Black
May 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book is 1 part cool biological things and 2 parts biological justification for queerness. Queerness needs no justification, so it seems ⅔ of the book is useless to me.

The author took a fascinating subject and turned it into her soapbox to justify her "transgender-ness." Every other sentence justifies why it's ok to be non-human-normatively gendered. I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR GENDER or the fucking social acceptability of it!!!!!

I just wanted to read about cool nature shit.

This book is probab
...more
Empanadani
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Didn't actually have time to finish reading it. The science still isn't there, but she raises incredibly good questions and had a very good analysis. My professor might not like her, but I think she raises important questions that need to be investigated.the second portion delves more into sociology and such which was interesting, but not my focus was on the evolutionary biology portion. The cell developmental bio was odd. I like how she was very open about her motivations and unafraid of being ...more
Natasha
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
The author did a lot of research, which allows the reader to learn a lot about diversity of gender expression and sexuality in animals and humans. I especially enjoyed learning more about the animal world. I didn't enjoy how opinionated and biased the delivery is throughout the book. I would have appreciated it if the author indicated what her opinion is, but left room for the reader to maker their own conclusions. I think this book might have had a stronger impact among a broader audience if it ...more
Amirography
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It was not a book that I agreed with all the way, but the parts I agreed with, was from my opinion more than awesome. And It is a book in need of attention more than it has right now. I strongly suggest this book to any and all scholars out there.
I shall reread this book in the future.
Jessica
Ariel, I will try to read this book even though the title makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.
Mortalform
If you have not read this book you are missing out on a vital debate



I have found very few non-fiction books that are so readily gripping. Not only is Roughgarden addressing a fundamental issue that affects us and all creatures, but she is presenting an extremely important argument against one of the founding principals of our societies. A pleasure to read, a pleasure to pause and muse on what was just read and a pleasure to resume.

This book is organized in an incredibly efficient way, the way
...more
Ike
Nov 22, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-queer, 2022
As a transgender science lover, I wanted to love this book so bad.

Something that is not to be neglected about this book is her observation that thus far, in the biological-academia sphere, animals who show cross gender behavior are labeled as species who undergo processes of mimises. Meaning that they are mimicing the opposite sex instead of doing their own animal-style version of transitioning. Though I belive that these are the same people who talk day-in-day-out about the ultimate and proxim
...more
Susan
Good book for everyone who's ever heard the "but that's just not NATURAL" argument and excellent reference for sci-fi writers who want to do something more creative than the same heteronormative humanoid tropes for their sentient alien species. Unfortunately for me though, I'm not the type who enjoys reading reference books from cover to cover. Which isn't to say the writing style is like a dictionary or even a text book -- it's fairly accessible writing (I'm actually a little uncomfortable with ...more
Coral
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-5-stars
4.5 stars- This book is wonderfully accessible, and highly informative. As a high school student who has not taken any gender studies, evolutionary biology, sociology, or psychology courses, I was able to easily follow the flow of logic and extensive examples.

Although I learned quite a bit about specific examples of diversity in human society and the natural world, I can't really say that this book was all that remarkable. The writing style was nice; it got the job done without much fluff. Howe
...more
QuincyK
May 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, dnf, queer
Didn't quite finish, but what I did read was fascinating. I thought it was very interesting to know that because pigs have so many sexes, some islands with wild pig species on them have more words for gender (one island had 7 genders) because they observe so many sexes of these pigs in nature. Or that female bears can give birth through a part of the anatomy that seems really painful O_O but that is why some native american tribes often use bears as symbols of two spirit? Many facts like these

Ho
...more
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American ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii and Stanford University. She is well known for her theoretical and field work in community ecology and her critical studies on Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection.

She is the author of 8 non-fiction books, over 180 scientific articles & the upcoming SciFi novel Ram-2050 a futuristic retelling of the Hindu epic Ramayan
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“One of the most accomplished experimental population geneticists today, Jerry Coyne, writes:
"Evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory with idle speculation. Evolutionary psychology is utterly lacking in sound scientific grounding. Its stories do not qualify as science and they do not deserve the ascent or even the respect of the public."
What provoked suck an unusual declaration? The recent publication of yet another theory of the "naturalness" of rape supposedly based on evolutionary biology. The idea is that men unable to find mates in the "usual way" can reproduce through rape; genes for rape then increase leading to the brain's acquisition of a "rape chip". All men are therefore potential rapists although they do not necessarily act on this potential depending on external circumstances. Coyne points out that this "I can't fight evolution" theory is falsified by the facts that 1/3rd of all rapes are of women too young or too old to reproduce, 20% do not involve vaginal penetration, 50% do not include ejaculation in the vagina, 22% involve violence in excess of that needed to force copulation, 10% of peace-time rapes are in gangs thus diluting each man's chance of reproducing, war-time rapes usually culminate in the murder and sexual mutilation of the victim, some rapists are wealthy giving them access to women without coercion, and many rapes are homosexual. So many rapes are non-reproductive that rape can't plausibly be viewed as a means of sperm transfer for disadvantaged men to achieve reproduction. Like all other mating acts, rape is about relationships; in this case domination. The assertion that all men are potential rapists is offensive enough to make men angry about the misuse of sexual selection theory as women and others outside of the sexual selection templates have been for years.

Coyne has been prompted to say publicly what many have already observed: that evolutionary psychology is not science but advocacy; that evolutionary psychologists are guilty of indifference to scientific standards. They buttress strong claims with weak reasoning, weak data, and finagled statistics, and choose ideology over knowledge. Coyne points out "Freud's views lost credibility when people realized that they were not based on science, but were actually an ideological ediface; a myth about human life that was utterly resistant to scientific refutation. Evolutionary psychologists are now building a similar ediface. They too deal in dogmas rather than propositions of science."

Worse even than being theorized as a latent rapist, the misuse of science offends Coyne. To a scientist, the scientific errors are far more inflammatory than its ideological implications.”
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“Evolution's Rainbow
Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
Joan Roughgarden
UNIVERSITY”
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