Lucy Cooke, Bitch: On the Female of the Species (2022)

Author: Lucy Cooke

Title: Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Edition: e-book

Pages: 416

Series: –

Disclaimer: this review is a one-off till the end of December, I’m sad to say. It’s going to be shorter, too, which you may find a relief πŸ˜‰ Iwon’t be able to visit your blogs either, unfortunately, so please be patient. I’ll be back in full, just not yet!

Al right, on to the review. Let’s not beat about the bush: I initially chose this book on the strength of its title. And it’s a cool title, no question about it. That hyena doesn’t hurt, either ;). Lucy Cooke tackles a topic that has been avoided for years, decades and centuries. Most representatives of the biological sciences, on the account of being human and as such subjective and subject to the strictures of their cultures, tended to treat the females of other species as they treated their own: negligible and, in general, uninteresting. Weaker, drab, passive and condemned to live their lives as a background for the virile males, females were perceived as a secondary sex: important, sure, but never truly in power. Cooke, with the help of many contemporary scientists, proves these assumptions wrong.

Her writing style is anecdotal, humorous and easy to follow. Cooke describes her various journeys and encounters with diverse and fascinating species, and hands out snippets of hard knowledge with lightness and an endearing personal touch. Filled to the brim with strange, memorable facts and interesting descriptions, Bitch fits neatly into the mold of popular science books, but delivers more substance than most. It’s highly enjoyable but also surprisingly educational: I’ve learned a lot, and my brain is full of fun facts about orcas’ menopause or the authoritarian rule of praire dogs’ matriarchs. Yet, as with all books aimed at challenging the status quo, this book is also highly political in the original sense of the word: it relates to the public interests and an such its message can become charged. Cooke is quite aware of that fact and wields it as a weapon: what applies to females of the many species she describes, applies also to women. Thus, Bitch turns into a feminist manifesto: humorous, self-aware and personal, but with a bite. I for one fully endorse its message of diversity and complexity as natural states of the world, states that should not be divided into simple dichotomies.

The one thing that bugged me about this book, particularly at the beginning, was the iconoclastic effort aimed at Charles Darwin. For a book bearing message of inclusivity, the Darwin hate was rather jarring, and unearned. I get it, apparently biological science faculties resemble Pratchett’s Unseen University in more than one aspect, mainly in the staunch refusal to acknowledge reality, but also in idolizing the past and rejecting the passage of time, but that’s not Darwin’s fault. Had he known about the complexity of the relations between sexes in the animal world? Yep, and Cooke in the later chapters acknowledges as much. Had he not spread that message around in the Victorian times? Yep, and who can blame him? He had been burned enough by simply presenting his theory of evolution. Why would you go around throwing mud on Darwin simply because he didn’t present all of his findings, or failed to put more emphasis on equality of sexes? It’s rather the fault of his successors who conveniently picked and chose from Darwin’s legacy whatever they pleased and justified their unobjectivity by stealing Darwin’s authority. Cooke’s deeply seated and understandable resentment toward the institutionalized prejudice bleeds onto Darwin himself, unjustly. It’s anachronistic and, frankly, naive, to think of Darwin as this superhuman figure who could do anything in his time. He was ridiculed for publishing his less controversial findings, imagine what would happen in Victorian England if he published his writings about barnacle’s penises and apparent female dominance.

Apart from that little quibble, however, this book was a truly fun and informative ride.

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.

Score: 8/10

14 thoughts on “Lucy Cooke, Bitch: On the Female of the Species (2022)

  1. Too bad you’re not around that much, but I hope the programming courses are going well for you.
    I don’t like my pop science books politically charged, but with a subject like this, it’s unavoidable I guess. And that title is catchy. I wonder, does it say anything about female seahorses? You always only hear about male seahorses because they carry the young, but you never hear about what the female seahorses are doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeroen, the course is going super well, but that 60-70hrs a week was no exaggeration… I really do sit that much in front of a computer, learning js, react and redux, databases etc. Four more weeks to go! πŸ˜‰

      Yeah, that title is gold πŸ˜‰ The book inevitably mentions seahorses and says a bit about female seahorses, mostly in terms of sharing biological costs of procreation – all these discussions about the costs of sperm vs ova, feeding the young etc., but also in terms of plasticity of sex roles. It’s pretty cool, really, so I’d be super interested in reading your opinion on this book if you ever have a chance to read it! πŸ˜€

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      1. That’s super intense! You’ll be better prepared for your first programming job than I was. My Java course was maybe 30 hours a week for 5 weeks. But learning on the job is where it’s at. I worked with Angular for a few days, but if you have any Java questions you know where to find me.

        I’m not reading much nonfiction lately. I’m reading a book about mammalian evolution and have a psychology book lined up. Usually, angry feminist books don’t really make me feel welcome as a reader. I’m hesitant.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yep, I’ve been told repeatedly that this is just the beginning and that you learn most on the job. I will pester you with questions if I have any, thanks!!! 🀣

          I think this one isn’t angry as much as a bit misguided toward the root of the problem and blaming Darwin instead of the real culprits. For most part it’s very fun and affirmative and really full of – contagious, I might add – amazement at all those incredible animals and life in general. Cooke gets personal here and there, and this also doesn’t hurt: I feel like I can understand and relate to her more thanks to this. Plus, it’s a hoard of fun facts about berserk naked mole rats, Stalinist prairie dogs, dancing lemurs and what have you 😁

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bookstooge! I should be able to come back before year’s end, at least for some sort of joint summary with Piotrek.
      I’m kind of surprised myself πŸ˜‰ I think it’s because it’s really interesting, and I very much enjoy learning this stuff – otherwise I think I’d have said goodbye a long time ago πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow, I may need this. The cover and title definitely grab you, and as an animal lover, I’m sure there’s a lot to enjoy here (and the feminist themes don’t hurt eitherπŸ˜‰)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’d enjoy it, Tammy! It’s really smoothly written and once you get past throwing mud at poor Darwin it’s very educational and affirming! πŸ˜€

      Like

    1. Thanks, Dawie!
      Say hello to Salty from me πŸ™‚ I miss his salty posts!
      I’ll be back in a month, hopefully then I’ll be able to make up for that lost time and visit all the blogs πŸ˜€

      Like

    1. Thanks! πŸ˜„
      Yeah, the beggining is less than auspicious, with lots of ultra-progressive credentials thrown up in the reader’s face, but then when we really get down to facts and real life this veneer disappears, and what’s left is a sheer amazement and enthusiasm for the animal world and its mind-boggling diversity. I’d say give it a try, and don’t get discouraged by the first chapter or two – it gets significantly better! πŸ˜„

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    1. Thank you, Lashaan! πŸ˜„
      LOL, I’ll take it all as a compliment!
      I’ll be fully back in a month or so, or at least that’s what I’m hoping for :).
      Hope you’re doing well, too! How’s your PhD going??

      Like

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