Friday, June 10, 2011

On "Life."

It's narrated by one of my favorite biologists/scientists, David Attenborough. He's kind of like Carl Sagan for me, with a biological focus. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and it shows an incredible variety of species across all kingdoms. The only thing that bothers me (of course you know I was going to talk about this) is the normative, heterosexist and binarist explanations of gender, sex, and reproduction. There's been no mention (so far) of the gender, sex and sexual diversity in non-human life forms. It often recapitulates the coy female waiting for the aggressive male fighting to the death in order to mate (which the female doesn't mind, since ze wants the "strongest genes." There's a slight exception with the female damselfly, who actively searches out a mate in really dangerous (close to predators) territory. And when male and female mate, they form a heart:

[image: close up of two Azure damselflies (Coenagrion puella)==insects that look very similar to dragonflies. The male is holding on to a blade of grass and the end of its long tale is attached behind the neck of the female damselfly, whose tail is attached to the bottom of the males abdomen. Together, there bodies form something that looks like a drawn heart.]

This is why work by people like Joan Roughgarden is so important. She's a trans woman ecologist who challenges essentialist fundamentals of darwinian thought: natural selection, mate selection, ethology (study of animal behavior), etc.

Also, not all animals have sex only for reproductive purposes. Dolphins, Bonobos, some species of antelope (often female-female sexual pairings), and others have sex for what what could be considered pleasure by human standards. Also, several marine mammals engage in massive orgies.

Chinstrap penguins have been known to form long term, monogamous relationship which they raise young. One-fourth of black swan sygnets are reared by homosexual (male-male) couplings.

And some animals, like the blacktip shark, have been observed to reproduce asexually (more specifically, parthenogenesis - the absence of the male gamete)
Lyretail anthias (Anthias squamipinnis) undergo chromosomal sex changes when necessary.

In the protozoan Paramecium bursaria there are eight sexes.

Life is beautiful and complex. And for every rule or axiom, there is always an exception or important nuance.


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