Anne Dagg, pioneering giraffe biologist and feminist critic of "evolutionary psychology" receives the Order of Canada – Boing Boing

Posted: January 3, 2020 at 10:52 am

Anne Innis Dagg was the first female biologist to study giraffes; while all the men who preceded her had observed firsthand that male giraffes are super queer (their primary form of play is a game dubbed "penis fencing," which is exactly what it sounds like), only Dagg was willing to write it down and publish it.

Dagg's work on giraffes -- several of the seminal books on the animals -- was initially mocked or ignored, partly because of her pioneering approach of living among the animals (as opposed to observing them at a distance) offended the establishment; partly because of her gender.

Though Dagg earned a PhD and taught for decades, she was denied tenure. She continued to produce challenging, brave, brilliant work at the intersection of biology and gender politics, ranging over both scholarly and popular works. In particular, she specialized in pointing out the lack of rigor in her male colleagues' work when discussing sex and gender among animals, and how that spilled over into the way the field was organized, and gender bias within research institutions and in research publishing.

Her 2004 book, Love of Shopping is Not a Gene, is an absolute must-read book on the subject, addressing the total absence of rigor and falsifiability in hypotheses from male biologists to explain human gender and power roles with reference to animal behavior and/or the imaginary lives of early hominids -- howlers like "Rape is genetic" or "Black people are genetically destined to have lower IQ scores than white people."

These comforting fairy tales (I always think of them as being reducible to, "But honey, it's not my fault I'm fucking my undergrads, it's because of the chimps!") are especially in vogue today, as white nationalists, plutocrats (and their bootlickers), and other advocates for gross inequality and population-scale subjugation seek to justify their ideology by claiming that it is biologically determined, and any attempt to change it is literally unnatural. Exhibit A for this is Jordan Peterson, whose obsession with a single species of lobsters is the founding myth of a transphobic, misogynist cult.

Dagg anticipated this debate decades in advance and repeatedly demolished its arguments for anyone who would listen, wielding science to slice through the self-serving bullshit of mediocre thinkers who want so desperately for their privilege to be the result of a biological process and not their own sociopathy.

Despite organized campaigns to marginalize Dagg and her work, she never gave up and was hugely influential on all kinds of scholars and thinkers. She was my own undergrad advisor at the University of Waterloo's Independent Studies program, and was an excellent mentor to me there. More broadly, she inspired generations of largely female giraffe biologists (I just met a giraffe keeper at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom who was a fan!), serving as a mentor and inspiration.

Dagg just received the Order of Canada, the second-highest honor awarded to Canadians (after the Order of Merit). The honor comes on the heels of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, a documentary on Dagg's life and work.

This is wonderful news, seriously. Dagg is such a clear, uncompromising advocate for a rigorous approach to biology both as a means of understanding other animals and as a means for understand humans -- and is such a strong tonic against those who would abuse this tool for making sense of human behavior and social organization -- and she has accepted her marginalization as the price for her commitment to the truth.

Anne Dagg, Queen of Giraffes, appointed to Order of Canada among recipients with global influence [Stephanie Levitz/The National Post]

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Anne Dagg, pioneering giraffe biologist and feminist critic of "evolutionary psychology" receives the Order of Canada - Boing Boing

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