ANIMAL: the autobiography of a female body

It’s hard to overstate how much of an impact this book has had on me. I’ve been talking about it for days, as anyone around me can attest.

‘Animal: The Autobiography Of a Female Body’ is one of my first books for the Rebel Girl Reads challenge, and comes under the ‘Ladies of today’ minichallenge.

I picked it up on a whim at Volume bookstore, because it looked like it had lots of stuff about love and sex in it and I like those things. Also, science.

Sara is a comedian and her unique brand of wit cuts through so many biological and gender essentialist arguments. This is not an overtly feminist book, in that there’s no demands that you call yourself one. It’s just present in the way every story is told, every fact provided, every statistic.

I think it should be required reading for all teenagers of all genders. I wish I’d read it when I was 16. I learned so much about my own body – how have I been living in it for 31 years without knowing these things? There’s a lot about the neurochemistry and biology of love and sex, and a frank and unflinching look at why we behave the way we do. Sara lightens the mood with jokes and tales of her own life, which, apart from the being funny for a living part could be my own.

‘Normal’ is a concept formed by averages but it changes with education and tolerance.

Sara takes us through what goes on in our brains when we fall in love – I think most of us know the whole “love is just a chemical reaction” argument – and it is. But that’s reductionist and ignores how powerful that chemical reaction is. See someone you fancy? Get a hit of dopamine. Oh, that felt good, didn’t it? You want more? Good – chase ’em. Cool, now you’re having (consensual) sex and getting a good old dose of oxytocin. Now you want to be around them even more. All of this stuff is designed to provide the best conditions for baby making and raising. It’s a very very strong biological imperative and it explains why I can go from being a normal lucid feminist to a bumbling idiot around someone I like. I now feel like less of a moron for some of my past less-than-sane actions when it comes to love.

I’ve also kind of fallen in love with my own body. Like many women, I struggle to do the body acceptance and self-love we’re “supposed” to advocate for as feminists. But having learned about why my body is the way it is, what it can do, and how I’ve been socialised to hate it and that’s not my fault – well, I feel a lot better about it.

There’s so much in this book. I’m shocked at the things I didn’t know about my own brain, body, reproductive system, even behaviours I thought were either abnormal or universal. The old thing about knowledge being power is true. How can I love my body if I don’t know it? And knowing it doesn’t just mean looking in the mirror (which, btw, women who look in the mirror are more likely to hate themselves than ones who don’t. Go figure). Knowing it knows mean knowing the biological processes and pressures that are occurring within it, and the society within which it is trying to exist.

The book finishes on a chapter about consent which is utterly excellent and articulates many of the thoughts and feelings I have about the topic but have never been able to eloquently express. It left me feeling angry. Sometimes I am a gentle feminist, sometimes I am a buoyant, hopeful feminist, and sometimes I am an angry feminist. I experienced all of these with this book, but I have kind of been left with the anger, probably mostly because of that last chapter. So many figures that just make your heart break. And with my reading at the moment, I feel like I’m starting to get more and more of an idea of all the hundreds of ways women have been oppressed for centuries, and I am 100% done. We should all be 100% done. This stops now.

I know the next book on my list – Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds – is only going to add to this argument.

Want to be part of Rebel Girl Reads? More info here.