Sara Pascoe is well known for being a comedian, having been on shows such as Have I Got News For You, but her debut book Animal, is proving a successful foray into writing.
Unlike other book festival events Pascoe isn't interviewed by a chair but takes on the event alone something she probably very used to with stand-up, introducing herself with 'Hi I'm Sara and I'm a comedian' - as if we didn't know. However, audience members who came just for comedy would have been sorely disappointed. Instead, Sarah took us through a fascinating explanation of her book, which although funny, was surprisingly more educational than I had expected.
Subtitled 'The Autobiography of a Female Body', Animal is essentially and exploration of the science, anthropology and evolution behind female biology and sexuality, with some male behaviours thrown in for good measure. Pascoe unashamedly explores the reasons behind human relationships and why we are a monogamous species, or in her words 'almost monogamous', right through to the reasons why women developed breasts and fat. We go from looking at different species of monkeys and studies comparing primate behaviours, to the internal mechanics of reproduction. She knows her audience however and even those who are not scientifically minded don't have trouble keeping up. Her explanations are relatable and easy to understand, with the reasons behind her research rooted in her own relationships, experiences, and insecurities which she freely admits. She distills down some pretty heavy scientific theory - but far from dumbing this down, she explores different ideas and arguments, allowing us to make our own connections and observations too.
Her analysis of the female body is wide ranging, spanning into other issues such as the beauty industry, animal testing, and eating disorders, all of which she has incredibly strong views on. It's not only that she knows her stuff and has evidently done a lot of research, but she is so passionate and this enthusiasm was infectious. When someone asked 'what can you tell us about periods?' not only did her face light up, but I was on the edge of my seat waiting; eager for her insights.
But why is all of this so interesting and important? Why did Pascoe feel the need to do this? I felt simultaneously overjoyed and profoundly sad when she explained that she thinks by understanding the science and the complex reasons behind this more, women and girls might start to appreciate their bodies more, or just hate them a little less.
Obviously it is incredibly sad that so many women and girls feel this way, (and men too, she acknowledges, but that isn't the focus of her book) but I love that someone as popular as Pascoe, in the mainstream media, is doing the work to combat this and having the frank conversations that we need to get out in the open. I want her to do that talk in every school, because not only is it the kind of thing teenage girls need to hear to stop feeling so inadequate and self-conscious, but a figure like Pascoe could also genuinely encourage girls to have an interest in STEM subjects. To be honest I was so impressed by her that I would probably vote for her (#PascoeforPM anyone?).
I do realise that these explanations didn't come without concerns or potential problems, but I want to reserve judgment on that until I finish the book. Pascoe herself acknowledged that the research is all very heteronormative, because that is how evolution works, but did say some of the same theories can be applied to any sexuality. However, for me she is encouraging important and open conversations about some of the issue that plague modern society and that is a very positive thing, not to mention how wonderful it was to see her talk about this live. Now I'm off the read the book and you should too.