Features of Different Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist PDF
“Every new book by Frans de Waal is a cause for excitement, and this one is no different. A breath of fresh air in the cramped debate about the differences between men and women. Fascinating, nuanced, and very timely.” ―Rutger Bregman, author of Humankind: A Hopeful History Different Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist PDF
In Different, world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal draws on decades of observation and studies of both human and animal behavior to argue that despite the linkage between gender and biological sex, biology does not automatically support the traditional gender roles in human societies. While humans and other primates do share some behavioral differences, biology offers no justification for existing gender inequalities.
Using chimpanzees and bonobos to illustrate this point―two ape relatives that are genetically equally close to humans―de Waal challenges widely held beliefs about masculinity and femininity, and common assumptions about authority, leadership, cooperation, competition, filial bonds, and sexual behavior. Chimpanzees are male-dominated and violent, while bonobos are female-dominated and peaceful. In both species, political power needs to be distinguished from physical dominance. Power is not limited to the males, and both sexes show true leadership capacities.
Different is a fresh and thought-provoking approach to the long-running debate about the balance between nature and nurture, and where sex and gender roles fit in. De Waal peppers his discussion with details from his own life―a Dutch childhood in a family of six boys, his marriage to a French woman with a different orientation toward gender, and decades of academic turf wars over outdated scientific theories that have proven hard to dislodge from public discourse. He discusses sexual orientation, gender identity, and the limitations of the gender binary, exceptions to which are also found in other primates.
With humor, clarity, and compassion, Different seeks to broaden the conversation about human gender dynamics by promoting an inclusive model that embraces differences, rather than negating them.
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Description of Different Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist PDF
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Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug, is C. H. Candler Professor Emeritus of Primate Behavior at Emory University and the former director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dimensions and Characteristics of Different Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist PDF
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company (April 5, 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 408 pages
- International Standard Book Number-10 : 1324007109
- International Standard Book Number-13 : 978-1324007104
- Item Weight : 1.65 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
April 5, 2022
And despite the premise, this book isn’t even as controversial. De Waal approaches the subject as a scientist – a biologist and a primatologist, not as an ideologist, and thanks to his experience with other ape species he has the necessary degree of detachment.
The book is very well written and engaging. De Waal blends the theoretical arguments with recollections of his colorful career and dives into the history of science and changing attitudes about sex and gender. Recommended to everyone interested in nature and psychology.
Thanks to the publisher, W. W. Norton and Company, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.
April 6, 2022
Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
April 9, 2022
Let’s start with sex. Sex is more straightforward and is driven by biology. With few exceptions, all of us are born as one sex or the other, with noncontroversial and well-established anatomical, physiological, and hormonal differences between the sexes.
Gender, on the other hand, is more complex, and is both psychological and social. Gender can refer both to the subjective experience of identifying with one sex or the other (which may or may not match one’s biological sex), or to the social roles and behaviors each sex is expected to adopt in society.
The interesting question is to what degree gender roles and experiences are shaped by biology versus culture (genetics versus environment). This is where the controversy resides, and teasing out the relative influence of one or the other is more complex than most people suppose.
What we probably know for sure is that those who adopt extreme positions in either direction are almost assuredly wrong. Our behaviors are clearly not entirely driven by biology, despite what some right-wing authors want us to think, who largely use biology to legitimize favorable (in their minds) social dynamics. Likewise, our behaviors are not entirely socially constructed, either, as there appears to be clear differences in the innate preferences of each sex.
What are these innate differences, and how do we know they are driven by biology and not by culture?
Essentially, there are three ways to determine what behaviors might be innate and driven by biology (and therefore unwise to ignore). The first is by comparing a variety of different human cultures to look for behavioral universals (cultural anthropology) ; the second is to study the behavior of infants and children not yet acculturated (developmental psychology); and the third is to compare human behavior with our closest evolutionary cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos (primatology). By exploring these three methods of assessing behavior, we can see which elements seem to be more resistant to cultural modification.Different Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist PDF
Frans de Waal, a primatologist by training and profession, obviously favors the latter approach, but in this book he utilizes all three methods to some degree (interweaving fascinating stories in his typical captivating writing style). In doing so, he demonstrates, quite convincingly, that there are, in fact, some clear differences between the genders that are driven by biology. But here’s what I appreciate about the book and about de Waal’s approach in general.
First, de Waal does not use biology to justify our current political and moral failings or to engage in self-congratulatory misogyny. He informs us that we can, and often should, override our biological tendencies or preferences when those tendencies create unfair disadvantages for certain segments of society. We are not prisoners to our biology, and therefore, in most cases, we cannot and should not use biology to justify our philosophical differences, especially when it comes to the subjugation of one sex over the other.
Second, he notes that the latest understanding of primate behavior shows a more prominent role for females, particularly in bonobos, and that our conception of human culture as male-dominated is largely a social construction. While it’s true that chimpanzees have a male-domniated hierarchy, there’s no special reason to use this group as a template for human behavior when we’re just as closely related to bonobos, who are female-dominant, peaceful, and sexually liberal.
Third, de Waal describes himself as a feminist, but one of a particular nature. He reminds us that it is not necessary to practice misandry to not be a misogynist. I’m in agreement with him; women can do most any job a man can (and some jobs better), and should be given equal opportunity and pay, but that does not mean that men are inherently evil, inferior, or deserve to be lower on the hierarchy, like some radical feminists might suppose. Like de Waal, I’m not worried about white men losing their position or status in society, but I also have no patience for the position that one sex is inherently superior than the other, whether male or female. We’re far better off adopting a position of mutual respect and tolerance and appreciating the differences between the genders that make life interesting.
One point of criticism that may be directed at the book overall is the overemphasis on primate behavior, on the grounds that the behavior of chimps and bonobos have no bearing whatsoever on a human species that can use language and higher-level thinking to set its own behavioral agenda. In my opinion, this is a rather conceited position to take. Biologically, we are unequivocally apes, and even though we’d like to think otherwise—that we’ve entirely transcended our lowly bodies and ascended to a higher plane of existence—our behavior, which is at times embarrassingly similar to our chimp cousins, suggests otherwise.
As de Waal explains throughout the book, while we can modify some of our behaviors via culture, other behaviors are more stubbornly fixed. Gender identity and sexual orientation are cases in point. Individuals that identify with a certain gender (whether it matches their biological sex or not) cannot be “socialized” into the opposite gender or sexual orientation. This is why the medical community has labeled any of these interventions as pseudoscience. Homosexual and transgender rights in large part hinge on our acceptance that it is not a choice, but rather a biologically fixed preference. It’s ironic, then, that some liberally-minded individuals want to deny our biology altogether and claim that everything is a social construction.
Overall, this book provides a refreshing perspective that walks the middle ground in the nature/nurture debate. There are aspects of our biology that make the sexes different, and this should be celebrated, not suppressed. On the other hand, our higher-level cognition provides us with greater behavioral flexibility to create cultures that promote the common good—for both genders. And while we don’t have unlimited flexibility—we are constrained by some behavioral universals—we do have a greater landscape of possibilities than was previously supposed, as our bonobo cousins should remind us.
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