The Science of Sexism: Primate Behavior and the Culture of Sexual Coercion

Eric Michael Johnson in Scientific American:

Rosie-197x300 According to statistics compiled by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there were 12,772 workplace sexual harassment cases in 2010 (including all forms of sexual coercion in the work place, and representing a fraction of the number that actually occurred) and 84% of these cases were brought by women. Employers have gotten increasingly serious about cracking down on such abuses but during the last decade they were still held liable to the tune of $540 million. What is going on here? Could this kind of gender inequality be an intrinsic feature of human nature that we’re stuck with or is it simply a failure to create an environment that prevents such behaviors from reoccurring?

Primatologists and evolutionary biologists have taken this question seriously and have developed some surprising conclusions that could inform our approach to this issue. Unlike Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer’s book A Natural History of Rape, a thesis that was criticized by scholars both in biology and gender studies, other evolutionary researchers have developed a much more balanced analysis. One example is from the recent edited volume Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans by Martin Muller and Richard Wrangham.

More here.