Different: What Apes Can Teach Us About Gender

Leon Vlieger in The Inquisitive Biologist:

Wading into current gender debates is not for the faint of heart, but that has not discouraged Dutch-born primatologist Frans de Waal from treading where others might not wish to go. In Different, he draws on his decades-long experience observing our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, to see what we can learn from them about us. As much as many people would like it to be otherwise, our ape heritage influences us strongly, also where sex and gender are concerned. Unbeholden to ideology, this nuanced book is a breath of fresh air that is sure to simultaneously delight and upset people on both sides of various gender-related discussions.

Before delving in, it is worth highlighting a few disclaimers. In his comparisons between primates and humans, De Waal omits human behaviour without proper animal parallels. These comparisons are always made in the understanding that today’s primates are not our ancestors, but models of our shared ancestor, and that “they offer a comparison, not a model for us to emulate” (p. 8). He also does not discuss the role of hormones or neurobiology for the simple reason these are outside his wheelhouse.

More here.