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“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
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boys, his marriage to a French woman with a different orientation toward gender, and decades of academic turf wars over outdated scientific theories that have proven hard to dislodge from public discourse.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.
The differences between men and women are studied via humans' primate relatives in this fascinating survey. Primatologist de Waal (Mama's Last Hug) writes that "we have a bit of each ape inside us, while in addition we've had several million years to evolve our own unique traits," and mines his extensive experience observing chimpanzees and bonobos. Some insights confirm stereotypes (male apes like playing with toy trucks, females are "besotted with infants") while others undermine them (females can be as sexually avid as males). The bonobos, de Waal writes, are "peaceful, sex-loving and female-dominated," and, he notes, some primates exhibit homosexual and gender-bending proclivities. De Waal connects these findings to human anthropology and psychology, staking a middle ground in gender controversies: he's "not sure... raising children genderless does them much of a favor," and asserts that "being transgender is intrinsic and constitutional... I mean the opposite of socially constructed." De Waal shines in his empathetic, Tolstoyan portrait of animal life: "I found Luit sitting in a puddle of blood, leaning his head dejectedly against the bars of his night cage," he writes of a mortally wounded chimp. "He heaved the deepest sigh when I stroked his head." This surprising look at the nature of primates has a lot to say about what it means to be human. Photos.