Prof. Frans B. M. de Waal

Biologist and Primatologist
University of Utrecht
Utrecht, the Netherlands
Frans de Waal

Prof. Frans B. M. de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social intelligence of primates. His first book, Chimpanzee Politics (1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior. His popular books - translated into 20+ languages - have made him one of the world's most visible primatologists. His latest two books are Mama’s Last Hug (Norton, 2019) and Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist (Norton, 2022). De Waal is C. H. Candler Professor Emeritus at Emory

 

 

Female of the Species

Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist

How different are men and women? Do other primates show similar differences? Do apes learn sex roles too, or is “gender” uniquely human? Is male dominance inevitable?

World-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal reviews studies of both human and animal behavior to argue that a distinction between (cultural) gender and (biological) sex is useful to draw attention to the interplay between nature and nurture. But even though gender goes beyond sex, biology is always part of the equation. Some human gender differences are universal and resemble those found in the apes.

Gender inequality, however, is a product of human society. Arguments about the “natural order” between the sexes fail to distinguish between physical dominance and political power. Mighty alpha females are not hard to find in the other primates, and alpha males are not necessarily bullies. Both sexes demonstrate true leadership capacities.

 

 

 

Female solidarity is a major theme, since the best protection against physical violence is shared female defense. The high point in this regard is bonobo society, where females (which are smaller than males) have achieved collective dominance. But #MeToo attitudes to some degree mark many primate societies. De Waal is one of the few scientists thoroughly familiar with both of our closest ape relatives -- chimpanzees and bonobos -- which differ in surprising ways.

His latest book DIFFERENT (Dutch: Anders; German: Der Unterschied; French: Differents) delivers a thought-provoking review of the long-running debate about the origins of sex and gender. De Waal also discusses sexual orientation, gender identity, and the limitations of the gender binary. Nature produces more variability than most human societies are prepared to recognize, and primate groups regularly include (and tolerate) exceptional individuals.