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Thu, 13 Oct



Lecture and Q&A with Prof. Frans de Waal

Different: What Apes Can Teach Us About Gender

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Lecture and Q&A with Prof. Frans de Waal
Lecture and Q&A with Prof. Frans de Waal

Time & Location

13 Oct 2022, 16:30 BST


About the event

Dr. 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 University and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Utrecht

University. He has been elected to the (US) National Academy of Sciences as well as the Royal

Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2007, Time declared him one of The Worlds’

100 Most Influential People Today.

In DIFFERENT, world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal draws on 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 eternal 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

not all alpha males are bullies. Both sexes demonstrate leadership capacities.

De Waal is one of the few scientists thoroughly familiar with both of our closest

ape relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos. These two apes differ in surprising ways.

Chimpanzees are male-dominated and violent, whereas bonobos are female-dominated

and peaceful. Moreover, the bonobos’ sex life includes all partner combinations.

DIFFERENT provides a thought-provoking review of the long-running debate

about the origins of sex and gender. De Waal peppers his discussion with details from

his own life – a Dutch childhood in a family of six boys and decades of academic turf

wars over outdated scientific theories. He also discusses sexual orientation, gender

identity, and the limitations of a strict binary. Nature produces more variability than most

human societies are prepared to recognize, and primate groups often include (and

tolerate) exceptional individuals.

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