Now in his 70s, Frans de Waal, the preeminent Dutch American primatologist, has a career’s worth of perspective on the major through lines of simian research, and an abiding interest in how his field’s findings have been drawn on to support narratives of intrinsic human tendencies.
De Waal’s own work with chimpanzees in the 1980s loaned the term alpha male to the zeitgeist.
He has decried its contemporary connotations of chest-beating chauvinism as a departure from the actual strategies of chimp leadership, which can include more generous and prosocial deeds than acts of bullying.
Issues of sex and gender have been on de Waal’s mind for decades.
In Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist, de Waal is concerned with the ways in which we look to primates for precedents of communal life and social cohesion, dynamics that are intimately tied up with movements for equality in our human world.
Until surprisingly recently, the notion that the prehistory of patriarchy stretches back to a time before humans were human—that a zoology of patriarchy exists—was leveraged to perpetuate discriminatory aspects of culture, situating them as daunting or obdurate scripts of nature.
To understand how primatology was partway captured by sexist ideologues, and how it is being freed from those strictures, Different suggests, we must look not just to scientists’ shifting mindsets, but also to social and political concerns that inevitably shape research and its reception.
When Ham arrived back at Cape Canaveral the next day, he was delivered to a scrum of reporters and photographers.
He screamed with such ungoverned agitation that he soon had to be removed.
However distressing Ham’s outbursts appeared, onlookers may not have been surprised to see him acting beastly.
The earliest accounts of chimpanzee temperament portrayed the animals as placid, forest-dwelling frugivores, but their profile started to shift during the Cold War, based on observations of males in the wild vying ferociously with one another over territory and status.
Scattered reports of infanticide among primates were later borne out by fieldwork.