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Frans de Waal on Gender

In Partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, April 13, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0166
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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How different are men and women? Are differences due to nature or nurture? And how do other primates acquire their gender identities and behaviors?

World-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal draws on decades of observation and studies of both human and animal behavior to argue that despite the link between gender and biological sex, biology does not automatically support humans’ traditional gender roles. Nor does it justify our history of gender inequalities.

De Waal describes studies done with chimpanzees and bonobos—both of whom are genetically close to humans—that challenge widely held beliefs about masculinity and femininity and common assumptions about authority, leadership, cooperation, competition, filial bonds, and sexual behavior. Among both the chimpanzee and bonobo species—the former, male-dominated and violent; the latter, female-dominated and peaceful—political power is distinguished from physical dominance. And the capacity for leadership is not limited to either species’ male members.

Following the lecture, De Waal is joined in conversation with Briana Pobiner, paleoanthropologist and educator at the National Museum of Natural History, to offer a fresh and thought-provoking take on the long-running debate about the role of nature and nurture in sex and gender roles. Touching on his own life experiences—a Dutch childhood in a family of six boys; his marriage to a French woman with a different orientation towards gender—he upends outdated scientific theories. He also reinforces the fact that we, as primates, are not exempt from this discussion.  

De Waal’s book Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist (W. W. Norton & Company) is available for purchase.

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