When Dr. Amy Parish, a biological anthropologist, primatologist and ‘Darwinian feminist’ at the University of Southern California, was first an undergrad at the University of Michigan in the 1980s, she noticed an intellectual antagonism between her science and gender studies.
“Science had been (and remains) a male-dominated discipline, and evolutionary psychologists favoring ‘essentialism’ used science to validate patriarchal norms,” notes Knight.
“Essentializing” is using examples from the natural world to suggest that human arrangements and conventions, such as patterns of male dominance, are “natural” because our last common ancestor, chimpanzees, had similar patterns of dominance five million years ago. In other words, essentializing helps us justify all types of dubious behavior.
“Being a Darwinian feminist means you’re both a scientist and a feminist,” Amy told Broadly. “There are questions we have in common, which we could inform from both perspectives.”
Here’s the interesting thing: For the past 20 years, Amy has been studying captive populations of bonobo apes, Homo sapiens’ closest living relatives along with chimps, says Knight, “but unlike their cousins, bonobos have never been known to kill their own kind and, moreover, they live in matriarchal societies.”
And “they make really strong friendships with other females. Part of that is sexual… Female bonobos also back each other up, forming cohorts. They use their collective power to control food and dominate males.”
And here’s the really interesting thing: Female bonobos rise up in the hierarchy being aggressive and dominant toward males and “by launching seemingly unprovoked attacks” upon and says Amy.
But the concept that females are in charge is so foreign to us that up until recently the data has been ignored or discounted. Interesting indeed.