cover image Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist

Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist

Frans de Waal. Norton, $30 (408p) ISBN 978-1-324-00710-4

The differences between men and women are studied via humans’ primate relatives in this fascinating survey. Primatologist de Waal (Mama’s Last Hug) writes that “we have a bit of each ape inside us, while in addition we’ve had several million years to evolve our own unique traits,” and mines his extensive experience observing chimpanzees and bonobos. Some insights confirm stereotypes (male apes like playing with toy trucks, females are “besotted with infants”) while others undermine them (females can be as sexually avid as males). The bonobos, de Waal writes, are “peaceful, sex-loving and female-dominated,” and, he notes, some primates exhibit homosexual and gender-bending proclivities. De Waal connects these findings to human anthropology and psychology, staking a middle ground in gender controversies: he’s “not sure... raising children genderless does them much of a favor,” and asserts that “being transgender is intrinsic and constitutional... I mean the opposite of socially constructed.” De Waal shines in his empathetic, Tolstoyan portrait of animal life: “I found Luit sitting in a puddle of blood, leaning his head dejectedly against the bars of his night cage,” he writes of a mortally wounded chimp. “He heaved the deepest sigh when I stroked his head.” This surprising look at the nature of primates has a lot to say about what it means to be human. Photos. (Apr.)