Can Women Domesticate Men? The Science of the #MeToo Movement, Anthropology, and Female Bonobos
By Heath Shive
The effect of the #MeToo Movement was immediate and powerful.
Millions of women began to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault on Twitter. From shared experience came shared encouragement, which progressed to shared empowerment.
A lot of power.
In time, evidence accumulated and the voices of women could destroy the success of very powerful men, from business leaders (Harvey Weinstein), to celebrities (Louis C. K. and Aziz Ansari), to legends (Bill Cosby), and members of Congress (Al Franken).
Accusations alone were enough to ruin some careers. Young men were banished from college campuses on hearsay alone. In time, even some women – from female Harvard academics to a conservative Secretary of Education – began to warn of the dangers of abandoning due process.
This is #MeToo in the short term.
But what could the long term effects be?
Could female empowerment change the evolution of human beings?
To the science of anthropology!
Girl Power? Thy Name Is Bonobo
Chimpanzee and bonobo primates are genetically very similar. They are so similar that bonobos weren’t considered a separate species until well into the 20th century. Before that recognition, bonobo skulls were considered to be unusually large skulls of chimpanzee juveniles.
But there are differences between the 2 species. Sexual dimorphism (the physical differences between males and females) is less pronounced in bonobos, with males barely bigger than females. Bonobo skulls are rounder. But the most pronounced difference is social. Bonobo primates are not nearly as ultraviolent as chimpanzees.
And females are in charge!
As you might have read in a previous blog article, infanticide and homicide rates among non-human primates seem almost sociopathic! Males dominate males, females dominate females. Toddlers are killed as potential threats to resources.
But not the bonobos.
So why the profound difference? Well, for starters, bonobo females dominate (or discipline, if you wish) the group. If a male becomes too pushy or aggressive, the female bonobo screams. All females in the area converge.
Female bonobos look out for each other.
The result is that aggressive males cannot breed. Aggression – at least on the male chromosome – is weeded out of the gene pool.
Bonobo “sisterhood” domesticated the species.
Dogs descended from wolves, but their differences are obvious. Dogs are more likely to have floppy ears, larger heads proportional to the body, less dramatic sexual dimorphism, and broader muzzles.
In other words, dogs look more like wolf cubs than wolves! That’s what domestication does to an animal species. Sexual dimorphism is decreased. Heads and eyes are bigger in proportion to body. There are fewer violent tendencies and a greater tendency to play.
Physically juvenile qualities were not bred into the dogs, rather these qualities “piggy-backed” on the genes that favored less reactive violence.
Richard Wrangham has a book out that is very much in vogue right now entitled The Goodness Paradox.
Wrangham – an anthropologist – noticed that human reactive violence (killing your neighbors) is very low, whereas our proactive violence (like war) is very high – the exact opposite of other species!
Wrangham also noticed that – when compared to our mid-Pleistocene (“cave man”) ancestors – sexual dimorphism is less pronounced in humans today.
In other words, Wrangham saw evidence of “domestication” in human beings.
But how? Where were the “shepherds” of humanity?
Wrangham in his book makes the point that as language evolved, so did communication.
As humans could gossip, complain, and share experiences – especially about how they hated their oppressor – they could also strategize, plan, and judge. Wrangham says that language gave birth to cooperation – principally among the other males – and the ultra-violent that “crossed the line” were executed.
Hence the beginning of social law – and the culling of the ultra-violent DNA out of the human gene pool.
Can Women Do the Same?
If women can censure aggressive men (“toxic masculinity”), than women can control which men mate, and therefore which genes continue to the next generation.
Unlike many of my friends, I think that equality of the sexes has long since arrived in the United States - certainly the tools for equality are already here. What has been lacking is self-actualization. MeToo served as a kind of oriflamme to this cause.
Hopefully it evolves from here – both in power and responsibility.
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Wrangham, Richard. The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution. Pantheon Books, 2019.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.