Different: Gender through the Eyes of a Primatologist

Written by Frans de Waal

From W. W. Norton & Company:

“Every new book by Frans de Waal is a cause for excitement, and this one is no different. A breath of fresh air in the cramped debate about the differences between men and women. Fascinating, nuanced, and very timely.” ―Rutger Bregman, author of Humankind: A Hopeful History

In Different, world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal draws on decades of observation and studies of both human and animal behavior to argue that despite the linkage between gender and biological sex, biology does not automatically support the traditional gender roles in human societies. While humans and other primates do share some behavioral differences, biology offers no justification for existing gender inequalities.

Using chimpanzees and bonobos to illustrate this point―two ape relatives that are genetically equally close to humans―de Waal challenges widely held beliefs about masculinity and femininity, and common assumptions about authority, leadership, cooperation, competition, filial bonds, and sexual behavior. Chimpanzees are male-dominated and violent, while bonobos are female-dominated and peaceful. In both species, political power needs to be distinguished from physical dominance. Power is not limited to the males, and both sexes show true leadership capacities.

Different is a fresh and thought-provoking approach to the long-running debate about the balance between nature and nurture, and where sex and gender roles fit in. De Waal peppers his discussion with details from his own life―a Dutch childhood in a family of six boys, his marriage to a French woman with a different orientation toward gender, and decades of academic turf wars over outdated scientific theories that have proven hard to dislodge from public discourse. He discusses sexual orientation, gender identity, and the limitations of the gender binary, exceptions to which are also found in other primates.

With humor, clarity, and compassion, Different seeks to broaden the conversation about human gender dynamics by promoting an inclusive model that embraces differences, rather than negating them.

“Adds an important evolutionary dimension to one of the most complex issues of our time…. The beauty of a book by Frans de Waal is that once you read it, you’ll never look at your own species the same way again.”
― Tamra Mendelson, Washington Post

“Entrancing…. de Waal brings to life the complexity of sex and social behaviour in other apes…. Whether or not you agree with him, Different is worth reading for its anecdotes alone.”
― Laura Spinney, The Guardian

“A brilliant and fascinating book that brings a scientific, compassionate and balanced approach to some of the hottest controversies about sex and gender.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, New York Times best-selling author of Sapiens

“Dive into Frans de Waal’s magnum opus…. brilliant.”
― Carol Tavris, Times Literary Supplement

“This book is superb! Frans de Waal is not only one of the world’s most respected primatologists―he’s also a ballsy feminist who, in these riveting pages, ventures into territory where most writers in academia and letters fear to tread.… These pages are packed with great stories, fascinating data, and thought-provoking ideas. They are sure to spark the important conversations we all―male and female, queer and straight, trans and nonbinary―need to have to create a more just and equitable human society.”
― Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus

“Different has many surprises in store for you, surprises that will leave you humble about complex primate evolution has been, surprises that will leave you humble about complex primate evolution has been, and how much we have yet to learn about how it shapes our lives.”
― Carl Zimmer, New York Times Book Review

“A smart interactionist framework, in which biological and socioenvironmental influences on human behavior are entwined.”
― Science, Barbara J. King