Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist
A Kirkus Best Science and Medicine Book of 2022
Longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
“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boys, his marriage to a French woman with a different orientation toward gender, and decades of academic turf wars over outdated scientific theories that have proven hard to dislodge from public discourse.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.
Praise for Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist
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
A game-changer.... De Waal’s prose is concise and straightforward. His sensitivity to the prevailing zeitgeist that surrounds sex and gender is evident.... There’s no end, in fact, to the fascinating details that emerge from this book, all carefully tied to supporting explanations, historical context, the prevalence of misinformation, the tendency to censor, the power of mindless biological determinism, and whatever else might be necessary for de Waal to make his point. Humor, and the curious anecdote, are never far behind.... Different is a towering achievement.
— Paul R. Abramson - Los Angeles Review of Books
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.
— Barbara J. King - Science
Dive into Frans de Waal’s magnum opus.... brilliant.
— Carol Tavris - Times Literary Supplement
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
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
Moving with fluidity and grace between animal and human models, Frans de Waal demonstrates how many common social prejudices that we deem ‘natural’ are in fact anything but. His crisp writing, his skillful deployment of anecdote, and his deep knowledge of animal science inform this nuanced and profound consideration not only of difference but also of sameness.
— Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon
It is a brave man these days who ventures into the minefield of gender differences. But Frans de Waal relies on a gift for storytelling, a sincere respect for culture, along with intimate knowledge of longtime bonobo and chimpanzee associates to deftly negotiate this treacherous terrain. Wise and humane.
— Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of The Woman that Never Evolved, Mother Nature, and Mothers and Others
The current debate on the subject of gender differences is in need of a calm biological assessment which Frans de Waal’s thoughtful book Different gives us.
— Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal
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
Women versus men. Sex versus gender. Biology versus social inculcation. Few domains more effectively tempt fools to rush in than the topic of sex differences. In this case, however, rather than being a fool, Frans de Waal is our wisest primatologist, turning his attention to this irresistible topic. With great clarity, insight, and wit, he examines human sex differences, never once letting us forget that, at the end of the day, we are just another kind of primate. This is a superb, intensely stimulating read.
— Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Behave
[de Waal] argue[s] with wit and clarity against assumptions about sex and gender that generate inequality.... Engaging, enlightening, and deeply informative.
— Kirkus, starred review
Fascinating.... De Waal shines in his empathetic, Tolstoyan portrait of animal life.... This surprising look at the nature of primates has a lot to say about what it means to be human.
— Publishers Weekly