Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Q&A with Prof. Diana Rosenfeld, What Our Primate Ancestors Can Teach Us About Dismantling the Patriarchy
Women’s organized resistance to male dominance continues to make headlines around the world, from young women leading an uprising against the restrictive policies of the theocratic regime in Iran, to feminist activism in the U.S. in response to the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
A new book shines an intriguing new light on the possibilities for alliances among women in the ongoing struggle to end men’s violence against women by examining the social organization of one of our closest primate relatives. In The Bonobo Sisterhood, Harvard Law School professor Diane Rosenfeld shows how we have much to learn from the bonobos about how to eliminate male sexual coercion.
Diane Rosenfeld: It blew my mind when I learned from my friend and colleague Richard Wrangham, the renowned anthropologist, about how bonobos protect one another from male aggression. I saw how this connects directly to my work on domestic violence and sexual assault law.
For those who don’t know, bonobos are primates that look like but are a separate species from chimpanzees. They share 98.7 percent of our DNA, like chimpanzees, but have a completely different social order. If a female bonobo is aggressed upon, she lets out a special cry and all the other females within earshot come rushing to her aid, forming an instantaneous coalition to defend her. They come whether they know her, like her, or are related to her. We can take a critical lesson from that as humans! Evolutionarily, they have eliminated male sexual coercion.