Conflict between males and females over reproduction is ubiquitous in nature due to fundamental differences between the sexes in reproductive rates and investment in offspring. In only a few species, however, do males strategically employ violence to control female sexuality. Why are so many of these primates? Why are females routinely abused in some species, but never in others? And can the study of such unpleasant behavior by our closest relatives help us to understand the evolution of men’s violence against women?
In the first systematic attempt to assess and understand primate male aggression as an expression of sexual conflict, the contributors to this volume consider coercion in direct and indirect forms: direct, in overcoming female resistance to mating; indirect, in decreasing the chance the female will mate with other males. The book presents extensive field research and analysis to evaluate the form of sexual coercion in a range of species—including all of the great apes and humans—and to clarify its role in shaping social relationships among males, among females, and between the sexes.
The science that allows us to understand sexual coercion by males is drawn directly from Darwin’s own work on sexual selection. There is, however, another layer here, because of course one cannot talk about the evolution of sexual aggression in male primates without pondering the social consequences of the same behavior in our own species. Are domestic violence and sexual assault simply human homologues of the same conduct seen in chimpanzees and baboons? Many social scientists bristle at this suggestion, with its invocation of biological determinism. This volume’s authors, many of them female researchers, do an excellent job of sensitively exploring the boundary between phenotype and environment that is the stuff of which human behavior is made… The editors of this volume deserve high praise for having avoided the weaknesses to which such collections are prone—the book is uniform in tone, and the papers are all of high quality. There are no polemical rantings here, nor are the contributors concerned with political correctness; the empirical evidence is what matters to them, and their analysis of it is perceptive and nuanced… Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans is an important work and will be a valuable addition to the bookshelves of specialists and nonspecialists alike.
This book makes an important contribution to the fields of primatology, behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and potentially even cultural anthropology… Its strength lies in the many chapters presenting findings from studies on a wide range of primate species, including orangutans, mountain gorillas, baboons, spider monkeys, and chimpanzees. What makes these chapters particularly valuable is that nearly all of them provide a superb discussion of the literature on other species, from dolphins to invertebrates, needed to situate the findings of each chapter within a larger comparative context. This makes the book of great potential value, even to researchers who study species that are not the explicit subject of this book.
Is sexual coercion important enough to warrant its designation as a distinct sexually selected trait? Yes. If you doubt the power and potential significance of male aggression toward females, read the accounts in this volume.
This is an extraordinary book that looks at sexual coercion in the Primates, properly including humans with their close relatives. The book introduces the complexity and variability of sexual coercion in 18 chapters, each based on a different species or topic. There are no less than 22 women scientists as authors in the volume, two-thirds of the total number of authors, with nine being either sole or primary authors of articles. The book is a must read for both biologists and social scientists. This is particularly true for social scientists who are generally not familiar with how evolutionary biologists can approach the topic through the windows of multiple primate species, each with its own ecological and social context that produces a kaleidoscope of possibilities, causes, outcomes, and combinations. There is no reductionism here, only very thoughtful and rich analyses of the empirical world on a very important topic that concerns us all.
Throughout nature, relations between the sexes often resemble a battle. In mammalian species, the dynamics of these battles are shaped by profound differences in the strategic interests of males and females. This volume probes the evolutionary roots of such conflicts and examines the consequences of intersexual conflict for primate females. Although not all conclusions derived from this book are comforting, all are illuminating for understanding the relations between the sexes.
Evolutionary analysis of sexual coercion is a sensitive and controversial topic, vulnerable to simplistic biological determinism at one extreme and complete denial, at the other, of the relevance of the comparative method for understanding human behavior. This excellent volume is an open-minded interdisciplinary effort to explore the large and complex territory that lies between. Although contributors draw on a wide spectrum of data, they share a well-articulated understanding of theory and evidence from evolutionary biology. This, combined with excellent introductory and concluding chapters, facilitates an unusual degree of coherence across chapters without pressure to reach similar conclusions. The book illuminates both similarities and differences between human and nonhuman sexual coercion and encourages further research to determine which comparisons and contrasts matter most to efforts to understand and reduce human inter-sexual violence. It should be read by anyone interested in this important topic.
- 504 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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