Coercion, coalition, reproductive control… Various strategies with which males and females seize power

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In hyenas, lemurs or bonobos, females have more power than males, despite long-standing beliefs that cause stereotypes. A study proposes a new framework for assessing power relationships between animals of the same species.

an alliance
hyena’s allianceoliver honorer

Understanding the power relationships between the sexes in the animal world has been a means of studying the origins of organization in human societies. In particular primates, which have largely served as a guide for trying to understand the evolution of these mechanisms in our own species. “But progress in this area has long been hindered by a binary view of power disparity between the sexes, in which most species were male-dominated and female dominance was real.” Montpellier. “A simplistic view is reinforced by stereotypes that researchers take because of the society in which they live and then they unconsciously project onto the animals they study.”

French researchers are publishing an article with a group of scientists this Wednesday in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution in which a new framework has been defined to evaluate this distribution of effects across animal groups. Hutchard, who has spent much of his career studying power dynamics in mammals, realized that Power-sharing between the sexes was rarely set out in the scientific literature. So to begin with, the team defined what power meant in animals and how it could be measured, for which they developed a system based on the study of certain behaviors.

Animals also feel emotions

“Any species can be placed on a spectrum ranging from strict male dominance to strict female dominance.So that all hypotheses about how women or men can be empowered can be tested. “However, detailed study of the factors that drive power relations between men and women has been hampered by methodological biases and a lack of ideological integration into theories of sexual conflict, sexual selection, and social evolution.

difference between male and female

Their analysis shows that Many animal species have females controlling the main activities (such as access to food) and the path to power for them is very different from that of men. The article, which reviews the scientific literature published to date, suggests that in the case of men, the rise to power follows a simple itinerary: coercion and physical domination. For women, however, the pathways to establishing social power can be physical, morphological, behavioral or socio-ecological.

Species in which females have more power – as is the case with hyenas, lemurs or bonobos – have reproductive control: control over the moment and the couple can do it. It manifests itself in various ways, such as Resistance to intercourse, promiscuity And even, in the case of the hyena, biological features are specifically designed to allow females to control fertilization.

In this sense, recent research was already questioning many preconceived notions, by showing that The distribution of power can be different even in groups of the same species. And that the intersex power relationship is not a fixed trait. The authors write in the article, “We now hope to use this framework to measure intersex power in reproductive and social contexts and to facilitate the study and comparison of power relationships in mammalian societies, perhaps even humans.” Will be done.”

matriarch of bonobos

In the case of primates, chimpanzees from the 1970s (pan troglodytes) have been the species receiving the most scientific attention for understanding the origins of our social organization. It is estimated that about 96% of their DNA is identical to ours and that both hominid species share many structural features, such as blood group and skeletal features.

In addition, the behaviors observed in chimpanzees—such as cooperative hunting, food sharing, tool use, power politics, and group conflict—were absent or not developed in other primate species. Thus, many characteristics of their societies were considered part of primitive human nature.

A male and female bonobo interact
A male and female bonobo interactMartin Surbeck

In recent years, researchers such as Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal have been disproving many of these hypotheses. “If we had met bonobos earlier,” de Waal wrote in 2006 in the magazine scientific American, “Most likely, we would have assumed that early hominids lived in female-centred societies, in which sex served important social functions, and in which warfare was rare or non-existent.” In addition, he pointed out that most of the data on chimpanzee interactions comes from East Africa, when we now know that groups living in the forests of the Ivory Coast fight less, that their struggles are not as brutal, and that women are more Aggressive. Subject to a small power difference.

bonobo (pan paniscus) is the second closest relative of homo sapiens of the animal kingdom. It lives in the forests of Central Africa, but was not recognized as a separate species until 1930; Previously, they were considered pygmy chimpanzees and were believed to mirror chimpanzees in all respects. However, from a behavioral point of view, the species are very different. Bonobo groups organize themselves around a coalition of women; Power is stratified according to matriarchal authority, as is access to food. What binds the community together is not physical coercion (men are bigger and stronger) but other mechanisms, particularly sex.

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