, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 1-32

The evolutionary origins of patriarchy

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This article argues that feminist analyses of patriarchy should be expanded to address the evolutionary basis of male motivation to control female sexuality. Evidence from other primates of male sexual coercion and female resistance to it indicates that the sexual conflicts of interest that underlie patriarchy predate the emergence of the human species. Humans, however, exhibit more extensive male dominance and male control of female sexuality than is shown by most other primates. Six hypotheses are proposed to explain how, over the course of human evolution, this unusual degree of gender inequality came about. This approach emphasizes behavioral flexibility, cross-cultural variability in the degree of partriarchy, and possibilities for future change.

This work was supported in part by NSF grant BNS-8857969.
Barbara Smuts is a professor of psychology and anthropology at the University of Michigan. She received her B.A. in social anthropology at Harvard and her Ph.D. in bio-behavioral sciences at Stanford Medical School. She has studied the behavior of wild chimpanzees, baboons, and bottlenose dolphins and is particularly interested in evolutionary, comparative analyses of female-male relationships.