Human Nature

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 1-32

First online:

The evolutionary origins of patriarchy

  • Barbara SmutsAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Michigan

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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.

Key words

Patriarchy Male dominance Sexual coercion Human social evolution