Gender bias in anthropology

Beebo Brink

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I found this study of bonobos to be annoyingly male-centric. It's a prime example of how entrenched gendered perspectives can color observations and conclusions, without any recognition of the bias.

Pushy bonobo mothers help sons find sexual partners, scientists find

There's no way to confirm the motivation of the observed mothers, but I'm not persuaded by the proposed reason for them enabling these sexual trysts for their male offspring. The end result may be the spread of their genes, but it's a stretch to posit that this directive would be a conscious priority for a chimp.

The male scientists assume the mother's intent is to help her son get laid, and the expectation of grandchildren sounds like a familiar stereotype based on human grandmothers. Given the matriarchal structure of bonobo society, I think it's more likely that these mothers are cementing relationships with other females by pimping out their sons. This provides an immediate payoff in social capital, much more so than a grandchild born months later. That this behavior also provides more related offspring is a long-term benefit that increases the chances of this behavior persisting, but that could be a useful side effect, not a motivation.
 

Kara Spengler

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I found this study of bonobos to be annoyingly male-centric. It's a prime example of how entrenched gendered perspectives can color observations and conclusions, without any recognition of the bias.

Pushy bonobo mothers help sons find sexual partners, scientists find

There's no way to confirm the motivation of the observed mothers, but I'm not persuaded by the proposed reason for them enabling these sexual trysts for their male offspring. The end result may be the spread of their genes, but it's a stretch to posit that this directive would be a conscious priority for a chimp.

The male scientists assume the mother's intent is to help her son get laid, and the expectation of grandchildren sounds like a familiar stereotype based on human grandmothers. Given the matriarchal structure of bonobo society, I think it's more likely that these mothers are cementing relationships with other females by pimping out their sons. This provides an immediate payoff in social capital, much more so than a grandchild born months later. That this behavior also provides more related offspring is a long-term benefit that increases the chances of this behavior persisting, but that could be a useful side effect, not a motivation.
The same thing (but in many ways) happens in a lot of ethnographies, especially older ones. For example, homosexuality may be common for one reason or another in the culture being studied but it is obvious when the writer is applying their own culture and norms.
 
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