The Catch

Social scientists, especially those inclined towards feminist or sexually abnormal ideals, have a tendency to be particularly interested in the bonobo for reasons that are readily apparent:

De Waal: Wild bonobos live in a habitat that is more bountiful. Unlike chimpanzees, they have more than enough to eat, so that female bonobos can travel in groups. They form coalitions, help each other and defend themselves to avoid being dominated by the males.

SPIEGEL: A matriarchy?

De Waal: Yes, but not one in which individual females are dominant. Instead, the entire group is dominant, with the older female bonobos generally in charge within that group.

SPIEGEL: Is it this female dominance that makes the bonobos so gentle by nature?

De Waal: Female bonobos at least appear to be good at keeping the peace. After all, it isn’t especially worthwhile to them to constantly fight over their rank within the hierarchy, because rank has little impact on reproductive success. Although high-ranking female bonobos have better access to food for their young, this advantage is minimal compared to the benefits high-ranking male chimpanzees enjoy.

And interestingly enough, there’s some reason to believe that it would be theoretically possible to convince men to accept a bonobo-style matriarchy even though they would lose the ability to make decisions about their own fates. I rather doubt women would go for it, though, since there’s one little fact about bonobos that usually tends to get left out of the discussion….

Because bonobo males have sex with all bonobo females, they have no idea which children could be theirs.

In other words, women might be able to one day obtain their cherished dream of a matriarchy… as long as they’re willing to take one for the team every time a man crosses their path.