Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females

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Overview

Conflict between males and females over reproduction is ubiquitous in nature due to fundamental differences between the sexes in reproductive rates and investment in offspring. In only a few species, however, do males strategically employ violence to control female sexuality. Why are so many of these primates? Why are females routinely abused in some species, but never in others? And can the study of such unpleasant behavior by our closest relatives help us to understand the evolution of men’s violence against women?

In the first systematic attempt to assess and understand primate male aggression as an expression of sexual conflict, the contributors to this volume consider coercion in direct and indirect forms: direct, in overcoming female resistance to mating; indirect, in decreasing the chance the female will mate with other males. The book presents extensive field research and analysis to evaluate the form of sexual coercion in a range of species—including all of the great apes and humans—and to clarify its role in shaping social relationships among males, among females, and between the sexes.

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Editorial Reviews

Evolutionary Psychology

This book makes an important contribution to the fields of primatology,
behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and potentially even cultural anthropology...Its strength lies in the many chapters presenting findings from studies on a wide range of primate species, including orangutans, mountain gorillas, baboons, spider monkeys, and chimpanzees. What makes these chapters particularly valuable is that nearly all of them provide a superb discussion of the literature on other species, from dolphins to invertebrates, needed to situate the findings of each chapter within a larger comparative context. This makes the book of great potential value, even to researchers who study species that are not the explicit subject of this book.
— Craig Palmer

Quarterly Review of Biology

Is sexual coercion important enough to warrant its designation as a distinct sexually selected trait? Yes. If you doubt the power and potential significance of male aggression toward females, read the accounts in this volume.
— Susan Alberts

American Scientist

The science that allows us to understand sexual coercion by males is drawn directly from Darwin's own work on sexual selection. There is, however, another layer here, because of course one cannot talk about the evolution of sexual aggression in male primates without pondering the social consequences of the same behavior in our own species. Are domestic violence and sexual assault simply human homologues of the same conduct seen in chimpanzees and baboons? Many social scientists bristle at this suggestion, with its invocation of biological determinism. This volume's authors, many of them female researchers, do an excellent job of sensitively exploring the boundary between phenotype and environment that is the stuff of which human behavior is made...The editors of this volume deserve high praise for having avoided the weaknesses to which such collections are prone—the book is uniform in tone, and the papers are all of high quality. There are no polemical rantings here, nor are the contributors concerned with political correctness; the empirical evidence is what matters to them, and their analysis of it is perceptive and nuanced...Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans is an important work and will be a valuable addition to the bookshelves of specialists and nonspecialists alike.
— Craig Stanford

Joan Silk
Throughout nature, relations between the sexes often resemble a battle. In mammalian species, the dynamics of these battles are shaped by profound differences in the strategic interests of males and females. This volume probes the evolutionary roots of such conflicts and examines the consequences of intersexual conflict for primate females. Although not all conclusions derived from this book are comforting, all are illuminating for understanding the relations between the sexes.
Barbara Smuts
Evolutionary analysis of sexual coercion is a sensitive and controversial topic, vulnerable to simplistic biological determinism at one extreme and complete denial, at the other, of the relevance of the comparative method for understanding human behavior. This excellent volume is an open-minded interdisciplinary effort to explore the large and complex territory that lies between. Although contributors draw on a wide spectrum of data, they share a well-articulated understanding of theory and evidence from evolutionary biology. This, combined with excellent introductory and concluding chapters, facilitates an unusual degree of coherence across chapters without pressure to reach similar conclusions. The book illuminates both similarities and differences between human and nonhuman sexual coercion and encourages further research to determine which comparisons and contrasts matter most to efforts to understand and reduce human inter-sexual violence. It should be read by anyone interested in this important topic.
Jane B. Lancaster
This is an extraordinary book that looks at sexual coercion in the Primates, properly including humans with their close relatives. The book introduces the complexity and variability of sexual coercion in 18 chapters, each based on a different species or topic. There are no less than 22 women scientists as authors in the volume, two-thirds of the total number of authors, with nine being either sole or primary authors of articles. The book is a must read for both biologists and social scientists. This is particularly true for social scientists who are generally not familiar with how evolutionary biologists can approach the topic through the windows of multiple primate species, each with its own ecological and social context that produces a kaleidoscope of possibilities, causes, outcomes, and combinations. There is no reductionism here, only very thoughtful and rich analyses of the empirical world on a very important topic that concerns us all.
Evolutionary Psychology - Craig Palmer
This book makes an important contribution to the fields of primatology,
behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and potentially even cultural anthropology...Its strength lies in the many chapters presenting findings from studies on a wide range of primate species, including orangutans, mountain gorillas, baboons, spider monkeys, and chimpanzees. What makes these chapters particularly valuable is that nearly all of them provide a superb discussion of the literature on other species, from dolphins to invertebrates, needed to situate the findings of each chapter within a larger comparative context. This makes the book of great potential value, even to researchers who study species that are not the explicit subject of this book.
Quarterly Review of Biology - Susan Alberts
Is sexual coercion important enough to warrant its designation as a distinct sexually selected trait? Yes. If you doubt the power and potential significance of male aggression toward females, read the accounts in this volume.
American Scientist - Craig Stanford
The science that allows us to understand sexual coercion by males is drawn directly from Darwin's own work on sexual selection. There is, however, another layer here, because of course one cannot talk about the evolution of sexual aggression in male primates without pondering the social consequences of the same behavior in our own species. Are domestic violence and sexual assault simply human homologues of the same conduct seen in chimpanzees and baboons? Many social scientists bristle at this suggestion, with its invocation of biological determinism. This volume's authors, many of them female researchers, do an excellent job of sensitively exploring the boundary between phenotype and environment that is the stuff of which human behavior is made...The editors of this volume deserve high praise for having avoided the weaknesses to which such collections are prone--the book is uniform in tone, and the papers are all of high quality. There are no polemical rantings here, nor are the contributors concerned with political correctness; the empirical evidence is what matters to them, and their analysis of it is perceptive and nuanced...Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans is an important work and will be a valuable addition to the bookshelves of specialists and nonspecialists alike.
Quarterly Review of Biology
Is sexual coercion important enough to warrant its designation as a distinct sexually selected trait? Yes. If you doubt the power and potential significance of male aggression toward females, read the accounts in this volume.
— Susan Alberts
Evolutionary Psychology
This book makes an important contribution to the fields of primatology,
behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and potentially even cultural anthropology...Its strength lies in the many chapters presenting findings from studies on a wide range of primate species, including orangutans, mountain gorillas, baboons, spider monkeys, and chimpanzees. What makes these chapters particularly valuable is that nearly all of them provide a superb discussion of the literature on other species, from dolphins to invertebrates, needed to situate the findings of each chapter within a larger comparative context. This makes the book of great potential value, even to researchers who study species that are not the explicit subject of this book.
— Craig Palmer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674033245
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 504
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin N. Muller is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Richard W. Wrangham is Ruth Moore Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

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Table of Contents


  1. Introduction and Theory
  2. Male Aggression and Sexual Coercion of Females in Primates
    Martin N. Muller, Sonya M. Kahlenberg and Richard W. Wrangham
  3. Evolution of Sexual Coercion with Respect to Sexual Selection and Sexual Conflict Theory
    Jana J. Watson-Capps
  4. Inter-Sexual Conflict in Primates: Infanticide, Paternity Allocation, and the Role of Coercion
    Parry Clarke, Gauri Pradhan and Carel van Schaik

  5. Sexual Coercion and Mate Guarding in Non-Human Primates
  6. Orangutans: Sexual Coercion Without Sexual Violence
    Cheryl Knott
  7. Male Aggression Against Females in Mountain Gorillas: Courtship or Coercion?
    Martha Robbins
  8. The Causes and Consequences of Male Aggression Directed at Female Chacma Baboons
    Dawn M. Kitchen, Jacinta C. Beehner, Thore J. Bergman, Dorothy L. Cheney, Catherine Crockford, Anne L. Engh, Julia Fischer, Robert M. Seyfarth and Roman M. Wittig
  9. Female-Directed Aggression and Social Control in Spider Monkeys
    Andres Link, Anthony Di Fiore and Stephanie N. Spehar
  10. Male Aggression Against Females and Sexual Coercion in Chimpanzees
    Martin N. Muller, Sonya M. Kahlenberg and Richard W. Wrangham
  11. Sexual Coercion in Dolphin Consortships: a Comparison with Chimpanzees
    Richard C. Connor and Nicole L. Vollmer
  12. Male Aggression toward Females in Hamadryas Baboons: Conditioning, Coercion, and Control
    Larissa Swedell and Amy Schreier

  13. Sexual Coercion and Mate Guarding in Humans
  14. Coercive Violence by Human Males Against Their Female Partners
    Margo Wilson and Martin Daly
  15. The Political Significance of Gender Violence
    Lars Rodseth and Shannon Novak
  16. Intimate Wounds: Cranio-Facial Trauma in Women and Female Chimpanzees
    Shannon Novak and Mallorie Hatch
  17. Human Rape: Revising Evolutionary Perspectives
    Melissa Emery Thompson

  18. Female Counterstrategies
  19. “Friendship” with Males: A Female Counterstrategy to Infanticide in Chacma Baboons of the Okavango Delta
    Ryne Palombit
  20. The Absence of Sexual Coercion in Bonobos
    Tommaso Paoli
  21. Sexual Coercion, Patriarchal Violence and Law
    Diane L. Rosenfeld

  22. Summary and Conclusions
  23. Sexual Coercion in Humans and Other Primates: The Road Ahead
    Richard W. Wrangham and Martin N. Muller

  • List of Contributors
  • Index

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