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Apr 08 2009

Primate week continues: the origins of prostitution

Yipes, that dang-ole BBC news feed! As mentioned yesterday, the thing infests the Twisty mainframe with a resilience matched only by the Great “Law & Order” Marathon of ’03.

I allude to a dark interlude wherein my formerly happy-go-lucky keister became inexplicably fused to my lime green recliner while, according to a rigorous schedule, I consumed tubs of Cool Whip and continuous “Law & Order” episodes. Hideous, but mesmerizing. Amazingly, considering the depth and saturation of my exposure to patriarchal narrative norms, I didn’t morph into a Liberal Dude. I was one of the lucky ones; one frabjous day I was scratching my head absently, whereupon I accidently discovered the Patriarchal Messaging Unit, a brain implant of alien technology commonly employed by a secret government agency to control spinster aunts. I pried it out of my lobe toot-sweet, and I’ve been Law & Order-free ever since.

But I digress.

The blamer will certainly enjoy today’s Beeb piece, for it summarizes a study and contains our phrase-of-the-week, “sexual swellings,” with regard to non-human primates! This is not just any old study, either. This is exciting evidence, based on observations of Ivory Coast chimpanzees, that the patriarchal social order is hardwired.

Chimpanzees enter into “deals” whereby they exchange meat for sex, according to researchers.

It goes without saying, since “male” is always the default, that by “chimpanzees” the article means male chimpanzees, and that by “sex” it means “copulation.” Female chimpanzees do not, apparently, exchange meat for sex. Their role is not active. The females passively accept meat from males whereupon they are adjudged to be under an obligation put out over the long term. The article portrays them as recipients of male largesse and as receptacles.

The words “sex slavery” spring to mind, but for some reason are conspicuously absent from the article.

Gee, I wonder if the researchers will draw any conclusions about human behavior based on these patriarchy-informed observations of an isolated primate population belonging to a totally different genus?

“This has got me really interested in humans,” [said researcher/chimp voyeur Cristina Gomes]. “I’m thinking of moving on to working with hunter-gatherers.”

Chimps are pimps, so obviously there are enormous ramifications for our understanding of modern human relationships, which clearly ought to be viewed entirely in terms of male troglodyte copulation skills.

I swear, no more BBC. Well, maybe just one more. I mean, I can quit anytime I want. Maybe tomorrow.

62 comments

2 pings

  1. Pinko Punko

    I of course felt an increase of obstreperon particles when I got Beebed by that last night, not being able to sleep in the fluorescent glow of my computer. The particles enabled me to predict the future [pause] the future of this blog!!!!!!!!!!

    SCARY!

  2. bellacoker

    So, it bothers me when scientists put human meaning on animal behaviours. If the boy chimps gave the girl chimps meat, and then the chimps boinked, those actions have many different possible meanings. The meat-for-sex idea says a lot more about the people reporting than it does about the chimps motivations, which are still unknown, because chimps can’t talk, well.

  3. yttik

    We need more feminist interpretations of evolution. We know unintelligent design is full of misogyny, but so is all this evolutionary psychology that keeps comparing us to monkeys as a way of excusing male behavior. Darwin never even tried to claim we descended from monkeys, that was a distortion based on a protest cartoon drawn by another branch of misogynists.

    Fact is, people are not animals. I don’t know what went wrong there, but at some point we devolved right out of the animal kingdom.

  4. Cycles

    I don’t know pumpkin-squat about chimp behavior beyond your average PBS documentaries, but couldn’t this have been a story about forming social connections? You start by bringing a bottle of wine to the dinner party as a gesture of friendship and goodwill, then later you all sit down and enjoy a meal together. Nobody’s a prostitute, nobody’s bargaining.

    I suppose all social behaviors could boil down to transactions if you look through a certain lens – the wine-bringer trades the wine for gratitude and acceptance at the dinner social circle, while the food-maker trades the cost & labor of the dinner for being entertained by their friends and being a focus of positive attention for the evening. But during the course of non-navel-gazing everyday living, we don’t think of these activities as a barter system.

    So why, then, do we take such delight in describing animal behaviors in uber-patriarchal terms? That’s some bitter aporia right there.

  5. DarthVelma

    Saw this linked on another blog earlier today and followed the related links to this gem:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_6380000/newsid_6388000/6388027.stm

    Yup. Chimps have invented spears for hunting and it is the females who did it. But I bet we won’t be hearing much about the implications of that for human evolution from Dude-nation.

  6. slythwolf

    mj, we didn’t “come from” chimps or any other modern primate. We share a common ancestor with all of them.

  7. Clarity

    just to second yttik.

    I’m sooo sick of evolutionary psychology. What’s with the feking jumpy logic! The only ‘science’ which involves scientists going monkeys like red butts… so that’s why men like red dresses! (Answers of the universe solved) O

  8. Twisty

    I was obliged to delete mj’s comment on accounta it contained numerous punctuation infractions, and also because it made no sense.

  9. Alex

    You’ll find that biologists are as dismissive of this “evolutionary psychology” claptrap as we are. It’s reasoning by analogy, and it doesn’t effing work. But, in that spirit, here’s an analogy of my own.

    evolutionary psychology : psychology (or evolution, for that matter) :: astrology : astronomy

  10. Laughingrat

    Pardon my language, but the fact that this researcher was conceptually able to put chimps and “hunter-gatherer” humans in the same group is fucking offensive. Apparently, in this context “hunter-gatherer” is just coded language for “them dark-skinned, non-clothes-wearin’, non-computer-ownin’ savages what ain’t human like us.”

    Also, I’ve been hearing about the chimp prostitution thing for at least ten years now. Boring, BBC! Booooring.

  11. Positively Present

    Wow, that’s pretty crazy. Definitely sounds like “sex slavery” to me.

  12. Kelsey

    This whole article caused me to put my head in my hands and lose a little bit more of my waning faith in humanity, but for some reason I find the phrase “chimp voyeur” especially distressing.

  13. Hannah

    It seems to me that evolutionary theory is one of those theories you can twist and interpret in a million different ways and use for nearly any purpose.

    For those who are interested in a more scholarly discussion on feminism and evolutionary theory, see:

    Hurley, Susan: Feminism and evolutionary theory – Can they be reconciled? http://www.warwick.ac.uk/staff/S.L.Hurley/papers/fep.pdf

    More references can be found for example from this site:

    http://www.valt.helsinki.fi/staff/rotkirch/feminism-et.html

  14. Lovepug

    Chimps also throw their poop.

    There’s quilt patches now. What happened to the cute monsters? Are you just mixin’ it up a little? I shall now hit blame and see what I get.

  15. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D.

    Way back when women first started getting into the field of ethnology, one of the first few to publish wrote that female chimpanzees of the sort she studied chose who among the males was going to get to mate. Far from being receptacles, they were quite active in choosing their partners. I want to say that work was done at Gombe Preserve but I’m not sure and can’t remember by whom.

    Anyway, you can pick and choose your species to suit your point. My female African Grey Parrot tries to feed my husband as part of her courtship of him. Is she bartering seed for sex? Give me a break! Grizzly bears are matriarchal. Elephants are matriarchal. None of them gets bought by the males or are passive receptacles. The patriarchy is engaging in gross intellectual dishonesty when claiming that “meat for sex” behavior is hardwired–especially when, as Cycles observed, bringing meat to the party could just as easily be interpreted as social behavior.

    Non serviam.

  16. Jezebella

    yttik, don’t be absurd. OF COURSE humans are animals. We are not, however, chimpanzees, or bonobos, or, alas, African Grey Parrots.

  17. Rainbow Girl

    “We’re thinking of moving the study on to hunter-gatherers, before we examine real people”. Just to clarify a bit of subtext for the subtextually-challenged.

  18. VibratingLiz

    Chimps are highly social animals with complex relationships based on shifting hierarchies. They create friendships and bonds based on mutual grooming. They share food with their grooming buddies, they also sometimes mate with them. But they’re also known to occasionally be violent, to engage in rape, warfare, infanticide, and cannibalism, not so much when life is good but when resources are scarce and/or tension arises between excessively mean and aggressive males.

    I adore chimps, I read obsessively about chimps, I do volunteer work with chimps. Seven of my very closest friends are chimps (http://www.chimpsanctuarynw.org/blog/): six females living in captivity, in a feminist matriarchal vegan co-operative sanctuary with one vastectomized male who they generally tolerate but will gang up on and subdue if his testosterone gets out of hand.

    I’m endlessly fascinated by their day-to-day interactions and adaptations, and especially by the ways the chimps so closely resemble humans. But true chimpophiles never forget for one sentimental anthropomorphizing second that these normally gentle affectionate beasts are essentially wild animals capable of extreme violence. They are like us in many ways, but ultimately they’re not us, and their nature doesn’t explain or justify our nature.

    For a sane rational intelligent jerk-justification-free approach to evolutionary psychology and primates, read anything by the hilarious Stanford neurobiologist & primatologist Robert Sapolsky. And for a womancentric look at the study of primatology, check out Walking With the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Sy Montgomery. This book looks at the different ways women and men have approached data gathering and interpretation in the field and in labs.

  19. gayle

    From DarthVelma’s BBC link:

    “Interestingly, it is only the female chimps that hunt with spears.

    It’s thought because they can’t rely on strength like the males, the females have had to come up with new ways of getting food.”

    Dear God, they’ve started the Revolution without us! You go, girl chimps!!

  20. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker

    Girl chimps prefer to boink boy chimps who are really nice to them and share their stuff, than chimps that point to the food source and say stuff like “bring me a beer, bitch.” Works for me.

  21. Betsy

    Virbating Liz, your comment made my day.

    I can’t quite determine which did more for me: learning about the vegan matriarchal chimp compound, or your casual authoritative neutralization of [all those with a patriarchal agenda who seek to draw analogies and rationalizations based on conclusions whose relationship to observations of animal behavior is, to say the very least, exceedingly attenuated].

  22. Tanya

    Twisty said:

    “I swear, no more BBC. Well, maybe just one more. I mean, I can quit anytime I want. Maybe tomorrow.”

    My response:

    “You are clearly addicted to BBC. We better haul your ass off to one of those rehab gulags, where you are deprived of all addictive indulgences, including coffee.”

  23. frenchie

    Jezebella… um, duh. Yttik wasn’t being ‘absurd’, her comment was way more enlightening than yours.

  24. orlando

    For a feminist take on evolution, Yttik, try Elaine Morgan “The Descent of Woman”. Some of the physiological stuff is outdated (not her fault, research into the clitoris was not so abundant in the 70s), but a sensational takedown of the savannahists (Desmond Morris et al).

    Thank you, VibratingLiz, for bringing such an informed opinion to the party – invaluable.

  25. yttik

    “Dear God, they’ve started the Revolution without us! You go, girl chimps!!”

    I’m rolling on the floor over here. That’s pretty funny.

  26. figleaf

    Stephanie Coontz, who was and is a radical Trotskyite and hard-core radical feminist professor at the school I went to, used to tell her students that the difference between science and propaganda is that propagandists look for evidence that supports what they believe while scientists look for evidence that disproves what they believe. By her criteria Ev-Psych flunks the “it’s science” test stem to stern.

    Another thing: not to try to get too (lower-case) twisty about it or anything but of *course* people who are so indoctrinated with patriarchy they think their justifications are scientific are going to assume that offering of food and/or sex is prostitutional in nature. They can’t help themselves! Same with the Beeb’s, um, wrong claim that female chimps don’t hunt. It doesn’t fit patriarchal ideology so they say it doesn’t happen. (It’s hard to Google for counterexamples at the moment because so many knee-squeezing twit sites are talking about this Christina Gomes character’s work but if you scroll down far enough you start seeing actual scientists saying they’re not only perfectly capable but innovative and sophisticated at it.)

    Anyway, what really chaffs my armpit hair is that while everybody’s running around trying to prove that we’re all helpless against patriarchy because monkeys, or ducks, or microscopic parasitic worms do it too they’re missing the chance to look for *different* metaphors in animal behavior we could, I dunno, use to subvert patriarchy.

    I mean… if one is going to bother anthropomorphizing why not say female chimps decide that males that can hunt are just less *boring?* Or smell better? Or remind them of their mothers who brought them food when they were little? I mean, sure, patriarchy can’t see anything but hapless females and male coercion but… last I looked that was a problem with observer bias, not what might actually be going on.

    figleaf

    Cool post, Twisty, except I’m not sure how you get the sex slavery angle out of that story. Unless you’re proposing that chimpanzees actually *are* enough like humans to work out some sort of veiled/implied treats around what might happen to chimps that *don’t* accept meat. But to do that would be to lower one’s self to the level of sociobiologists (who, if they bang their typewriters long enough, eventually *will* come up with that theory.)

  27. Hattie

    The Brits have gone to hell. We are a few years behind them in going to hellness, but we will catch up. And every British magazine I pick up has some essentialist crapola about the menz and the womenz.

  28. Courtney

    This is so totally bullshit. Mary Blaffer Hrdy studied this in detail. Read her book, Mother Nature.

  29. nails

    I am really trying to figure out how they would conclude that a ‘deal’ is made without doing some serious projection.

  30. gorillagrrl

    The following has nothing to do with this topic ( although it does involve an animal and sexual themes ..) but I can’t find where to post this sort of info …is there a spot on here at all where stories showing how stupid dude nation can be in their misogny be posted for consideration for the blog analysis?(http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/09/2539600.htm)

  31. CoolAunt

    When I read this

    Chimpanzees enter into “deals” whereby they exchange meat for sex, according to researchers.

    it didn’t mean this

    It goes without saying, since “male” is always the default, that by “chimpanzees” the article means male chimpanzees, and that by “sex” it means “copulation.” Female chimpanzees do not, apparently, exchange meat for sex. Their role is not active. The females passively accept meat from males whereupon they are adjudged to be under an obligation put out over the long term. The article portrays them as recipients of male largesse and as receptacles.

    But that’s exactly what it means.

    Thanks for the learnin’, Twisty.

  32. Kali

    What about the bonobo? For goddess sake, why do they never mention the bonobo? Oh, right, it doesn’t reinforce the patriarchal social model, therefore IBTP.

  33. speedbudget

    “Interestingly, it is only the female chimps that hunt with spears.

    It’s thought because they can’t rely on strength like the males, the females have had to come up with new ways of getting food.”

    Gayle, my first thought upon reading that was, Dear God, they’ve gone and diminished intellectualism again. I mean, come on. Chimps, female or not, are not shrinking violets. They are strong, well-developed creatures who can probably pop your head off without breaking a sweat. And in this case, they’re going after varmints what live inside trees. I imagine I could probably kill a little varmint living inside the tree pretty easily. But apparently, those little chimp laydeez are so weak, they had to resort to sticks.

    Why couldn’t it have been posited that the females took a look at how the males were taking a long-ass time to kill the varmint, took a look at a stick, had an ‘ah-ha’ moment, and went to tool making? And the males, well, they’re just too stupid or stubborn to take a cue from the ladies.

    No, they don’t get props for being smart. They get derided for being weak. As usual.

  34. Twisty

    “is there a spot on here at all where stories showing how stupid dude nation can be in their misogny be posted for consideration for the blog analysis?”

    No. You need to email me with those kinds of things. Or, preferably, write about them in your own blog. See the FAQ.

  35. Narya

    As long as we’re making reading recommendations, I’ll throw in Donna Haraway’s “Primate Visions.”

  36. Silence

    Female chimps can’t rely on their strength for hunting? I’d like to see one of these (male) researchers wrestle one.

    Anecdote: a few years ago, I read a story about a researcher who was watching a tribe of apes (or monkey; I forget which). There was a young female in the band who was a genius. The apes mostly ate a kind of seed that grew in sandy places, so when they grabbed a handful of seed, they’d get a bunch of sand along with it. Not very nice to eat. This young female ape figured out that if she dropped the handful of seed and sand into a pool of water, the sand would sink and the seed float. Voila! No more eating sand.

    Eventually, the researcher noted, all the apes in the band followed her example and began dropping their seed into water. Except — and this is the hilarious bit — the older males in the tribe. Apparently they’d rather continue eating sand than follow the example of a young female.

    Now, if you simply must compare ape society to human society, there’s lesson in the patriarchy for you.

  37. thinkingdifference

    yes, definitely donna haraway (in particular her work on primates research – for a good review of Primate Visions, check h-Net reviews http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5154) should be a required reading for researchers before the go in the field… maybe they will start questioning the patriarchal assumptions through which they come to interpret everything they see ‘happening’ in nature…

  38. mj

    slythwolf–whatever dude. y’all need to get a sense of humor. im outta here.

  39. PhysioProf

    I swear, no more BBC. Well, maybe just one more. I mean, I can quit anytime I want. Maybe tomorrow.

    Are you gonna make us stage a motherfucking intervention?

  40. parallel

    The “results” that are being reported on this story are not actually what the researchers found.

    They went looking for a basic “women are goldigging whores and you have to give them stuff to put out ie meat for sex” deal *but did not find it*.

    Instead of handing over meat for a quick there and then fuck, they found that males would just share the meat around – even giving meat even to those females not in estrus (ie not going to have sex with anyone). However, when the females did go looking for a mate then the known to be more generous males would be more likely to be picked out.

    But still, they trot out as their conclusion the crap they started with, which even their own research proves to be incorrect !

  41. Jezebella

    Heh. MJ just called us humorless feminists! Whee. That’s so funny.

    You with me, slythwolf, *dude*?

  42. birkwearingblamer

    Gee, I’ve never heard stop being a humorless, shrill feminist before.

  43. slythwolf

    Okay, so, wait. Dudes with senses of humor would know that it’s hilarious to claim we “came from” chimpanzees when we didn’t? I guess I really don’t know from funny.

  44. slythwolf

    Instead of handing over meat for a quick there and then fuck, they found that males would just share the meat around – even giving meat even to those females not in estrus (ie not going to have sex with anyone). However, when the females did go looking for a mate then the known to be more generous males would be more likely to be picked out.

    Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Does that mean female chimps are more willing to fuck male chimps who are, you know, nice to them? Because that just goes against every principle of evolutionary psychology I’ve ever heard.

  45. Bird

    So does this mean that when I give someone a gift, I want to engage in sex with them? I suppose that it never occured to these researchers that sometimes people who like each other give each other gifts, and that sometimes, people who like each other also have sex together, but that those gifts don’t mean sex is a direct result.

    Oh, wait. Dude nation. That pretty much describes the dating strategy of your average be-penised sort.

  46. klg

    A commentator on another blog made a great point about this and since I’m not sure if she’s an IBTP reader, I wanted to share the gist of it here:

    In lion prides, it’s the females who hunt and bring meat back to the males. Yet nature shows on lions, at least the ones I’ve seen, frame this arrangement as a harem.

  47. Comrade PhysioProf

    Heh. MJ just called us humorless feminists! Whee. That’s so funny.

    Many of the people with the best senses of humor I have ever encountered are feminists. This “humorless feminist” shit is just cover for the humorlessness of d00d fuckmuggets.

  48. ma'am

    Why is it that when animals do something that provides supporting evidence for the patriarchy (exchange of goods for sexual services) that it becomes evidence for animals’ powers of logic?

    And every other time animals do something (pretty much anything) it is evidence that they don’t feel pain, aren’t capable of logic, can’t process complex thoughts, etc.?

  49. CoolAunt

    This “humorless feminist” shit is just cover for the humorlessness of d00d fuckmuggets.

    It’s because we don’t let them get a pass for sexist jokes, rape jokes in particular, that they call us humorless. “Ah, c’mon. It was just a joke. Where’s your sense of humor?”

  50. Citizen Jane

    My boyfriend cooked for me the other night. Sometimes he buys the groceries. In fact, if we’re watching a movie and he goes to get himself a drink, he will often bring me one, too.

    I’m such a whore.

  51. veganrampage

    The whole “hunter gatherer” concept is pure crap for myriad reasons. The truth is much closer to “gatherer scavenger” with hunting evolving only for sporadic special social events, and many times both sexes had roles in that.
    Hunting is just not an efficient way to survive for humans. Too bad the fucking patriarchy still has so many feminists still believing this nonsense.
    If one takes a careful look at human teeth it becomes obvious that most of them are for chewing grains and grasses and fruit and vegetables. Look at a cat’s teeth and compare; they have the teeth of a true hunter and carnivore.
    We grew our over-large brains from eating fruit and forming social bonds. Hunting? Bah!
    I thought it went without saying that homosapiens were animals.

  52. jael

    ha. the “fuck this, fuck that” post is being blocked by this internet cafe as porn.

    i am very amused.

  53. parallel

    Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Does that mean female chimps are more willing to fuck male chimps who are, you know, nice to them?

    more or less

    Because that just goes against every principle of evolutionary psychology I’ve ever heard.

    exactly.

  54. sonia

    no evolutionist ever bothers to mention that if human males evolved to be abusive assholes, it is entirely possible for other species of males.

    boo-ya.

  55. Carolyn

    Hannah, THANK YOU for that excellent reading list, and the paper, which I just downloaded. It’s Darwin year here, and I’m taking biology courses in school, so I’m overwhelmed with questions about how evolution (specifically sexual selection) is supposed to work that no one I know here can answer, and I’ve been looking all over for places to go for non-distorted information. I’d actually already ordered The Woman who Never Evolved, and am planning to read Gowalty on campus (it’s surprisingly expensive to buy), but didn’t know about the others on the list.

  56. keshmeshi

    Pardon my language, but the fact that this researcher was conceptually able to put chimps and “hunter-gatherer” humans in the same group is fucking offensive.

    No kidding. It makes my hair stand on end thinking about how these numbnuts are going to interpret hunter-gatherer societies, and how they’ll likely approach these peoples as if they’re animals at the zoo.

    It’s also my admittedly amateurish understanding that hunter-gatherer societies tend to be less overtly patriarchal, with women often having more reproductive control, more choice of sexual partner(s), and more options to get out of bad relationships, and are less likely to be the victims of gendered violence.

  57. gerda

    what got me was;

    “female chimps do not usually hunt”

    ummm…. that depends on yer definition of hunting. they use sharp sticks to kill bushbabys sleeping in hollow trees, but i suppose that’s more like…err… ‘fishing’? ‘gathering’?

    i am more likely to fancy and therefore put out for a handy chap that shares his stuff with me, rather than a layabout that just blags, whats so unevolutioniary about that?

  58. Eric

    Great post. Your readers might be interested to know that, not only was the commentary on this story deeply offensive, they missed the entire point of the study. If you’d like to learn how this study actually shows how females are calling the shots check out one of Nature’s blogs “The Primate Diaries.” http://tiny.cc/kKTmL

  59. Cathy

    “Why couldn’t it have been posited that the females took a look at how the males were taking a long-ass time to kill the varmint, took a look at a stick, had an ‘ah-ha’ moment, and went to tool making? And the males, well, they’re just too stupid or stubborn to take a cue from the ladies.

    No, they don’t get props for being smart. They get derided for being weak. As usual.”

    Speedbudget, that was great. I imagine the males won’t use spears cuz the others would say, “You hunt like a GIRL.”

  60. Jonathan

    For a long time I wondered why some porn-rotted Dudebags would name their hideous women’s sexbot fashion company Anthropologie.

    Then I read IBTP, and it all coheres!

  61. Kiuku

    the thing about female chimps and tools, spears, etc is that female chimps usually always construct the first tools, for multitudes of tasks. It’s always the females, and the males follow because of observation, or do not follow at all. Of course, they’d rather project prostitution onto a rather normal social behavior (offering food). In Dude Nation women cannot provide for themselves by themselves. In the wild, and in any healthy social group, they can. But a more interesting study would be on why the observers project motivations onto the female chimps (either manipulative, conniving, or lack of ability) and the male chimps (providing, making a deal) that just don’t exist.

    In the Patriarchy though, men are constantly making these deals. But notice how its’ never the male that is using the female. The female is always colored as using the male. I know of many men, actually every single man that feels used if he does something for a woman that does not give and has not given him sexual favors.

  62. SelinaK

    Big suprise, turns out original ‘study’ is complete bullshit:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20493515

    http://news.oneindia.in/2010/05/28/chimpsdont-trade-meat-for-sex.html

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