Sexism and Rape in Primates



In her article “Why Gorillas Aren’t Sexist and Orangutans Don’t Rape” anthropologist, Barbara J. King questions whether animals are actually sexist and whether they are actually raping other animals. She brings up a headline about, Patrick the 430-pound silverback gorilla: “‘Sexist’ gorilla being kicked out of Dallas zoo.” Patrick was biting the smaller females in his exhibit and this behavior was deemed as “sexist.” King says that these claims remind her to the instances of male orangutans “raping” females and she questions whether we can really consider these natural animal behaviors sexist or acts of rape.

She believes that this system of male oppression toward women is unique to humans, and while she is more than willing to say that animals have the capacity for love and grief, she does not think that they are sexist or rapists. She explains that “Patrick and his male orangutan counterparts may indeed act badly toward females, yet they aren’t willfully choosing to inflict harm or violence as an expression of institutionalized male dominance.” She goes on to say that describing ideas of rape and sexism as being natural behaviors for these animals “imply that sexism and rape are hard-wired into our behavior and hard or impossible to change.”

I think this is an interesting take on issues that are very prevalent in today’s society. While we want to use human qualities and ideas to explain the actions of our close animal relatives, we cannot. By calling the primates’ instinctual behaviors sexist or rape, we are implying that these aggressive acts are engrained in our DNA, which is not at all the case. These behaviors are learned from the culture and society we are raised in. As an anthropologist King wants us to see that we cannot always apply ideas that are parts of human culture to animal culture because while there are certain similarities, the two do no always go hand in hand.