The Theory of Evolution - Its Implications to Patriarchy and Feminism

Finding Patriarchy and Feminism's Link to the Evolution Theory

Both human society and the primate world bear witness to patriarchy and feminism. Barbara Smuts, in her “The Evolutionary Origins of Patriarchy” (1995), describes male dominance and female resistance as sexual behaviors among hominids. However, patriarchy among humans extends to other aspects of life, particularly in human relationships and in various social institutions. As a result, women struggle to achieve equality with men.

Smuts avers that though the relationship of the theory of evolution to patriarchy and feminism is entrenched in the sexual acts of primates, it does not mean that they are genetic in nature. The environment plays a critical role in this context. This makes male aggression and female insubordination a conditional offshoot of the interaction between an organism and the culture where it belongs.

The inherent drive to reproduce among male hominids often clashes with the selective approach of females, as they choose “…mates who seem likely to provide good genes, protection, parental care, or resources in addition to gametes." Such preference makes some male primates (e.g., male hamadryas baboons and mountain gorillas) violent to prove their capacity as a provider, a protector, and a parent to their offspring. The less aggressive ones like rhesus monkeys use courtship instead. Thus, manifestations of patriarchy vary across species.

Such variation also defines feminist behavior in primates. According to Smuts, “…male control over female sexuality is limited, and in some primates, females seem to be entirely free of male sexual control." Species like female olive baboons rely on other females and males to thwart male aggression. Female rhesus and vervet monkeys also have a “kingmaker power” that prompts the selected male leader to protect them. Without such social and political support then, female animals become more prone to male violence.

Likewise, a strong alliance between and among male species (e.g., bottlenose dolphins, chimpanzees, and lions) reduces the ability of females to counter domination. It also provides males the “status and privileges within the group” and grants them control and more access to food resources, particularly meat. In The Hunting Apes: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior (2001), Craig B. Stanford concurs that “the use of meat as a currency…” gave males more power over females and other males. Smuts opines that such superiority resulted in a hierarchy among men and in female subordination. Hence, violent males raise their mating potential with target females. Such reproductive feat further ensures not just women’s survival, but their limited freedom to have sex with other men as well. Females then, as Smuts observes, “engage in behaviors that promote male resource control and male control over female sexuality.” Thus, they also “contribute to the perpetuation of patriarchy.”

Furthermore, the use of language is critical in the evolution of patriarchy and feminism among humans, for it is the key element in the birth of gender ideologies. Smuts posits that human language is closely linked with “pre-linguistic forms of male control”, with men using “whatever means are available – social, material, cognitive to increase control over females.” This behavior “antedates the evolution of the human species by millions of years.” Thus, Smuts suggests that studying hominids and their environment is vital to understanding and addressing gender inequality among humans.   


Smuts, Barbara. 1995. "The Evolutionary Origins of Patriarchy". Human Nature. Vol. 6, Number 1, 1-32. Springer.

Stanford, Craig B. 2001. The Hunting Apes: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior . Princeton University Press.