Bonobos are heroes and an inspiration to their advanced primate doppelgänger — humans. Period.
These lovable primates — discovered by science just 90 years ago — are best characterized as female-centered, egalitarian who substitute playfulness and sexual contact for aggression.
Whereas in most other species sexual behavior is a fairly distinct category, in the bonobo it is part of social relations — tension reliever and peacemaker between both sexes, if you will.
Yet, we’ve built most of the human evolution theories based on a chimp model — patriarchal, hunting, meat-eating, male-bonding, male aggression towards females. But, bonobos offered another, more relatable model and proved all of us hella wrong.
They were also known as pygmy chimpanzees, with whom we share 98,7% of DNA. From the 1990s onwards, researchers came to an astonishing conclusion, that, as a matter of fact, chimpanzees and bonobos are so, sooo much different.
Chimps construct violent, male-dominated hierarchies. Bonobos, on the other hand, form peace-led, sensitive matriarchal communities, in which they’re using sexual contact as an important type of social interaction.
To be clear, cruelty is not completely avoided or absent in bonobos. Bonobo females will stand for themselves (and others!) if they are openly violated by males. In those situations, females can even make injuries on the testicles, penis, or anus of a male.
Female ferocity towards bonobo males is present, in particular, when males behave aggressively to assert dominance or to get food.
Even when physically smaller females have to protect themselves, they’re not as aggressive as chimps, who have been known to occasionally go into other groups and kill everyone to gain control of territory. It’s a genocide, technically.
But, the thing that makes bonobos really amazing primates is the natural solidarity that females have with one another, and how it gives them strength.
Bonobo females are deeply linked with each other, maintaining commitment and loyalty. Economically, they are also controlling their available resources. Females are willing to make meals, catch and occasionally hunt for both sexes in their tribes.
With that in mind, not one singular bonobo female was the subject of frequent and continuous sexual or even ”domestic” violence.
Female bonds are the key here. In contrast to strong and enduring female pacts, males had much looser ones.
Bonobo behavior does offer at least one clear lesson for humans and growing sexual and domestic violence towards women: The bonds among females are crucial to primates’ and women’s well-being.
The communities in which women have the least control over their lives (and are at most risks of male violence) are ones in which they are separated from their children and have little support.
When women are isolated in any way, they face a greater risk of domestic abuse and less freedom in decision-making.
Women benefit when they have networks around them of people —particularly other women — who care for their welfare and can support them. Bonobo females gain strength in solidarity, and so do we.
Bonobos can, at least, offer inspiration to us who want to paint out a different future. Without violence.