Hrdy Notes Ch. 9 and Ch. 10


  • Mother-infant relations are intimate and long-lasting in primates; fathers rarely have direct contact with babies

What shapes the way men care for infants

Men typically help mother rather than have one on one contact with the child, but the exceptions to this are:

  • Long-standing familiarity with child
  • Child’s needs are urgent
  • Male has a relationship with the child’s mother

Why males don’t care more

Proximate Causes

  • High stress threshold must be met before male springs to action (“Emotional earplugs”)
  • Ultimately, it’s advantageous for males to have emotional earplugs: reason for higher threshold before responding to infant cues – they care when it’s urgent

Ultimate Causes

  • Uncertainty of paternity: stems from different reproductive strategies; males compete (quantity) and females choose (quality)
  • Males are continuously fertile, can take many partners; invest considerably less energy in reproduction process; emphasis on quantity
  • Female knows relation to baby, male only has relationship with mother to go by
  • In many mammals, nurturing and protecting pups are unisex potentials: latent instincts – the predisposition for caretaking is there, but not expressed under ordinary circumstances

Uncertainty of paternity

  • How to Prove Paternity: Monogamy – males controlling access to females (patriarchy); In gorillas, males control through physical dominance (harem)
  • In chimps, males compete with others with their sperm

Trade-offs males must consider

  • Care for an infant he may have sired
  • Seek new mates
  • Want to insure that they reproduce and care for biologically related offspring
  • Mothers can manipulate information available to fathers concerning paternity; margin of uncertainty keeps males from harming potential offspring

Male parenting strategies

  • The Hero – responds in a state of crisis, leaves once situation is resolved
  • The Protector – “some dude’s hassling your girlfriend, brah”
  • Hrdy uses these as proof that the potential for males to care is always there, although it is not always expressed

A woman’s libido

  • Relative to apes, women’s sexuality is flexible and situation dependent
  • There are vestigial estrus-like traits; female libido is cyclical
  • Reason for female orgasm – serves some type of social function in promoting bonding between partners
  • Past experiences shape future sexual responses

Male Sexuality

  • Show-off hypothesis with the Hadza people: men put all of their effort into killing largest animals even though smaller animals are easier to kill and give better caloric payoff
  • Status and prestige of the big kill is more important than meat
  • Male invests his energy towards future mating, female invests energy towards providing for living children


  • Even in matrilineal societies, property rights pass from mother’s brother to her son; women may be excluded from power

Disadvantages associated with being fatherless

  • In industrialized countries: economic hardship, reduced status, and generally declining prospects
  • Effects on children: poorer school performance, higher rates of delinquency for boys, early pregnancy for girls
  • In foraging societies: fatherless child is much more likely to die than a child with father


  • Strange men are disproportionately represented among child abusers
  • Have an increased risk to abuse the child, but this is not a genetically/biologically disposition
  • Not similar to primate infanticide: Strange male kills offspring of female in order to have better opportunity to mate with her; Primates have an ultimate goal, Abusive men have poor judgment

When strangers abduct mothers

  • When abducting mothers, killing the babies is common in order to switch off “lactation suppression of ovulation” and to prime the female for reproduction.
  • Hrdy argues that his behavior is rational
  • Example: Yanamamo – Men in groups act violently to control resources

Often mothers need backup fathers

  • This is done in order to increase offspring’s chances of survival; when loss of a parent is a real risk
  • Uncle (mother’s brother) and other kin, godparents (fictive kin), other lovers (boyfriends)

Ache: partible paternity – the antithesis of patriarchal marriage

  • Belief that child has multiple fathers
  • Husband: socially designated father
  • Other lovers: secondary fathers

Competing for a fraction of a father

  • Polygyny: one male controls and monopolizes sexual access to as many females as he can afford; common goal of many male animals
  • Patriarchal human societies: men use alliances with their brothers and fathers in order to achieve goal of polygyny; this can be made possible by controlling resources mothers need to survive and reproduce
  • Male interest and priorities are given more weight than maternal ones, with the result that high fertility (quantity) often takes precedence over child well-being (quality)
  • Lower child survival rates

When mothers are convinced to accept poor terms

  • According to Marx and Engles, wives submit to husbands in order to gain access to husbands’ resources (which males like to control in order to achieve polygyny)
  • Patriarchal relations (ex. Dogon) are common; Ache type patterns are scarce
  • Goal is to produce many offspring no matter the effect on their mothers

Dogon people of Mali

  • Arrangement relies upon invisible constraints that form the way women and men conceptualize who they are; internalized beliefs allow this society to continue
  • Ideology (internalization of what others say about each gender) and socialization (learned behaviors)

Womanly modesty

  • Patriarchal societies go to great lengths to enforce modesty and chastity: ex. Maya-speaking maize farmers of southern Mexico and central America – stories of flying rape demons that attack any female that ventures outside alone
  • Earliest written records describing standards of modest conduct for women date back thousands of years

Male strategies for controlling women

  • Virtue is linked to chastity and to accepting patriarch’s rule for him being the woman’s only mate
  • Convince a woman that being chaste was both in her interest and the same as being a good mother

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