Anthropology, Department of


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Published in DOMINANCE RELATIONS: AN ETHOLOGICAL VIEW OF HUMAN CONFLICT AND SOCIAL INTERACTION, edited by D. R. Omark, F. F. Strayer, and D. G. Freedman (New York: Garland STPM Press, 1980), pp. 427-439.


Dominance interactions among individuals undoubtedly have both a biological basis and evolutionary significance. Literature on these topics has been copiously cited elsewhere in this book and will not be repeated here. Sex differences in behaviors which separately and together culminate in the ability of an individual to win agonistic encounters are also documented both for human and nonhuman primates. Less attention has been paid, however, to the process by which sex differences in the propensity to behave in a given way interact with socialization experiences of children to produce the familiar usual pattern of male dominance. This chapter proposes to outline a series of probable mechanisms whereby behaviors that are either innate or easily learned become the basis for two reasonably distinct modes of action and interaction by human males and females. Many of the behaviors have analogues, and presumably homologues, in nonhuman primate behavior.

For the purposes of this chapter the two sexual modes of action will be treated as dichotomies to emphasize certain aspects of differentiation which are pivotal for understanding the implication of sex differences for dominance interactions. In fact, with respect to most behavioral variables the sexes evince overlapping distribution, with a sizable proportion of girls and boys showing comparable frequencies of occurrence of the behavior in question. Also true, but often overlooked in such discussions, is the fact that innumerable behavioral, physiological, and psychological variables have been and could be isolated that show no regular pattern of sex differentiation but much individual variation. The notion to be developed here is that there are target areas of behavior which are not only sex differentiated but also differentiated in ways which portend interestingly for inequality in certain types of interaction situations.

When dealing with humans and the issue of the biological basis of any or all behavior, one must consider whether cultural conditioning may not account for some part of the behavior or behavior complex which is under scrutiny. In the analysis which follows the subject will be examined at an elemental level so that the question of cultural influences can be sidestepped. In a later section the topic of sex-differentiated behavior in the context of a particular culture (!King Bushman) will be considered.

There are in the individual a bundle of sex-specific proclivities to behave. These proclivities are furthered by various forces, each of which in isolation carries no directional value but which, in the context of other forces contribute to the characteristic path of the proclivities.

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