Are women more attached to animals than men?

Animalist Party, this new political formation led by lawyer Hélène Thouy, would look for men for the next parliamentary elections. He had already been punished in a previous election for inequality.

This creates a small moment of surprise because we are used to the race for parity going the other way. Why do they lack those who are believed to be so ready to aspire to public office? Would they be less interested in the condition of the animals? As stereotypical answers, automatic images come to mind: the images of the hunter (98% of men in France), the butcher (90% of men), the vegetarian (67% of women), even such a famous actress. to champion their cause. Not to mention primatologists, most often women who follow pioneers like Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall or Brigitte Galdigas, and even academics dedicated to the study of human-animal relationships.

In addition to these selective examples, do men really feel less concerned about the fate of animals?

Female antivivisectionism

Opposition to animal testing is one of the areas where gender differences are most documented. This is a cause where women are overrepresented, and in relationships that have changed little in 150 years. In the 19thand century, 60% of anti-vivisectionist leaders were women, representing a high number at a time when they were almost invisible in public space. In addition, three-quarters of the participants in demonstrations in favor of animals at this time were female participants.

Even today, the commitment to animals at public events remains very feminine: In nine studies that counted women at animal-friendly events in several countries, they were three times more than men.

Conversely, when it comes to physical violence, men dominate, whether the victims are human or not. The probability of an adult female actually hitting an animal is 39 times lower than that of a male, and the probability of shooting it with a gun is 45 times lower.

Among young people, a French study published in 2020 and conducted by one of us with 12,344 students showed that among the 7.3% who had already deliberately harmed an animal, more than two-thirds were boys. As far as we know, there is no culture where women have more frequent unmotivated violent behavior than men with animals. On the other hand, there is no shortage of ethnographic examples where women take care of them and even breastfeed them.

It is also women who are characterized by a pathology that can be perceived as an undermined form of care: Noah’s syndrome, this compulsive accumulation of animals, which affects three times as many women. As a mirror image, we also notice that certain domestic animals such as cats become more attached to women than to the men who take care of them.

Gender empathy in mammals

To shed light on the differences between women and men in their relationship to animals, we can hypothesize that it is substantiated by differences in the degree of empathy that seems to apply to many species to the detriment of animals, men.

In a comprehensive review, Leonardo Christov-More of the University of California, Los Angeles showed that when it comes to emotional contagion or automatic imitation, females consistently outcompete males in different species.

In addition, in gorillas and chimpanzees, we observe more comforting behaviors in females. Among the wild western gorillas, young females exhibit a particular reaction (between curiosity and fear) to the lifeless body of a bush pig encountered on their way, while a young male seemed indifferent to the situation.

This preoccupation with the fate of others in females does not seem to stop with non-human primates. In mice, females are more likely to writhe when they see another mouse in pain.

Female non-human primates also appear to be more influenced by the behavior of other group members. For example, yawning, when fellow species yawn (a well-known behavioral manifestation of emotional contagion) occurs more frequently in female bonobos.

In jackdaw, it is the females who share their food the most.

In spontaneous play we also notice more caring behaviors: the young female wild chimpanzees carry more sticks as if they were babies (males prefer to use them to hit each other) or in captivity they play more often than males with dolls, if made available .

This is probably the result of a disposition or preparation in young women for motherhood. In primates (eg macaques, gorillas, etc.), young females often try to steal hatches from adult females to test and learn the mother’s craft.

Of course, it would be necessary to systematically study these behaviors in many species to verify whether they are present in most of them or only in some, and to analyze the social and ecological conditions with which these behaviors are associated. This will also be essential to protect against a selective evocation of facts that confirm our stereotypical expectations, which easily draw on the natural world to justify itself.

But so far, the available work suggests that empathy is much more present in women, and that it is probably an ancient biological phenomenon based on the care of the pups in the postnatal period.

Tears and human charity

All this is found in humans. Thus, female newborns cry more than boys if they hear another child cry.

Later, 4-year-old girls who see pictures of people in need have more empathetic reactions than boys.

Empathetic vows increase markedly in adolescence, and in adulthood, women more accurately recognize the feelings of others, whether it be facial expressions, vocalizations, or positions. They spend more time and money on others through donations or community involvement.

It now appears to be established that empathic abilities separate men and women, as shown by this study conducted on a sample of nearly 670,000 participants.



Read more: Killing for science? A new Milgram experiment


Kill an animal for science

The behavioral differences between men and women have recently been directly confirmed during a behavioral study conducted at the University of Grenoble-Alpes. During an experiment, nearly 750 participants from all walks of life had to administer doses of a toxic product to an animal as part of a pharmaceutical research protocol (the animal was a very realistic robot, but they were not aware of it). Despite the animal’s distress signals, the majority of participants injected the 12 doses in the belief that they were judging the animal.

Observation of behavior revealed that women felt much more intense stress than men and, above all, that they averaged fewer toxic doses. During the experiment, four participants shed tears, all women.

female killers exist

If political involvement in a party that presents itself as an animal attracts men less, would it be due to their biology? Perhaps in part, but on the condition of not seeing a rigid determinism in it. There are many cases where men show more empathy for animals than women, and it also stems from individual psychological dispositions, but is also encouraged and channeled by the social environment, which often designates who can benefit from it.

Then it is, at least in one case, the net hunt among the Aka pygmies, a collaborative hunt practiced by men and women, the women who take their lives. Among this people in the forest, hunter-gatherers from the Central African Republic in the heart of the tropical forest, the women kill the duikers, these small forest antelopes that the acacias, men and women together, hunt with a net (Masi, personal observation in 2005 and 2016) . If the animal is small (eg in the case of the blue duiker), the female hunters themselves delegate to the youngest, including children, the opportunity to gain experience in killing an animal. The men must let the women kill these small antelopes, as it is a task that does not require their physical strength, reserved for larger animals such as elephant, forest buffalo, bush pig, giant wild boar or bongo.

In conclusion, the completely exceptional existence of female animal killers is not necessarily a tragedy for the candidate of an animal party, even if they seem to invalidate the stereotypical figure of the empathetic and non-violent woman. This means that the relative plasticity of cultural roles can also make it possible to imagine that men devote themselves to the animal cause, and that parity might one day be … natural.


Laurent Bègue-Shankland has just released “Face aux Animaux”, published by Odile Jacob.

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