Dr. Janni Pedersen: Female Primates and the 21st Century University
From Barbara Zorn-Arnold on October 11th, 2017
To understand current challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace in general, and in higher education in particular, applying a both historical and cross-cultural lens is critical. Such an analysis helps understand societal norms of what is “natural” for one gender, as well as what is construed as “traditional” in a particular society. Both of these terms are being used as discourse aids to direct women, and men, towards specific gender roles. The gender roles found in our culture have historically held women back from careers in academia, and still present specific challenges. This presentation will look at the origin of gender inequality in human history and prehistory. First, a visit with our evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos, provide little evidence for biologically determined gender roles in our deep evolutionary past. Further along in history, research indicates that gender roles changed, towards widespread subjugation of women, when larger and more complex societies emerged based on agriculture, replacing smaller bands of hunter-gathers that in many cases were more egalitarian in terms of resources, political power, and gender. This indicates that gender roles are malleable and depends upon larger societal structures of political and economic organization. Cross-cultural comparison of contemporary societies also highlight this point and further the role of cultural norms that vary through time and across class and ethnic divisions. Returning to contemporary higher education, gender norms influence both teaching, as well as career potentials of female faculty and other staff members. A critical assessment of the origin of these norms, and their support of lack of support from scientific evidence, can help elucidate if and how to move beyond them.
Dr. Janni Pedersen, the Chair of Ashford University’s Cultural Anthropology program, joined Ashford in 2012 to teach courses in cultural anthropology and work closely with the associate online faculty. She earned her doctoral degree from the Department of Anthropology at Iowa State University, where she taught courses in both biological and cultural anthropology as well as in philosophy. Her research interests focused on primatology as it relates to human evolution. While in Iowa, she conducted research with language-trained bonobos (a form of chimpanzee) at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. She has published research on using analytical methods, normally reserved for human- human conversations, to bonobo-human conversations, and has studied the differences between bonobos that are language-trained and those that are not. She also earned an MA from the Department of Philosophy and History of Ideas at University of Aarhus in Denmark as well as a BA in Philosophy from University of Aarhus.