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The War of the Sexes

The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The War of the Sexes
    Book Description:

    As countless love songs, movies, and self-help books attest, men and women have long sought different things. The result? Seemingly inevitable conflict. Yet we belong to the most cooperative species on the planet. Isn't there a way we can use this capacity to achieve greater harmony and equality between the sexes? InThe War of the Sexes, Paul Seabright argues that there is--but first we must understand how the tension between conflict and cooperation developed in our remote evolutionary past, how it shaped the modern world, and how it still holds us back, both at home and at work.

    Drawing on biology, sociology, anthropology, and economics, Seabright shows that conflict between the sexes is, paradoxically, the product of cooperation. The evolutionary niche--the long dependent childhood--carved out by our ancestors requires the highest level of cooperative talent. But it also gives couples more to fight about. Men and women became experts at influencing one another to achieve their cooperative ends, but also became trapped in strategies of manipulation and deception in pursuit of sex and partnership. In early societies, economic conditions moved the balance of power in favor of men, as they cornered scarce resources for use in the sexual bargain. Today, conditions have changed beyond recognition, yet inequalities between men and women persist, as the brains, talents, and preferences we inherited from our ancestors struggle to deal with the unpredictable forces unleashed by the modern information economy.

    Men and women today have an unprecedented opportunity to achieve equal power and respect. But we need to understand the mixed inheritance of conflict and cooperation left to us by our primate ancestors if we are finally to escape their legacy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4160-8
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Economics, Biological Sciences, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Part One Prehistory

    • ONE Introduction
      (pp. 3-26)

      A few miles west of chicago, on a warm night in late spring, a fast and fancy courtship is playing out in full view of some admiring bystanders. He’s lithe and he’s loaded, and she’s had her eye on him since the moment he swung into view. The admiration is clearly mutual: he’s invited her to join him for a meal, with a sparkle in the eye that suggests he’s looking for something in return and that he doesn’t expect to receive no for an answer. Her charms are unmistakable: her voluptuous curves single her out unmissably in his eyes...

    • TWO Sex and Salesmanship
      (pp. 27-39)

      This is an advertisement for dna. A consignment of the world’s highest-grade deoxyribonucleic acid is headed this way, in twenty-three pairs of subconsignments, two of them making up the XX combination that I admire so much. Better still, some of it has undergone meiosis and is ready to play its part in reproduction. Here, advancing along this busy street, the consignment appears in its full gift wrapping—dazzlingly symmetric, as if to show off the perfect conditions in which it was produced, or perhaps the fact that the blueprint is robust enough to survive even an unhealthy gestation without conceding...

    • THREE Seduction and the Emotions
      (pp. 40-59)

      Seduction is a process that can bypass the rational brain, appealing to psychological mechanisms other than those involved in conscious thought. This happens for a good reason. Rational brains are expensive for animals to grow and maintain, so, for many kinds of problem, it is more efficient to rely on solutions from unconscious, emotional brain processes. A song sparrow with a brain large enough to understand the theory of evolution and calculate the fitness-maximizing choice of mate for any situation would be unable to support its vast head on its tiny neck. Instead, song sparrows have developed a small, relatively...

    • FOUR Social Primates
      (pp. 60-86)

      Charles darwin is widely thought to have bequeathed to us a vision of human society that, for all its conventional pieties about the importance of cooperation, is pitilessly competitive to its very core. “A war of all against all” is a phrase commonly quoted from Thomas Hobbes but often considered an appropriate description of Darwin’s own social vision, particularly by those who knowThe Origin of Speciesbut not Darwin’s later works.¹ In the closing paragraph ofThe Origin, Darwin wrote: “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of...

  5. Part Two Today

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 87-92)

      From prehistory we jump forward to the present day, and that shift warrants an explanation. This book is about the traces our evolutionary past have left on the economic relations between men and women in the twenty-first century. The brains and bodies we have inherited from our early ancestors are navigating a world very different from the one in which they first evolved. This book is not about how our evolutionary past affected life during earlier periods of history. Nor is it about how those earlier periods of history have left their traces on us today, except in one respect....

    • FIVE Testing for Talent
      (pp. 93-110)

      Imagine that you live in a society where most of the important decisions are taken and the most important rewards enjoyed by people who are tall. Actually, you don’t have to imagine very hard, because there’s a good deal of evidence that modern industrialized societies do grant substantial economic power and privileges to tall people (more on that evidence below). But suppose height were even more central to economic and social life than it now is. Suppose, for instance, that every time you filled in a bureaucratic form you had to declare your height, and there were separate toilets and...

    • SIX What Do Women Want?
      (pp. 111-125)

      If women are no less talented than men, why don’t they receive similar rewards? Here are three possible explanations. The first appeals to the idea that women might simply have, on average, different preferences from men: even if they could do any job just as well as men, they might not necessarily want to, and the jobs they want to do might be less well rewarded whoever did them. Within any occupation they might also avoid some of the positions that happen to be most highly rewarded (for instance, they might be more averse to risk or to aggressive competition)....

    • SEVEN Coalitions of the Willing
      (pp. 126-140)

      All good primatologists know how important it is to be alert to the power of alliances, to the shifting currents of loyalty and betrayal that can make or destroy an individual’s standing within the group. And that’s just when dealing with their fellow primatologists. When they study the fate of individuals within a group of baboons or chimpanzees, they know that strength, cunning, and luck are not enough. Without the ability to win the support of others and to call on that support in the face of unexpected challenges, a group-living primate is a “poor bare, forked animal” alone in...

    • EIGHT The Scarcity of Charm
      (pp. 141-156)

      One of the sidelines of the Brahmin schoolteacher in the Indian village where I did fieldwork as a graduate student in the 1980s was to write letters on behalf of the villagers who could not write for themselves—nearly all of them, as it happened. They were usually bureaucratic letters—to government officials or personnel officers of large companies—but sometimes they were family letters to sons or cousins who had made good in a city somewhere. Sometimes they were letters seeking a marriage for a son or daughter, letters in which the appearance of literacy and prosperity might make...

    • NINE The Tender War
      (pp. 157-182)

      No member of any other species than our own has ever been appointed to a university position in social anthropology. That’s a pity in lots of ways. We are far from being the only species with a talent for the study of animal behavior: many predators, for example, have an exquisitely fine understanding of the behavioral weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of their prey. Instead we rely for our understanding of human society on the insights of social anthropologists (as well as psychologists, sociologists, and economists) who are, if not exactly blinded, at least desensitized to many of the truly weird aspects...

  6. NOTES
    (pp. 183-210)
    (pp. 211-232)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 233-241)