PLUS323

The Battle of the Sexes: The Evolutionary Story (55+)

If the phrase “battle of the sexes” evokes images of frivolous 1960s Italian sex comedies with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, think again. Sex is the oldest structural, binary division on the planet. Every organism has evolved to serve its own genes. Sometimes this fact puts the sexes into collaboration, sometimes into conflict. Evolutionary pressures have been refining these differences for around a billion years.

This course considers the battle of the sexes: where did it come from and what are its implications today? We will explore the various battlefields, from the evolution of sex, to intra- and inter-genomic antagonism, to the evolutionary biology of human sexual dimorphism, both physical and psychological.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Talking about sex

We explore the language and conceptual frameworks within which we’ll be talking about sex and the sexes. Basic evolutionary biology, the scientific method and population statistics are all reviewed. This introduction establishes the grounds for claims made in the course.

Week 2: What is sex?

Sex and the differences between male and female are things that most people believe they understand, but do we? Using molecular chemistry and evolutionary biology, this class answers the rather central questions: what sex is, how it came to exist, and what fitness benefits it provides.

Week 3: How the battle began

The sexes have always been at battle. This week we examine the intra- and inter-genomic battle: male and female genes right from the start fight over determination of the fetus’ sex. We usually assume mothers and fathers have a shared investment in their offspring, but is that always, necessarily true?

Week 4: Sexual dimorphism: reproductive strategies

In every sexual species a variety of forces, including the traits of the opposite sex, mold each sex into a particular form. In each species there is a range of differences between the sexes. This week we examine the nature and consequences of different reproductive strategies.

Week 5: Sexual dimorphism: personality

This week our discussion of sexual dimorphism turns to an examination of the Big Five personality traits. First we review the history of the Big Five, then ask what are the sex differences, their evolutionary roots, and the social and interpersonal implications for the relationships between the sexes?

Week 6: Evolutionary mismatch and the applied biology of our current situation

Social organizations express a balance of fitness interests. Agriculture, industry, the welfare state, and contraception have all played a role in the current state of the battle of the sexes. From Playboy to feminism to MGTOW, we try to make some sense of it all through the lens of biology.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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