Beauty and the beast? Conceptualizing sex in evolutionary narratives

Erika Lorraine Milam

in Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226608402
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226608426 | DOI:
Beauty and the beast? Conceptualizing sex in evolutionary narratives

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Sex is probably the best example of stable biological variation within the human species. Scientists have tried to account for the origin of sex differences in biological terms using evolutionary theory. Although Charles Darwin derived his theories of natural and sexual selection with no consideration for sex, he assumed that the differences he observed in male and female human and animal behavior were variations related to biology. This chapter examines the link between sex and evolution by reflecting on the various resonances between cultural and social norms one the one hand, and biological theory on the other. It first considers scientific explanations of women's nature, or womanhood as a subject of science, before turning to research on female choice and the animal/woman divide in the early twentieth century. The chapter also discusses the use of human and animal models of “natural” sexual behavior after World War II, sexual selection and biological determinism in the 1970s, and efforts to bridge the gap between feminism and evolutionary theory.

Keywords: sex; evolution; feminism; biology; Charles Darwin; biological determinism; sexual behavior; animal models; sexual selection; female choice

Chapter.  9947 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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