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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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? In The 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.

Excerpt

En notre vie mortelle il n’est d’autre vérité que le chevauchement, tout le restant
n’étant que lanternes et fariboles
.

(Our mortal life is nothing but coupling; all the rest is just lanterns and
nonsense.)

—Albert Cohen, Belle du Seigneur, 1968

Cooperation and Conflict

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 from the gaggle of her girlfriends fluttering excitedly about on their night out. It looks at first glance as though they understand each other perfectly, this playful couple. But in fact there’s a lot they don’t know about each other, things that might surprise them if they did. She doesn’t realize that he’s much less rich than he looks. And he doesn’t realize that she’s had herself cosmetically enhanced: those curves aren’t as authentic as he thinks they are. He has no idea just how many of her girlfriends have done the same. And if he were capable of giving the matter a moment’s thought, he might be a little put out to realize that the admiration they all share for his attributes has everything to do with his offer of dinner and nothing at all to do with his physique. He may be in it for the pleasure, but she is only too . . .

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