Darwin-L Message Log 8:33 (April 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<8:33>From LANGDON@GANDLF.UINDY.EDU  Tue Apr 12 15:02:56 1994

Date: Tue, 12 Apr 1994 15:02:56 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: sexual selection

I would like some informed feedback on a problem I am wrestling with in the
sociobiology of human reproduction. For those of you who are not into such
topics, I will be happy to carry on future discussions off the list.

Basic question: How much of human anatomy and behavior can be attributed to
sexual selection? Sociobiological arguments follow two streams at once that
appear to be to be contradictory.

On the one hand, they argue for a chimp-like promiscuous society in which males
are cheap (take that any way you will) and females are choosy. This should lead
to sexual selection for males. Hence, among other things, we see female
preferences for high status males.

On the other hand, females are competing for high status males and thus are
under sexual selection themselves to be sexy. Hence the evolution of breasts,
etc. Hence males express preferences for young, healthy, fertile females.

Are these scenerios mutually contradictory or can each sex select the other
simultaneously? I have come to several conclusions, but I am not satisfied with
them: For example: Male competition was important in proto-hominid society but
has not been since the evolution of the big brain and altricial infants.
Females are now competing with one another because males are investing more.
Male promiscuity is a social reality but is evolutionarily irrelevant. The
preferences expressed by one or both sexes for characteristics of a mate should
not be confused with actual behavior and do not correlate with reproductive

Anyone want to take up these questions?

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