Beyond Coy Females and Eager Males: The Evolution of Darwin’s Sexual Selection

Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge book series (CROKNOW, volume 1)


This paper examines evolutionary accounts of sexual difference, focusing on the models of sexual selection, from Darwin to today.

Sexual selection has always been a powerful vector for myths of sex and gender, based on the assumption of a two-sex dichotomy. On the basis of Charles Darwin’s work, two mechanisms were put forth under this heading: male competition and female choice. This framework stresses competition for sexual access to females, engendering more or less pronounced sexual dimorphism and the development of armaments or ornaments in the males. This distinction has been interpreted as the manifestation of two kinds of energetic processes (anabolic vs katabolic) revealing the nearly metaphysical essences of “maleness” and “femaleness”. During the twentieth century, those concepts have been amplified on the level of gametes (sperm choice, sperm competition, sperm wars).

Two-sex models have two kinds of limits. First, they are androcentric: both male competition and female choice aim at explaining the evolution of male traits. Secondly, two-sex models tend to associate a peculiar behaviour to a definite genetic formula. But other concepts and theories emphasise that it is not the biological sex that determines the extent or modalities of sexual dimorphism. They have led to a search for gender-neutral models.


Sexual Selection Sexual Dimorphism Parental Investment Female Choice Male Competition 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculté de Philosophie, Professor of Science History and PhilosophyUniversity Jean MoulinLyonFrance

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