The War of the Sexes

15th May 2012; 18:00

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As countless love songs, films, and self-help books attest, men and women have long sought different things. 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?

Professor 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, Paul Seabright shows that conflict between the sexes is, paradoxically, the product of cooperation. 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 favour 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.

Speaker: Paul Seabright, professor of economics, University of Toulouse.

Chair: Dr Terri Apter, psychologist, writer and senior tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge.

See what people said on Twitter: #RSASeabright

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