Book review

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

by Matt Ridley


Today, even more than when the book was written in the early 1990s, this subject area is extremely fraught. Many seek to deny that gender differences are anything other than cultural programming, and in this work the author goes to great lengths to explain the substantial evidence pointing to (a) their existence, and (b) their evolutionary origins, as opposed to cultural origins.

I was a little worried that the 25 years or so since this book had been published would have produced new evidence that contradicted this thesis. Coincidentally, within a couple of hours of finishing the book, I came across well-reasearched current papers supporting the core points of the book:

We can see through these arguments that women are driven by evolution to want different things in their partners than men: on the whole, women are genetically programmed to seek to mate with men of status, so their genes get a leg up the power hierarchy, as higher-status men generally have higher-status children, and generally more of them. Meanwhile, men are programmed to seek younger women, as they may father more children by them.

But as the book points out repeatedly, we have the significant capability to rise above our “programming”: murder is entirely natural, but it doesn’t mean we want it ruling our current society. So the question can still legitimately be asked as to whether we want to be like this: if so, how do we wish to set up our culture, and then, how might we judge those who fail to meet our new (culturally created) standards.