PLAP 514 FALL 2004



PLAP 514 (Sex Differences: Biology, Culture, Politics and Policy) will read evolutionary psychology, hormonal and other (accessible to non-scientists) research which finds biologically-rooted differences between the sexes/genders in areas such as sexuality, aggression and competitiveness, nurturing the young, and cognition as well as some work of those who think differences between the genders are minimal and/or socially constructed.  For each topic we will consider whether evidence for difference is strong, and, if so, whether the differences should affect our cultural understanding or public policy.  Policy and cultural issues likely to be covered will include the sexual revolution; sexual harassment; fatherless families; divorce; Title IX; domestic abuse, career/family issues such as day care and parental leave, occupational segregation and glass ceilings; and single sex education.


Enrollment is limited to 20 students and will be by permission of instructor.  “Permission of instructor” is important because experience has shown that this is the best way to get students with differing perspectives but also students who can maintain emotional and intellectual equanimity when confronting controversial material.  This year students’ reading will include my book to be published in April (more controversy!), “Taking Sex Differences Seriously.” 


The course will be principally concerned with exploring the hypothesis that many differences between the sexes are very significantly affected by biological differences between men and women.  This outlook will be represented in my book as well as much other material. Commonly, research in the humanities and social sciences assumes instead that gender differences are socially constructed.  Each week we will read work that takes the social construction point of view, but it will not get equal time.


I mention this because many people’s world views have been deeply influenced by a socially constructed view of the world.  The course will be much better if a number of people with this outlook sign up, and we are thus offered a full range of debate.  I regularly give “A’s” to some students with this outlook, and I have continued, through the years, friendly e-mail contact with a number of such students.  Still, I think it only fair to alert students to my orientation.  If your world view has been heavily shaped by “social construction” (or feminism in most of its political and academic forms), and you sign up for either of these courses, your position may be a little like that of a strong Christian who signs up for a course in “the best of atheist thought.”  My analogy is, however, not perfect because there is no middle ground between atheism and Christianity whereas there is between biological and social construction approaches to gender differences.


I have included on this web page Richard Udry’s, “The Nature of Gender,” so as to give everyone an example of the kind of literature which challenges the “social construction” view of the world.  Elsewhere on my web page you will also find most of my fall 2003 syllabus for the course.  The course requirements will be the same. 


The course requirements are unusual—including pop quizzes—and there is considerable reading (though less than the syllabus suggests; many of the items are short “op eds” from newspapers).  Though there are pop quizzes, there is no final paper or final exam so when other courses are particularly busy mine will not be.  The previous versions of the course have been popular with students in part because of the pop quizzes.  Students realize that these quizzes help explain the unusually well informed discussions and debates which we regularly have.  The only criticisms of the last version of the course were the heavy reading and, consequently, the high cost of course reading material. The course is expensive because the reading is heavy, and all of your reading for the course is done in common with other enrolled students (In other words, there is no reading done on your own in preparation for a long paper.).


Undergraduate students interested in enrolling should submit electronically (e-mail: a statement of a page or less telling me a little about yourself, your GPA over the last two semesters ( should be about a 3.0 or better), your major, your interests and long term plans (if known), and why you think you might like to take the course.  Include your e-mail address and phone number. 


Please stop by my office if you have further questions about the course.  My office hours are Mondays 3:30-5:30 and by appointment.  Politics department majors will have some priority in registration if over-enrollment becomes an issue. 



Best wishes.


Steve Rhoads