BIO A 300 A: Evolutionary Biology of Women

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
SMI 304
Martin head shot
Melanie Martin

Syllabus Description:

(Abridged syllabus. Full syllabus linked under 'files').


TUES-THUR 10:30 - 12:20 SMI 304

Instructor: Dr. Melanie Martin (, Office hours Denny Hall 144, by appointment (

Course Description:

What are unique aspects of human female biology? How and why did they evolve? What social and ecological factors influence biological variation across women today? We explore these questions from a biocultural and evolutionary lens. We examine the development and expression of female reproductive traits through key life history phases (puberty, pregnancy, birth, lactation, and menopause), and discuss implications for present-day women’s health and well-being.


Check Canvas regularly for announcements and updates. Schedule of readings and assignments are subject to change. PDFs of lecture ppts will be posted to canvas within 24 hours AFTER lecture.


Course Readings:

  • REQUIRED: Breasts: a natural and unnatural history (2012) by Florence Williams. (ISBN: 9780393063189)
  • RECOMMENDED: The wonder down under: the insider's guide to the anatomy, biology, and reality of the vagina (2018) by Ellen Stokken Dahl and Nina Brochmann. (ISBN: 9781681440217)
  • Both texts are available at University Bookstore.They are also on 2-hr reserve at Odegaard Library.
  • Additional research articles, popular media articles, movies and podcasts are assigned and linked in Weekly Modules and Files 

Course Grades:

  • Three assignments (each worth 10-20% of final grade) consisting two reflection essays and a 2-part media critique
  • Three One Minute Responses (done at the end of each lecture seminar; students pre-assigned to three lectures across quarter)
  • Two exams (each worth 25% of final grade) covering lectures and required readings from weeks 1-5 and 6-10, respectively. Both will be take-home, open-note/book, multiple-choice and short answer/essay



Catalog Description: 
Explores evolutionary influences on human female biological development and physiological expression from puberty through menopause. Applies a biocultural perspective, encompassing ecological and cultural influences, in examining variation in these biological processes and expressions across and within populations. Prerequisite: BIO A 101 or BIO A 201
GE Requirements: 
Natural World (NW)
Last updated: 
September 17, 2020 - 9:00pm