Female Aggression is All About the Menz

November 22, 2013

A recent NYXs article by John Tierney:  A Cold War Fought By Women (H/T: about 20 HUS readers!) takes a new look at female intrasexual competition, confirming what girls figure out at about the age of three. It’s all about the menz.

According to the 2008 study The Myth of the Alpha Malewomen vie for social dominance via intrasexual competition.

We argue that overt competitiveness and resultant social dominance in females have been traditionally underrated by biologists and psychologists.

Our motivating theoretical perspective suggests that females of high social dominance are less different from dominant males in terms of behaviors and motivations than is commonly believed, and that these socially dominant females enjoy similar social regard as dominant males do, gender stereotypes notwithstanding.

Not surprisingly, dominant or “popular” females mate with dominant males. There’s a popular misconception that mating is easier for women than for men, according to the Times:

The old doubts about female competitiveness derived partly from an evolutionary analysis of the reproductive odds in ancient polygynous societies in which some men were left single because dominant males had multiple wives. So men had to compete to have a chance of reproducing, whereas virtually all women were assured of it.

But even in those societies, women were not passive trophies for victorious males. They had their own incentives to compete with one another for more desirable partners and more resources for their children. And now that most people live in monogamous societies, most women face the same odds as men. In fact, they face tougher odds in some places, like the many college campuses with more women than men.

Sarah B. Hrdy, who is quoted in the Times piece said as early as 1981:

Females’ behavior is no less self-interested, competitive, or dominance striving than males and their subtle social politics can be downright diabolical: They inhibit each others’ reproductive cycles, monopolize resources, dominate and sexually manipulate males, and kill each others’ infants. 

A recent study by Vaillancourt and Sharma observed the reactions of female students when this woman entered the college class room, under each of these conditions:

cold war

The women were overtly hostile about the first chick the minute she left the room, while the second woman didn’t bother them. From a female POV this makes total sense – the first woman is driving down the price of sex. Vaillancourt:

“Sex is coveted by men. Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”

In a fascinating turn, Vaillancourt then asked women how they felt about these two women:


Women disliked the heavier women as much as the thin woman – it was her sexual display they objected to, not her attractiveness.

From a strategy standpoint, ostracizing the promiscuous female is far more effective than joining her ranks and hosting a Fire Sale on sex. That’s why, despite the Sexual Revolution and ample cultural permission to enjoy casual sex, only 10-20% of women choose it. The price is too low, for too little gain. 

Those who would seek to curb this sort of indirect female aggression are chasing rainbows. It’s hard-wired, and it’s effective.