Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When Women Compete Against Women

Two score and a few years ago second wave feminism hit America’s shore. The most sophisticated feminist thinkers of the time based their theories on radical leftist mythology.

If the proletariat was not going to be the vanguard of the Revolution, perhaps another oppressed group, women, could do the job. In place of the class struggle of workers against their capitalist oppressors, feminists created a new story about a the new story where women were struggling against oppressive patriarchal males.

Same story; different characters.

To make women a political force, radical feminists had to make them into a class. To do so they touted the virtues of sisterhood. They saw all women connected by virtue of their chromosomal makeup and promoted solidarity among women. They argued that all women had to join together to fight and defeat the entrenched interests of the patriarchy.

Women were exhorted to see men as the enemy. They were taught that women had to join the fight against those who wanted to oppress them, to abuse them, to crush their dreams, to kill their hopes and to consign them to a life of domestic drudgery.

Obviously, the radical culture warriors did not produce their longed-for Revolution, but they have succeeded to some extent in creating a block of progressive women voters who spring into action the minute they hear that the Republican Party, the party of the patriarchy has declared war on women.

It was, and still is, a fiction. Of course, fictions can be powerful. If you become convinced of their truth you will reconfigure your life in order to live them.

To sell the fiction, feminists were obliged to ignore reality. They were not going to sell the myth of sisterly solidarity if they accepted the simple and basic fact that women compete against other women. It was easier to blame men.

The latest research has borne this out. John Tierney has reported on studies conducted by anthropologist Sarah Hrdy and by researchers Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma. It’s not about male dominance, but about female competition.

Underlying his article is a single theme: much of what today’s culture blames the account of the patriarchy is really a part of female psychology.

One suspects that women would be better able to deal with the problems if they had not been taught that to blame others for their problems.

Tierney summarizes:

The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety. Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance.

Everyone knows that men compete for women. How many people are aware of the extent that women compete against each other for male attention and affection?

In Tierney's words:

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.

If women are competing for men they are, intrinsically, more than just passive trophies, the spoils of male gladiatorial combat.

How did the researchers study the question? In one study, an attractive, voluptuous young woman was sent into different rooms, each of which was restricted to women.  Sometimes the voluptuous woman was dressed in jeans; sometimes she wore a short skirt.

If she was dressed in jeans the women in the classroom did not really notice her. But, if she was dressed in a short skirt, looking that she was seeking to attract male attention, the women in the room expressed hostility toward her as soon as she left the room. In particular, they derogated her appearance.

Tierney writes:

Most of the aggression, though, happened after she left the room. Then the students laughed about her and impugned her motives. One student suggested that she dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor. Another said that her breasts “were about to pop out.”

The results of the experiment jibe with evidence that this “mean girl” form of indirect aggression is used more by adolescents and young women than by older women, who have less incentive to handicap rivals once they marry. Other studies have shown that the more attractive an adolescent girl or woman is, the more likely she is to become a target for indirect aggression from her female peers.

It ought not to be a surprise, at least to long time readers of this blog, that slut-shaming is usually is visited by women on other women. Women compete with other women by speaking ill of certain kinds of women, thus to lower their value in the eyes of men.

Tierney reports:

“Women are indeed very capable of aggressing against others, especially women they perceive as rivals,” said Dr. Vaillancourt, now a psychologist at the University of Ottawa. “The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men.”

Stigmatizing female promiscuity — a.k.a. slut-shaming — has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous. Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma is enforced mainly by women.

“Sex is coveted by men,” she said. “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.”

Women who offer sexual favors on the cheap disempower other women. Thus, it makes sense that women are especially intolerant of promiscuous women.

A similar dynamic is involved in women’s concern about being thin. It ought to be obvious that men prefer a woman’s natural curves than in her skeletal thinness. Therefore it makes little sense to blame women’s low self-esteem about their bodies on the male gaze. It makes even less sense to blame it all on the media portrayal of the female body.

If men are to blame, then women should not trust what men say and how men feel. If they do they will ignore men's preferences and join a sisterhood that is defined in opposition to men. One should notice that women who suffer eating disorders develop bonds of sisterhood, competing with each other in a race to lose weight. Besides, if you want to blame the media, it is necessary to note that the people who edit the great fashion magazines are almost always women.

On the larger point, Tierney summarizes the research conducted by Christopher Ferguson:

Indirect aggression can take a psychological toll on women who are ostracized or feel pressured to meet impossible standards, like the vogue of thin bodies in many modern societies. Studies have shown that women’s ideal body shape is to be thinner than average — and thinner than what men consider the ideal shape to be. This pressure is frequently blamed on the ultrathin female role models featured in magazines and on television, but Christopher J. Ferguson and other researchers say that it’s mainly the result of competition with their peers, not media images.

“To a large degree the media reflects trends that are going on in society, not creates them,” said Dr. Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University. He found that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies did not correlate with what they watched on television at home. Nor were they influenced by TV programs shown in laboratory experiments: Watching the svelte actresses on “Scrubs” induced no more feelings of inferiority than watching the not-so-svelte star of “Roseanne.”

But he found that women were more likely to feel worse when they compared themselves with peers in their own social circles, or even if they were in a room with a thin stranger, like the assistant to Dr. Ferguson who ran an experiment with female college students. When she wore makeup and sleek business attire, the students were less satisfied with their own bodies than when she wore baggy sweats and no makeup. And they felt still worse when there was an attractive man in the room with her.


n.n said...

Women are at odds with both their female and male saviors. I am especially fond of the savior class which degrades women to preserve their dignity, or something. They call it a progressive morality, and they sell it as a perpetual childhood (i.e. dissociation of risk), but with money, sex, and self-esteem. What's not to like?

n.n said...

Sam L.:

It was an indoctrination scheme, where the least fit, or most gullible, would voluntary follow the Dodo. It reached its apogee with normalization of abortion, where women would sacrifice their progeny in exchange for promises of money, sex, and self-esteem.

Survival of the fittest is a for-profit game. Women, and men, would do well to stop obsessing with the various articles of faith describing its origin, and focus on the principles which drive its function.

Anonymous said...

An interesting researcher, Sarah Hrdy.

I found a recent video presentation from her.

JP said...

What you are talking about may best be characterized as being "lovestruck".

According to Tallis, some of the symptom clusters shared with being lovestruck include: mania or hypomania – abnormally elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, extravagant gift giving; depression – tearfulness; Insomnia - loss of concentration and difficulty sleeping; anorexia - lack of appetite; stress - high blood pressure, pain in chest and heart, acute insomnia; sometimes brought on by a "crush"; obsessive-compulsive disorder – preoccupation and hoarding valueless but superstitiously resonant items; psychologically created physical symptoms, such as upset stomach, change in appetite, insomnia, dizziness, and confusion.


The *most important* thing to understand about this condition is that it can be dealt with by engaging in cognitively demanding tasks.

So, there you have it.

Diagnosis and treatment.

Problem solved.

Retriever said...

Thanks for a good post. As a mom of daughters, I heard time and time again about the "Mean Girl" phenomenon in their high school. Not because they were floozies who wore short skirts and seemed to be trying to gain an advantage by being a slut, but because they did NOT. If you have daughters who are in bigh school or college or are recent graduates, you may be as appalled as I was that young women who do not dress like someone plying their trade on 42nd st can be sneered at as dowdy or dismissed.

Girls divide other girls into categories (mine were geeks and brains) It didn't matter that they got into better colleges than the slutty cheerleaders, the slutty cheerleaders still bullied and looked down on them. I spend a lot of time making them look in the mirror and reminding them how lovely they actually are, as the Mean Girls left them feeling like toads.

The community I live in colludes with this. One of my daughters was a National Merit Scholar, captain of her athletic team and got into an Ivy, after turning down an appointment to a service academy. But the local paper's idols were moronic bleached blondes with long legs saying vapid things about shooting goals for the town because they were about to take up lacrosse scholarships with mediocre universities.

In the social competition and community pecking order, the beautiful bimbos always win. This perhaps reflects the values of my community where trophy brides are more valued than women who earn their own money.

(I was an at home mommy, I'm not some rabid man hater)

On another aspect of this, I would agree that women are generally far crueler to each other than men are to women professionally. Throughout my career, with one or two exceptions, I've had better male bosses and more trustworthy male colleagues than female ones. This stems, I think, from the tendency of some females (like female animals) to be ceaselessly trying to alter the dominance order in a pack. Female humans in an office may be your ally for a while, but will often shift and turn to another when it seems likely to help them. I have not had this happen with my male allies in offices, who have tended to keep confidences, and help me in difficult situations, sometimes at great cost.

There's a type of histrionic, on the make female (usually the very pretty under educated young thing with issues who is looking to catch a husband) who likes to be seen by men to be being supportive and sweet. So they will kiss the air, and say sweet things to other women when men are around. But real virtue consists in what you do when nobody is looking. My male friends do things like bring me venison or firewood or help me after my house got flooded, without telling the world about it.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good women (I have female friends at church who are the most loving and self sacrificial examples you could ever hope for). But as a mom, I have to arm my daughters against the manipulative and deceptive women they have to deal with. And dry their tears from hateful things the mean girls do and say to them.

Dennis said...


I watched a version of this in my wife's reactions to females at work who were bosses or became bosses. At first she was impressed with them. As time passed by she became less and less enamored with them to the point that she began to dislike them. She was always happier with most of the male bosses for whom she worked.
There were two female engineers, one a chemical and the other an electronic engineer, that both of us respected. Good solid managers.
Your comment about plenty of good women is a point well taken. I would add that I believe that number is a lot larger than one might suspect given the make up of the news media. One of the things I have noticed is that the farther the distance away from feminism the better, and the likelihood of being successful as a leader, more adjusted the woman is as an individual. The great leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Golda Mier, et al are almost always More conservative it their outlook and actions. It is why I try to make a delineation between woman and feminist.
The Atlantic version of this has an interesting couple of paragraphs that leaves one wondering about Buss. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/the-evolution-of-bitchiness/281657/
"Buss is not as optimistic, saying that it's not easy to change something that might, whether through evolution or conditioning, have become reflexive.
He said curbing the bitchiness is one area in which men can be a help, rather than simply the object of the competition.
“The only way it might change is if men stopped valuing sexual fidelity and physical attractiveness in long-term mates,”
Like this is in the longterm interest of most males and going to lead to trust. I suspect that most women would not put up with it if it was the reverse.
Men must have much more control over women than I have experienced. Seems that if we value "slutiness" and all that that entails women would feel so much better about themselves. It is always nice to know how important we are and the fact that women really do needs us. I always knew that fish and a bicycle meme was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I will only disagree on two points:

You claim women competed to get more resources for their children. A very high sounding reason for sure. I am not sayng they didn't want more resources for their children but rather they competed for attention not for their chidren but for self. Everyone wants attention and for women that is number one.
The other point is more controversial and any smart person wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. That is feminism was born from homosexuality. Those pushing feminism wanted more access to females and as lesbians actually hated men, their natural competitors. They didn't do it for freedom and rights for women they did it for sexual access to women. Homosexuals are still in control of feminism and presumably it stll gets them what they want.