The Evolution of Bitchiness
Women engage in indirect aggression and slut-shaming, even in clinical research studies. Why?
Olga Khazan - Nov 20, 2013
One day in Ontario, 86 straight women were paired off into groups of two - either with a friend or a stranger - and taken to a lab at McMaster University. There, a researcher told them they were about to take part in a study about female friendships. But they were soon interrupted by one of two women.
Half the participants were interrupted by a thin, blond, attractive woman with her hair in a bun, dressed in a plain blue t-shirt and khaki pants, whom the researchers called "the conservative confederate."
The other half found themselves in the company of the "sexy confederate," the same woman, instead wearing a low-cut blouse, a short black skirt, boots, and her hair sexily un-bunned.
Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychology professor at the University of Ottawa, and a PhD student, Aanchal Sharma, then gauged the women's reactions as the confederates, both sexy and not, left the room. The metric they used? A "bitchiness" scale, of course.
"Why bitchiness?" I asked Vaillancourt, wondering why she chose to use such a loaded word.
"Bitchiness is the term that people use," she explained. "If I ask someone to describe what this is, they'd say it's 'bitchy.'"
"Conservative" and sexy models (Aggressive Behavior)
The women doing the rating were roughly the same age as the participants, 20 to 25, and watched for signs like eye-rolling, looking the confederate up or down, or laughing sarcastically. In one case, a participant said the sexy confederate was dressed to have sex with the professor. One didn't wait for the sexy woman to leave the room before exclaiming, "What the fuck is that?!"
"That was a 10 out of 10 as far as bitchiness," Vaillancourt told me.
What Vaillancourt and Sharma found, according to a study published recently in the journal Aggressive Behavior, was, essentially, that the sexy confederate was not going to be making sorority friends anytime soon. The women were far more likely to be bitchy to the sexy confederate, with the large effect size of 2, and their bitchy reactions were more pronounced when the participants were with friends, rather than strangers.
Vaillancourt had always been interested in bullying and popularity, but to her, this showed that women tend to haze each other simply for looking promiscuous.
The clinical term for the womens' bitchiness is "indirect aggression" - essentially, aggression we don't want to get caught for.
"You tend to do it such that you won't be detected," she explained. "Or you make an excuse for your behavior, like, 'I was only joking.' Direct aggression is just what it is: physical or verbal aggression."
Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge have also theorized that women, not men, are largely the ones who suppress each others' sexualities, in part through this sort of indirect aggression.
"The evidence favors the view that women have worked to stifle each other's sexuality because sex is a limited resource that women use to negotiate with men, and scarcity gives women an advantage," they wrote.
Some might argue that it's only natural for the women in the lab to treat the provocatively-dressed woman poorly. After all, this was a university setting, and in comes an intruder whose, "boobs were about to pop out," as one participant put it. How untoward!
So Vaillancourt performed another experiment in which she simply showed study participants one of three images: Two featured the conservatively dressed woman and the sexy woman, dressed as described previously. Another showed the sexy woman with her body and face digitally altered so as to appear heavier.
Thin and heavy "sexy" photos (Aggressive Behavior)
She then asked a different group of women whether they'd want to be friends with the woman in the photo, to introduce her to their boyfriend (if they had one), or to let her spend time with their boyfriend alone.
The participants tended to answer "no" to all three questions for both the heavy and thin sexy women. They were nearly three times more likely, for example, to introduce the conservatively dressed woman to their boyfriend than the thin sexy woman.
To Vaillancourt, this showed that women, "are threatened by, disapprove of, and punish women who appear and/or act promiscuous," regardless of their weight.
Vaillancourt's is a small study, but it is one of the first to demonstrate slut-shaming in an experimental context. But women don't come off very well in past research on indirect aggression, either.
Other studies have shown that undergraduate college women are more likely to gossip about someone rumored to have undermined their own reputation. Women are more likely to form social alliances and then manage threats from outsiders through social exclusion, rather than, say, beating each other up. Girls are more likely to ostracize a newcomer or befriend someone for revenge.
In his research in the 1990s, University of Texas psychologist David Buss found that women were more likely than men to "derogate," or insult, their mating rivals in two ways, as he described to me in an email:
First, the "slut" factor: "spreading gossip that the rival woman is 'easy,' has slept with many partners, and is basically, in my terms, pursuing a short-term mating strategy."
Second, on physical appearance: "Saying the woman is ugly, has fat thighs, and an astonishing variety of other vicious things about a rival's physical appearance and mode of dress, such as wearing revealing clothing, plunging necklines, or short skirts."
In his book, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating, Buss argues that women do this because, evolutionarily, women who are willing to have casual sex undermine the goals of women who want long-term relationships. "Slutty" women hint to men that it's okay not to commit because there will always be someone available to give away the milk for free, as it were. Their peers' "derogation" is thus intended to damage the reputation of these free-wheeling females.
It's worth noting that women (and men) don't always consciously shame their rivals in the course of their dating efforts. A 2010 study in the journal Personal Relationships found that there was little difference between the sexes in terms of strategies used to woo a mate. And older women generally aren't as indirectly aggressive when it comes to romantic situations as those in their 20s are.
"I wouldn't be bothered by someone dressed like that," Vaillancourt said, referring to the more alluringly clad woman. "But if I was 20, I might be bothered by that."
Slut-shaming is a love-story cornerstone. Hester Prynne had her scarlett A. Anna Karenina tumbled from her perch in society after an affair with a cavalry officer. In an equally important cultural work, 1999's She's All That, popular girl Taylor humiliates former ugly duckling Laney at a party after the latter undergoes a miraculous beautification through the removal of her glasses and ponytail. (This is, one will note, perhaps the most apt artistic representation of Vaillancourt's experiment possible.)
Many of the recent headlines around the research on female indirect aggression purport that women have "evolved" to be this way. But some scholars of indirect aggression argue that just because the slut-shaming Vaillancourt discovered is one of the oldest tricks in the book, doesn't mean it's evolutionary or "hard-wired."
Elizabeth I: royal bitch?
"Why are these women doing this? I think there are many ways we could explain that," Agustin Fuentes, chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, told me. "In our society, if you're given the choice between these images, you're going to say, 'I don't want my guy next to a girl with a short skirt.' But that's not because, evolutionarily speaking, your guy is more likely to cheat on you with the short-skirt girl."
He argues that though this and other studies show how important physical appearance is to the way women respond to each other, there's too much cultural baggage at play to say it all comes from our primate ancestors. The short-skirt-boots combo, for example, is already a "meaning-laden image," he said.
In her own recent research, Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University in the U.K., argued that young women tend to use indirect aggression to a greater extent than young men, in part because that's the most socially acceptable way for women to compete.
But even Campbell stresses that it's hard to tell whether this phenomenon is evolutionarily or culturally driven.
And it's not like men don't attack each other when competing for scarce resources, too.
Before age 7, Fuentes said, boys and girls are equally directly aggressive. But after childhood it becomes less acceptable for girls to give each other noogies and the like, so women become far more indirectly aggressive (or "bitchy") while men continue to be plain old directly aggressive. But by the time people reach working-age and beyond, Fuentes said, levels of indirect aggression between the sexes even out.
"At 15, you can engage as a male in direct aggression without too many repercussions," he said. "But at 25, you're in jail."
In fact, Buss has found that men "bitch" about their rivals, too - they just tend to insult their lack of money or status, the things women traditionally have valued in mates, rather than their physical appearance. They don't slut-shame as much, Buss argues, because women will still date male "sluts."
"Men derogate other men on things that women value [cues to protection and cues to resources and status], and women derogate other women on things that men value [sexual fidelity and physical attractiveness]," he told me.
Studies based on undergraduates are often denounced for not being representative of real life, but in this case, the age group is actually quite valid. The news is filled with stories of college and teenaged women feeling shamed after being sexually assaulted or even committing suicide after being called "whores" by their peers.
So, can we do anything about our bitchy tendencies? Despite his skepticism about it reflecting on evolution, Fuentes said the study was interesting because it showed that indirect aggression is very real and can be stimulated with just an image.
"These social constructs are real for us," Fuentes said, "But we can change it."
Cattiness is damaging to the self-esteem of the victims, but Vaillancourt argues that by becoming more aware of it, we can try to suppress it.
"Studies show that if you change cognition, you change behavior," she said. "This behavior causes harm. People become depressed if they're attacked in this way."
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," he said.
"That's unlikely to happen," though, since "these evolved mate preferences in men are as 'hard-wired' as evolved food preferences for stuff rich in fat and sugar."
Human nature can be such a bitch.
"The Evolution of Bitchiness", The Atlantic, 11/20/2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/the-evolution-of-bitchiness/281657.
I wrote in "Machismo was created by women - Part 1: How started machismo", December 2010
Going on, the mothers raised their children from when the man was not even quite a man. It doesn't make more sense they raise children that will make a world in which they will be valued, and not discriminated, exploited, suppressed? Returning to the monkey man. Males chose the more physically attractive females and the females chose the stronger, braver, better hunters males. If you believe in evolution, what do you imagine a female could do to perpetuate her genes even though she was a slapper?
How about a society where first the sex is a dirty word - literally? How about a society where one man will only have the chance to have sex with one only woman for his entire life? Where a woman might die if have sex with a stable partner of another woman? You thought of the women muredered for adultery thinking that is man's violence against women? I'll talk about it in another text. How about a society where this relationship has not just sex, but the obligation to support his wife? And what if this relationship is indissoluble, or at least a disgrace to undo?
You are correct that I did not take it from any archaeological research, but you will agree that at least makes sense. And if I am right, there is not how to prove.
Firstly, thanks to my friend Bradon Kamato for sharing the original text in his profile on Facebook. I already owe him, as I recall now, three other translations that I published here at his request, of texts about men's issues or Feminism that were very successful in this blog. This time, I was just making a visit to his timeline and I found the original, I thought in this text and I decided to let it as a surprise.
I built my work in order to, if I can, stimulate sound and logical thought regardless of our self-claimed centers of knowledge and information, which from 2010 to now have been only increasing in rates of leftist militants, boasters and simply mediocre professionals. If I see a "reliable" source confirming what I said, through only sound thinking, three years before, it's not good because this source confirmed what I said, it's good because this source, though it tried to tell that otherwise, could not help but confirm it.
Yeah, they tried to account it in some way that could save Feminism! Though the empirical data showed what I have been saying since 2010, machismo was created by women, what this article says in the conclusion? WOMEN assaulting one another for THEIR own conveniences is MACHISMO and it's something that MEN must be blamed on. What about a man BEATING OR MURDERING another man because a woman made a sexual harassment false claim, like the case Emmett Till and hundreds of others last year in Brazil, for example? Is this Feminism and something women can be a help to stop?
Ah, David Buss said "the only way it might change is if men stopped valuing sexual fidelity and physical attractiveness" when they choose a woman. OK, now your next survey is scheduled in some poor neighborhoods, to select some ugly or adulterer women, or both, and count how many of them are married. Hua, hua, hua, hua, hua!
My work in blogosphere is a proposal of, first and foremost, intelligent thought, in a sense of mental aprehension of real world in the everyday life. In a coincidence, my personal licentiousness, free sex itself and feminine foolishness are some of my usual subjects since 2006. That's why I perceived what this study shows three years before this article.
If "the evidence favors the view that women have worked to stifle each other's sexuality", does it explain, further than a patriarchy that vilifies prostitution, pornography, promiscuity and sensuality, the existence of Feminist women disguised of university teachers defending the criminalization of porn and prostitution, even of straight sex itself? So, the only path to women who seem to be or really are libertines not to receive animosity from other women passes through not to place feminine universe as standard or society life of unshakable victims of men. Therefore, casting aside gynocentrism and Feminism. Their scarecrow machismo or patriarchy will go together.
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(GILF: Granny I'd Like to Fuck)
The Humanist: You're a self-described radical feminist. Please explain what a radical feminist is.
Nina Hartley: I'm a feminist and some of my ideas are radical, but I'm not a "radical feminist," which occupies its own sub-division of feminist thought. Radical feminists, for all their bloviating and over-intellectualizing about it, really, really just don't like men. Period. Their philosophy boils down to "Men bad. Women good." I reject that notion categorically. Unfortunately, the "men bad, women good" meme has taken hold in the public consciousness and people now think that feminists don't like sex or men, which is bunk.
I'm more a classical liberal feminist: equal pay for equal work, on-site day care, single-payer health coverage, equal opportunity through skills and aptitude instead of gender, generous maternity and paternity leave, and the like. I believe that men and women are both victimized by the patriarchal culture, just in different ways, by different means, for different reasons, and with different results.
I'm well hated in radical feminist circles for the supposed harm I do to women and by the fact that I have sex on camera, both for and with men. I no longer try to talk to them, as I realize radical feminists are just another form of hate group. They really believe that women can't consent to any sexual encounter and I categorically reject that.
"Atheism, Ethics, and Pornography: An Interview with Nina Hartley", The Humanist, August 26, 2010, http://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2010/features/atheism-ethics-and-pornography-an-interview-with-nina-hartley.
GILF Nina Hartley leva um anal
(GILF: "Granny I'd Like to Fuck", vovó que eu gostaria de foder)
The Humanist: Você é uma auto-descrita feminista radical. Por favor, explique o que é uma feminista radical é.
Nina Hartley: Eu sou uma feminista e algumas das minhas ideias são radicais, mas eu não sou uma "radical feminista", que ocupa sua própria sub-divisão do pensamento feminista. Feministas radicais, por toda a sua verborragia e superintelectualização sobre isso, realmente só não gostam de homens. Ponto. Sua filosofia se resume a "Homens maus. Mulheres boas." Eu rejeito essa noção categoricamente. Infelizmente, o meme "homens maus, mulheres boas" fecundou na consciência pública e agora pensam que as feministas não gostam de sexo ou homens, o que é mentira.
Eu sou mais uma feminista clássica de esquerda: igualdade de remuneração para trabalho igual, creche no local, cobertura de saúde de pagamento único, igualdade de oportunidades com habilidades e aptidão em vez de gênero, maternidade e paternidade generosas, e afins. Eu acredito que homens e mulheres são ambos vitimados pela cultura patriarcal, só de diferentes maneiras, por meios diferentes, por diferentes razões e com resultados diferentes.
Eu sou bem odiada em círculos feministas radicais pelo suposto mal que eu faço para as mulheres e pelo fato de que eu faça sexo na câmera, para e com os homens. Eu já não tento falar com elas, como eu percebo que feministas radicais são apenas outra forma de grupo de ódio. Eles realmente acreditam que as mulheres não podem consentir qualquer encontro sexual e eu rejeito categoricamente isso.
"Atheism, Ethics, and Pornography: An Interview with Nina Hartley" (Ateísmo, ética e pornografia: entrevista com Nina Hartley), The Humanist, 26 de agosto de 2010, http://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2010/features/atheism-ethics-and-pornography-an-interview-with-nina-hartley.
GILF Nina Hartley prend une anale
(GILF: "Granny I'd Like to Fuck", mamie je voudrais baiser)
The Humanist: Tu es une décrit lui-même féministe radicale. S'il vous plaît expliquer ce qu'est un féministe radicale est.
Nina Hartley: Je suis féministe et certaines de mes idées sont radicales, mais je ne suis pas une "féministe radicale", qui occupe son propre sous-division de la pensée féministe. Les féministes radicales, pour tout leur verbiage et plus-intellectualisation à ce sujet, vraiment, vraiment tout simplement pas apprécient les hommes. Point final. Leur philosophie se résume à "Hommes mauvais. Femmes bonnes." Je rejette catégoriquement cette idée. Malheureusement, le mème "hommes mauvais, femmes bonnes" a pris racine dans la conscience publique et les gens pensent maintenant que les féministes ne aiment le sexe ou les hommes, qui est un mensonge.
Je suis plus une féministe de gauche classique: un salaire égal pour un travail égal, la garde d'enfants sur place, la couverture de santé à payeur unique, l'égalité des chances grâce à des compétences et des aptitudes à la place de l'égalité, maternité et paternité généreuses, et autres. Je crois que les hommes et les femmes sont à la fois victimes de la culture patriarcale, juste de différentes manières, par des moyens différents, pour des raisons différentes, et avec des résultats différents.
Je suis bien détesté dans les cercles féministes radicales pour le préjudice supposé que je fais pour les femmes et par le fait que je fais sexe à la caméra, à la fois pour et avec les hommes. Je ne cherche plus à leur parler, je me rends compte que les féministes radicales sont juste une autre forme de groupe de haine. Elles croient vraiment que les femmes ne peuvent pas consentir à toute rencontre sexuelle, et je rejette catégoriquement.
"Atheism, Ethics, and Pornography: An Interview with Nina Hartley" (Athéisme, l'éthique et la pornographie: une entrevue avec Nina Hartley), The Humanist, 26 de août de 2010, http://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2010/features/atheism-ethics-and-pornography-an-interview-with-nina-hartley.
Gilf Nina Hartley lleva un anal
(GILF: "Granny I'd Like to Fuck", abuela me gustaría follar)
The Humanist: Eres una autodenominada feminista radical. Por favor, explique lo que una feminista radical es.
Nina Hartley: Soy feminista y algunas de mis ideas son radicales, pero yo no soy una "feminista radical", que ocupa su propia subdivisión del pensamiento feminista. Las feministas radicales, por toda su verborrea y el exceso de intelectualización acerca de eso, realmente, realmente no les gusta los hombres. Período. Su filosofía se resume en "Hombres malos. Mujeres buenas." Rechazo esa idea categóricamente. Por desgracia, lo meme "hombres malos, mujeres buenas" ha arraigado en la conciencia pública y la gente piensa ahora que las feministas no les gusta el sexo o los hombres, lo que es una tontería.
Yo soy más una feminista de izquierda clásica: igual salario por igual trabajo, cuidado de niños en el lugar, la cobertura de salud de pagador único, igualdad de oportunidades a través de habilidades y aptitudes en lugar de género, maternidad y paternidad generosas, y similares. Yo creo que los hombres y las mujeres son a la vez víctimas de la cultura patriarcal, sólo que en diferentes maneras, por diferentes medios, por diferentes razones, y con diferentes resultados.
Yo soy bien odiaba en los círculos feministas radicales por el supuesto daño que hago a las mujeres y por el hecho de que tengo relaciones sexuales en cámara, tanto para y con los hombres. Ya no trato de hablar con ellas, ya que me doy cuenta de las feministas radicales son sólo otra forma de grupo de odio. Ellas realmente creen que las mujeres no pueden dar su consentimiento para cualquier encuentro sexual y yo categóricamente rechazo eso.
"Atheism, Ethics, and Pornography: An Interview with Nina Hartley" (Ateísmo, Ética, y la pornografía: una entrevista con Nina Hartley), The Humanist, 26 de agosto de 2010, http://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2010/features/atheism-ethics-and-pornography-an-interview-with-nina-hartley.
GILF Nina Hartley prende un anale
(GILF: "Granny I'd Like to Fuck", nonna vorrei scopare)
The Humanist: Sei una femminista radicale auto-descritta. Si prega di spiegare quello che una femminista radicale.
Nina Hartley: Sono una femminista e alcune delle mie idee sono radicali, ma io non sono una "femminista radicale", che occupa la propria suddivisione del pensiero femminista. Femministe radicali, per tutta la loro prolissità e super-intellettualizzazione a questo proposito, davvero, davvero non le piace agli uomini. Periodo. La loro filosofia si riassume in "Uomini cattivi. Donne buone". Io respingo categoricamente tale nozione. Purtroppo, gli "uomini cattivi, donne buone" meme ha preso piede nella coscienza pubblica e la gente ora pensano che le femministe non le piace il sesso e gli uomini, che è una bugia.
Sono più di una classica femminista di sinistra: la parità di retribuzione a parità di lavoro, servizi per l'infanzia sul posto, copertura sanitaria singolo contribuente, pari opportunità attraverso le competenze e l'attitudine al posto del genere, maternità e paternità generose, e simili. Credo che gli uomini e le donne sono entrambi vittime di cultura patriarcale, solo in modi diversi, con diversi mezzi, per diversi motivi, e con risultati diversi.
Io sono bene odiata nei circoli femministi radicali per il danno presunto che devo fare per le donne e per il fatto che faccio sesso sulla camera, sia per e con gli uomini. Io no cerco più di parlare con loro, come mi rendo conto femministe radicali sono solo un'altra forma di gruppo di odio. Loro davvero credono che le donne non possono acconsentire a qualsiasi incontro sessuale ed io categoricamente rifiuto questo.
"Atheism, Ethics, and Pornography: An Interview with Nina Hartley" (Ateismo, Etica, e pornografia: un'intervista a Nina Hartley), The Humanist, 26 di agosto di 2010, http://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2010/features/atheism-ethics-and-pornography-an-interview-with-nina-hartley.