A Cold War Fought by Women

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How aggressive is the human female? When the anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy surveyed the research literature three decades ago, she concluded that “the competitive component in the nature of women remains anecdotal, intuitively sensed, but not confirmed by science.”

Science has come a long way since then, as Dr. Hrdy notes in her introduction to a recent issue ofPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society devoted entirely to the topic of female aggression. She credits the “stunning” amount of new evidence partly to better research techniques and partly to the entry of so many women into scientific fields once dominated by men.

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.

The old doubts about female competitiveness derived partly from an evolutionary analysis of the reproductive odds in ancient polygynoussocieties 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.

Written By: John Tierney
continue to source article at nytimes.com

15 COMMENTS

  1. ““…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.”

    I find that very hard to believe and will remain skeptical.
    I’m an adult male and I can testify to the fact that much of my perceptions and attractions towards women were shaped by
    the media. I assume that the part of my brain, responsible for keeping track of the geometric properties of the opposite sex,
    can’t tell the difference between a real human and an image.
    So whenever I see images, it feeds this algorithm with new data of possible mates and there by updates its calibrations
    of, what characteristics are to be considered beautiful, and what are not. Just speculating here.

    • In reply to #1 by Terra Watt:

      ““…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.”

      I find that very hard to believe and will remain skeptical.

      With good reason if the rest of the article is anything to go by

      “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.”

      So this result is based on comparison of two TV programs ? Perhaps not established at the 5 sigma level yet.

      Michael

    • In reply to #1 by Terra Watt:

      I’m an adult male and I can testify to the fact that much of my perceptions and attractions towards women were shaped by the media

      No one who has any sense would imply that the media don’t play a role in shaping our priorities and standards for what is attractive. We know that status is something that primates value, the more status an individual has the more valued they will be as a mate. So since it’s reasonable to believe that the media plays a role in determining how we evaluate status it obviously must play a role in what we think makes someone attractive.

      But the interesting question is how much of “sexiness” is based on what we inherit from our genes vs. how much is conditioned by culture. There are a lot of people in the humanities who almost take it as unchallengable dogma that culture defines those things virtually alone with minimal influence from genetics. That is one of the reasons Pinker wrote the book The Blank Slate.

      And speaking of Pinker in How the Mind Works he summarized a significant amount of evidence that for men what we find attractive is very consistent across all cultures and times, and hence likely to be determined by our genes. That conflicts with what we often hear about what a youth driven culture we have now as if that was unusual. What Pinker summarized indicated that all men from primitive tribes to modern society have a strong preference for young women with the physical traits that would indicate they had never been pregnant before. Which makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Taking someone as a mate who was carrying someone else’s child is about one of the worst investments (from the standpoint of natural selection only of course) a male can make.

  2. By reflecting the trends, the media are reproducing that reality. Even if they didn’t create these patterns in the first place, the media are ensuring they keep existing. They aren’t, of course, the only ones reproducing that specific reality. Anyway, there must be more to this than just comparing between people who watch two shows! That’s undergrad level reasearch. Trust me, I’m an undergrad student.

  3. I didn’t and don’t need any help from the media in this particular department thank you. It somehow just kind of happened when I was about twelve or thirteen.

    Although I can’t really remember precisely what age I was, I can certainly recall how powerful my urges were; and they haven’t died down yet.

    When I was knocking around with my female feminists friends in the eighties and nineties it got to the stage where I felt guilty every time I got an erection, which prompted me to think that “this way lies madness”, and I had to distance myself from them a bit; but only a bit!

    I’ve got over that now.

  4. ” female aggression “

    Nothing in this article could be remotely called aggression. At least not by a strict definition. Competition perhaps. This article doesn’t seem to move that far off the standard understanding of intrasex competition to be that informative.

    ” To a large degree the media reflects trends that are going on in society, not creates them, “

    Pretty much that way and anecdote does not increase the perceived
    power ” of the media, except in the minds of empiricists.

  5. “The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men.”

    And in other news, water is wet. At least this was obvious to me, and probably anyone else who attended an American highschool and was at least semi-conscious during that time.

  6. … 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.

    And of course, all of this has changed now right?

  7. I don’t usually comment anywhere on the internet, even though I read all the articles here every day. But this is something which cought my attention in such a way that I can’t avoid giving my opinion.
    First I would like to comment on the media’s role in social conditioning. I have to agree with the author of this article in the opinion that the media doesn’t have much of a role in conditioning us, in the same way that printing out and publishing a dictionary doesn’t have much effect on the vocabulary of a language group. Just like a dictionary, the media picks up on what is already there. If it is popular for young people to dress like punks, then the media will pick that up and sell products which are appealing to the punk subculture. I am willing to bet that if anyone asks people on the street wether they care about what the media tells them, they will say “no”. A company which sells a product simply advertises to compete with other companies, and is probably aware that the public is not going to chose a product because it is the best, but simply because it is better than the product another company is selling. to put an example and make it more clear, no one in their right mind believes that whatever brand of fabric soap is better because it has a picture of a little duck on the box.
    despite of this, the media does have some influence over our unconscious mind, or at least that is what I percieve, especially on people who are shallow and don’t think for themselves, or on people of certain ideological groups, like certain capitalists (though certainly not all capitalists).

    the second thing I will like to comment about is femminism and marxism, since my friends are all feminist marxists, and here in spain feminism and marxism have quite a lot of power. Feminists, which originate generally from the marxist ideology, tend to believe that everything we are is conditioned by society, and that genetics plays no role in our conditioning. I have to go with the opposite point of view, that much of what we are is conditiones by genetics, and so is our social behaviour. Though I am not a geneticists or a biologist, and my opinion has little scientific foundation, the idea that genetics play little or no role in our conditioning is purely based on faith, no different than the christian faith in jesus christ or god,

    • In reply to #10 by heywood floyd:

      femminism and marxism, since my friends are all feminist marxists, and here in spain feminism and marxism have quite a lot of power. Feminists, which originate generally from the marxist ideology, tend to believe that everything we are is conditioned by society, and that genetics plays no role in our conditioning.

      I don’t know about the intellectual history of Spain but as a general statement I think it’s wrong to equate feminism and Marxism. A lot of people are feminists but not Marxists including me. Also, there are intellectual roots for feminism that have little to do with Marxism. Of course it’s true that feminism and Marxism often go hand in hand but that’s true for most other causes that advocate for the rights of a group: gay rights, black rights, latino rights, etc.

      As for the Marxist perspective on genetics vs culture I don’t think it matters what Marxism has to say because I think Marxism is pseudoscience and essentially meaningless as a discipline. I agree that Marx had some meaningful and true things to say about economics but that’s different than the academic analysis that people mean by Marxism. I think it’s a shame that so many potentially bright people waste so much time on it in so many universities through out the world.

    • In reply to #12 by Peter Grant:

      Of course, just because slut-shaming is natural (like racism, sexism etc) doesn’t make it good or desirable. Ladies, please try to curb the bitchy bigotry.

      Since female dominated workplaces are often run by male bosses, it would be worthwhile if men would hire and promote based on merit rather than looks. It is often the most attractive women in the office which are selected to present to the clients. In fact, studies have shown that more attractive men and women are hired in sales positions and promoted. Studies also show that children prefer more attractive female teachers – thinking that they are kinder, smarter, more good…. If a true meritocracy existed, women would not have to out dress each other. When it comes to women in society, the prettiest usually wins or at least her flaws are overlooked. More attractive women are treated better, paid more, considered more competent than her average sisters. This leads to better living conditions. Women instinctively know this and being in the less powerful position strike out at each other rather than take on the big burden of fighting a sexist and unfair societal system.

      Peter, your comment is ignorant and offensive. Should I say that men should use their brains and not penises when they are in positions of power?

  8. On a tangent – a recent recruitment image for women features a “pretty female soldier”, meeting disapproval with an Army colonel. The worry: focus will be on the female, not the recruitment material. He wants an “average looking woman”.

    Matters not what image they choose, there will be disagreements.

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