Tactics of female aggression

conflict between women

The women’s hostile and aggressive behavior has a form of manifestation that is different from that of men. Women avoid usage of physical force or direct confrontation and restrict their actions mainly for the verbal, emotional and indirect components of aggressiveness, so-called covert aggression. So, what are the main tactics of female aggression?

In case of conflicts, women, usually, launch gossip, spread rumors, label and stigmatize their potential rivals; they isolate them socially, make suggestive and ironic gestures and mimics towards them. Therefore, they are experts in not displaying their hostility openly, but rather in a hidden manner, for, as one of the researchers artistically said: rumors are “women’s sword” [Björkqvist et al., 1994; McAndrew, 2014].

It is the physical aspect of the rivals that is particularly discussed and denigrated. While men compete through the demonstration of their physical abilities and their social rank, women promote their physical attractiveness and fertility indices. Accordingly, men tackle their rivals by challenging their physical or social strength, while women criticize the age, the physical traits and the character of their rivals, in order to compromise them in front of men, for whom the women’s beauty is important. These differences of tactics in intra-sexual competition are universal, can be met in all human cultures and occur at an early age [Buss, 1989; Buss, Dedden, 1990; Owens et al., 2000; Simmons, 2002; Archer, 2004, 2009; Hess, Hagen, 2006].

Also, self-promotion and the displaying of a good reputation is more important for women, while men prefer to directly humiliate their potential rivals; these tactics are more obvious in unmarried individuals who are looking for a partner or are courting one [Fisher et al., 2009]. Another tactic consists in launching gossip about the promiscuity of other women; the association of a woman with an eventual infidelity should make men renounce the intention of engaging with her in lasting relationships [Campbell, 1982, apud Liddle et al., 2012, p. 13].

Women themselves avoid establishing friendly relations with the women who are suspected of having a promiscuous sexual behavior (or, in other words, are too permissive). This is due to their desire of protecting their husbands or friends from sexual advances coming from those women; but also of avoiding being associated with them or labeled as being permissive, a thing that could disadvantage a woman in her positioning on the social scale. Even a woman that has a permissive behavior would rather establish friendly relation with sexually non-permissive women [Vrangalova et al., 2013].

The mechanism of rivalry between women is more curious that that. It has been found out that the level of testosterone quickly increase in a woman’s body when she is offered to smell a shirt imbued with perspiration of a woman who is on her menstrual period. It is well known that certain hormonal processes can be detected by their smell, ovulation being one of those that can be detected on a subliminal level by both men and women. Therefore, when women smell the presence of another woman who is currently in a stage of maximum fertility and attractiveness for men, their body unconsciously prepares itself for competition and fight (the testosterone being a hormone associated with competition) [Maner, McNulty, 2013].

On the other hand, women who are on their period exhibit a level of violence that is twice as high toward other women and they tend to highlight themselves with respect to potential competitors. The stake of the competition for men is the highest during ovulation period, hence women are unconsciously more motivated to compete [Durante et al., 2014].

Another study that has been carried out by Canadian researchers showed that a group of women will have a more critical attitude towards the representatives of the same sex who are dressed in a sexual manner (for example, wearing a short skirt), than towards those who are dressed in a more conservative or neutral manner (for example, wearing a pair of pants). After she would leave the group, the woman that had a more sexual appearance was much more slandered and stigmatized with humiliating words. The intra-sexual irony and hostility is strongly correlated with the age; teenagers and students, young and unmarried women will be, generally speaking, more hostile in their behavior than those who are older or already married [Vaillancourt, Sharma, 2011; Vaillancourt, 2013]. Women can, therefore, ally against a potential rival and this behavior is especially visible when in an already stabilized community a new, young and sexually attractive woman sets in [Stockley, Campbell, 2013].

These behavioral states are very well illustrated in the Italian film „Malèna”, which appeared in 2002 and which was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and starred Monica Bellucci. The heroine, Malèna Scordia, a young woman who is extremely beautiful and sexually attractive comes from another community and arouses passion in all men from the neighborhood, but at the same time she arouses hatred and jealousy in all women from the community. The hatred of these women ultimately unleashes itself not only in the form of stigmatization and ostracism, but also through a group violence scene of a brutality that is hard to imagine.

female aggression

An episode from the scene of Malèna Scordia’s assaulted by other women from the community (the film “Malèna”).
Source: Sursa: http://img43.imageshack.us/img43/669/malnavlcsnap00004.jpg

It is easy to assume that different scenes of collective harassment of some woman who is more beautiful take place in real life, including such places as schools, colleges and universities. Such a scene took place in a city form Russia in 2014, where a teenager who was 13 years old was beaten up by other girls and forced to lie on a dirty road, before being made to drink filthy water from a puddle for ‘being too pretty’. The whole scene was filmed and posted on social networks. In other countries the number of fights between adolescent girls is also rising.
women aggression

The teenager from Russia who has been humiliated by her colleagues and forced to drink water from a puddle because she was “too pretty”.
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2665845/Shocking-moment-Russian-school-bullies-force-girl-13-drink-puddle-water-pretty.html

Physical violence between women is an atypical phenomenon, evolutionary maladaptive. But the conditions of life and human relationships in contemporary society are often atypical for our instincts, that’s why happens beatings, especially among high school students who are at the age when intrasexual competition is intense and emotional self-control skills are still deficient. Consequently, their aggression and anger rages not only verbally but also physically.

Women are usually more sensible than men to social pressure to which they may be subject to (such as stigmatization and threats), a condition that leads to the fact that the strategy of verbal aggression towards them should be so widespread. The fear of being punished, verbally or physically, by the others members of the community, results in a greater subordination of women to social norms. A way of avoiding social retaliation is the adherence to a collectivity of women where everyone is equal and who punished those who have a deviant behavior [Benenson, 2013; Cant, Young, 2013].

At the same time, women are more sensible to exclusion, to social isolation. It is well known that the exclusion from a group and the disruption of social relationships can cause a physical-like psychological pain. It has been found out that women suffer greater than men in such situations. At a physiological level, they withstand a greater nervous excitation and their heart rate increases [Benenson et al., 2013]. Through this psycho-emotional feature can be partly explained some social behaviors of women who try to avoid rumors, public accusations and ostracism; sometimes they even choose to give up or to subordinate to the group or to the man, only to avoid public disgrace.

Moreover, studies have shown that women who had a conflict will need more time to come to terms with one another. As compared to men, they are less likely to resolve an intra-sexual conflict [Benenson et al., 2014]. Overall, we can see that women’s aggressiveness is not as violent as men’s, doesn’t cause visible destruction and seems to be inoffensive on a social scale, but it is very present in a life of a community. The impact of indirect aggression is not physical, but rather psychological, and the consequences can sometimes be dramatic.

The American essayist Henry Louis Mencken once said insolently: “A misogynist is a man who hates women as much as women hate one another”. However, his adage seems to be based on scientific evidence.

© Dorian Furtună, ethologist


Photo: Gossip girls / Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/81094204@N00/3126979648/

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