Genetic Explanations

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation


“Bitchy” girl behaviour is hard-wired in the female brain according to a study by Psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt  from University of Ottawa in Canada.

Young women are innately bitchy and behave badly towards other women they perceive as sexy. Instead of physically confronting a rival, however, they use verbal war-fare and petty vendettas. They give their opponent withering glances; incite other women to make bitchy comments behind her back; humiliate and belittle her; spread rumours about her; suggest they’re promiscuous and try to socially exclude her.   This behaviour is well known in culture and literature, for example by Jane Austen and Shakespeare, but why does it happen?  It seems this indirect aggression — what we call “bitchiness” — has an evolutionary origin.  Women have to learn ways to compete with other females to find suitable males with whom to reproduce. “Bitchy” behaviour is hard-wired in the female brain.

In Vaillancourt’s study, 86 women aged from 20 to 25 were secretly videotaped after being paired with a friend or a stranger and told that they were participating in a study about female friendship.  Half the waiting pairs were interrupted by a plainly dressed assistant in a T-shirt and jeans, who had her hair tied back. The other half were interrupted by the same woman who was now dressed provocatively in a low-cut blouse, short skirt and boots, with her hair loose and flowing.

Almost all the women reacted hostilely to the female dressed in a sexually provocative way. Their bodies stiffened and they appeared to be angry or uncomfortable. They stared her up and down and rolled their eyes or nudged their companion. When the woman left the room, many of them ridiculed her appearance and suggested that she was sexually available. When she had dressed conservatively on the other hand, she was barely acknowledged by the women and prompted no discussion when she left the room.

However the explanation as to why women behave in this way does not make sense until we understand that evolution is not about survival of the individual or even the species. Evolution is about the survival of the genes. The genes in men and women will have very different survival strategies. Men and women have evolved differently.

There is an (incorrect) assumption that the behaviour and insecurities of women is received solely via “socialisation” i.e. an interaction with their environment.  For example a female preoccupation with looking young and attractive is “caused” by being exposed to other attractive women in the media.  This incorrect assumption is based on flawed and discredited social “science” research that fails to correct for genetics.

1. We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time.  We die.  They don’t.  Any behaviour conferred by the genes on a species, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.

2. Evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock takes about 250,000 years.  i.e. we are virtually identical to our ancestors from 50,000 years ago.

Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.

Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will generally only produce offspring one at a time. Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity.  Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age.  She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation.  It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce.  She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.  So she evolved to be nurturing.

Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females.   Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation.  1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child bearing age  (i.e. copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age.  A third alternative is the best.  Do both.  Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce.

It is also worth pointing out why men are so disposable in evolutionary terms, whilst at the same time being more valuable for getting large numbers of genes in subsequent generations if they are very successful and / or out-survive other men.  A population of 100 women and one man has a good chance of survival.  A population of 100 men and one woman is probably doomed.  If men kill off their competitors (in a good war for example) the population can survive and the surviving men’s genes will massively prosper.  If women are killed off their genes won’t prosper due to their very limited ability to reproduce.   Evolution of genes explains why men will be more risk-taking, aggressive and competitive.  Men are responsible for 86% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year 2012).  Evolution of genes explains why women are dramatically less aggressive.  It’s not in her genes’ interests if the whole population dies out.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for him having good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival in future generations.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).

Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate.

Men will choose young, healthy, fertile (what we call “attractive”) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows. Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis.  Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure.  Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate. Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.

Women also need to recognise these traits in their competition (other women).  Women have evolved to easily know if another woman is attractive and it is in her genes’ interest that she competes in a physically non-aggressive way with any women considered a reproductive threat.  Women will also dislike other promiscuous women because they have a general interest in increasing the scarcity of sex, which increases their negotiating power with men.  Studies show that women in London use the same strategy as women in Bangladesh.  Moreover they’re all aware of what they’re doing.  They know that it hurts yet persist in doing it.

The peak period of this “intra-sexual competition strategy” is from 11 to 25, when girls and young women are dating.   However, whilst this back-stabbing behaviour persists into young adulthood it lessens as women mature.  Competition for a high-quality mate is important but once that has been achieved older women may shift their competition to the arena of motherhood and the quality of the children that they produce.

Of course the vast majority of women get on fine with other women, forming close, supportive, long lasting, altruistic friendships.  Just so long as they don’t try to steal another woman’s man.

I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour, and nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  But please remember evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

The Behaviour of Women and Why They Worry About How They Look – an Evolutionary Perspective