Genetic Explanations

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

bullying

“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

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Genetic Explanations

Men and Women Evolved With Conflicting Interests – Why We don’t Always Get Along

Male_female_conflict

For millennia human kind has believed in a “natural order”, or a “utopia” to creation.  A way things were meant to be.  Since Aristotle we have envisaged a scientific and moral order to the world.  If we acted against this order then nature would be disrupted and chaos would ensue.  This pre-supposition was incorporated into the major religions where it is assumed that God had a plan for creation and that plan was designed to be harmonious.  Consequently men and women are “designed” to live together in perfect harmony – if only we could work out how!

Darwinism, whilst accepting that men and women have many areas of common interest, also accepts that they will have areas of conflicting interest.

First let’s review the fundamentals of Darwinism:

  1. Evolution is not about survival of the species (e.g. humans) it is about survival of the genes. We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time. We die. They don’t.
  2. Any behaviour conferred by the genes, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring in any species, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.  Consequently that “successful” behaviour is propagated and amplified.   This is a natural selection of “beneficial” genes.
  3. Evolution moves along at a glacial pace.  One tick of the evolutionary clock is approximately 250,000 years.  We are therefore very similar to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.  Recent technical and social advances are largely irrelevant to our genetic makeup.
  4. Evolutionary genetics can go a very long way to explaining human behaviour.  Each species is hard wired to behave in a very specific way and this has been shaped by the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  We don’t behave like cats or horses.
  5. For evolution to work there needs to be variation in behaviour so that natural selection can do its work.  Each generation has random variation and mutation (some beneficial, most harmful) from which to choose the best characteristics using natural selection.

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.  Women evolved to be more 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 (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.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure her 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 (read 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 easily know if another woman is attractive.

So whilst men and women have a mutual interest in looking after their mutual children, there are areas of conflicting interest.  As women can have few offspring it is in her genes’ interests to ensure the father spends all his time and energy looking after her children.  She will also feel an overwhelming urge to nurture her children.  Her genes have no other choice.  The father’s genes’ interests are better served by spending much of his time seeking different partners – particularly young, healthy and fertile (attractive) partners.  Women are more likely to seek commitment from a mate.  Men are more likely to be reluctant to give it.  Men will prefer younger sexual partners which over time act against the interests of his initial, older partners.

But some women are very attracted to totally inappropriate men who clearly act against her own interest.  The handsome, philandering, unreliable, lovable rogue.  Why?  Consider the scenario where a high social status male has a child with a particular woman and then leaves her and philanders his way around the world irresponsibly having hundreds of children with other women.  This is not good for the woman or her child.  But if this woman has a son which survives and inherits his father’s behaviour she will get many more of her own genes into future generations.  About 8% of the men in a large region of Asia have Genghis Khan’s Y chromosome.  He clearly had many willing and unwilling sexual partners.  However any woman’s genes attached to his will have prospered (particularly down the male line), even if the woman herself didn’t.  This is a good example of  a woman having different interests to men (she wants commitment and the man doesn’t).  It is also an example of a woman having different interests to her own genes – it is in her genes’ interest for her to be attracted to unreliable, philandering men, perhaps by convincing her that she will be the only one who will tame him and make him exclusively her’s!  The old adage seems to ring true – women marry men expecting them to change, and they don’t.  Men marry women expecting them not to change, and they do.

We have good evidence that men will generally find a woman less attractive if they find out she is in a sexual relationship with another man.  Women generally find men more attractive if they are attached (and therefore presumably attractive) to another woman.  Her genes will recognise that he may be a good bet in propagating themselves into the next generation because if one women finds him attractive then others might too. These characteristics are in the mother’s genes’ interests if they have a son together and the son inherits his father’s characteristics.  Again this behaviour is very much in the genes’ interests but may be against the interests of their host (the woman) .

This also may explain why many cultures favour sons over daughters.  No cultures favour daughters.  Sons are a much better way of getting lots of your genes into future generations than daughters – whether you are a man or a woman.

An interesting question:  would a mother object to a highly promiscuous son?  He would be a route to having more of her genes propagated into future generations.

Nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  Also, I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour.  The ought of human behaviour cannot and should not be decided (or justified) by evolution.  Morals, ethics, civilised evidence based debate and the rule of law are the only mechanisms for reaching a consensus of how we as individuals ought to behave.  Evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

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Genetic Explanations

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

women-worried-at-appearance-640x457

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.

Of course the self-image of women is a social problem and as a society we should seek to address it.  However an understanding of the genetic basis of human behaviour may help us in this noble task and also help us to mange our expectations.

1. Evolution is not about survival of the species (e.g. humans) it is about survival of the genes.  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, rarely having more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will often 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. Women therefore evolved to be highly nurturing towards their young.  She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.

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.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for 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 (“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 easily know if another woman is attractive.  In some cases this can lead to sexual competition between women, which leads to bitchy, unsisterly behaviour.

Of course what is considered “attractive” can depend on personal preference and culture.  However “attractiveness” is always a proxy for youth, health and fertility.  For example, the fashion industry will prefer zero size models because it is a female orientated market and dominated by women and gay men, both of whom will generally prefer the look of a more “boyish” figure.  After carefully studying the evidence of 60 years of Playboy Centrefolds I am convinced that if the fashion industry was dominated by men, and targeted towards men, the models would be anything other than waifs.

So there are good evolutionary reasons to believe this desire of women to look young, fertile and healthy (attractive) is hardwired.   But how much of this behaviour could be caused by social pressures?  Could men be forced to care more about their appearance?

The cosmetics and fashion industry has spent billions trying to entice more men to buy more of their products.  It is understandable that when market shares start to flatline and competition gets more intense that they would look wistfully and the other 50% of their perceived potential market – i.e. men – and believe they have a commercial opportunity.  After over 100 years of trying, limited progress has been made.  While men’s grooming is attracting more headlines than ever before, the category still made up only 8% of the overall beauty and personal care market in 2012, with sales of $34 billion.  Most of this is shaving products, something men have to do anyway, even those with facial hair.  And adverts for razors are more appropriate for space ships or sports cars than beauty products. Deodorants came second. If the fashion industry could persuade men they need a new suit for each prom, party or celebration and 25 different handbags and pairs of shoes for all occasions wouldn’t they have done it by now? Compare the sales to the female market and you get my point.

Marketing doesn’t necessarily change what people want.  It tells us what is available and it works best when it reflects back to its target audience what they already inherently desire or believe.  It is more of a mirror than a force for change.  We can debate how much society and culture mould human behaviour and how much innate human nature moulds society.  But we have now moved away from the discredited 1960s Blank Slate hypothesis, which assumes that it is all on the culture affecting human behaviour side of the argument.

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.

Further reading:

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

Is there a bit of lesbianism in every woman?

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

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