Feminists are gonna blow an ovary reading this study. Perfect.
Although most researchers acknowledge the speculative nature of evolutionary arguments in this area, social aggression among reproductively viable females is usually interpreted as a form of mate competition. Hess and Hagen, for example, suggest that the sex differences uncovered in their study would likely have been even more pronounced in a younger group of participants. Evolutionarily, historically, and cross-culturally, they point out, girls in the fifteen- to nineteen-year-old range would be most actively competing for mates. Thus, anything that would sabotage another female’s image as a desirable reproductive partner, such as commenting on her promiscuity, physical appearance, or some other aberrant or quirky traits, tends to be the stuff of virile gossip.
File under: Women are the world’s worst misogynists.
So now science has come along to (re)prove what we all knew anecdotally: women, particularly younger women who are most desirable to men, gossip viciously as a means of tearing down the female competition for high quality men. So gossip is analogous to a woman stitching a verbal scarlet S (or F or H) onto the blouses of other women who would compete for the men she likes.
Stay classy, ladies.
You’ll notice as well that the sort of stuff women primarily gossip about — sluttiness, infidelity and fatness — to cut down their female competition, are exactly the character flaws and vices that feminists claim should be free from judginess, and accepted by everyone, especially men. Why do feminists focus on these things? Because they know they matter. Men really are less likely to commit to sluts, whores and fat chicks. And for good evolutionary reasons. (Not to mention good aesthetic and tactile reasons.)
An interesting question is why, if gossip is, presumably, evolutionarily adaptive as a means of reducing the mate value of sexual competitors, men don’t do the same thing? Where are all the male yentas tearing down the competition?
First, men have their own version of gossip; it’s called winning. Men kneecap male competitors by fighting and defeating them, physically, mentally or socially. Second, women are more intuitive than men are about reading subtext in gossip. A man who gossips about another man’s sexual prowess, or social savviness, or whatever, in the hopes of reducing his mate value is likely to be perceived by women as a second tier beta clumsily trying to undermine better men than himself. And gossip just doesn’t sit right on men; women are liable to think you’re gay if you prattle on about other men a lot.
Personally, I think a lot of female gossip is much less effective than believed by women. Men mostly judge women by how they look, so a guy is not going to stop boning out for a hot chick just because some mother hen gossiped about her disloyalty. But gossip is universal and still with us, so it must offer some mating advantage to women. My guess is that gossip which distills to slut smears (“she’s got crabs!”) is probably the most effective at handicapping a woman’s ability to snag a high value man into a long-term relationship. This is why women who aren’t broken losers are so mortified at the thought of being labeled a slut.
Like feminists who claim otherwise, they know it matters.