Mean-Girl Behavior Might Be The Product Of Evolution (But It's Still Not Cool)



mgslidePhoto: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Michael Gibson.


Mean girls: We love to hate them, and we immortalize their antics on film. But, there might be a method — or at least an evolutionary advantage to their madness. Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychology professor at the University of Ottawa, theorized in a recent paper that women have evolved to use "mean girl" tactics to hurt their sexual competition and, in turn, make sure that their own genes survive over others.

Over the course of history, direct aggression — such as slut-shaming or gossip — has been an easy way for a woman to hurt a fellow female without hurting herself (unlike a physical fight). Vaillancourt theorizes that a targeted woman would feel too anxious to be a strong contender in the sexual arena, giving the mean girl a better chance to procreate.

While there is such a thing as mean-guy syndrome, the woman-on-woman attacks tend to be more potent: The author proposes that women used to depend on each other to raise children, and gossip among the ladies could cause them to exclude the injured party from the group and its support network. Vaillancourt also suggests that slut-shaming was a way women maintained the high value of sex. If one woman became more sexually available than her peers, then the value of sex for the whole community fell, so women would “police” the more promiscuous females.

Not surprisingly, the piece has received a fair amount of criticism. Kim Wallen, a psychologist at Emory University, notes that Vaillancourt’s piece was only based off of other studies, “none of which contain data showing that indirect aggression is successful in devaluing a competitor.” Either way, the notion of women being more keen to undercut each other is worthy of more discussion — maybe there's a legit answer to the age-old question, "Can't we all just get along?" (New York Magazine)