Amber Hager

Sara Busse

Haleigh Roach


Campbell, A. (2002). But she that filches from me my good name: Women and competition.

A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women (pp.169-207).

New York, NY: Oxford.


Male parental care is extremely rare, occurring in only 5 percent of species.  This leaves females with a large task to fulfill on their own.  Darwin believed that such a task brought about the importance of female choice.  It is possible, however, for males to discover female preferences and exploit them.  Fisher (1930) has labeled this the sexy son hypothesis.  Once females decide that a particular male trait is desirable, picking a partner with such a trait becomes more and more common.  An example is how women prefer tall men.  A female that chooses to stray from such selection runs the risk of producing shorter sons, and daughters who fail to select taller men and hinder their reproductive success. 

            A theoretical problem with this hypothesis is stated in the ‘lek paradox’.  This claims that if females are all interested in the same thing then they will all mate with the same males.  Eventually, this would lead to an absence of variability for selection.  The answer to this lies in the issue of genetic mutation.  Mating with different males allows for variability to circulate throughout generations, thus keeping the concept of female choice alive.

            Another concept of female choice is called the good genes approach.  This states that females choose males based on preferential traits that are indications of the genetic quality of the male.  The male ornaments serve to demonstrate the fitness of the possible mate.  Females may use more than impressive characteristics to make their choice though.  They may also look at the overall health of the male in order to produce offspring with a better health resistance.  This is called the Red Queen effect.  By sexually reproducing, species constantly have offspring who are able to resist different strains of parasites. 

            Females are also more inclined to choose a male who has a symmetrical body.  Moller (1992) proved that symmetrical male birds had significantly better health than asymmetrical males and mated more often with the female birds.  In addition to appearance, females tend to look at how well males are able to provide for them and their possible offspring.  Males that impress females more are more likely to be selected. 

            Female primates place great importance on behavioral cues and social relationships.  They prefer males that are mature, more dominant, and strangers.  More mature and dominant males are able to protect her and her offspring as well as provide for them.  Strangers are less likely to be from the same genetic line and there may even be a strategic reason.  Females can mate with males from outside groups in an effort to prevent attacks or infanticide.   

            Women look for specific characteristics for a short-term relationship.  They want men who are attractive which includes being taller than average, displaying an inverted V-shape, and a 0.9 hip-to-waist ratio.  Women seek men with symmetrical faces and body features.  Such men report fewer minor illnesses, less anxiety and depression, are more muscular, taller and have a slightly higher IQ.  Symmetrical males are preferred as partners, have sex three to four years earlier, and have twice as many sexual partners in adulthood (Thornhill & Gangestad, 1994).  Women also prefer males who are dominant.  This applies to both physical strength and their potential as future financial prospects.  Too much physical dominance can make a man attractive as a short-term partner, but carries the stigma of being an unreliable long-term partner. 

            Men and women want different things when it comes to long-term relationships.  When fertilization occurs internally, the female is usually left with more of the parental burden.  This is why monogamy is strongly associated with biparental care in internally fertilizing species.  Men are willing to provide assistance for their own offspring.  In return, women have given up their desire for sexual variety for the advantages of monogamy. 

Females want more than good genes, they want good resources.  Women tend to seek men who are older and display warmth.  Men can easily deceive women and make them believe they posses such qualities.  This is another reason why it is beneficial for women to choose more carefully.  If they are looking for a long-term commitment and a male is looking for a one-night stand, she may be left with a child to care for on her own.  A main preference for men is age.  They generally seek women who are fertile, regardless of what their own age is.  Men place a great deal of importance on physical attractiveness of women.  This includes facial features as well as body features.       

There are many types of flexible mating strategies. First, it is important to look at what is defined as reproductive success for both males and females. In males the number of partners a man can inseminate determines reproductive success. For women it depends on their ability to secure the resources that they need to ensure survival of their children.

            When women enter into long-term relationships there are certain characteristics that accompany this decision. Women are choosier when it comes to time investment with a male. They often prefer to wait longer than a male for sexual intercourse and women value resource and parenting qualities in men. Women enter short-term relationships for various reasons as well. As the number of available men decreases, women try to quickly ascertain who has the good genes and who does not. Women also enter into short-term relationships if there were no committed males present while they were growing up. Women enter these kinds of relationships because they want the best available options for their offspring: they want good genes and don’t care about the resources!

            In 1989 Dawkins introduced an idea called frequency-dependent selection. “Frequency dependence means simply this: the adaptive value of a strategy depends upon the proportion of the population also using it”(Campbell, 2002). An example of this is related to mimicry in moths. If a moth is able to mimic a species that predators find uneatable they will survive more often and evade their predators for the time being. However when the predator is at risk of dying from starvation it will eat anything. The mimicry strategy now becomes less useful, and a stable equilibrium will be reached.

            Women focus on environmental cues to determine the best possible mating partner. “When the environment is harsh, unpredictable and dangerous, a woman may do best to find a long-term mate. But where the chief danger to children arises from parasites and pathogens, she would do better to seek evidence of genetic quality in the father” (Campbell, 2002).  In over 29 countries, physical attractiveness is rated higher where pathogens are prevalent because attractiveness indicates fewer parasites.  The greater the pathogen commonness, the less importance was placed upon mate dependability, character, disposition, emotional stability, and desire for home and children. 

            In humans we see this happen when unrestricted or promiscuous females become more common, the male’s optimal strategy changes from monogamy to providing nothing more than genes. However, as the number of restricted females increases, non-committing males will find it increasingly hard to find partners and their pay-off will be zero. Thus a state of monogamy will be reinforced. A simple statement sums everything up: Cads offer their genes as the prize, while dads offer long-term resources. 

            There are two omissions discovered from Dawkins theory. One omission is that it neglects the fact that raising a child alone doubles the cost the mother must pay in child-rearing. And secondly, it fails to mention that infant survivorship decreases without paternal assistance. Although it may seem as though women have the upper hand when it comes to sex, two very important factors are not attributed to this theory.

            In discussing the responsibility women have in choosing their sexual partners, it is important to note the role that women’s resources have on picking a partner. Women in high-paying jobs tend to value male resources just as much or even more than women in low paying jobs.  This has been interpreted as evidence that women’s desire for resource-rich males has evolved from our ancestors and therefore is maintained today.  In 1999, Eagly and Wood discovered that as women became more empowered they place less importance on the value of prospective partners earnings. 

            Women have used their appearance throughout history to attract a suitable sexual partner. Women typically use two methods of attaining optimal attractiveness: make-up and surgery. Make-up is intended to mimic youth.  And those females that look young and healthy are more attractive to males than post-menopausal women.  Eighty-eight percent of adult American women use make-up on a regular basis.  Some women turn to a more radical approach—surgery. Eighty-nine percent of all cosmetic surgery is performed on women.  Surgery is another way women conform to male preferences.  “Every year in the United States approximately 125,000 breast implant operations are performed.  In 1998, Cashdan found that while men competed with other men in the arena of sports, women competed with one another in the currency of looking attractive.

            Women prefer to restrict their competition to less lethal contests for sexier faces, clothes, and figures. Young women fight more than older women and this is similarly found in men as well. There seem to be two ingredients found in this aggressive competition: age and the number of available sex partners. Because women only have a certain number of years where they are fertile they must be sure to find a partner within this time period.  It has been said before that each woman carries a biological clock and the timer will sound as menopause begins. When it comes to child-rearing, the closer a woman is to this stage in her life, the less attractive she will be to a member of the opposite sex.

Competition also becomes intense when there are too many men and not enough women. Campbell states, “Of particular importance is the local sex ratio since we know that a woman is likely to marry a man from her own geographical area who matches her in social class, ethnicity, education, and intelligence” (Campbell, 2002). For women who want to have children the possibility of not enough sexual partners to satisfy the female population is always a concern.

Another aspect of violence among women is their attractiveness.  This is both advantageous and disadvantageous to a woman in terms of the differences between the sexes.  If a girl is good looking then she does not need to fight for a man’s attention.  She will have an easier time finding a mate simply because men place more value on women’s looks.   The downside to being attractive is that other women will be extremely jealous of the attractive girls leading to aggression.  Along with good looks, if a girl reaches sexual maturity earlier than the other girls the same paradigm will occur.  She will be more popular with the boys, while being rejected by the girls.  The reason for the tension between the boys’ attraction and the girls’ aggression is because the early maturing girls have a larger advantage in selecting a mate.  They not only would have a larger choice of males since the other girls are not as mature, but they would also have more time to find a mate than the other girls would (Campbell, 2002).

            Aggressive behavior seems to be somewhat heritable, but how that behavior is actually expressed depends upon the environment.  Most of the girls that were reported as being aggressive grew up in troubled homes or dysfunctional families where aggression was used to solve problems.  Rather than using communication or reasoning to work through an issue, violence became the answer.  Campbell said that what girls fear most is becoming a victim, so they in turn become the bullies so their fears do not become a reality and the chance of them facing competition is reduced (Campbell, 2002).  The girls that grew up without a father figure were actually more prone aggressive behavior.  Most likely, the girls without a father were financially worse off therefore predisposing them to seek out short-term sexual relations at an earlier age.  These girls would obtain these mates aggressively because the environment in which they lived did not support passively waiting for the males to come around. 

The results from many studies conducted on female-female attacks shows that women ages 15-24 tend to attack friends or people they know.  These attacks do not normally involve weapons, but rather behaviors like pushing, shoving, slapping, and kicking (Campbell, 2002).  Most of the time these fights occur over some kind of mating issue and some real or perceived threat to a woman’s sexual reputation.  Campbell surveyed a number of girls who participated in one of her studies on female violence to find out what the fights were about. The top reason was fighting to defend their personal integrity so as not to be considered promiscuous or have false rumors spread about them.  The second reason was to protect a friends’ integrity and the third was jealousy over a romantic partner (Campbell, 2002).

 Mate selection seems to be a common catalyst to female aggression, so Campbell proceeded to describe in detail the three most likely motives that lead to violence between women.  The first motive is sexual reputation, which appears to be a woman’s greatest strength or potentially their greatest downfall.  In order for a woman to get a man to invest in her and her offspring in a long-term commitment she needs to be able to prove to him that she is faithful so that he wants to invest.  It is beneficial for a man to invest long-term in a woman as long as he knows that their offspring are really his and that he is not wasting his resources on someone else’s genes.  Surprisingly, women tend to do the weeding out of promiscuous girls more than guys do.  A woman, who has sex with someone without even the future possibility of marriage, puts herself at great risk for developing a reputation since most girls preclude marriage with sex and then love.  They will judge these “easy” girls more harshly and probably would not even want to be friends with them for fear of gaining a reputation by association (Campbell, 2002).  Men also make a distinction between these kinds of women, but they are not as judgmental.  The girls who have a reputation are simply easier and less challenging to have sex with, yet these girls are not marriage material.  Marriage quality for men is someone who will be faithful, kind, and is a good mother, not someone who will give it up quickly.  Once again the double standard between men and women appears.  For a man to be called a “stud” is a good thing, while for a woman to be called a “slut” is horrible.  Women like men that have been desirable in the past because it demonstrates that he has good qualities for future reproduction.   Men on the other hand do not like women that have been around the block a few times because it suggests a level of desperation on the woman’s part.  “The most desirable women can pick and choose—they don’t need to resort to the ‘cheap trick’ of sex.  A woman who is discriminating in her choice of partners signals that she believes she is worth waiting for” (Campbell, 2000).

The damage that a bad reputation has on a girl is detrimental to her reproductive success.  Campbell used the quote, “A girl that’s been called a slag is the same as a boy that’s been called a chicken and indeed from the viewpoint of threat to their future mating opportunities both are damning (Campbell, 2002).  A man that looks like a chicken will not be attractive to a woman because she will not perceive him as being able to protect and care for his genes, yet he has the ability to prove to her that he is not a wimp.  For girls though it is not that simple to dismiss a reputation.  There is no way for a woman to publicly demonstrate that she is not a slut, since sex is usually a private event.  A dispute over a reputation would turn into a ‘He said, She said’ battle in which the man would probably win.  Since women cannot redeem their reputation, they are going to be more protective of any threatening information and respond aggressively in an attempt to force others to drop the negative label and minimize future damnation.  The clique that gossip spreads like wild fire is not only true, but is also extremely threatening to women, which is why some behave aggressively.

The second motive for violence between women is competition.  A woman’s reliance on a man for resources ignites the competition between other women.  The more a woman needs a man, the more injury that will be inflicted.  Research indicates this point when two kinds of societies were compared: matrilocal and patriarchal.  In a matrilocal society women controlled the land and were responsible for the resources of the family.  There was little aggression between these women because they did not rely on the men to survive.  In a patriarchal society though, the men were the breadwinners and supported the females for their survival.  The poorer the women the more these girls fought other women off because they needed the economic support of the men.  The reason for competition appears to be because the number of men that are actually good providers is far and few between and the number of needy women is great.  If a man possesses resources, then he is attractive to women, especially if those resources are greatly needed for themselves.  If any female tries to enter the picture of an already claimed territory (a man) than these new girls will be the targets of violence.  Men like new bait, so will automatically be attracted to a new girl therefore taking attention and / or resources away from the existing girls causing tension and hatred towards the new girl.  This competitive nature among women has been found to exist cross-culturally emphasizing that mate selection and ample resources are key to female aggression.

The last motive Campbell describes is that of jealousy.  Once a woman has attracted her mate, she then has the job of keeping him for herself (Campbell, 2002).  Since many women are dependent upon males for economic survival a woman competing for the same resources will spark jealousy in the girl that already has the man.  This is why having multiple wives does not work in many societies because women do not know how to share resources in terms of affection, genes, and money.  In western culture, this jealousy is not just contained within a marriage, but also within a steady dating relationship.   Jealousy seems to arise when a girl feels like she has the right to protect her claim from other predatory females.  Sometimes females will end up getting the brunt of the anger when they are simply trying to help a girlfriend.  If a friend has damaging news about a boyfriend cheating, she may get attacked being only the messenger and accused of trying to cause trouble, break up the relationship, or of wanting the boy for herself.  Women can be brutal and irrational when it comes to threats on their mates.

Another interesting effect of jealousy is called the ‘spillover’effect.  This is basically staking claim on a male before putting any money down on him.  In other words, if a female finds another male attractive, she believes that her attraction to him should be enough to keep other girls away from him, even if he is not interested in her.  This same effect works in reverse also.  If a woman has broken up with a man, she will still get extremely jealous if another woman tries to come on to her ex and she might get in the way of the new woman establishing a relationship with him.

The funny thing about female aggression is that women fight other women and not the men who are equally involved.  The double standard seems to be responsible in lessening the expectations of men and ultimately excusing their behavior.  In terms of sex, men are weak and given the opportunity they will not turn down the chance to sleep with a woman.  Women know this is a man’s weakness and will use it to her advantage if she so pleases.  If her territory is being threatened she will retaliate against the new woman to protect her mate because she knows women should know better than that.

Critical Review


Strengths and/or Agreements


  1. No matter how many resources women have they still seek out males with good resources.
  2. Women base their sexual preferences on cues from the environment.
  3. A man’s desirability in the past increases his future reproductive success, while a woman’s sexual history makes her seem desperate.



Weaknesses and/or Disagreements


  1. An absent father does not mean that someone is never going to find a long-term mate.
  2. Women may not use as much physical aggression as the chapter implies.
  3. What are the implications for women waiting to have families till they are older?



Women and Competition Outline

I.                    Darwin believed in female choice

A.     Leaves females susceptible to being exploited if males find out what traits are preferred

B.     Sexy son hypothesis

1.      once females decide a particular trait is desirable, picking a partner with the trait becomes more and more common

II.                 Lek paradox: a theoretical problem with the sexy son hypothesis

A.     if females are all interested in the same thing they will all mate with the same males

1.      this would lead to the elimination of genetic variability

2.      genetic mutations maintains the variability

III.               Good genes approach

A.     females choose males based on preferential traits that are indications of the genetic quality of the male

1.      male ornaments

2.      good health

a.       Red Queen effect - by sexually reproducing, species have offspring who are able to resist different strains of parasites

3.      symmetrical bodies

4.      how well males are able to provide for them

IV.              Female primates place more importance on behavioral cues and social relationships

A.     prefer males who are

1.      mature

2.      dominant

3.      strangers

V.                 Women seek specific characteristics for short-term relationships

A.     attractive

1.      taller than average, inverted V-shape, 0.9 hip-to-waist ratio

B.     symmetrical

1.      in both facial and body features

C.     dominant

1.      physical strength and as potential future financial prospects

VI.              What men and women look for in long-term relationships

A.     Women want

1.      commitment, assistance, warmth, someone older

B.     Men want

1.      someone who is fertile

a.       this means rather young

b.      men also associate attractiveness strongly with age

VII.            Dawkins introduced the frequency-dependent selection

A.     the adaptive value of a strategy depends upon the proportion of the population also using it

1.      women look at environmental cues to determine the best partner

a.       if the environment is harsh, it is best to look for long-term

b.      if pathogens are the worst danger, it is better to look for genetic quality

VIII.         The role that women’s resources has on picking a partner

A.     Women in high-paying jobs value male resources as much as any other woman

B.     Women use their appearance

1.      make-up and surgery

IX.              Aggression among and within the sexes

A.     Two ingredients in aggressive competition

1.      age, number of available sexual partners

a.       unbalanced sex ratio creates competition

b.      attractiveness also creates competition

B.     Seems to be somewhat heritable

1.      expression of aggression depends on environment

a.       from dysfunctional families

b.      grew up without father figure

X.                 Results of female-female attacks

A.     Women from 15-24 attack friends or people they know

1.      attacks usually involve pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking

2.      usually occur over mating issues

XI.              Three most likely motives to lead to violence between women

A.     Sexual representation

1.      need to protect their reputation

2.      want to get a long-term partner

3.      men don’t want women who are “sluts”

B.     Competition

1.      women rely on men for his resources

2.      the more a women is in need of those resources, the more injury that will be inflicted

C.     Jealousy

1.      women competing for the same resources will spark jealousy in the woman who already has the man

2.      ‘spillover effect’ is staking claim on a male before putting any money down on him