Q: Women are so mean. I’m the new girl at work, having started my job two weeks ago. Yesterday, I had a date after work, so I wore my date outfit to the office. It was a little sexier than my usual workwear. I was in a bathroom stall, and I overheard two female coworkers talking about me: mean, nasty, catty talk. My outfit was not terribly revealing. Why are women so awful to one another?—Upset
A: Imagine if there’d been three women in the Garden of Eden—one wearing a fig leaf a little on the small side and two to ostracize her for flirting with the snake.
Welcome to Putdownapalooza! This sort of gossip fest is a female specialty—an underhanded form of aggression against women who dare to commandeer male eyeballs.
For women, competition for mates is a beauty contest. While it’s good to be a good-looking man, for men, appearance doesn’t matter as much as it does for women. Because women get pregnant and left with mouths to feed, women evolved to prioritize finding a “provider”—a man willing and able to commit resources—over landing Mr. Adonis. Men know this, having co-evolved with women. They’re more likely to dis each other and also trash each other to the ladies over how much money they make than, say, how tight their pants are.
In short, if you’re an ugly millionaire, it’s best if you’re a man. However, if you’re a hot barista or pizza delivery person, you’ll still get plenty of dates—if you’re a woman. Because men evolved to prioritize physical appearance in mates, women will band together to punish other women for wearing revealing clothes or for being physically attractive. Women seem to recognize that other women do this. Research by social psychologist Jaimie Arona Krems suggests that women tend to dress defensively—wear less revealing clothes and dampen their attractiveness—when they’ll be around other women who they aren’t already friends with.
Prior research (by psychologist Joyce Benenson, among others) finds that girls and women tend to be vicious to newcomers in a way boys and men are not. For women, there generally seem to be “costs from incorporating a female newcomer,” Krems explained to me. The women we already know—“even those we can have some conflict with—may be less competitive with us. At times, their gains can be our gains. And very often, female friends protect one another”—sometimes from other women’s aggression. “In fact, we might even dress a little more revealingly … when we’re with our female friends than when we’re heading out alone … perhaps because our friends have our backs.”
Knowing this, when you’re going to be around women you aren’t yet friends with, you might want to wait until you leave work to slinky it up. As Michelle Obama said, “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish”—for example, hacking into the new office hottie’s LinkedIn and promoting her to “Vice President of Lap Dances.”
Q: I’m a gay man, and I’ve developed a crush on my best friend, despite his not being my type. He’s very confident, and I kind of want to be him. I have many insecurities, and a mutual friend suggested what I really find attractive is how my best friend knows everything about me and accepts me anyway. The more I think about it, the more I suspect our mutual friend is right.—Wrong Reasons?
A: Ideally, the process of feeling good about yourself is not modeled on siphoning somebody’s gas.
There’s a keyword in “self-acceptance”—a big how-to clue—and it’s “self.” Self-acceptance involves your embracing your whole self—all your qualities and characteristics, positive and negative. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden explained, “‘Accepting’ does not necessarily mean ‘liking’” or that there’s no need for improvement. It means recognizing you’re a package deal, and you can’t have the good stuff without the stuff that needs improvement.
To crank up self-acceptance, recognize it’s not just a feeling but an action—something you do: deciding to like yourself as a human work in progress. When you accept yourself, you no longer need to slot somebody in as a romantic partner simply because they don’t find you repellant.