Sunday, 29 March 2015

Community Safety Covert Bullying Cyber Bullying Social Media Female Aggression "The Sword of a Woman" Gossip and female aggression Francis T. McAndrew ⁎ Department of Psychology, Knox College, Galesburg, IL 61401-4999, United States Rumours, Lies Indirect Bullying Relational Bullying Social Agression Emotional Violence

"The word gossip has always been linked with females more than with males, and an examination of historical Western tactics for handling gossipers reveals a persistent concern with clamping down on the gossip of women (Rysman, 1977). "

"An interest in the affairs of same sex others is especially strong among females,
and women are more likely than men to use gossip in an aggressive,competitive manner. 
The goal of such gossip is to exclude competitors from a social group and damage the competitor's ability to maintain a reliable social network of her own. 
Time worn assumptions about an affinity between females and negative gossip appear to be more than just a stereotype. 
Understanding the dynamics of competitive gossip may also give us insight into related social phenomena such as how people use social media such as Facebook"

 “ The sword of a woman
: Gossip and female aggression

Francis T. McAndrew

Department of Psychology, Knox College, Galesburg, IL 61401-4999, United States


1. Gossip as a strategy for reputation management in social competition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1962. Gossip and indirect relational aggression in women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1973. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198

1. Gossip as a strategy for reputation management insocial competition

Gossip can be a way of learning the unwritten rules of social groupsand cultures and an avenue for socializing new group members(Baumeister, Zhang, & Vohs, 2004; Laing, 1993; Noon & Delbridge,1993; Suls, 1977), and it is a low-costform of punishmentthatis anef-fective deterrent to deviance and useful for enforcing cooperation(Barkow, 1992; Beersma & Van Kleef, 2011; Feinberg, Cheng, & Willer,2012;Levin&Arluke,1987).Infact,ithasbeendocumentedthatgossip,inresponsetotheviolationofasocialnorm,ismetwithapprovalandisoften perceived as the


 thing to do (Beersma& VanKleef, 2012;Feinberg, Willer, Stellar, and Keltner, 2012).On a darker note, gossip offers a means of manipulating reputationsby passing on negative information about competitors as well as ameans of detecting betrayal by others. Gossip is more or less interestingto us depending upon whom it is about. We should be especially inter-ested in information about people who matter most in our lives: rivals,mates, relatives, partners in social exchange, and high-ranking


gureswhosebehaviorcanaffectus(Barkow,1992),andourinterestinthedo-ings of same-sex others ought to be especially strong. Wilson and Daly(1996) have identi


ed same-sex members of one's own species as ourprincipal evolutionary competitors, and Shackelford (1997) has veri


edthe cross-culturally universal importance of same-sex friendships andcoalitional relationships. Managing alliances and friendships posed im-portantadaptiveproblemsthroughouthumanhistorybecauseitwasim-portant to evaluate the quality and intentions of one's allies and rivals if one was to be successful. Given how critical such relationships are, andalso given that such relationshipswould be most likely to exist betweenmembers of same-aged cohorts, we should be most interested of all ingossip about other people of the same sex who are close to us in age.Several studies have con


rmed that people are indeed most inter-ested in gossip about individuals of the same sex as themselves whoalso happen to be around their own age (e.g., McAndrew, Bell, &Garcia, 2007; McAndrew & Milenkovic, 2002). These studies have alsocon


rmed that information that is socially useful is of greatest interestto us: we like to know about the scandals and misfortunes of our rivalsandofhigh-statuspeoplebecausethisinformationmightbevaluableinsocial competition. Positive information about such people tends to be

Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 196

uninteresting. Conversely, positive information about our friends andrelativesishighlyprizedandlikelytobeusedtoouradvantagewhenev-er possible.

2. Gossip and indirect relational aggression in women

There has been some inconsistency in the literature when itcomes to describing aggression that does not involve a direct phys-ical attack. It has variously been described as


indirect aggression

(Björkqvist, 1994),


social aggression

 (Galen & Underwood,1997), and as


relational aggression

 (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Al-though researchers have argued about the possible differencesamong these forms of aggression and the merits of one label overanother,ArcherandCoyne(2005)concludedinareviewoftheliteraturethat this distinction probably does not matter much. They believe thateach of these supposedly different categories of aggression are covertstrategies of social competition that involve some combination of behav-iorssuchasgossipandsocialexclusion,resultinginadebatethatismoreamatter of semantics than anything else. Following the lead of Archer andCoyne, I will, therefore, use these terms interchangeably. Such indirectrelational aggression is a relatively low-cost strategy when comparedwith direct physical confrontation. Evolutionarily speaking, since thecosts of direct physical aggression are greater for women than for men(Campbell, 1999), one would expect to


nd that women are more likelytoengageinindirectaggressionthantheyaretoengageindirect,physicalaggression, and that aggressive gossip ought to be more common infemale competition than in male competition.

The word gossip has always been linked with females more than with males, and an examination of historical Western tactics for handling gossipers reveals a persistent concern with clamping down on the gossip of women (Rysman, 1977). 

As far back as the Old Testament, cautions abound regarding gossipers in general and female gossipers in particular. A notable exception to the Bible's pervasive use of the male pronoun and references to men in general in itsdictumscanbefoundinanunkindde-scription of widows:

Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house tohouse, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies. Sayingwhat they should not.

[Timothy (5:13)]The perceived universality of the link between women and mali-cious gossip is also re


ected in an ancient Chinese proverb stating that

the tongue is the sword of a woman


 and she never lets it go rusty

(, 2013). Setting aside such inherited



 for themoment,theimportantquestiontoaskiswhethertherearedatatosug-gestthatwomenaremorepronetogossipthanaremenorthatwomenare more likely to use gossip in an aggressive or socially destructivemanner. The evidence suggests that the answer to both of these ques-tions is



An interest in the affairs of same-sex others is especially strongamong females, and women have different patterns of sharing gossipthan men do. Males report being far more likely to share gossip withtheir romantic partners than with anyone else, but females report thatthey would be just as likely to share gossip with their same-sex friendsas with their romantic partners (McAndrew et al., 2007). And althoughmales are usually more interested in news about other males, femalesare virtually obsessed with news about other females. This fact can bedemonstrated by looking at the actual frequency with which malesand females selected a same-sex person as the most interesting subjectof the gossip scenarios presented to them in a study by McAndrew andMilenkovic (2002). On hearing about someone having a date with a fa-mous person, 43 out of 44 women selected a female as the most inter-esting person to know this about, as compared with 24 out of 36maleswhoselectedamaleasmostinteresting.Similarly,40outof42fe-males (versus 22 out of 37 males) were most interested in same-sexacademic cheaters, and 39 out of 43 were most interested in a same-sexleukemiasufferer (asopposedtoonly 18out of 37males). A femalepreoccupation with the lives of other women has been noted by DeBacker, Nelissen,and Fisher (2007) aswell. They presentedcollege stu-dents with gossip-like stories containing male or female characters.After reading the stories, the participants were given a surprise recalltestfortheinformationtheyhadbeenexposedto.Womenrememberedmore about other women than men did about other men, especiallydetails about their physical attractiveness.The fascination that women have with other women is not alwaysbenign, and women are much more likely than men to engage in indi-rect relational aggression (Vaillancourt, 2013), and gossip (with thegoal of socially ostracizing rivals) is the weapon of choice in the femalearsenal (Archer, 2004; Campbell, 2012; Hess & Hagen, 2006; Hines &Fry, 1994; Owens, Shute, & Slee, 2000a). Females are more likely thanmales to socially exclude others, a sex difference that appears as earlyas the age of six (Benensen, 2013). Such relational aggression usuallytranspires in retaliation for perceived slights or envy over physical ap-pearanceormales(Owens,Shute,&Slee,2000b);thefactthathighlyat-tractive adolescentgirls (whomay be threateningbecause of their highmatevalue)areatgreaterriskforvictimizationbyindirectaggressionisconsistent with the notion that mate competition is a motive for suchaggression (Vaillancourt, 2013). Whatever the reason for it, the goal isusually to exclude competitors from one's social group and to damagetheir ability to maintain a reliable social network of their own (Geary& Flinn, 2002). As it turns out, this is a highly effective way of hurtingother women. When a workplace bully is a woman, indirect relationalaggression is the usual

 modus operandi

 and her victim is almost alwaysanotherwoman.Thelevelsofstressreportedbythevictimsinthesesit-uations are extreme (Crothers, Lipinski, & Minutolo, 2009), and otherstudies have con


rmed that females are more sensitive than males toindirect aggression and report being more devastated by it (Galen &Underwood, 1997). These


ndings may be connected to other researchresultswhichshowthatamajorityofwomenwhosufferfrompersecu-torydelusionsidenti


edfamiliar people suchasfriendsandrelativesastheir persecutors and what they speci


cally feared was that they werebeing


talked about

 or excluded from the in-group. Men sufferingfrom persecutory delusions were much more likely to fear physicalattacks by other men who were strangers (Walston, David, & Charlton,1998).Womenspendmoretimegossipingoverallthandomen,andtheyaremore likely to gossip about close friends and relatives (Levin & Arluke,1987). Men, on the other hand, are more likely to talk about themselves,their work, their relationships, and engage in more self-promotion thandowomen(Dunbar, Duncan,&Marriott, 1997).Theamountof gossipingthat occurs between two people is a good predictor of friendship qualityin men, especially if the gossip concerns achievement-related informa-tion, but the amount of gossip between two women does not predictthe quality of their friendship in such a straightforward fashion(Watson,2012).Whenpairsof friendsgossip,itisrareforlistenerstore-spond negatively to gossipy information, and such information usuallyevokes agreement and supportive responses rather than disapproval(Eder&Enke,1991).Femalesinparticulartendtodemonstratehighlyen-couraging responses to gossip that they hear from their friends, and thefrequency of negative gossip is highest of all between female friends(Leaper&Holliday,1995).Thereisevidencethatitisspeci


callythegos-sip that occurs between women that is most likely to be aggressive andcompetitive. The nature of the topics that are discussed betweenwomenisqualitativelydifferentfromthosethatarefeaturedingossipbe-tween men or between a man and a woman, and the frequency of nega-tive gossip is highest of all between female friends (Leaper & Holliday,1995). Younger women are more likely to gossip about rivals than areolderwomen,possiblybecausethecompetitionformatesismoreintenseduring the earlier, reproductive part of a woman's life (Massar, Buunk, &Rempt, 2012), and the characteristics of rivals that are most likely to beattacked through malicious gossip are precisely those things that have


F.T. McAndrew / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 196 


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