First published by Loula Koteas in The Athens News
Why we put each other down by Loula Koteas
Have you ever considered that the verbal expressions we often use to put down our same-sex fellow beings is not arbitrary but manipulation tactics in the service of intrasexual competition?
The English language has a wealth of derogatory terms to put down potential rivals. Following are some examples of these : ignoramus, numbskull, pinhead, charlatan, phony, poser, quack, sham, cheater, bloodsucker, freeloader, gold-digger, leech, moocher, parasite, weakling, sissy, sponger, loser, under-achiever, flounderer, low-earner, barren, homely, fatty, porky, haggard, pimply, wrinkly. ….
The list is endless.
Studies by evolutionary psychologists show that married and common-law couples engage less in such behavior. They also suggest verbal putdowns are equally used by single men or women to enhance their own attractiveness and simultaneously diminish the value of potential sexual rivals.
However, there are differences. Males, more than females, use put-down words to derogate competitors’ resources, as well as the attributes that tend to lead to the acquisition of these resources.. Areas commented on include social status, achievements, ambition, industriousness, and physical prowess.
This is not surprising for a species in which males provide substantial parental investment, leading females to often select mates partly on the basis of their resource-provisioning ability. Therefore, men strive to increase their display of resources and put down the resource potential of other men they are in competition with for the same female.
Sometimes this is done with great subtlety and manipulation: for instance, by implying that the other man has an unstable career future and is “not going anywhere”, all under the guise of feigning concern for the female’s well-being.
For females more than for males, reproductive capacity is correlated with age and physical appearance . Since many cues to female reproductive capability are physical ones (because of the close association between reproductive capacity and age and health), men instinctively gravitate towards youthful-looking women. Some of these physical cues linked with youth and health include clear, smooth skin, lustrous hair, full lips and slenderness.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that females tend to put down other women that they perceive as rivals, on the basis of their looks. At times this is done more overtly, at other times more subtly; for instance, either by mentioning that another woman’s thighs are heavy, drawing attention to assymetries and physical imperfections, or directly using a putdown word, such as “ thunder thighs”.
All this may be done at times consciously and at other times not. In either case, it’s evolution’s way of genetically programming our species to adapt instincts for the pursuit of reproductive love.