Feminine gamification viewpoint: Competition between women

Feminine Gamification Viewpoint: Competition between women

In our Feminine Gamification Viewpoint posts we have mainly focused on differences between both genders, this week however I want to zone in to competition between females. The trigger for this post was watching this year’s season of “The Apprentice” and how the ladies are treating each other rather unkindly.

Studies about women competing with women only started to become prevalent in the 80’s. Interestingly intra-sexual competition is mainly about traits that are attractive to the opposite gender. The American evolutionary psychologist David Buss found that intra-sexual competition takes two primary forms: self-promotion and competitor derogation. Men demonstrate and promote their physical abilities and social status (masculine traits favoured by women). Women tend to promote their youth and physical attractiveness (feminine traits favoured by men). Men try to derogate their rivals by disparaging their economic and physical strength, while women criticise the age, appearance and character of their opponents.

According to Joyce Benenson, a researcher at Emmanuel College in Boston, competition among women has three unique characteristics: first, because they have to protect their bodies from physical harm (so as not to interfere with present or future pregnancy and childbirth), women rely on veiled aggression towards other women (behind verbal gymnastics or under cover of the group) rather than physical confrontation.

Second, high status and very attractive women need less help and protection from other women and are less motivated to invest in other women (who represent potential competition). Thus, a woman who tries to distinguish or promote herself threatens other women and will encounter hostility. According to Benenson, a common way women deal with the threat represented by a remarkably powerful or beautiful woman is by insisting on standards of equality, uniformity, and sharing for all the women in the group and making these attributes the normative requirements of proper femininity.

Third, in extreme cases women may guard against potential competitors by means of social exclusion. If a new attractive woman shows up in the neighborhood (or school, or club), all the women in attendance may turn their backs on her, compelling her to withdraw from the scene, thus increasing their own chances with the surrounding males.

While women appear to favour strategies that reduce the risk of physical harm, the importance of their competitiveness should not be underestimated. Threats and fear of isolation are powerful weapons in situations involving competition or aggression. Girls and women who fail to modify their behaviour to fit the norm face social exclusion and loss of friendships rather than physical violence.

Indirect aggression uses minimal energy and usually provides the least risk of injury. But its power to harm is still considerable – pejorative gossip coming from many members of a group protects the majority but can be devastating to the individual – sometimes leading to depression or even suicide. Research scientists added that they found “coalitions or alliances may reduce risk of retaliation” – a theory to explain why groups of women gang up on others.

Michael Cant and Andrew Young argue in their paper, Resolving social conflict among females without overt aggression, that women are more susceptible to peer pressure than men and are more sensitive to punishment. And while women have enhanced social skills, performing better in tests of mind reading and empathy, these leave them more vulnerable to subtle threats of rejection.

When designing gamification solutions, that involve ranking or voting for work of peers, these aspects of subtle competition (which by the way will also be used by men), may need to be monitored. Good-looking and successful females are often the target of those aspiring to be ‘her’, where the key game is to find fault in the role model’s image. Introducing competition in enterprise gamification, again can increase the behaviour that may single out individuals, so test often and progress with caution. Encouraging collaboration and team based motivation may help in making sure these behaviours are minimised.

Have you seen this kind of competition in action?  What, how and where?

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