Women and Competition, The Oxford Handbook of
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An edited book that focusses on women and competition.
The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition was published by Oxford University Press in 2017 and edited by Maryanne Fisher. It contains 39 chapters, plus an additional introduction and conclusion. The chapters span a range of topics representing the current state of knowledge regarding women and competition. These chapters are organized into ten sections. The majority of the chapters pertain to intrasexual competition among adult women, although some contributors include girls and adolescents, as well as examining men in addition to women. Most, but not all chapters rely on an evolutionary framework. The goal of the editor was to provide a definitive volume on the current state of this area, as well as concrete directions for future research.
In the Introduction, the editor states that the goal of this book is to provide a definitive overview of the field of women and competition, as well as directions for new research. She outlines the reasons for focusing on women and competition and includes a brief historical outline of the academic development of this area. A short review of the contemporary state of the topic is provided. She presents areas that are still relatively neglected in the study of women and competition, including the determination of the ultimate motivations and consequences of competition, mating competition among cowives as well as nonheterosexual women, acute and chronic health consequences of competition, competition that is outside of a mating context, competition across girls and women’s life phases especially later reproducing or postreproductive women, and individual differences.
The ten sections that follow the introduction address a wide range of topics. The first section, called “Theory and Overview” addresses general views of competition throughout women’s lifespans, theory pertaining specifically to sexual competition, and, to provide a phylogenetic context, competition among female primates. The section on “Social Status and Aggression” reviews women’s social status and network formation, adolescent reproductive competition, cooperation within social groups as a cause of competition, female friendships, and how we generally underestimate women’s ability to deceive, harm, or manipulate others. In “Communication and Gossip,” contributors first review how women may align their communication of aggression to environmental signals and competitors’ individual differences. Then, they examine women’s use of gossip for competitive purposes both in general terms, as well as specifically for mate poaching, for example, and the use of gossip as a form of informational warfare by coalitions. The section on “Mate Availability and Mating Relationships” covers issues such as the implication of imbalanced sex ratio (including operational sex ratio) on competition, the relationship between women’s mate value and competition, competition among single and romantically partnered women, mate copying and poaching, and the positive consequences of romantic relationship dissolution, in terms of sharpening one’s competitive skills. Contributors of the section “Endocrinology and Psychobiological Considerations” present the psychobiological (including hormonal) responses of competition, and further, the role of fertility via menstrual cycle phase on competition. In the section “Health and Aging,” authors examine how competition often leads to sleep disruption and relatedly health, reproductive suppression and eating disorders, and competition in relation to women’s age and parity. “Motherhood and Family” includes a comparative review of competition among mothers, the advantages of the interaction of cooperation and competition in human mothers, conflict among family members with respect to mate choice, and women’s progenicide. The section called “Physical Appearance” pertains to how women may opt to engage in beautification procedures and have elective cosmetic surgeries to compete, how and why they may participate in beauty pageants, and the use of fashion as a vehicle for competition. In “Competition in Virtual Contexts,” contributors discuss how women may engage in competition with virtual rivals (such as those seen in advertisements), rely on social media as part of their competitions, or use computer games to hone their competitive skills. The section “Competition in Applied Settings” spans a range of topics, from the conceptualization of women’s competition in the workplace, to women’s use of food to compete, women’s aesthetics and ornamentation as signals, and women’s engagement and attitudes towards competitive sport and physical activity.
Last, in the conclusion, the authors discuss historic views of women, and how Darwin and Freud’s androcentric thoughts may pervade modern researcher’s perspectives on women and competition. They argue that recent developments in the area clearly indicates that women’s competition is normal, rather than a deviation from a typical state of cooperation or inactivity. Moreover, they propose that women’s competition is not inherently negative, and it does not reduce the importance or meaningfulness of friendships and family ties.
The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition represents a thorough snapshot of the state of contemporary knowledge pertaining to this area. Moreover, concrete directions for future research are provided, with the intention of spurring novel yet important lines of inquiry. The chapters collectively demonstrate the significance of examining women’s competition, and show, to varying extents, the ways in which women compete within their friendships, families, social networks, and with strangers. This book contains a wide range of theoretical perspectives on the motivations, attitudes, and behaviors involved in women’s competition, for the purposes of understanding how, when, and why women compete. Such competitions may be viewed in ultimate terms, such as competition over mates, status, dominance, and resources that influence one’s children, or be more proximally oriented, such as toward winning a prize, such as a medal or scholarships. This book represents an important contribution to this growing area of research investigation.