EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium
Volume 11, Special Issue 1, 2019
“Sneering Civility”: Female Intrasexual Competition for Mates in Jane Austin’s Novels
Recent developments in evolutionary theory and research strongly suggest that women are highly competitive in vying for access to and retention of high-quality mates. However, since female tactics are often subtle and indirect, they are difficult to study empirically. Popular fiction may provide rich material for developing and testing psychological theories. I examine representations of female intrasexual competition for mates in the novels of Jane Austen. Their enduring and cross-cultural popularity strongly suggests that they capture something important about human nature and human individual variations. Austen’s female characters employ all the competitive strategies identified by modern psychologists but with a significant difference in the tactics of the antagonists and protagonists. Female antagonists often advertise their beauty and social status, use competitor derogation and competitor/mate manipulation. In contrast, female protagonists rely almost exclusively on relatively non-aggressive self-promotion emphasizing traits such as intelligence, honesty and loyalty. Protagonists’ displays of positive traits prove more successful in attracting and retaining high-quality mates than antagonists’ overt competitiveness. Although fictional stories may contain elements of wish-fulfilling fantasy, they also promote attitudes and behaviors that minimize aggression and maximize cooperation and social cohesion.
How to cite this article:
Grant, A. (2020). “Sneering civility”: Female intrasexual competition for mates in Jane Austen’s novels. The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, 11, Sp. Iss. (1), 15-33.