When a woman is especially critical of other women, that may be her biology telling her it is time to compete for a mate, says Maryanne Fisher of York University in Toronto. Fisher asked groups of women to rate the attractiveness of male and female faces, then repeated the experiment during different stages of the women’s menstrual cycles. Their ratings of men remained steady. During times of peak fertility, however, the women consistently rated other women as significantly less pretty.
“It’s obvious from watching any group of women in a bar that there is some level of competition for the ‘few good men,’” Fisher says. She notes that women tend to compete through verbal tactics, such as talking down their competition to lower their self-esteem or to make them appear less attractive to men who might be listening. “This sort of thing can be very effective in the mating game,” Fisher says. “And it makes sense that it would be heightened during times when it matters most.”