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Human Nature Might Be A Bitch, But We Don't Have To Be

It's time we all left high school behind.
Paramount Pictures

When I was 14 I was kind of a bitch. Not Regina George bitchy -- although some of my junior high school 'victims' might disagree -- but I certainly did my fair share of backstabbing, manipulating and you-can't-sit-with-us-ing.

It was awful. Luckily, I got over it, and hopefully so did they.

So after I left school I sort of assumed -- somewhat naively -- that everyone went through a similar epiphany where they realised that being nasty to others is neither productive, fun nor, you know, something done by decent human beings. I'd thought it was just playground pettiness, the inevitable by-product of putting 800 insecure, hormonal teenagers into a small space every day for six years, and would eventually wane once everyone graduated.

But I recently discovered this is not so. I won't go into the details, as that would be bitchy, but it made me wonder why many women get a thrill out of conflict.

Well, it's partly because 'bitchy' behavior is hardwired into the female brain, for the purposes of reproduction. A Canadian study (brazenly titled Intolerance of sexy peers: intrasexual competition among women) at McMaster University, found that women are much more likely to react negatively (in other words, be bitchy) to a woman dressed "sexily" than a woman dressed "conservatively" (their words, not mine).

Essentially, we're inclined to besmirch provocatively clad rivals who we, perhaps subconsciously, perceive to be a threat to our ultimate goal: finding a bloke who will stick around to care for us and our offspring. This explains those comments we sometimes make about how that girl at the bar forgot her skirt, for example. It is because, again subconsciously, we believe her actions will somehow undermine the value of our virtue.

It also makes sense of the unjustified hostility we often feel towards our current partner's ex, despite how lovely they might be. As one of my girlfriends said recently: "I feel bad that I'm happy about this, but Matt's ex has seriously got fat."

Bitchy? Yes. Betraying the sisterhood? Potentially. Fair enough? I'll let you be the judge.

Bitchy comments can also be rather hilarious. We all have that mate who makes statements that are so outrageously inappropriate you can't help but laugh. A friend once eloquently described the girl who'd slept with her boyfriend as "having a face like a Mack Truck".

Other experts believe that female conflict manifests in this way because women, unlike men, don't express their anger physically. It's an age-old notion that men will punch someone they're angry with and then move on, while women let it fester, dealing with the conflict through snarky comments and manipulation.

PMS is also to blame for some bitchy behaviour. For three days a month, I feel like some irrational alien has invaded my brain, making things that are usually a non-issue into something worthy of an A-grade meltdown.

But Julie Holland, an American psychopharmacologist, psychiatrist and author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You're Taking, the Sleep You're Missing, the Sex You're Not Having, and What's Really Making You Crazy, says that we need to treat these hormonal mood swings as a strength, not a weakness, as our female emotionality has a host of benefits.

She says: "By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children's needs and intuitive of our partners' intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring."

However, this isn't an excuse for premeditated nastiness. And, once we're in our twenties we can no longer blame delicate social hierarchies and general immaturity for our malice.

The reality is, in the same way that we need to override our innate desire to eat everything we see, it's important for us to override our innate desire to tear other women down. We need to stop letting our own insecurities dictate how we treat others, and start being more empathetic to their feelings.

Just because human nature is a bitch, doesn't mean we have to be.

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