The Female Social Matrix
When women congregate in social groups, the dynamic is very different. Despite clamoring for gender equality, these differences are quite readily apparent to feminist theoreticians and social scientists, as well as casual observers. As one female commentor observed,
I find it odd to realize that most men don't observe something that is obvious to every woman I know: that there is a competitive male dynamic to groups that is completely different from the way female groups act. They don't know, of course, because unless the group is overwhelmingly female, the dynamic of any mixed group always defaults to male, with women fading back into supporting conversational roles. Maybe it's the kind of thing you can only observe by contrast to the extremely anti-competitive nature of female groups.
The easiest way to put it (and this is hardly original) is that men in groups are focused on their role within the group. Women in groups are focused on the group. Men gain status by standing out from the group; women gain status by submerging themselves into it — by strengthening the group, often at the expense of themselves.
While the commentor clearly is trying to tout the advantages of the female-oriented group dynamic, wherein the individual submerges themselves within the group, as opposed to attempting to distinguish herself (and therefore attract unwanted attention and competition) as a male would do in a male-only group.
That doesn't mean that there are no female leaders -- far from it. Indeed, the entire point of the Female Social Matrix is to dominate the group without the appearance of dominating the group. The emphasis is not on gentle competition with words or demonstrations of competence. It is far more a matter of establishing social position through consensus and alliances and then defending it. Meanwhile, the role of the group is to ensure that no one leader gains enough power to dominate the consensus. All-female groupings have traditionally been seen as naturally more democratic . . . but that observation likely misses the subtleties of female group dynamics.
A better conceptualization of all-female group dynamics is the Crab Basket Model (Bischof-Köhler, 1990, 1992). In a basket full of crabs, one does not have to put a lid on the basket to prevent crabs from crawling out because every time one crab tries to crawl higher, another will hold her back by crawling over her. According to this model, women build dominance hierarchies in the same way men do, basically, but those hierarchies are less stable across time and less likely to survive organizational challenges intact. It is telling that despite an overall stability of the rank orders across time, rank position changes occur among low-ranking individuals in all-male groups, whereas in all-female groups, such shifts are far more frequent among middle- and top-ranking females (Savin-Williams, 1979), demonstrating the constantly shifting social alliances determined to re-position a particular individual or group.
While men will decide on a leader and then advance their respect and grant him authority in good faith until he proves his incompetence, once women decide on a leader they immediately begin looking for ways to cast her down, undermine her authority or mitigate her power. . . without looking like that's what they're doing. Female competition is subtle and indirect, a matter of turning group consensus away from the established leaders' desire toward your own. And if you're thinking that's a lousy way to run a company or a non-profit or any organization that wants to actually get something done, well, I can't argue with that. For women all-too-often impose their mating-oriented social ordering on group dynamics in a way which actually rewards inefficiency if it means advancing a particular woman or clique to a dominant position in the Matrix even at the expense of the stated group mission. In other words, it's more important in all-girl groups that things are "fair" that it is that they "get done".
That's why women didn't build the pyramids. Of course, in their defense, women also wouldn't have seen the need to build a huge pile of stones for no particularly good reason.
Female social hierarchies depend upon loyalty, just as male hierarchies do, but rarely is that loyalty paid to the Alpha leader directly. Instead women form smaller cliques much more easily, allying themselves socially with other women for the purpose of advancing their social position.
Women have a facility for easy social connections, based on their superior communication skills, that allows quick alliances to form and break down. A woman will often find one or two social partners within a group and stick with them, using the combined power of the smaller group to attract advantageous allies. In this sense consensus becomes far more important than authority and respect.
Conventional wisdom says that women are far less likely to develop social hierarchies than men. After all, women are also far more likely to prefer a reward system of equal allocations, wherein every member of the group gets an even and equal share regardless of effort expended or success achieved (Dobbins, 1986). But the fact is that women express dominance to each other in very different and more subtle ways than men do (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992) and therefore you cannot measure male-dominance in an all-male group the same way you measure female-dominance in an all-female group. Men will clearly display their dominance through visual or situational cues -- a private saluting a general, for instance, is pretty clear-cut dominance-and-submission.
Women, however, use more subtle tools to socially dominate. In particular, they employ conversational aspects that are strongly related to dominance, such as interrupting another woman talking, a fairly common yet subtle female dominance measure. And it's not only straightforward conversational interruptions that contribute to a woman's dominance in the Matrix. Women gain dominance points by "getting the last word", or adding verbal support to another woman's statement, even if the content of that support is semantically null.
The higher up the Matrix you are, the more you can get away with interrupting your subordinates -- indeed, it is expected for female leaders to interrupt in ways that males would consider rude or challenging. Women, one the other hand, score unofficial "points" of dominance to the group with their ability to interrupt and hold the conversation longer than the woman they interrupted. If you register the number of conversational "wins" and "losses" due to successful and unsuccessful interruptions among participants in an all-female group, then a very telling social matrix can be charted establishing dominance and leadership even in situations without a nominal leader.
It's interesting to note that women interrupt each other in all-female groups FAR more often than all-male groups do, and that the number of interruptions rises with the longevity of the group. Further, because the perception of female group members by other group members profoundly influences the formation of a hierarchy within an all-female group, we can conclude that peer perception serves to externally validate conversational "wins" in interruptive interactions that accurately identify dominant women in the group.
In other words, a woman cannot be a leader of other women unless the consensus has validated her dominance . . . she depends on the consensus for authority, and she gains that authority by garnering verbal support and validation from other women.
In all-female groups winning interruptive competitions is positively related to being perceived as involved in the group discussion . . . and among women, "being involved" in the group is extremely important -- more important than actually accomplishing anything. The perception of involvement is almost always given higher status and credit than achievement. And since women, in general, tend to portion out rewards equitably, that extends to status granted for participation. Regardless of the success or failure of the endeavor, as long as everyone participated, everyone's a winner. Competition is downplayed . . . officially.
Unofficially, the power struggles "behind the scenes" and under the surface can be titanic. Thanks to feminine adeptness at subtle and subtextual communications they are rarely in forms that men can plainly see, and they follow a sophisticated "code" of verbal and physical communication that women generally socialize into with great ease. Viscous verbal sparring may sound like polite, almost meaningless conversation to men who do not appreciate the context of the communication -- which to women is more important than the communication itself. Anyone who grew up in the South will recognize this instantly as the "Church Lady Effect".
Southern churches are notorious hotbeds of the Female Social Matrix in its rawest form. With deft speech and subtle innuendo, "Emily is such a social little dear, bless her heart!" can be translated -- in context -- as "Emily is a social-climbing little slut who will stop at nothing to dominate her sphere of the local Matrix, and she had better watch her step, or she's going to get taken out by the current leaders of the Matrix -- but on the other hand she does show some potential as an ally, so I won't condemn her as much as put her in her place because that is how magnanimous and gracious I am -- for which I should earn status within the Matrix."
Context, you see, is everything for women.
Men, on the other hand, see over-involvement in a group or discussion, too much oratory at the expense of brevity, as an attempt to hijack existing social authority. Unless the competence of the leadership has been commonly called into question, it is often met with disdain and disapproval. A dude who talks too much is almost always demoted in status in an all-male social group. She's promoted, in an all-female group. Where men use order and competence to establish dominance, women use consensus and participation, and that determination is made largely on the basis of who talks the most, the loudest, the most deftly, and to the right people.