Benenson & Markovitz Warriors and Worriers

Benenson, J. F., & Markovitz, H. (2014). Warriors and worriers: The survival of the sexes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Summary: In this text, the authors draw upon their research and others to indicate that previous notions or stereotypes of women as being “nice” and “noncompetitive” are inaccurate. In fact, they claim that not only are both genders competitive, but that both genders use different strategies aimed at different means. They argue that men create relationships with peers so that they can unite to fight an enemy; that men can group and regroup, in essence form, disband, and reform relationships easily because they are bonded through the common enemy. Women, on the other hand, tend to form strong, long lasting bonds with only a few and these few tend to be individuals who share their genes and can help them protect and ensure the survival of their children. In fact, women struggle with forming peer relationships because an unrelated woman is seen as a threat. To eliminate the threat, women use specific and often subtle competitive strategies. The authors argue that the strategies women and men use, even in modern society, are rooted to the survival of our species with men having a specific role and function to ensure their genes are passed on – procreate and eliminate the enemy – and women having a specific role and function to ensure that their genes are passed on – identify and attract the best possible resources and eliminate the competition. Because of these innate roots, women often experience a great deal more of stress and anxiety; they worry constantly about their children and garnering resources so that their children can survive.

The authors also argue that from a very young age boys’ play is focused on eliminating the enemy. Boys tend to play farther from their teachers and, as they grow, travel farther from their mothers. Girls, on the other hand, at a very young age are tasked with helping to care for the most vulnerable. They argue that it’s not that boys can’t help with these tasks, but girls are simply more reliable and more attuned to responding to infant and young children’s needs. They claim that women are naturally more observant.


Principles boys use to form a fighting alliance:

  1. Escape with Your Peers

    1. Boys like to be with boys of their same age; they like to be with their peers.
  2. No Girls Allowed

    1. Boys like to play with other boys.
  3. Military Material Only, Please

    1. Boys exert physical toughness, emotional toughness, and self-confidence in their play.
    2. Boys do not like rules made by others including women and authority figures, but boys do like and strongly abide by rules they make themselves.
    3. Boys particularly value expertise in their peers.


Because creating and raising a child takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, women worry constantly about their care. Since their greatest fear is the death of their children, they worry over illness and disease and accidents. They also develop an accurate awareness for cues of social conflict because if they are disliked in a group, it could mean that their children may receive fewer resources or, worse yet, because physically harmed or even killed. Therefore, women are highly vigilant. They watch others much more than men and they are more acute at recognizing nonverbal cues than men. Women rarely use physical aggression because the potential for retaliation is too great. Instead, they gather personal information before forming a friendship, smile no matter what because smiling diffuses conflict, and be polite no matter what. Smiling and politeness when tension arises are strategies for deflecting the tension and conflict off of them and towards someone else. In essence, women smile and then they eliminate the competition.


Strategies women use to eliminate the competition include :

  1. Compete Discreetly

    1. Women compete in private or in more subtle ways because they are trying to eliminate the competition without drawing retaliation on themselves and their children. The loss of a mother could be disastrous for children because, if they are able to survive, they generally receive less resources and support than if their mothers are around.
  2. Socially Exclude

    1. If a female stands out among other females, she is a threat and the threat must be eliminated.  The best strategy women use is to socially exclude other women. To
    2. To socially exclude, there are certain steps:

      1. Identify the target
      2. Garner support from other girls to outnumber the target
      3. Make the target disappear
    3. “Irrespective of the exact motive, elimination of a competitor for resources, relationships, and status will promote the survival and well-being of all the remaining females and their children” (p. 185).
  3. A Direct Hit

    1. This strategy is a last resort because it draws direct attention.
    2. Women with fewer resources tend to use this strategy more often because their survival and their children’s survival is less assured.


When women are the head of the household and no one is around, their mannerisms change. They become more directive, assertive, demanding, commanding, and domineering. These are the characteristics of the authority figure, and because women must teach their children to mind and take care of them, they assume this role of matriarch. Modern society has provided a better environment for women so that they may use different strategies of childcare. “In modern societies, some mothers live under quite easy conditions. Their environment generally is safe from diseases, predators, and criminals They have enough resources that they have time to spend just interacting with their children. They have time to spend gazing into their children’s eyes and sharing their nonverbal expressions” (p. 234).


Those who help women are often related women and in particular, their mothers and their daughters.


“Women’s lives have always been constrained by a lifetime devoted to caring for vulnerable children. They must protect themselves, first and foremost, then their children. Their basic fear helps reduce the chances of a harmful accident, an illness, or a social conflict. They must exhibit caution at all times. Life is more serious for women, who always bear more responsibility for ensuring that their genes survive into the next generation” (p. 252).


“Every woman is on her own. The best assistance comes from those with a mutual stake in protecting a woman’s children’s genes. Those assistants must have the time, energy, and resources, however, to help her raise her children. Thus, a woman’s most important relationships are based on genetic ties and remain stable throughout her life” (pp. 252-253).