On many a Game forum you’ll find at least one thread per week decrying the evils of the much maligned Attention Whore. In the time I’ve spent exploring Game mechanics I’ve yet to read a treatise that really analyzed the fundamentals of why men and women alike make distinctions between one woman as an Attention Whore and another simply a garden variety woman who seeks attention.
Your mother, your sister, the girl at the bar and the wife you’ve been married to for 20 years are all attention seeking. Some to a greater and some to a lesser degree, but it is an integral part of the feminine gender to seek various means to grab and hold attention.
Yes I understand that all people, men and women, enjoy attention for various reasons, but as a gender women seek and use attention very differently from men. From a very early age attention is a primary reinforcer for girls. As I’ve mentioned on occasion, part of my psychology education included child psych and my favorite (and most convenient) subject has always been my ever-present 7 y.o. (at the time) daughter when doing case studies. To understand the feminine attention dynamic you have to go back into female childhood socialization. There are countless case studies that focus on attention-as-reinforcer being a psychological construct for women. I should also add that, from a scientific perspective, there really is no absolute nature, or absolute nurture attributed to personality or gender differences, so a definite amount of socialization and learned behavior intrinsically reinforces attention as rewarding, but the root reward of attention seeking behavior begins in female biology.
A few things to start with
In the same respect that men possess testosterone as their primary, gender-defining hormone, women’s bodies produce estrogen and oxytocin in larger volume. Studies have shown both these hormones foster feelings of nurturing as a primary feminine trait for parental caring and oxytocin is a precursor for feelings of trust and comfort. Studies have also shown that girl babies are picked up and given affection 4 times as often as are boy infants and toddlers. This bears evidence to the biological and socialization associations of female attention reinforcement. In addition, studies of pre-adolescent and adolescent degrees of attention to both genders by parents always favors the female child. Correlation of this would indicate the rewarding benefit of attetion to the female as well as a behavioral modeling influence directed towards masculine independence by socializing boys to not be dependent upon the reinforcing aspect of attention.
Little girls fight in an entirely different realm than do boys. Where boys fight in a the physical realm, girls fight in the psychological. That’s not to exclude girls from actually coming to blows, but far more common is the occurrence of psychological combat, and in no realm is this more effective than the denial of reinforcing attention within a female social collective.
Little girls have a predictable tendency to form small, girl-only collectives or ‘peer clutches’ from the time they are introduced into kindergarten. This social collective progressively becomes a rewarding and reinforcing social unit, locking out those not included, and nurturing those who are. This dynamic can last through high school (i.e. Cliques, etc.), into college and into mature adulthood, but the commonality within all variations of this clutch is the qualifying influence of the affirming power of attention. Should one member of the clutch offend another, it is the hierarchy of an individual member’s ability to maintain the most attention that generally determines the victor in the dispute. The worst consequence of such a dispute being ostracization from the group – thus the absolute denial of this reaffirming attention-as-reinforcement. The clutch develops a hierarchy of influence depending upon each girl’s ability to attract and maintain reinforcing attention. This attention can be from any source; within the group, outside the group, and opposite sex attention becomes the most valuable after puberty.
Attention attraction capacity denotes social rank within the peer clutch. The more attractive the girl, the more popular she becomes and the more influence she wields. This isn’t to say that any particular female cognizantly realizes this. However, when ostracized from the collective, this capacity for attracting attention in a high degree makes her despised. The attention can still be beneficial for affirmation (i.e. realized jealousy), it’s just that the intent that has changed.
Thus, women use attention not only for their own affirmation, individually and collectively, but also to do combat with each other. Far more damaging than physical fighting is the long term psychological impact of denying this reinforcement, or better still, delegitimizing or disqualifying a girl/woman’s capacity to attract this attention. Combine this with a woman’s natural, and innately higher agency to communicate both verbally and non-verbally (i.e covert communications) and you can see the potential this has in damaging a rival. This might explain a woman’s natural propensity to gossip. When a woman attacks the respectability and character of another (“she’s such a slut”), in essence, she is assualting the woman’s agency for garnering attention by delegitimizing it.
The ticking clock
Now lets add to this complex attention need to the female understanding that, as a woman ages her sexual marketability decreases. Bear in mind that a woman’s primary agency for attracting attention is her her sexuality and physical beauty as rewarded by men. This then fosters a drive for this attention-combat to intensify as a woman ages toward her ‘expiration date’. In the last 30 years there has been a definite push through feminization to de-emphasize this natural push and/or to divert this affirmation to be pulled from other sources (i.e. career, independence, internal rewards, etc.). However it has yet to be fully (if ever) realized within western female-centric culture. All one needs do is look at the countless number of beauty products and the methods used to advertise them in popular media. 90% of advertising specific to ‘career minded’ women is still for beauty products. Irrespective of popular socialization, this attention dynamic will not be ignored.
The Attention Whore
So what exactly separates this attention-as-currency dynamic that women use in their social pecking order from the blatant Attention Whore with dozens of male orbiters and FaceBook “friends” numbering in the thousands? The answer to this is found in the methods and lengths to which an individual woman will go to maintain a degree of attention she’s comfortable with. It’s very easy to speculate about the psychological reasons why some women ‘need’ more attention than others – daddy issues, female clutch outcast issues, self-esteem issues, personality disorders, etc. – what’s not is the means by which they achieve this attention and the gender specific reactions others have to it.
What separates the behavior of the attention whore is her overtness in grabbing that attention. Consider that women’s preferred means of communicating is to be covert. There’s no subtlety in the attention whore’s methods and maintenance. Granted, women will see this as an attack in the AW stealing her ‘entitled’ portion of attention, but on a larger scale the AW is betraying the covert attention needs of the sisterhood. By seeking attention in the overt, the AW is essentially crossing over into Men’s preferred communication means to get attention. There’s no (or certainly less) art to attention whoring, so it comes off as classless and trashy.