Megan McArdle comments on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of gender relations:
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.
I agree that group dynamics typically default to a male model if even a few men are around. However, I don't think I agree that women generally gain status by submerging themselves into groups. They gain status the same way men do: by carving out a high-status role for themselves. They just do it differently. Discuss.