I Hate That Hot Bitch – How Sexy Dress Turns Women Mad
Christopher Philip

How men face rivals is salient, visible, measured, and well studied. Men normally use direct aggression to face down rivals. This makes this area of study quite potent in its own right due to the violence which ensues, or, if not, certainly provides more visible displays of nonverbal aggression such as posturing, bluffing, and threatening.

However, the ‘fairer’ gender are poorly studied when it comes to intrasexual competition. While we generally understand that female-female combat exists, we don’t really know very much about it.

Researchers Tracy Vaillancourt, University of Ottawa and Aanchal Sharma, McMaster University, devised a study to test whether women do indeed engage in combat with each other, and if so, how.

In their study, participants were paired together in dyads. They consisted of either a friendship or stranger dyad. This of course, was based upon having or not having and existing friendship with one of the women they were paired with. Next, they were exposed to a female whom was judged to embody attractive features from an evolutionary perspective including low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin and large breasts. In one condition the women was dressed conservatively and in the other she was dressed in sexy clothing. The interactions were videotaped for analysis.

The researchers had independent raters code the video interaction for ‘bitchiness.’ This was determined if 70% of the coders deemed the reaction as such. Bitchy behaviour included indirect aggression such as negative facial expressions (e.g., looks of disgust, eye rolls), dismissive/avoidant behavior, “once-overs/death stares,” body posture, “back biting” or mocking, sarcastic tone of voice, and fake smiles.

In addition, experts trained in Facial Action Coding System or FACS analyzed the facial expressions of the subjects. They coded for (1) whether participants exchanged a glare with each other as a way of conveying information about the confederate (“exchanging information”), (2) if they looked at the confederate up and down (“once-overs”), (3) whether they said something negative about the confederate when she left the room (“negative verbal comments”), and (4) if they laughed at the confederate (“laughed”).

Results found strong empirical support for intrasexual competition amongst the women. “Using independent raters, blind to condition, we found that almost all women were rated as reacting negatively (“bitchy”) to an attractive female confederate when she was dressed in a sexually provocative manner,” say the researchers. “In contrast, when she was dressed conservatively, the same confederate was barely noticed by the participants.”

In the second study, the experiment sought to tease away some of the motivation behind the women’s negative reactions to the sexily dressed woman.
“Results indicated that as hypothesized, women did not want to introduce her to their boyfriend, allow him to spend time alone with her, or be friends with her,” say the researchers.

The researchers state that the ultimate reason that women derogate rivals is unknown, but suspect that it has roots in evolutionary history. They state that rivalry between females is strongest when males of the species are required to invest heavily in their offspring. In such conditions, it is said, they will foster a strong urge for women to compete against other women to secure the provision of men and guard this provision against rival females.

The study is clear that when women face intrasexual competition they will engage in intense indirect aggression. In fact, as shown, nearly all of the women engaged in this aggression against the women when she was dressed in a provocative manner. The women were likely to roll their eyes, look her up and down, and stare at her without conveying emotion, as well as directly demonstrate anger while she was in the room. When the sexily dressed female confederate left the room, many of the women laughed at her, ridiculed her appearance and made suggestions that she was sexually available.

However, when she was dressed more conservatively, she was hardly even noticed. She was meet with polite conversation, she was greeted in a friendly manner, and none of the subjects discussed her when she left the room.

Overall, the data suggests that women “stifle each other’s sexually.” This may be as a means of gaining an advantage in the competition for value male companions. Women who make themselves sexually available may destabilize or compromise the power that is already held within a group. “Results…suggest that the non-verbal chastisement of violators is an almost universal phenomenon among women who are at the height of their reproductive value, a time in which women are most likely to compete with each
other for access to desirable mates,” say the researchers.

Women also rated the sexy-thin confederate as the sexiest and were two times less likely to want to introduce their boyfriend to her or have him spent time along with her as compared to the more conservatively dressed confederate as well as the same women who was portrayed as overweight.

The researchers suspect that provocative dress is a signal of promiscuity which is seen by women as a source of potential “mate poaching.”

The study is quite extensive in terms of nonverbals. First we note that women can control how they are perceived by other women based on dress alone. Sexy dress invites female nonverbal derogation. As a woman, if this is not something you wish to experience, then dressing sexy is not for you. But, if woman dress more conservatively, they’ll be seen as a less desirable mate to men, research shows, however, this may be only for short-term relationships as the signal is still universally viewed as high in promiscuity. Thus, there are always trade-offs when it comes to sending nonverbals. On one hand, dressing conservatively will reduce derogations, but on the other, it diminishes woman’s perceived sexual market value.

Next, we saw how women can use nonverbal signals in a proactive sense to diminish the status of other women. Indirect aggression, is still quite potent and effective as a tactic against other women. It is quite likely that facing this type of aggression is quite difficult for women to face and something that most women are not equipped to cope with for any length of time. Nevertheless, the results do show how nonverbals can be used to influence others, and what one should expect given a myriad of tactics one might choose. How one uses this information is certainly in they eye of the beholder, and should be tailored to ones immediate desires and goals.

Resources

Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma. Intolerance of Sexy Peers: Intrasexual Competition Among Women. Aggressive Behavior. 2011. 37:569–577.