New research by the University of Ottawa documented women’s aggression against other women wearing revealing outfits. Women showing too much leg or cleavage are likely to be ostracized from female social circles as dangerous rivals, the scientists stated. Apparently even in this time of independence and self-expression, most women still find short skirts and skimpy tops awfully threatening – so much so, they couldn’t resist making catty comments even to total strangers.
The study, published in the current edition of the Journal of Aggressive Behaviour, made use of an experiment in which pairs of women were left in a room thinking they were participating in a study on conflict. While they were waiting, an attractive woman wearing provocative clothes entered to talk to another researcher setting up the cameras. After the attractive woman left the room, the reactions of the waiting women were recorded. “Their hostility was obvious,” said psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt, lead author of the study, who coded their reactions on a “bitchy” scale.
“They were saying thing like, ‘oh, she’s dressed to have sex with her professor,’ or ‘oh, her boobs are about to pop out. They were looking her up and down, and as soon as she leaves the room, they start laughing hysterically.” By comparison, when the same woman carried out the exact same task – but this time dressed in chinos and a high-neck t-shirt – almost none of the participants in the study even noticed her.
“We can’t tolerate anyone giving the milk away for free. We are living in a modern context, but we are operating with an old brain. We have this instinctual response to people who defy social conventions in a way that threatens the group. It’s women who suppress the sexuality of other women,” Vaillancourt concluded.
Vaillancourt T, & Sharma A (2011). Intolerance of sexy peers: intrasexual competition among women. Aggressive behavior, 37 (6), 569-77 PMID: 21932332