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Too Sexy for Your Peers: Women’s Indirect Aggression Towards Other Women

Research1 suggests that women who wear sexy clothing and show cleavage alienate other women. While waiting to participate in what they thought was a study of conflict, pairs of women witnessed an attractive woman in sexy clothing enter the room and talk to a research assistant about setting up the cameras. The researchers recorded responses of the women in the waiting area during the provocatively dressed woman’s presence and after she left the room. The women in the waiting room rolled their eyes, looked at the provocatively dressed woman in disgust, made negative and mocking comments, and laughed at her when she left the room. Apparently this sexy woman was quite threatening. When the same woman entered the room in khakis and a crew neck t-shirt (i.e., not provocatively dressed), the women barely even noticed her!

Outside observers (who did not know the purpose of the study) coded the video recordings and assigned each woman a “bitchy” score (i.e., level of indirect aggression displayed). The women who were exposed to the woman in sexy attire were rated as bitchier than that those who saw the conservatively dressed woman.

Another group of heterosexual women rated photos of the same woman wearing either her sexy or conservative attire. Women who saw photographs of the woman in a provocative outfit (versus the conservative outfit) said they would be less likely to be friends with her, introduce her to their boyfriends, or allow her to spend time alone with their boyfriends.

Why would women have a more negative reaction to the sexy vs. conservative woman? Evolutionary theory suggests that disparaging sexy and attractive women and not allowing your partner to spend time with such women is a form of intrasexual competition (e.g., mate guarding or keeping your partner’s attention on you).

Perhaps the women on The Bachelor this season are just following their instincts.

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1Vaillancourt , T., & Sharma, A. (2011). Intolerance of sexy peers: Intrasexual competition among women. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 569-77.

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.

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