Science Confirms Bitches Are Jealous

Everyone already knows that women are back-stabbing bitches who are eager to cut another lady down, especially if that lady is sexy. And now, there's scientific proof.

University of Ottawa scientists conducted a study in which they divided a group of 86 heterosexual women into pairs, and put each pair in a room. Then a third woman entered the room dressed either "conservatively" (T-shirt, chinos) or "provocatively" (low-cut shirt, miniskirt). Researchers Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma and their team recorded the women's reactions on video. Then came the best part:

Video clips of participants' individual reactions of their exposure to the confederate were randomly presented to 13 primarily Caucasian women (mean age 23, SE 50.74) blind to condition, who classified and rated participants on two dependent variables: (1) whether or not they thought the participant was exhibiting bitchy2 behavior (i.e., indirect aggression) and (2) if so, how bitchy her reaction was on a scale from 0 to 10 (0, not bitchy; 10, extremely bitchy). [...] Bitchy behavior (use of indirect aggression) included 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.

Vaillancourt and Sharma didn't just invite women to judge one "sexy" woman — they brought in a panel of women to judge those women. Second-order catfight! The result: women were more likely to be rated as bitchy when reacting to the sexily dressed third party, rather than the conservatively dressed one (the bitchiness arbiters apparently didn't get to see what the women were looking at, just their reactions). Vaillancourt and Sharma's explanation: "Although the ultimate reason women derogate rivals is unknown, we strongly suspect that the use of indirect aggression by human females is rooted in evolutionary history." They add,

Baumeister and Twenge [2002] hypothesized that women ‘‘stifle each other's sexuality'' as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of resources. Females who make sex readily available compromise the power holding position of the group. It is therefore in the best interest of the group to punish those who violate this unspoken rule/convention.

The idea that women all by themselves are responsible for slut-shaming other women has become popular of late, since it neatly absolves both men and society of any blame and presents slut-shaming as a natural or even rational act, not a problem needing a solution. Of course, in the particular study at hand, it's possible that women were being "bitchy" not because they were worried the sexy lady would steal their mates, but because she was dressed strangely for an experimental setting. The study authors consider this, then dismiss it:

[I]t is possible that participants were reacting to a norm violation, although there were no differences between the two conditions on the facial expression surprise. Women certainly dress provocatively in a university context; however, most research assistants (the role played by the confederate in Study 1) would likely not be dressed in such a sexy manner. Nevertheless, we suspect that it would be rather difficult to assess this alternative norm violation hypothesis in a plausible way. For example, the confederate could be dressed as a clown (norm violation) and we would expect a reaction from participants but we would also expect them to be suspicious of the intent of the study therefore compromising validity.

I can think of a lot of ways to produce a norm violation without dressing someone up as a clown — perhaps she could come in looking obviously dirty, smelling bad, or dressed in sweaty workout gear. It's easier, though, to fall back on the bitches-are-jealous explanation, or, as Vaillancourt explains to the Globe and Mail, "We can't tolerate anyone giving the milk away for free."

Of course, women are more than capable of slut-shaming each other, and of judging each other's clothing harshly. The problem with Vaillancourt and Sharma's study is that it artificially produces that judgment and then invents an explanation — that women "stifle each other's sexuality" in order to protect their access to male providers. Vaillancourt goes even farther in the Globe and Mail, saying, "It's women who suppress the sexuality of other women." But her study only looked at women. It didn't study men's reactions to the provocatively dressed woman, nor did it in any way address the social factors that might lead women to judge one another, irrespective of mate competition. And that's the big problem with evo-psych research: not the experiments themselves necessarily, but the sweeping generalizations that come from them.

Intolerance Of Sexy Peers: Intrasexual Competition Among Women [Box.com]
How To Lose Friends And Alienate Colleagues: Show Cleavage, Study Finds [Globe and Mail]

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