We’ve all been there. Perhaps at church, or around campus, but everyone in the room seems to be enjoying the event when a provocatively dressed woman walks in and immediately sucks all of the energy out of the room. Generally, the men seem to notice her curves, appraising her beauty, while the women glare wondering what the hell was she thinking for wearing THAT.

Up until now…we’ve brushed these events off as just cattiness, but according to a new study, there’s some science behind it. In “Intolerance of Sexy Peers,” researchers studied how people judge their peers based on how they are dressed. As predicted, women who dressed “sexy” were seen as suspicious and judged more harshly by their female peers, while those who were dressed more conservatively didn’t illicit a negative response.

To measure this, researchers dressed some women in “sexy” attire and sent her to classes at a Toronto university. They then measured the responses to the coed and found that how she was dressed changed how she was viewed, especially by women.

The study reports:

One woman implied that the [woman] was dressed to have sex with one of her professors and another said that the confederate’s ‘‘boobs were about to pop out”. Importantly, all comments about the confederate were made after she left the room with one exception. One woman said ‘‘What the fuck is that?” directly to the [revealingly-dressed woman] after blatantly looking her up and down while showing disgust.

While it’s not new that women are competitive and view those who push the sexual envelope as suspicious (because they are competition), will it ever end? Will we get to the point that we don’t care WHAT a woman wears?

In his article, “Sisterhood Is Easier in the Winter,” Professor Hugo Schwyzer says that one of the root causes of this hostility among women is competition to garner the attention of men.

Schwyzer writes:

But what this study (and so many others before it) miss is the obvious point that this competitive “bitchiness” towards other women rests on the assumption that men are so unreliable that there’s no point in trying to “police” their behavior. If women believed that men had the power to resist sexual temptation, if they believed that male infidelity was the result of a choice rather than a biological inevitability, then women wouldn’t feel nearly as threatened by cleavage.

This “myth of male weakness” outsources men’s sexual self-control to women. For decades now, junk science has foisted the “caveman mystique” onto us, insisting that testosterone, Y chromosomes, and evolution trump the willpower and empathy of even the most well-intentioned dude. We’re hardwired to be promiscuous, hardwired to stare at nubile young women, and hardwired to cheat if given half a chance. Ignoring the reality that women have their own libidos (and their own demonstrable propensity to stray), the male myth advises women to accept men for the perpetual adolescents we are. So women need to control those whom the myth promises are within their power to influence: other women. Women learn to slut-shame and ostracize the miniskirt-wearers whom they see as sexual rivals; men get let off the proverbial hook.

I couldn’t help but nod at Professor Schwyzer’s appraisal of the situation. I agree that many of our hang-ups about how other women dress and behave have to do with our idea that at the base level, men cannot resist sexy women (peace to Shaquille O’neal).

But is this fair? As liberated and progressive as we are, why do “sexy” women still cause us to feel uncomfortable? 

Let’s talk about it, Clutchettes and Gents! 

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