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The science of why women are critical of attractive females

The outfit on the left worn in a study on female aggression provoked a "mean girl" reaction from two women having a conversation in a room, while the outfit on the same woman in the right resulted in no negative comments. (Photo courtesy Tracy Vaillancourt)

This will not be news to any woman and most men have figured it out too – females often treat each other horribly.

That’s been proven by a new project from the University of Ottawa that examined how female students react to a rival.

“We invited women to come to a lab to talk about how they deal with conflict in their friendships. They thought we were setting up the equipment, but in fact the equipment was already set up and we were audio and video recording them,” says Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt.

Vaillancourt is a leading researcher and expert in the area of children’s mental health and violence prevention. For this study she was looking at what amounts to a form of bullying between young adult women.

As two participants sat in a room chatting, waiting for the study to begin, Vaillancourt sent a third woman into the room to ask for directions and then gauged reaction to that female.

In one test, the woman was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, ponytail, very little makeup. In another test she was wearing a short skirt, low-cut top, no ponytail, makeup and tall black boots when she politely interrupted the two women.

You can imagine how the women reacted to the test subject, Lisa.

If she was dressed sexy, almost all of the women showed signs of “indirect aggression” toward her.

They rolled their eyes, gave her the silent treatment, looked her up and down, laughed at her and were “bitchy” toward her, according to Vaillancourt.

“Sometimes they did it directly toward her, although that wasn’t as common,” says Vaillancourt.

“One woman looked her up and down and said, ‘What the f is this.’ A lot of times they’d stop talking and looked at each other in a way that conveyed information, then as soon as she’d leave they’d start laughing and made derogatory comments.”

Those aggressive behaviors were not present when “Lisa” walked in to the room looking more ordinary. That’s no surprise to you, and no surprise to the researchers either.

“It’s not like this was behavior I haven’t seen before,” she says. “It’s behavior I’ve seen my whole life.”

Why? Why do many women do this to each other?

Vaillancourt says it’s all about “intrasexual competition.”

“A woman telling a man that they think a certain attractive woman is ugly or promiscuous actually changes the man’s opinion of that female,” she says. “He’s less interested in her.”

The study, simplified, finds women put other women down because men instantly believe the negative things we say about each other. I don’t think men are that simple, but she’s the doctor.

Vaillancourt hopes women will begin a conversation after hearing about or reading her research.

“Perhaps that conversation will make it so that the next time a very attractive, sexy woman comes into our field of view we’re cognizant of it and we don’t do what we might have done in the past,” she says.

Oh, that’ll happen.


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