A Cold War Fought by Women
November 19, 2013 7:56 AM   Subscribe

A Cold War Fought by Women Intrasexual competition among women (SLNYT).
posted by The Blue Olly (110 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Indirect aggression can take a psychological toll on women who are ostracized or feel pressured to meet impossible standards, like the vogue of thin bodies in many modern societies. Studies have shown that women’s ideal body shape is to be thinner than average — and thinner than what men consider the ideal shape to be. This pressure is frequently blamed on the ultrathin female role models featured in magazines and on television, but Christopher J. Ferguson and other researchers say that it’s mainly the result of competition with their peers, not media images.

I wouldn't want to let media totally off the hook, but this does make me wonder how much it would help to surround yourself with people with healthy self perceptions. We take so much from our social environments ready, so this makes some sense to me.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:10 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is obviously an interesting study, but tries to explain too much. A woman received negative comments after dressing inappropriately? I don't know what that is meant to show. A woman was dressed for a saturday night out at a club...in a laboratory at a University. Surely, modern, contingent, fleeting social mores are much more important than evo pysch stuff. right?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:11 AM on November 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yeah I found that sort of weird also. I'm sure people's opinions vary about this, but there's such a thing as contextually appropriate clothing. Which still doesn't mean that being nasty to someone about what they are wearing (or behind their back, as in this case) is an okay thing to do. But saying "She's dressed for a club, not an office" doesn't seem like it should fall along a slut-shaming continuum. But at the same time I was sort of squinting at the study thinking "Huh, I don't really draw those same conclusions from that." The study was called a "nonexperimental study" in the abstract of it. Could someone who knows more about this stuff than me let me know what that means?
posted by jessamyn at 8:25 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


“Sex is coveted by men,” she said. “Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group

What a thoroughly depressing way to look at the world
posted by ook at 8:29 AM on November 19, 2013 [29 favorites]


There doesn't seem to have been a control group, so whether people were reacting to another person dressing inappropriately in a school (or maybe even some class issues) or whether it was a heterosexual female specific reaction remains to be seen. I don't have a sexual rivalry with men, but if a guy came into physics class dressed as a guido I might not think too highly of him or want him to be friends with my boyfriend.
posted by melissam at 8:29 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, wouldn't you also get negative comments if you showed up in a club in a lab coat? Doing things that make you less sexually attractive to men still can get you catty mean girl comments, and I'm not sure that fits into the idea that it's supposed to make you more competitive compared to others. And that whole "women withhold sex for power" thing seems kind of straight out of MRA literature. My authority in the workplace or anywhere else is not based on who the men around me are or are not having sex with; if getting laid regularly will reduce male preoccupation with sex, I'm all in favor of that, because I'm, you know, at work to get work done.

Or to read Metafilter, one or the other. It's a slow day.
posted by Sequence at 8:32 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


A woman in going-clubbing mode in the context of a psych dept study would have immediately set off my this-is-bullshit detector. These tests are well-known and popular on many campuses (cause you get paid), and it's also known that many start off with a lie or deception. As this one does.
posted by aerotive at 8:35 AM on November 19, 2013


I'm sure people's opinions vary about this, but there's such a thing as contextually appropriate clothing. Which still doesn't mean that being nasty to someone about what they are wearing (or behind their back, as in this case) is an okay thing to do. But saying "She's dressed for a club, not an office" doesn't seem like it should fall along a slut-shaming continuum.

I agree with this; I think part of the problem is that when someone wears contextually inappropriate clothing you might wonder what if any other social cues/norms they could be missing or disregarding (see: every fedora thread ever).

I don't really care what people wear, for the most part -- if it were up to me I would wear a pith helmet and lab coat every day because I think they look awesome, but they also draw attention that I don't really want so I don't do it. If someone's making the choice just to ignore that attention that's fine with me, but if someone is actually either unsure of context appropriateness or actively seeking attention that's maybe not so great for the setting, that does potentially change how I see them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2013


A woman received negative comments after dressing inappropriately?

To state the obvious: who's determining what's appropriate and why?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Stigmatizing female promiscuity — a.k.a. slut-shaming — has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous. Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma is enforced mainly by women.
Lead in with an example of how the evo-psych research methodology style of speculation can be used to support any number of contradictory assertions, then just pick one at random and charge ahead without further comment. Quality science writing from NYTimes.
posted by aw_yiss at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


jessamyn: "The study was called a "nonexperimental study" in the abstract of it. Could someone who knows more about this stuff than me let me know what that means?"

It's a term used often in psychological research. It refers to research conducted in which circumstances are observed and variables are measured but neither are manipulated or altered by the observers.
posted by zarq at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


To state the obvious: who's determining what's appropriate and why?

Society, aka other people. And the why is: clothes meant for play are not appropriate for work.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


To state the obvious: who's determining what's appropriate and why?

I don't actually think that women were typically in charge of the workplaces when we determined that the general standard of dress for women was "not too revealing". Men don't take seriously a woman who dresses like that, either. Not that it makes this kind of judgment okay, but the question is whether or not it fits into this notion of it being about female competition.
posted by Sequence at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's also possible to have sexy lab-appropriate clothing. I've worked in labs and dressed sexily. A nice v-neck shirt (with a less exaggerated but still obvious pushup bra than the example here), or a shirt with a little hint of a lacy camisole underneath, or just a lot more eye makeup or bold lips. I mean sexy female scientists are at this point a stock character in TV and movies, so you'd think they would have been able to make something that was sexy and not a "norm violation" as the sexy puts it. As my guido example with men shows, people can not be sexy and still provoke a norm violation dislike.
posted by melissam at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this article reads a lot like "this is what we think about women interacting with women after having watched Mean Girls but hey here look let's manufacture an experiment that proves it so that we can call it science." Aren't you supposed to seek to disprove your initial hypothesis?
posted by likeatoaster at 8:46 AM on November 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Thanks for the unabashed and unquestioned evolutionary psychology perspective there NYT.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:46 AM on November 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Jessamyn, more on nonexperimental research. Note the warning not to fall into post hoc fallacy territory. It's very easy with a nonexperimental research model to draw incorrect conclusions based on initial data. Confirmation bias is a strong concern.
posted by zarq at 8:49 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


MisantropicPainforest: "And the why is: clothes meant for play are not appropriate for work."

Every workplace is different as well. What is considered appropriate in one may be unacceptable in another.
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just a point of information to add to the discussion above -- I was a graduate student at and in the same department where this study was done. The provocative outfit might have turned a few heads, but it would not have been considered all that unusual to see a woman dressed that way around campus. It's a university campus, not a grown-up work-place, clubbing clothes are more in-bounds... many (particularly) undergraduate students do consider it play-time.
posted by christopher.taylor at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are multiple different studies being described in this (rather thin) article.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure people's opinions vary about this, but there's such a thing as contextually appropriate clothing. Which still doesn't mean that being nasty to someone about what they are wearing (or behind their back, as in this case) is an okay thing to do. But saying "She's dressed for a club, not an office" doesn't seem like it should fall along a slut-shaming continuum. But at the same time I was sort of squinting at the study thinking "Huh, I don't really draw those same conclusions from that." The study was called a "nonexperimental study" in the abstract of it. Could someone who knows more about this stuff than me let me know what that means?

The "recent studies" alluded to in the abstract don't refer to the article the abstract was introducing. I think they were talking about other research that didn't have the experimental design that this one, the one the post is about, actually did. This one was experimental in the sense that they had the "female confederate" dressed differently in different trials.
posted by clockzero at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2013


Let's also acknowledge that this was that eternal study population, the college student. There are any number of social pressures in college that skew these results, and it's a time of a lot of in-grouping and social pressure anyway. This wouldn't be extrapolated so far if they had been high school students, so why is the damn New York Times so eager to hop on when it's college students? I'm a few years older than the study population and it would never cross my damn mind to shade a research assistant because of what she was wearing.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 8:56 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Darwinian incentive? Does anyone use this term anymore?
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:00 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The provocative outfit might have turned a few heads, but it would not have been considered all that unusual to see a woman dressed that way around campus.

Yes, this. College students were being asked questions in a laboratory, not college employees.

It would be interesting to see how a wide range of ages reacted in the situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2013


Every workplace is different as well. What is considered appropriate in one may be unacceptable in another.

This is absolutely true! An understanding of the people working there definitely helps, too. For example, a woman with whom I used to work wore a lot of quite short skirts but everyone knew her and knew she worked hard and the workplace was such that it really wasn't a big deal.

The upside of people having established roles and especially thinking you're kind of peculiar (NB: I am definitely not) is that you can do random stuff and no one minds as long as they've accepted that you're doing to do slightly offbeat stuff. For example, I DID wear a pith helmet to work one day (PERFECTLY REASONABLE CHOICE). I think if anyone else had done it people would have said something but since it was me my boss walked by me like three times without mentioning anything and then at around 3:45 said "Oh, by the way, I like your hat". Context and established social roles/personalities really matter.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:07 AM on November 19, 2013


This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” meaning a “low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.”

This is #1 in Research Assistant job descriptions I would not like to have to send to HR.
posted by biffa at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, the study tells us something interesting about possible sexually competitive behavior in a certain context, in this case, in college. It is certainly not generalizable to "women" but to "women who are likely to be unpartnered, in a situation where there are fewer unpartnered men than there are unpartnered women"? Maybe.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, you can prove anything in the social "sciences."
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 AM on November 19, 2013


Man, you can prove anything in the social "sciences."

Absolutely no one is talking about proving anything.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:14 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


*Sees a piece about what women think/why they behave as they do in the NYT, a paper which frequently puts actual discussions of women's rights and political issues in the Style section.*

*narrows eyes*
posted by emjaybee at 9:16 AM on November 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


This study only sort of says what the researchers think it does. The women in the study aren't upset that the "rival" woman is somehow outdoing them sexually; they're irritated because they think she's introducing sexuality into a non-sexualized environment. The "dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor" remark is super revealing -- is the student being snarky about that because she's unconsciously in sexual competition with the "rival" woman over the professor, and she's upset because she thinks the "sexy" clothing makes the "rival" woman more likely to win? Or, rather, is she being snarky because she isn't in sexual competition for her professors, but she thinks the "sexy" woman is?

At a club women might well be competing for sexual attention from men, but there women don't criticize each other for wearing revealing clothing, because that's considered a "fair" way to compete for sexual attention. In an academic building, on the other hand, people are competing for grades, good research positions, letters of recommendation, and so on. Using sexual attraction to get those things is considered "unfair." That's not necessarily a good thing -- there's a lot of sexism mixed into that idea and how it's enforced on women -- but that's what the students were reacting to, not some kind of sexual rivalry.

(N.B. as usual it's really embedded sexism that's at root responsible for this. Obviously the students' snark is gross and slut-shaming, but they wouldn't have bothered to snark if they hadn't had some cause for concern that a sexily dressed student would have an advantage even in an academic context. Which: sexism.)
posted by ostro at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


At a club women might well be competing for sexual attention from men, but there women don't criticize each other for wearing revealing clothing…

At a club women and men criticize each other for a number of reasons, including their clothing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:20 AM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Absolutely no one is talking about proving anything.

I think the NYT writer is definitely drawing sweeping conclusions here (emphasis mine):
The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety. Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance.
. . .
The result is more competition because there are so many more rivals — and there’s no longer any scientific doubt that both sexes are in to win it.
I don't want to blame the researchers for that ridiculous tone though.
posted by gladly at 9:21 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, you can prove anything in the social "sciences."

Before you denigrate a whole field, maybe you should rephrase that to 'Man, you can totally misrepresent and misunderstand anything in a pop-sci article.'
posted by codacorolla at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” meaning a “low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.”

This is #1 in Research Assistant job descriptions I would not like to have to send to HR.


This person is a participant in research, not a research assistant. Two very different things.

Man, you can prove anything in the social "sciences."

It's more than a little outrageous to dismiss an entire category of empirical investigation based on a silly and uncritical write-up of one very limited study.
posted by clockzero at 9:23 AM on November 19, 2013


but there women don't criticize each other for wearing revealing clothing

Are you kidding me? This happens all the fucking time.
posted by elizardbits at 9:24 AM on November 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I mean this article is about a stupid lazy pseudoscientific "experiment" but to act as though young women do not engage in vicious slut-shaming of other young women on a regular basis is ridiculous.
posted by elizardbits at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Man, you can prove anything in the social "sciences."

Wow, this already?

There's poor science being performed in every field. Neuroscience, for example, has notorious problems with poor statistical analyses leading to over-reaching conclusions. Funny how rare it is for someone to refer to it as neuro "science", though--with the quotes to imply it's not actually science.

But hey, thanks man. It's nice to know that all of the work I put into understanding the philosophy of science, experimental design, statistics, and so on, isn't real and that I will never perform real science.

Maybe I should get a lab coat.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:27 AM on November 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


the gist of the article seems to be "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, ladies"
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:37 AM on November 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


the gist of the article seems to be "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, ladies"

I confess the article did feel like it had a meta-aspect of men-judging-women-judging-women to it.
posted by jessamyn at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


If there actually was some sort of evolutionarily-determined sexual competition going on here, why would the clothing matter at all? The woman presumably had "a low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts" no matter what she was wearing; are they concluding that hostile reactions to tightfitting, low-cut blouses and short skirts are an evolutionary advantage that have been selected into the species since... what, the 1960s?
posted by jaguar at 9:46 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's really too bad that the original articles are all behind a paywall. I'm sure that the authors address a lot of the concerns of MeFites about this article.
posted by zscore at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2013


Wow, this already?

Exactly. Please try to use tofu-levels of care when ascribing negative traits to entire branches of science.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's poor science being performed in every field.

Yes, bad science tends to be a product of a bad supervisor/PI rather than the choice of department. Non-coincidentally, one also could say this about the quality of papers in the humanities.
posted by jaduncan at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2013


jaguar: "If there actually was some sort of evolutionarily-determined sexual competition going on here, why would the clothing matter at all? The woman presumably had "a low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts" no matter what she was wearing; are they concluding that hostile reactions to tightfitting, low-cut blouses and short skirts are an evolutionary advantage that have been selected into the species since... what, the 1960s?"

Clothing is part of appearance. Visually conspicuous sexually dimorphic traits play a large role in human courtship and sexual selection. Some business attire (such as suits,) counters this by reducing a person's shape to straight lines while reducing curves. Their secondary sexual characteristics may not be as obvious. For women and men, the shape of their hips, shoulders, buttocks, etc., may not be as easily discerned under their clothing. For women, their breasts and cleavage may be more covered and/or not as prominent as if they were wearing tighter, more casual clothing.
posted by zarq at 9:55 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The study was called a "nonexperimental study" in the abstract of it. Could someone who knows more about this stuff than me let me know what that means?

To be clear, the study by Vaillancourt and Sharma does use experimental design. In the abstract, they are referring to "nonexperimental studies" in the context of prior research, not the current study.

I have to log in to the library to see if I can access the full article, to see whether or not there was a control group used.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


. For women, their breasts and cleavage may be more covered and/or not as prominent as if they were wearing tighter, more casual clothing.

She was wearing tight-ish jeans and a slim-fitting t-shirt. Yes, her breasts are not as prominent in that outfit, but they're still there. Her waist-to-hip ratio and clear skin are obvious in both outfits. My point is that if low-cut blouses are required for evolutionary advantage, they haven't been around that long so I'm wondering how the researchers think we've survived as a species for as long as we have.
posted by jaguar at 10:03 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Ferguson experiment described at the bottom of the article sounds interesting. Although he uses the term "peer" in the title, there are significant differences from the Vaillancourt study. A quote from the Ferguson paper regarding the women:
Two young, attractive, thin-ideal female research assistants (RAs; the third and fourth author of this study) ran each data collection session. Each session was randomized so that the RAs dressed either to advertise their physical features in a way to highlight their sexual competitiveness (what we called formal attire), or to deemphasize their physical features and sexual competitiveness (frumpy attire). During the formal sessions, the RAs dressed attractively (equivalent to a job interview).
So these were not the club-gear-attired stranger on the same perceived academic level as themselvves that the subjects of the Vaillancourt study were seeing.

Yes, I've seen girls and women be mean and catty to each other, both to their faces and behind their backs. I've been a victim; a witness; once or twice, to my great pride, a speaker-outer-againster; and once or twice, to my even greater shame, a participant. But it seems like an oversimplification, and doing little favor to anyone, to play the "just jealous" card when there's a reaction to someone walking into a situation dressed in a radically different manner than anyone in her situation might be expected to be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:10 AM on November 19, 2013


...Are the people who are saying there was no "control group" missing the bit in the article where they say they also tried the same experiment with the same woman dressed more conservatively?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The women in the study aren't upset that the "rival" woman is somehow outdoing them sexually; they're irritated because they think she's introducing sexuality into a non-sexualized environment.

Having quickly skimmed the full article, there are actually 2 studies being reported here. The first study involved the confederate being dressed either conservatively or "sexy," and coding of the participants' unprompted responses to her. In study 2 they examined the sexual rival aspect by having a different set of women rate pictures of the confederate on attractiveness, as well as how likley they were to introduce the confederate to their boyfriends. Participants in study 2 were randomly assigned to one of 3 conditions:
In the first condition (conservative), a photograph of the conservatively dressed confederate was provided (Fig. 1A). In the second condition (sexy-thin), a photograph of the sexy dressed confederate was provided (Fig. 1B). Finally, in the third condition (sexy-fat), a photograph of the sexy dressed confederate was manipulated so that she appeared overweight (Fig. 1C).
They found in study 2 that participants were "less likely to introduce the sexy-thin confederate to their boyfriend or let him spend time alone with her than the sexy-fat or conservative confederate." They were also less likely to say they would be friends with the sexy-thin or sexy-fat confederate, vs. the conservative one.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2013


This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective"

Tell me more about this tits and ass man "evolutionary perspective."
posted by klanawa at 10:29 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not particularly looks competitive with other women (on account of having always fallen somewhat outside the the "pretty" box). But best be warned, ladies, that I am in it to win on Scrabble night.
posted by thivaia at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like it's possible that men would behave in a similar way were men encouraged to display more signs of overt "sexiness." I know a lot of men make fun of men who dress in a "sexy" or club-ish manner, or who wear revealing swimsuits on the beach, or who are really suave and flirty with ladies (in a way that ladies like). Homophobia is involved, but I also think it benefits men a great deal to just say that those men are laughable so they don't feel like they have to be in sexual competition with them. At least that's my experience with male jealousy.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Without access to all the full articles they cite, it's really hard to evaluate this at all. (Not to imply that I would actually read all of them in full--that'd be a lot of reading.) But based on what I can piece together, it looks like this is a daisy-chained narrative strung together from a series of completely different studies. It seems pretty apparent that the conclusions are WAY too generalized, at least in the article. Ultimately, yeah, I get why and how you can generalize from statistics, but the article is just stringing together a bunch of disparate sources, including studies of everything from birds to college students, failing to cite the actual statistical results in favor of fudging around with quantities like "little" and "virtually all," and then tacking on the evo psych like it's an actual conclusion. Anything after the word "because" isn't even a hypothesis. It's speculation informed by the researchers' (or journalist's) personal biases and cultural narrative.

Social sciences are fascinating and important, and deserve to be studied. They're all incredibly nuanced and influenced by so many confounding factors, though, that presenting the results of these studies as a definitive explanation for human behaviors is reckless at best.

Oh, ugh. I'll bet Reddit is eating this up, but I'm cranky enough as it is today, so I'm not going to go look.

Nosiree. Really. I'm not. Almost definitely not going to look, probably.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:42 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are you kidding me? This happens all the fucking time.

Well, I've encountered plenty of "her [whatever] is not [whatever] enough to be wearing that" but not actual straight-up "look at how much [whatever] she's showing." (It's possible that I'm just being blissfully oblivious, in which case I'd like to go on being blissfully oblivious, because I like that dress, damn it. There are a lot of things I don't like about heavy-duty club/party environments, but that's one thing I do like -- it feels like a kind of ground zero of sexual self-presentation, where the unspoken response to the "ick, everybody can see your [whatever]" that you'd get anywhere else is "yes, that's the point.")

In any case, though, the specific outfit shown in the article is comfortably within current social norms for acceptable-sexy. Some of the women in the study probably have skirts exactly like that hanging in their closets waiting for Saturday night. In this case it was definitely context that brought out the slut-shaming, and not the context of "they feel less sexy in comparison," which seems to be what the researchers are trying to find.
posted by ostro at 10:43 AM on November 19, 2013


jaguar: " She was wearing tight-ish jeans and a slim-fitting t-shirt. Yes, her breasts are not as prominent in that outfit, but they're still there. Her waist-to-hip ratio and clear skin are obvious in both outfits."

Sure, but one shows much more skin than the other.

jaguar: "My point is that if low-cut blouses are required for evolutionary advantage, they haven't been around that long so I'm wondering how the researchers think we've survived as a species for as long as we have."

What is being discussed in the article is perceived promiscuity, and that can be evolutionarily advantageous. As the article mentions, wearing a low-cut blouse may be perceived as promiscuous and provoke a stigmatizing reaction in potential sexual competitors. Many behaviors, clothing or actions can be promiscuous, not just low-cut blouses. One of the ways humans attract mates is through visual displays, but of course, it's not the only way we do so. Sexual mores change over time and the clothing fashions that people perceive to be sexually charged do, too.
posted by zarq at 10:44 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I confess the article did feel like it had a meta-aspect of men-judging-women-judging-women to it.

Yes, it's another John Tierney masterpiece on sex and gender in society. Well-trolled, Tierney, well-trolled.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 10:59 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I confess the article did feel like it had a meta-aspect of men-judging-women-judging-women to it.

I agree. I am very anti-slut shaming (to the point where I rarely think "slut" is a meaningful term, and never use it), but yeah no fucking duh people judge each other. I like how women are tasked with eliminating mean girl behavior from themselves utterly in order to be 100% open-minded feminist angels while no one cares about the bitchy, catty intrasexual behaviors of men.

I guess if someone dresses inappropriately by my standards, such as wearing revealing clubbing gear to school, I will assume they have different sexual boundaries than me (even if that just means "more flirtatious") and probably would rather they didn't become best friends with my boyfriend. Idk, I doubt my boyfriend would want to introduce me to the ladies' man he met at work, either. I do think it's an interesting experiment in terms of how norms are enforced.

Also I like how the girl's two outfits are "in da club" and "works at Wal-Mart."
posted by stoneandstar at 11:04 AM on November 19, 2013


Here is the journal issue being discussed. Many of the articles are pay only. For those without full access, the RSC has made a bunch of articles free:

Social competition and selection in males and females;

Resolving social conflict among females without overt aggression: a review article; and

Wake up and smell the conflict: odour signals in female competition.

The second article is good for context. I thought the third was an interesting idea, but I'm not sure how convinced i am.

The Vaillancourt article is linked from the NYT piece directly, but, as usual, loses some subtly in translation:
...intrasexual competition need not be operating at the conscious level, rather competitors ‘must be actively behaving in a manner that draws them closer to attaining the wanted resource’ .... A clear way that indirect aggression serves an individual's goal is by reducing her same-sex rivals' ability, or desire, to compete for mates. This is typically accomplished in a concealed way which diminishes the risk of a counterattack. Although indirect aggression is used effectively by girls and women in a manner that reduces the aggressor's risk, it is not used without peril. Indeed, the derogation of a rival, which represents the most common way of aggressing against others indirectly, carries the risk of (i) calling men's attention to the rival and thus increasing the number of competitors, (ii) signalling to others that you are unkind which may inadvertently lower your own mate value, and (iii) leading to a confrontation by the target which may escalate to physical aggression. These risks notwithstanding, the benefits of using indirect aggression seem clear—fewer competitors and greater access to preferred mates, which in ancestral times would have been linked to differential reproduction rates, the driving force of evolution by sexual selection.
Minimization of the actual attack is the whole strategy Vaillancourt describes. Dismissing the observations as simply social norms or quibbling with the phrasing or arguing intent all seem to me to exemplify in this thread the effectiveness of "blurred lines" aggressive tactics.
posted by bonehead at 11:05 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, I've encountered plenty of "her [whatever] is not [whatever] enough to be wearing that" but not actual straight-up "look at how much [whatever] she's showing." (It's possible that I'm just being blissfully oblivious, in which case I'd like to go on being blissfully oblivious, because I like that dress, damn it. There are a lot of things I don't like about heavy-duty club/party environments, but that's one thing I do like -- it feels like a kind of ground zero of sexual self-presentation, where the unspoken response to the "ick, everybody can see your [whatever]" that you'd get anywhere else is "yes, that's the point.")

Unfortunately, I think there might be some obliviousness here since I have definitely heard stuff like that. Also, the club as "ground zero of sexual self-presentation" unfortunately only really works that way if you're conventionally attractive or at least proportioned in a certain way. If a larger woman wears sexually presenting clothing, especially things that are tight, you get a lot of "she can't pull that off" and "what does she think she's doing?" and stuff like that. The problem is partially the double standard; you SHOULD be able to wear stuff like that, but you can only wear it sometimes. If you violate either of these conditions, you'll probably be taken less seriously.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:37 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sigh. Sure, it's all just an illusion. Women are actually running society, and they've been the problem this entire time. Yep. I have access to all of the articles, I'm positive, but I am just tired of untangling the knots people keep tying.
posted by cashman at 11:42 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma [against female promiscuity] is enforced mainly by women."

Certainly my experience. I've never personally heard a man denigrate to a woman as a slut, though I have no doubt that it happens (I suspect this is simply a matter of which men I know). But I hear women do it constantly, often in very ugly ways, including the ghastly "It's so sad that she thinks she has to act like that." The study is available non-paywalled here.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2013


So did I miss the part in which they explain how lesbian/bisexual women compete against other women for the attention of men(?) so they can get sex from women? Or something? Or since women are the Bearers of the Having Sex, do lesbians et al get half the competition and twice the sex?
posted by nicebookrack at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]




Also, this is fascinating, and true to what I've seen:

"He found that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies did not correlate with what they watched on television at home. Nor were they influenced by TV programs shown in laboratory experiments: Watching the svelte actresses on “Scrubs” induced no more feelings of inferiority than watching the not-so-svelte star of “Roseanne.”

But he found that women were more likely to feel worse when they compared themselves with peers in their own social circles, or even if they were in a room with a thin stranger, like the assistant to Dr. Ferguson who ran an experiment with female college students. "

It's always seemed to me that most people regard the look of people on television and movies as fantasy, not points of comparison, but they judge themselves relentlessly against their (perception of their) peers.

Overall, though, I think the evolutionary mate competition stuff is a red herring. Men don't compete with each other to impress mates, they compete with each other because that's what primates do. And I think the same is true for women.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:12 PM on November 19, 2013


Sequence: "I don't actually think that women were typically in charge of the workplaces when we determined that the general standard of dress for women was "not too revealing". "

Were men not in charge when we determined that the general standard of dress for men was "not too revealing"? Shirts unbuttoned one button too far will get negative comments from coworkers; I imagine "too-tight pants" would raise some disapproving eyebrows, and in fact have changed pants in the morning because of that decision (nope, not work-appropriate). And, finally, male calves may not be displayed in my workplace, although women can wear capri pants and knee-length skirts with ease.

My point is: we have expectations of "appropriate workplace attire" for both genders. It is a moving line - the decorous sweatpants and sweatshirts briefly popular in the 90s for women would have been judged "pyjamas" in the 80s, and men are no longer required to wear collared, buttoned-shirts with ties. But the mere fact of a vague (maybe even written-down) distinction for what is workplace-appropriate does not mean the idea is fundamentally misogynist, even if they are sexist, with gender roles are still enforced. (IT'S NOT A SKIRT, IT'S A UTILIKILT!)
posted by IAmBroom at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


MisantropicPainforest: "Man, you can prove anything in the social "sciences."

Absolutely no one is talking about proving anything.
"

Aside from the article that we're discussing.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2013


I'm glad a woman did this study. If a man thought of this he'd be derided as a thought-criminal
posted by Renoroc at 12:23 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well it was a man who wrote the article about it and I certainly don't think he's a though criminal but I do think he has an axe to grind (and eyeballs to generate) about the gender war topics.
posted by jessamyn at 12:27 PM on November 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


jaguar: "If there actually was some sort of evolutionarily-determined sexual competition going on here, why would the clothing matter at all? The woman presumably had "a low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts" no matter what she was wearing; are they concluding that hostile reactions to tightfitting, low-cut blouses and short skirts are an evolutionary advantage that have been selected into the species since... what, the 1960s?"

If you think that sexy, revealing clothing was invented in the 1960s, boy are you in for a surprise when you see your first pre-1960s painting or magazine. Exhibit 1.

jaguar: "My point is that if low-cut blouses are required for evolutionary advantage, they haven't been around that long so I'm wondering how the researchers think we've survived as a species for as long as we have."

Body-altering clothing has been around for thousands of years. Plenty of time for evolutionary change; moths have changed color in a few decades.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:27 PM on November 19, 2013


Aside from the article that we're discussing.

Did you read it? Did anyone mention anything at all about proving anything?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:30 PM on November 19, 2013


Body-altering clothing has been around for thousands of years.

And tight jeans and tight t-shirts would have been considered sexy, revealing clothing for most of them.
posted by jaguar at 12:33 PM on November 19, 2013


I'm glad a woman did this study. If a man thought of this he'd be derided as a thought-criminal

yes, if anyone has the power of a totalitarian nightmare behind them in this day and age, it's feminists
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


Interesting. The same arguments about women wishing to control/limit the promiscuity of other women might also apply to campaigns against (female) prostitution by women who otherwise hold that a woman's body is her own to do what she wants with.

I mean, interesting in that it's a sociobiology Just So story, the standard of evidence is astronomically high, and we shouldn't believe a word of it. But interesting nonetheless.
posted by alasdair at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2013


I assure everyone that men do call women "sluts," for stupid reasons, and that it makes us self-conscious/upset as it does when women do it. Maybe men are more likely to say it to women directly, while women say it about other women to someone else.

Also tbh a lot of young women (myself included) do use sexual attention to fill a gap in our self-esteem so, whatever. It is sad at times when you see it.

Men are often only interested in feminism when it involves defending the female right to look sexy.

I think men are more angry/threatened/prone to gossip when women dress too much like men.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think men are more angry/threatened/prone to gossip when women dress too much like men.

I think you're right, but I also think that the mechanism and biases behind that are entirely different than the "cold war" for boyfriends and sex, as described in the linked articles.

I suspect that many men feel threatened by women who dress like men because they want strong demarkations between the genders. People who blur the lines, women who dress "like men", confuse the rigid boundaries of presentation. Strong boundaries in gender presentation matter a lot to some guys because such external trappings are a major way gender identiy is constucted. They react to this perceived threat with anger. In sexually appealing women, that can be recast as cute (eg the girlfriend wearing the dress shirt), but those threats which aren't mitigated by sexual attraction (or availability), e.g. gays and lesbians, are particlar targets for this anger.
posted by bonehead at 2:28 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a little bit of this study that comes across as the belated realization that women are people too, and may have their own priorities and arguements. And yet, it's weird that this sort of competition gets labeled 'mate competition'.

Not to mention the bizarre way of describing it as a "cold war". Do they think that college aged males are regularly engaging in trying to cleave each other apart and don't also have socially complicated lives?

Who, precisely, are the studied people going to mate with? The professor? Each other? How do we know this is about mating?

As someone else observed, the uncomfortable "looks like she is trying to sleep with the professor" comment can be just as easily a matter of trying to avoid a sexualized situation. for instance women (and men) objecting to the use of promotional models generally aren't worried so much that their conference confederates will shag the promo girl as being treated with casual and unpleasant objectification. Being treated like an easily available source of sex has not, historically, been a high status role from either genders perspectives and I wonder how much slut shaming is also a matter of misplaced self protection, like homophobes who think the gay will lead to them getting molested.
posted by Phalene at 4:01 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whenever I hear anybody criticize somebody else's appearance I always put on my best valley girl and say "Oh. My. God. Becky."


I am an asshole btw
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:49 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much slut shaming is also a matter of misplaced self protection, like homophobes who think the gay will lead to them getting molested.

I like your overall point, but I do think that worried about being objectified in a situation where other women are being presented as objects is a bit more founded in reality than homophobia is.
posted by jaguar at 5:23 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


That bit about Scrubs vs. Roseanne seems less likely to indicate that neither show plays a part in furthering patriarchal ideas and standards and more likely to indicate that everything can carry a load of patriarchal ideas and standards.
posted by Corinth at 9:03 PM on November 19, 2013


"“Sex is coveted by men,” she said. “Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”"

Clearly there are no social pressures for women to make comments like these to distance themselves from the presentation that the research assistant is making, like inuring themselves to other women or to the dominant perceived mores of men, who do tend to hold the power.
posted by klangklangston at 11:41 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


That bit about Scrubs vs. Roseanne seems less likely to indicate that neither show plays a part in furthering patriarchal ideas and standards and more likely to indicate that everything can carry a load of patriarchal ideas and standards.

But the study's point was that no groups self-evaluation changed after watching those shows, but women did change their self-evaluation after seeing other women in real life. It's less about the content of the shows than the point that, as demonstrated by many other studies, fictional television programs are rarely regarded by their audience as even aspirational models for life. Whatever patriarchal ideas and standards the shows might carry, they don't seem to make it off the screen and into people's heads.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:34 AM on November 20, 2013


OK, I copied and pasted a bunch of previous posts I wanted to quote, but it ended up being a page long and it really just boils down to two main points. So, if nobody minds, I’ll just quickly list them. If anyone wants me to go back and quote, I can. Bear in mind that I am of an older generation than the students in the Vaillancourt study, so that may color my impressions a whole 'nother shade of pink.
  1. The women’s reactions in the Vaillancourt experiment could be a reaction to the introduction of a perceived sexualized element to a previously non-sexualized environment, rather than to the introduction of a perceived competitor for mates.
  2. ”Slut-shaming” is often done by women, and is sometimes done as a form of self-protection.
I have been through #1 SO. MANY. TIMES. And, although of course it’s only anecdata, so has every other woman I’ve ever been close enough with to have a conversation about gender issues in school or the workplace. I don’t know exactly how many women that is, but it’s a lot.

I’m not saying it happens in every class, in every school, in every job, in every company. But sooner or later, all the women in my circle have been in that situation. The rest of us are working hard and minding our business, and then a male teacher or boss starts giving insane amounts of preferential treatment to some girl or woman he’s either having sex with or wants to have sex with. The first time I witnessed it was in high school.

Sometimes the higher-ups will do something about it, but usually it’s dismissed as “women’s gossip” or “just jealousy.” PLEASE NOTE: I AM IN NO WAY SAYING THAT EVERY MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE, OR EVEN THE MAJORITY OF THEM, DOES THIS. But there are just enough of them to make a lot of women wary if there’s any hint that sexiness is going to be introduced into a situation where there previously was none.

I think #2 can be a consequence of #1. If you see enough women get the rewards for sexualized behavior and presentation that are usually earned by other means, I can understand where it might occur to other women to get caught in a chicken-and-egg loop of wondering which is the cause and which the effect.

I once worked in a place where it was clear that the only way to get ahead was to flirt (a handsy sort of flirting) with the boss; I got out as quickly as I could.* I’m sure a certain amount of “slut-shaming” in the workplace and in school is a way of saying, “If she does it, we’ll all be expected to do it, and I don’t want to.”

”Mind you, I’ve worked for terrible women, too. No, ma’am, it’s not appropriate for you to tell me where to get my eyebrows waxed, or to say that I’m “sweating my balls off.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:38 AM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Were men not in charge when we determined that the general standard of dress for men was "not too revealing"?

Well, what we ended up with for women was an interesting combination of social enforcement of femininity along with everything else, which I think was a direct result of men being in charge at the time. Men in the professional world are expected to wear the uniform. Women in the professional world are expected to walk a certain very fine line of "pretty but not too pretty", and this in many cases still isn't enforced by other women, it's enforced by hiring partners and such who are still usually men. There are definite standards both ways, but I'm just remembering when I was in law school and we had seminars where career services was giving us earnest advice about what lipstick colors were considered appropriate. Again, the interviewers were certainly not all men, but at least 75%, probably more.

I also feel bound to point out, after it was noted by several people earlier--yes, you'll see women dressed in micro-mini skirts on your average university campus all the time, but that doesn't mean the majority of the population really thinks they're university appropriate, any more than students on the whole think it's socially appropriate to go out in pajamas even when they themselves occasionally show up at their 7:45am class in sweatpants with kittens on them.
posted by Sequence at 6:42 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you see enough women get the rewards for sexualized behavior and presentation that are usually earned by other means, I can understand where it might occur to other women to get caught in a chicken-and-egg loop of wondering which is the cause and which the effect.

Here's the thing--this kind of favoritism can happen even when a woman is dressing and behaving appropriately, and then "the sexy" gets projected onto her by (understandably) peeved female colleagues/fellow students/etc. Instead of targeting anger at the men who are engaging in the behavior and causing the injustice and drama, we (as always) look to what the woman in question must be doing to solicit, encourage, or at least not sufficiently discourage the behavior. "She must be asking for it"--does that sound familiar?

I've been on both sides, and let me tell you, the animosity drifting into open hatred that can happen when you've been (unwittingly) chosen as the favorite as the month or whatever is agonizing. I can recall the non-stop anxiety (in my baggy, appropriate clothing, no makeup, butch demeanor, and wash-and-go hair) of knowing that not only is there something about me--due to another's arbitrary sexual preferences and poor boundaries--that I can't change (relative youth, dress size, height, ethnic background, anything) that has introduced ill feelings (from women I may really like) as well as made me uncomfortable with the man in question.

It's a lose lose. Ladies, we have met the enemy, and it is us.

Men need to be educated on rape, but women need to watch their own participation in rape culture as well, at ground level.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you see enough women get the rewards for sexualized behavior and presentation that are usually earned by other means, I can understand where it might occur to other women to get caught in a chicken-and-egg loop of wondering which is the cause and which the effect.
--------------------
Here's the thing--this kind of favoritism can happen even when a woman is dressing and behaving appropriately, and then "the sexy" gets projected onto her by (understandably) peeved female colleagues/fellow students/etc. Instead of targeting anger at the men who are engaging in the behavior and causing the injustice and drama, we (as always) look to what the woman in question must be doing to solicit, encourage, or at least not sufficiently discourage the behavior. "She must be asking for it"--does that sound familiar?


Oh, absolutely, no question. I'm talking subconscious gut reactions, not intellectual processes.

It's not that the other women AREN'T angry at the men in authority who are engaging in the behavior and causing the injustice and drama. They just know from long experience that they have little or no power to affect their behavior.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:04 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's my feeling too: this is (one way) how the female side of rape culture works.
posted by bonehead at 9:22 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like your overall point, but I do think that worried about being objectified in a situation where other women are being presented as objects is a bit more founded in reality than homophobia is.

Much how highly sexualized environments are danger zones for me as a woman (even though the majority of people into me were able to respect boundaries when I've explored them)- I've seen plenty of shenanigans like butt groping, homosexuality used as hazing ('gay chicken'), etc... Which is not to say that gayness causes these problems, but I would lay good odds that some homophobes are in some aspect like puritans who can't deal with the broader, nuanced ramifications of sex so they want everything shut down. It's about as realistic as abstinence only, misinformation laden sex ed to try to stop teen pregnancy, but it has it's own fearful, messed up logic, especially if the homophobes' version of heterosexuality is predatory.

Back to the topic of the study- I guess one of the best examples of our culture's confusion over sexual signaling I have off hand is the "Slave Leia" conundrum. On the one hand we have the decadence of a fantasy setting being set up to titillate, on the other hand it's an implied zone of sexual non-consent. Lots of women running around in figure emphasizing clothing, all too often signals that women are marginalized here. And as also discussed, being the 'favourite' is generally something inflicted on you by unwholesome power structures. Being a 'favourite' is seldom a positive long term thing because of the precarious nature of sexuality. And as other people have said better than me, the nasty attitude around it is symptomatic of rape culture.

I get considerable anxiety that my normal sexual behaviours and social behaviours gain me suitors, because I'm afraid just being jolly, merry and promiscuous under my own limited terms is going to get me a 'reputation', and I hang out in circles where people are poly and go to sex parties.

Meanwhile you've got the actual challenge of female clothing as Sequence put it: (the) very fine line of "pretty but not too pretty". There is a decided effort to squash or restrict to the normative the artifice in female appearance, all while a demand that we look desirable- but not desirable 'like that'. It's particularly pronounced in modesty obsessed subcultures, which will still get hung up on the beauty of women even as they provide guidelines on how to cover it up.

Whether makeup is okay (in which case it's the kind to avoid looking 'tired') or some busybody is going to start waxing lyrical about clean scrubbed wholesome girls with their 'natural' glow the idea is a uniform that magically anoints a few people who deserve it just by some sort of inner goodness. Which is obviously bullshit if you think about it, but a popular enough fantasy.
posted by Phalene at 9:58 AM on November 20, 2013


“If she does it, we’ll all be expected to do it, and I don’t want to.”

This rang such a clear, loud bell with me. That feeling of dread, just thinking, "great, more artificial, ridiculous, painful 'feminine' shit to do to make sure I don't get left behind," all while knowing that the benefits of doing it are kind of dubious, but not really knowing 100% what I should do. I don't want to "mate" with my fucking boss, I just don't want him to think of me as the un-promotable schlumpy plain girl now that there's an attractive woman in the office who he's clearly become immediately fond of.

I mean, it's similar with pornography-- I don't hate porn on principle. I don't hate the idea of people, even people I'm dating, watching porn. I do hate porn at times because I know that in a society where a lot of men watch porn, they will expect me to shave my genitals, always really really enjoy blow jobs, &c. I don't want to be the girl who bursts their bubble. I also don't want to be the girl trying to work a second job in bed as a porn star.

And since someone mentioned prostitution above, yeah, there's a fear that men will be so used to literally paying for whatever they want sexually that they'll start to expect that kind of service from their wives and girlfriends and dates, and pretty soon we'll be stuck in this deeply ingrained transactional model of sexuality that fucks us over and where we're perpetually objectified and expected to perform (as if we're being paid, when usually... we're not). It seems naive to say that men can see prostitutes and watch a lot of pornography and still think of women the same way. If my boyfriend saw a prostitute I wouldn't have a hard time believing that it "meant nothing," but I would have a hard time getting the idea out of my head that now he knows what it feels like to get the kind of attention you can only pay for, and what am I compared to that?

And so when I see the girl at a convention with breast implants, wearing skimpy clothes and making sexy jokes to a bunch of guys who are eating it up, I kind of hate her. I kind of hate them too. I kind of hate the whole fucking world. I then moderate my responses into the politically appropriate "we need to solve this" mentality, but the obvious fact that women are self-interested human beings with yes their own motivations and desires should not be entirely whitewashed, imo. And this study is annoying not because it exposes the humanity of women, but because we expect women to NOT admit to being human beings, because we desperately have to claim to men that we're not catty bitches like all those other women, we're cool women who are totally fine with you hanging out with hot girls, we don't mind if she sits on your lap because we trust you, yadda. And then to other women we're supposed to be high-minded feminists, of course.

It blows that truly economically disadvantaged women have to take advantage where they can in this system, too. The closest I've been to that when I was really really poor. Not doing an explicitly sexualized job, but waiting tables and tending bar as a new hire, needing to flirt with men I personally found gross, knowing I could not lose my job for not being sweet enough so I had to dress provocatively and sell looks at my body for tips. It's gross. I didn't like it. If someone's girlfriend hated me for flirting I can't say I would not totally understand.

Being a woman mostly sucks because you know you're already at a disadvantage and you're always trying to figure out whether to "act" like a woman or not, when truly the system is just capricious. Should I be sexy? Should I not be sexy? It seems so much easier for men. Just wear the suit and do your job. Women FOR SOME REASON have to worry about sexiness in the midst of all this. Because men are often in charge and choose to ignore or bestow favor based on sexiness.

I think as the balance of power evens out gender-wise, things get better. It also means more explicit sexualization of men, which takes away the gendered power of objectification and seems to keep everyone on their toes. I think if men know it can happen to them they're more likely to be moderate and realistic about how they treat women.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:23 PM on November 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


It seems so much easier for men. Just wear the suit and do your job.

Haha. No.

You're right that you're always in competition with other women. Everyone — men and women — can empathize with your dread in the face of the competition. However, there is absolutely no avoiding it. You can censor pornography, criminalize prostitution, but there will always be other women who raise the bar.

If the bar is raised, it is you who has to step up. But, you can step up in your own personal way. If skinny jeans are in, but they don't suit your frame, you can innovate your own style. Being good in bed is not all about talent, it's a lot about love. (If the prostitute is genuinely better in bed than the girlfriend, the relationship is probably over.)

It is the same for men, but on different lines. Think about what you've loved in men, why you chose one versus another. Was it simply "a suit and a job" as you put it? Didn't you want confidence, both emotional and spiritual? Didn't you want him to have a good a social network? To be exciting, to surprise you with exactly what you needed?

All living creatures are locked in competition. It is the powerful, magnificently daunting force that drives us all to greatness.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:40 PM on November 20, 2013


All living creatures are locked in competition. It is the powerful, magnificently daunting force that drives us all to greatness.

except the ones who lose, I guess
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:45 PM on November 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Everyone loses sometimes. You keep trying and hopefully you win. Unless you mean death…
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2013


Mod note: Folks, time to dial it back. At the point at which you are flat out telling people to "go away" you need to step away from the keyboard for a bit. Sorry.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Haha. No."

Haha. Yes.

There's a much more secure gender expression for men, and it's one that's coded with success. Turning this all into some sort of weird rah-rah for competition while ignoring that this competition is through rules that were set up specifically to advantage some parties while disadvantaging others, and relying with a blithe, "Everyone loses sometimes," just makes you come across as an unreflective jerk.
posted by klangklangston at 4:11 PM on November 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Everyone loses sometimes. You keep trying and hopefully you win. Unless you mean death…

Suffice it to say that yes, the consequence of failure is often death or immiseration beyond which recovery, never mind greatness, is impossible, and success is no guarantee of greatness either, being most often small or a fluke.

On preview, and more on-topic, let me just agree with what klang said.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:19 PM on November 20, 2013


Can you elaborate on this? "There's a much more secure gender expression for men, and it's one that's coded with success."

I think we have to consider that other people's desires are mostly a given regardless of how unfair they are and how unsure our ability to satisfy them is. I have a friend who dated a guy with his own jet. She's a nice person, but that's the first thing she mentions about him. That's part of her bar. It's not for anyone to tell her what she should want.

I was suggesting that it is ridiculous to hate other men for setting the standard that she has come to accept. Either you jump that bar, or set your own bar (by propounding your good qualities). There is no point in screaming at the bar.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:19 PM on November 20, 2013


"Can you elaborate on this? "There's a much more secure gender expression for men, and it's one that's coded with success."

"I think we have to consider that other people's desires are mostly a given regardless of how unfair they are and how unsure our ability to satisfy them is."

Yes, that is particularly unreflective. Why would desires be static, as implied by "given," and why shouldn't we talk about that?

"I have a friend who dated a guy with his own jet. She's a nice person, but that's the first thing she mentions about him. That's part of her bar. It's not for anyone to tell her what she should want."

Two things: One, yeah, I do think it's fair to point out that there are plenty of great guys who don't happen to own jets. Second, your friend sounds like a shallow tool.

"I was suggesting that it is ridiculous to hate other men for setting the standard that she has come to accept. Either you jump that bar, or set your own bar (by propounding your good qualities). There is no point in screaming at the bar."

Are you scheduled to talk to high school pole vaulters later and just mixed up your notes? Because outside of varsity athletic platitude, that's a pretty vapid response to the points she was making. There is a point in talking about how structural biases lead to unfair outcomes — at the very least, it's necessary to be aware of such biases to change them. And since they're not ingrained — see differing beauty and social standards worldwide — then they can be changed.

And again, responding to someone talking about how unfair these structures are with, "Everyone loses sometime," and a works-for-me shrug is a shallow, privileged dismissal.

"Everyone loses sometime, and due to social structures outside of your control, it's going to be you far more than me, irrespective of our personal value, so whaddaya gonna do? Can't change those social structures, so let's blame you as an individual!"
posted by klangklangston at 5:06 PM on November 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


What is the point of insulting people you don't know based on a fraction of their particular lives? I think it's incredibly arrogant to presume to know better than anyone, my friend included, which attributes in a partner would make them happier. This is why other people's desire is "given" — because it's based on a lifetime of experience.

Let's go back to stoneandstar's original comment:

And so when I see the girl at a convention with breast implants, wearing skimpy clothes and making sexy jokes to a bunch of guys who are eating it up, I kind of hate her. I kind of hate them too.

You think you are going to fix these, as you put it, "structural biases"? You think you are going to prevent guys from being interested in girls wearing skimpy clothes? The best you can hope for is to, as I suggested, "propound your good qualities". Sell what you've got to offer. If you can't catch their interest, and the world makes you feel insecure because you are not what they want, then I'm sorry, but it really is you who has to change.

I think this subtext of calling people whose values differ from yours "tools" or saying that you hate girls in skimpy outfits is pernicious divisiveness borne of personal insecurity. It's not up to them to swallow your abuse and stop making you feel insecure. It's up to you to grow up.

Finally, I disagree with this idea that "it's going to be you [who loses] far more than me". Winning and losing are personally defined. The more you win, the more you want, the more you lose; the less you win, the less you want, the less you lose. So, ultimately, everyone wins and loses sometimes. Life is about effort — not success.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:49 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


someone above made a comment about women have to walk the line between "pretty and not to pretty" at the office. i agree it's a line about "sexy but not too sexy".

there was also a comment that this line is usually enforced by men.

in the enormous office building where i work, one guy who is a big wig dude doesn't like his female managers to wear open-toed shoes.

in fact, there was an enormous debate over what constituted flip flops last summer. (which we all know are those annoying things made of plastic you buy for $5 at Old Navy.) he insisted flip flops were anything with a strap between your toe, including high heeled or wedge sandals or very nice birkenstocks or such. i am not making this up. (we have a sort of casual dress policy in the summer. but apparently not TOOOOO casual. /eyeroll)

i have an idea there was not a similar conversation over what men are allowed to wear. (it was certainly not as lenghty.)
posted by McSockerson The Great at 4:36 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this subtext of calling people whose values differ from yours "tools" or saying that you hate girls in skimpy outfits is pernicious divisiveness borne of personal insecurity. It's not up to them to swallow your abuse and stop making you feel insecure. It's up to you to grow up.

This isn't always true. But it often is.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:51 AM on November 21, 2013


i have an idea there was not a similar conversation over what men are allowed to wear. (it was certainly not as lenghty.)

Again, it's easy to slip into a chicken-and-egg loop. Were there a lot of men asking about wearing a wide variety of styles in the workplace?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:37 AM on November 21, 2013


You think you are going to fix these, as you put it, "structural biases"? You think you are going to prevent guys from being interested in girls wearing skimpy clothes? The best you can hope for is to, as I suggested, "propound your good qualities". Sell what you've got to offer. If you can't catch their interest, and the world makes you feel insecure because you are not what they want, then I'm sorry, but it really is you who has to change.

esprit de l'escalier, my point has nothing to do with mate selection. It has to do with these things existing in a professional context, or becoming professionalized-- such that I'm competing with a capitalist system in the bedroom, essentially. Breast implants in themselves aren't threatening, to me, at least.

It's a sense of dread when you're trying to live your life and all of the sudden you realize sexual competition is happening in the office, not for mates, but for a promotion.

(Having a jet is so extreme as to be easy to shrug off to most people, I would think. Just imagine that to get a promotion at work you didn't know if you should wear the pants that were tight in the crotch or not, because your female boss seems to give more attention to the new guy who does, but is that because he's sexier, or he's just better at his job, you don't know, now you're full of self-doubt, might as well wear the tight pants, just in case, blah blah blah blah... )
posted by stoneandstar at 11:08 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mod note: Folks, we've said it before. If you can't comment here without directly insulting people, come back when you can. Please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:19 AM on November 21, 2013


stoneandstar: Maybe men are more likely to say it to women directly, while women say it about other women to someone else.

Also tbh a lot of young women (myself included) do use sexual attention to fill a gap in our self-esteem so, whatever. It is sad at times when you see it.


Yes, all probably true... and the latter is sad.

Men are often only interested in feminism when it involves defending the female right to look sexy.

Except that it's also true men are often only interested in feminism when it comes to supporting equal rights for human beings. Different men than your group. Let's not stereotype either gender.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:23 AM on November 21, 2013


You think you are going to fix these, as you put it, "structural biases"? You think you are going to prevent guys from being interested in girls wearing skimpy clothes? The best you can hope for is to, as I suggested, "propound your good qualities". Sell what you've got to offer. If you can't catch their interest, and the world makes you feel insecure because you are not what they want, then I'm sorry, but it really is you who has to change.

Seriously, this is such a childish reading of what I wrote that it's offensive. I am well aware of my good qualities and I am not interested in attracting the kind of men who think that girls paid to be at conventions to look pretty are really "into them." I have no idea how you read my comment and thought it had anything to do with getting guys to be sexually attracted to me. THE WHOLE POINT was that I don't want to feel any professional pressure to please those guys just because they might ignore me if I'm not "sexy" enough, or my "image" isn't right for their office, &c. I don't want their messed up ideas about women to affect my job. Unfortunately, guys like that are not always entry-level goons, sometimes they're in charge. Often enough that it affects women's behavior at the workplace.

The world does not make me feel insecure because I am not what they want. It makes me think they are usually shallow "tools" who are not good at human relationships, or don't understand women, or don't care about women. Seriously, what you wrote was insulting and condescending, and I do not need self-help advice or advice on my game.


Anyway, the flip side being that many men are beginning to think of certain female sexual behavior as "normal," when it is actually difficult, labor-intensive, or unpleasurable, because of the economic forces of pornography and to a smaller degree the availability of prostitution. Women are in a LOT of contexts being paid to perform sexuality for men, and many men are internalizing that behavior as "normal" female behavior, without understanding the "this is my day job" part. And I think the existence of such a huge machine for crafting the media image of female sexuality might not affect women directly (as in, we don't see it in a movie and think "hmm I'm so insecure now"), but when men start vocalizing those desires at us-- especially the ones we're already intimate with-- yes, it is difficult. I have trouble having a reaction to that that isn't either insecurity or else anger, and I don't want to feel insecure about myself or angry at the man I love. The third option is what... gentle education? Ignoring it? Pretending it's "innate"? Laughing at men? Secretly thinking less of them? Idk.


Let's not stereotype either gender.

I said men are "often," I don't know what more you want from me. I wish there were more of those cool guys who are interested in equality. I am living with one, so I know they exist.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, this: Sell what you've got to offer.

... is exactly part of the transactional, market-view of relationships that I find personally baffling, and I've never had to "sell" my good qualities very aggressively to find someone to be with, because the kind of person I want to be with is usually a kindred spirit. The world is not a competitive meat market for the "best," most affluent, jet-owning kind of male attention for every straight woman. Or the sexiest, longest-legged, most skimpily dressed female attention for every straight man.

Also, I never called breast implants "structural biases," and I am actually laughing out loud at the idea that I did.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:05 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


You think you are going to prevent guys from being interested in girls wearing skimpy clothes?

Lastly, once again, this kind of belies the idea that "men want skimpily dressed women" and "women want any kind of male attention they can get." Which are not universally true statements. So no, I don't want to prevent the right kind of man from finding the right kind of hourly-wage-paid convention "girl" to do her job, i.e. make him naively happy for the next fifteen minutes. I do want to be in a professional environment where pandering to those kinds of childish, misogynist views of human sexuality are considered inappropriate and either prevented or so strongly frowned upon that it will problem will take care of itself.

Anyway, I'm out.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:10 PM on November 21, 2013


Hey stoneandstar, sorry if I came across as judgmental. I wasn't responding to you (search the page for "structural biases"), I just roped a piece of your comment in to my point because it seemed like it fit and he was referring to it. I can understand how the invasion of the social dynamic into a professional context can be unfair.

On the subject of archetypical relationships, Leonard Cohen writes:
Whenever they could they played their great game, The Soldier and the Whore. They played it in whatever room they could. He was on leave from the front and she was a whore of DeBullion Street.

Knock, knock, the door opened slowly.

They shook hands and he tickled her palm with his forefinger.

Thus they participated in that mysterious activity the accuracies of which the adults keep so coyly hidden with French words, with Yiddish words, with spelled-out words; that veiled ritual about which night-club comedians construct their humour; that unapproachable knowledge which grown-ups guard to guarantee their authority.

Their game forbade talking dirty or roughhouse. They had no knowledge of the sordid aspect of brothels, and who knows if there is one? They thought of them as some sort of pleasure palace, places denied them as arbitrarily as Montreal movie theatres.

Whores were ideal women just as soldiers were ideal men.

"Pay me now?"

"Here's all my money, beautiful baby."
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:48 PM on November 21, 2013


A woman received negative comments after dressing inappropriately?

There's a LOT of bias in that there statement, and I didn't get from the article that it was inappropriate at all, just different.
posted by e40 at 10:52 AM on November 24, 2013


I Feel Bitchy, Oh So Bitchy. Part 3 in the Series on Intrasex Aggression in Women: The Vaillancourt and Sharma 2011 Article.

[T]his sub-study does not support the idea that heterosexual women's indirect aggression is most likely to be aimed at an attractive rival, because the provocateur was the same woman in all cases. But note the near-absence of any reaction to the conservatively dressed variant. If men indeed value not only youth and attractiveness in their long-term sexual partner but also fidelity, the conservatively dressed provocateur should have elicited bitching from the study subjects, right, as a form of competition for long-term mates? That she did not, and given that the "conservative" dress looks to me like the usual uniform for students, the case for the norm violation explanation is strengthened.
posted by jaguar at 8:17 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


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