Slut shaming: is it woman on woman aggression?

Slut shaming: is it woman on woman aggression?

Some years ago, I took part in a series of focus groups--- behind the two-way mirror on the client side, as an observer. The research involved women discussing their feelings about make-up. In groups of six or seven, women of different ages from different backgrounds gathered around the same table and came to pretty much the same conclusion.

More often than not, women said they hated make-up. They said they wouldn’t wear make-up at all if they felt they had a “choice.” If they were alone on a desert island, they confided, they’d never apply a speck of it. But they lived in the real world; they went out in public, to school, to work, so they wore make-up.

“I have to wear make-up,” they explained time after time, group after group. “Because other women wear make-up. It levels the playing field.”

Playing field? I thought. There’s a playing field? Women apparently perceive some sort of competition.

We went on to use their insights to write ads for a major cosmetic company but the experience and the attitudes of those women stuck with me. The idea that women feel like they’re “competing” in the world stayed in the back of my mind.

Who do women feel they’re competing with? And what’re they competing for? Jobs, I suppose? Raises or promotions? Maybe… Or is it something more subconscious and primal?

Recent studies show I was onto something. Two (female) researchers conducted sociological experiments to test their “evolutionary-based hypothesis” that women experience “intra-sexual competition” between each other: that un-level playing field.

The researchers brought pairs of female subjects into a test facility under the pretense that they were to discuss “women issues.” At some point, a third woman interrupted the two test subjects. She pretended to be lost, looking for a professor. The Catalyst Woman, in the words of the researchers, “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective--- low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, and large breasts.” Catalyst Woman wore a T-shirt and jeans half the time she interrupted, the other times a tightfitting, low-cut blouse and short skirt.

The test subjects’ reactions to the third women were consistent and quite telling. In jeans, Catalyst Woman elicited little or no reaction, virtually no negative comments. In the blouse and mini-skirt, however, Catalyst Woman incited hostility. They were mean-mugging her: looking her up and down, rolling their eyes. When she left the room, the comments and aggression escalated. They laughed about her, suggested that she was having an affair with the fictitious professor she couldn’t find.

Stigmatizing female promiscuity as the researchers called it, or slut shaming as everyone else does, is often blamed on men. Men have a Darwinian need to encourage women to be promiscuous. It’s good for the species. But the researchers believe “the stigma is enforced by women.”

“Women are indeed very capable of aggressing against others,” the researchers explained. “Especially women they perceive as rivals.”

This explains a lot.

It explains why, when a man gets caught gawking at a provocatively dressed woman, the woman gets pissed. But--- But--- the poor sap doesn’t understand. I mean look at the way she’s dressed! Ah, but she’s dressed that way for other woman, not you.

It explains “Mommy Wars.” It explains “The Thigh Gap” and “Tiger Moms.”

It explains the brouhaha a month or so ago over middle school girls and yoga pants. School administrators tried to ban the pubescent students from wearing the snug, butt-hugging pants (and little or nothing else on the bottom). The school said it was too revealing! Mothers called it slut shaming!

Either way, our little girls are learning a valuable lesson… in leveling the playing field.

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Filed under: Health, Lifestyle

Tags: slut shaming, women

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