Terrible Study Finds Women are Catty & Want to Make Other Women Less Attractive

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You may have noticed that I’ve recently started growing out my hair. But did it occur to you to ask “why?” Why would I, after many years of the same basic cut and color, finally decide to rebuke Ramona Flowers as my Lord and Savior? Well today I’m going to tell you the reason: it’s because I read a study that made me realize that my female hairdresser was purposely cutting my hair short because she wanted me to be ugly, so that she could have all the men.

Get it? No? Allow me to explain it in simple terms: imagine that I am an apple at the grocery store, and my hairdresser is ALSO an apple at the grocery store. Each of us desperately wants a man to pick us over the other. (In this metaphor, all shoppers in the grocery store are men and each man can only have one apple.) So each of us tries to look like the best, most delicious apple, but obviously not like a Red Delicious apple (trademark), which as I’ve previously stated everyone knows is the worst apple.

Unfortunately, I am reliant upon my competitor apple to look as delicious as possible, and so I, stupidly, ask her to help me out. In return, she shoves me onto the grocery store floor and I roll under a shelf of lemon juice in those small plastic lemons. As she is the expert, I trust that this is the correct course of action. And yet, I watch as a man walks over and chooses her instead of me. I have been sabotaged. I cry juicy apple tears.

Did that make sense? No? You don’t understand the sexual marketplace, where we buy and sell our goodies while the invisible hand jerks it in a corner? Ah well, let’s just read the study, shall we? “Off with her hair: Intrasexually competitive women advise other women to cut off more hair,” in which the authors hypothesize that catty women will sabotage other women by recommending they cut more hair off than they should, because short hair is ugly on all women and all heterosexual men prefer long hair on their mates.

This study, from a group of evolutionary psychologists at Charles Sturt University in Australia, involved asking a total of about 400 heterosexual female undergrads and 23 other women for some reason, to answer some questions to determine their own “mate value scale” (like “Overall, how would you rate your level of desirability as a partner?”), their “mate value inventory” (rating how many desirable traits apply to them like “generous” and “good body”) and their “Intrasexual Competitiveness” (like “I tend to look for negative characteristics in attractive women”).

Then they asked the participants to pretend that they are hairdressers. They showed them photos of women’s faces (all of them of apparent reproductive age) along with a closeup of their hair that either showed damage or no damage, and told them that half the women wanted them to cut off “as little as possible” and the other half “as much as necessary to keep it healthy.” Also half the hypothetical customers were attractive and the other half were uggos. “Uggos” is a scientific term determined by a panel of 56 random women. The uggo scale.

Subjects were asked to write down how many centimeters they would cut off from each hypothetical customer’s hair. And you’ll never guess what they found! That’s right: basically nothing. Okay, okay, okay, yes, technically they found the result in their paper’s title: intrasexually competitive women advised other women to cut off more hair. But…not really.

Here’s a chart that shows all the conditions and how many centimeters the women recommended the clients cut off. The first thing you should notice is the vertical or Y-axis, which shows that the maximum difference in amount of hair cut across all conditions for clients with healthy hair is 1.2 centimeters, and 2.5 centimeters for damaged hair. I’m an American, so to figure this one out I had to bust out my trusty sparkly snap bracelet ruler (patent pending) to learn that 2.5 centimeters is this much. If I told my hairdresser not to cut any hair at all and then went back to reading texts for 30 minutes and then looked up, I would have no fucking idea that she cut 2.5 centimeters. Don’t worry, fellow Americans, know it’s hard to imagine so maybe it will help to know that that’s approximately the length of this .45 automatic spent bullet casing that I found on a walk around my neighborhood this morning. 

And that is the MAXIMUM amount. “Highly intrasexually competitive” subjects cut off only two MILLIMETERS more hair than low intrasexually competitive subjects. That’s THIS MUCH. Can you even see that? 

Not only are we talking about very tiny measurements, but just have a look at those error bars. They’re like four millimeters wide! That’s more than TWO, Americans! I kid, I kid.

But wait, there’s one more fun thing about this study: of all the variables in this data, the only condition that barely managed to support the hypothesis in the first study was highly intrasexually competitive women recommending haircuts specifically to UGGOS. That’s problematic for the authors considering that the scale they use to determine intrasexual competitiveness is full of competitiveness specifically against MORE ATTRACTIVE or otherwise higher value women. It’s true! I found the scale:

I can’t stand it when I meet another woman who is more attractive than I am.

I tend to look for negative characteristics in attractive women.

I wouldn’t hire a very attractive woman as a colleague.

I just don’t like very ambitious women.

I tend to look for negative characteristics in women who are very successful.

I wouldn’t hire a highly competent woman as a colleague.

I like to be funnier and more quick witted than other women.

I want to be just a little better than other women.

I always want to beat other women.

I don’t like seeing other women with a nicer house or a nicer car than mine

It’s literally almost ENTIRELY about feeling competitive towards women you see as being better than you.

So, the authors were forced to redo the study, this time asking a panel of 52 female sexiness judges to sort the faces into “attractive,” “uggo,” and now a THIRD group: “average.”

Also, instead of allowing an open-ended answer on how much hair to cut, this time they made it multiple choice: cut “1cm (or less)”, “2 cm”…, to “10 cm”, and “more than 10cm.” Which is interesting because in the first study no one suggested they cut off more than 6cm. It’s almost like they’re priming the subjects to increase the difference between their suggestions for each “client.” Almost like they were frustrated by the very small difference between groups that was more than covered by the error bars.

Anyway, if you look at the data NOW, and I am begging you to NOT look at the error bars, you can clearly see that highly competitive women didn’t REALLY care about the uggos but about the “average” women, who, based on the law of averages, are probably about as attractive as they are. So clearly that means that competitive women are only bothering to sabotage the women they see as their closest competitors. Yes! That makes sense to my smal monkey brain.

Unfortunately for the authors, they also asked the subjects to rate each face as either less, equally, or more attractive than themselves, and that data was plotted according to sexual competitiveness. As you can see in this chart, highly competitive women cut the most hair off the women they thought were uglier than them, then the women they thought were hotter, and finally they cut the LEAST hair off the women they felt were of equivalent attractiveness. Soooooooooooooo…

All of which brings me to this conclusion: though I haven’t been paying attention for the past few years as I’ve been distracted by a pandemic, I’m sad to report that evolutionary psychologists are still up to their old tricks: making up silly studies to prove that women are catty bitches and publishing them in journals that will never, ever ask anyone to reproduce the results.

The depressing coda to all this? All the researchers involved in this paper appear to be women. Sorry, sisters, but it’s a publish or perish world and I truly believe that women can be just as ambitious as men.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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