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Researcher’s Ridiculous Logic: “You’re Passive Aggressive So Boys Will Like You More”

Tracy Vaillancourt of University of Ottawa recently published a piece in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society attempting to answer the question “Do human females use indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy?” or in plain English, “Do girls passive aggressively slut-shame in order to get men?” She answered yes. I disagree.

Tracy’s main argument states that evolution has turned us into passive aggressive creatures, and that we use these behaviors to benefit us in our dating lives. I’m here to argue otherwise. Every woman knows — or should know — that . To me, this claim speaks not of evolution, but of the devolution of our gender. Have we, as a gender, really devolved so much that instead of making logical decisions about who to sleep with, we’ve resorted to animalistic tendencies to disable our competition and weed out competitors? I think not, but I’ll let you decide for yourself. Let’s take a look at the “research” article in question.

Indirect aggression includes behaviours such as criticizing a competitor’s appearance, spreading rumours about a person’s sexual behaviour and social exclusion. Human females have a particular proclivity for using indirect aggression, which is typically directed at other females, especially attractive and sexually available females, in the context of intrasexual competition for mates. Indirect aggression is an effective intrasexual competition strategy. It is associated with a diminished willingness to compete on the part of victims and with greater dating and sexual behaviour among those who perpetrate the aggression.

The primary problem with this article is that it suggests that indirect (passive) aggression is solely used to weed out potential competitors in the sexual sense of natural selection. Sure, we’ll retaliate against the girl in a slutty outfit who’s shamelessly hitting on our crush at a mixer, but that is not by any means the only cause of negative feelings towards another female. Although being passive aggressive obviously isn’t an ideal characteristic, I’d be lying if I said I’d never done the same. Here is a list of just a few of the reasons I’ve been passive aggressive towards another girl:

  • She wore the same outfit as me to a mixer.
  • She wanted the same little I did.
  • She didn’t take out the trash in our apartment.
  • She bought the formal dress I wanted.
  • She got engaged before I did and planned her dream wedding using my Pinterest board.
  • She got the new iPhone before I did.

That’s just on a standard Tuesday. Passive aggression is surely not, in any of those cases, a characteristic that has evolved solely as a means to get rid of fellow pursuers of the MRS degree. From this, we could discount the entire piece, but I’d like to move on. Even assuming that sexual drive is the primary reason for this behavior, which it’s not, there are still plenty of issues to address with this piece. Let’s continue.

The study of sexual selection among human females has primarily focused on two competition strategies used to attract mates: (i) self-promotion and (ii) the derogation of rivals. Self-promotion involves epigamic displays of physical attractiveness such as wearing make-up or sexy clothing to attract the attention of a potential partner [1–7]. The derogation of competitors involves making a rival seem less attractive or less appealing to members of the opposite sex [7,8], which is typically achieved by disparaging the competitor’s appearance or by spreading rumours that question the fidelity or level of promiscuity of a rival [2]. Females attack other females principally on appearance and sexual fidelity because males value these qualities in their partners. Indeed, research on human mate preferences has clearly shown that males have a strong preference for young, attractive females [3,6,9–13] who are not licentious [9,14].

I’m pretty sure the author of this article is still in middle school, because the last time I believed these assumptions that the Tracy makes, I was still wearing a training bra and experimenting with light blue eyeshadow. Calling a girl ugly doesn’t make you any hotter, calling a girl fat doesn’t make you skinny, and calling another girl a slut doesn’t make you a saint. All this does is make you look gossipy and self-conscious about having the same qualities in yourself, which actually lessens the shot of you getting that guy you want. It’s less advantageous to you. Next, Tracy addresses the role that age plays in passive aggressive behavior.

The association between indirect aggression and age is similar to the positive link found between age and intrasexual competition. As an example, Massar et al. [43] reported that younger women gossiped more about rivals than older women did.

Obviously. I would be concerned if all of our married mothers spent their time gossipping about who looked suggestively at who’s husband when he stopped by to pick up the kids from daycare. I’d like to say that I’m already above most of this behavior, and I’d really like to think that by the time I’m older and married with kids, I will be happy enough in my stable marriage to not be concerned about what other moms find my husband attractive. But what about girls that are thinner than me?

The fact that girls and women value thinness more than boys and men [49] suggests that the drive to be thin is likely motivated by intrasexual competition [48,50–55].

Actually, that doesn’t make sense at all. If boys and men find thinness to be LESS attractive, then we would see other thin girls as LESS of a competition. Of course I want to be the skinniest girl in the room, but that has nothing to do with sexual competition. I want to brag about being a smaller dress size than everyone I know, proving that I have a stronger sense of determination and will-power to either exercise or live off of blue Powerade Zero than anyone else in the room. Being thin has nothing to do with attracting the eyes of the opposite sex, but has everything to do with attracting the envy of every girl in the room. Get with the program, Tracy. Now what about girls that throw themselves at every guy in sight?

In addition to being intolerant of attractive females, there is evidence that females are intolerant of same-sex peers who are perceived as being too sexually available and aggress against such females using indirect aggression.

Essentially, girls hate sluts. Thanks for telling us something we didn’t already know. Sure, from an easy-in-easy-out perspective, it would be an evolutionary advantage to get a guy to put it in you as quickly as possible, and that’s most easily accomplished by dressing like a slut. However, if I’m remembering my high school biology correctly, science shows that women prefer quality over quantity. Males, wanting to spread their DNA and carry on their family line, want to put it in as many females as possible. Females, on the other hand, not only have to stay with and protect their offspring before their birth, but they are also primarily responsible for raising and taking care of their young. This, essentially, makes females more selective about who they allow to stick it in them in the first place, and so selectivity is therefore an evolutionary advantage. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t need to call girls sluts to make ourselves appear more selective. Being more selective makes us appear more selective, just like being a slut makes you appear slutty. Your actions will speak for themselves, with or without the words of someone else. But what about this study that shows that girls were less responsive to other girls dressed as sluts?

In another study, Vaillancourt & Sharma [78] found very strong support for women’s intolerance of sexy peers. In their experiment, young women were randomly assigned in dyads to one of two conditions. In the first condition, the dyad’s conversation was interrupted by an attractive female confederate who was dressed in sexy clothing; whereas in the second condition, participants were interrupted by the same confederate who was dressed in a conservative manner (figure 1). Participants were secretly video-recorded (with audio) and their reactions to the presence of the confederate were coded by independent female raters blind to condition. Results of this experiment were striking—with the exception of two women, all of the participants who were coded as engaging in indirect aggression were assigned to the sexy condition.

So girls were less pleasant to other girls dressed skankily. That can’t have anything to do with self-respect, can it? Like I mentioned earlier, women look at quality over quantity. Ask any top-tier sorority during recruitment. I respect myself more when I dress and act appropriately and woo others with my brain, not my body, and I expect other girls to do the same. Every self-respecting female should know that these asshole guys, the ones that look for tits and ass over anything else, are not the kinds of guys we want to attract. Quality over quantity. Sure, we can get the attention of pig-headed guys by shoving our breasts in their faces, but will you get the kind of guy you want to take home to Dad and to help raise your kids? Of course not. So again, these girls are putting themselves at an evolutionary disadvantage themselves. No one is forcing them to dress this way. We just ask that you respect yourself in public. Tracy concludes her argument as follows:

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…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 [98].

Sweetie, I think we need to take a moment to define the word “counterattack.” No sane girl is going to launch herself at another female, a la Mean Girls. Counter attacks to passive aggressive behavior are, you guessed it, more passive aggressive behavior, and the way to avoid these attacks would be…you guessed it again…to avoid passive aggressive behavior entirely. Tracy could take a lesson from the ladies of TSM and realize that passive aggressive behavior isn’t an evolutionary trait, but a vindictive form of bitching reserved for your closest inner circle only. We all know that talking down your rival sorority only makes you look bitchy and results in PNMs being interested in them. It’s not much of a stretch to realize that this same scenario applies to the guys you’re attempting to trap date. So Tracy, there’s no need to further degrade our gender (yours too, might I add) in the eyes of society, and realize that women talking down other women is merely a means of venting and entertainment, not a way to annihilate competition for low-grade guys that we don’t want anyway.

[via Royal Society]

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RecruitmentChairTSM (@TheRecruitChair) is a contributing writer for Total Sorority Move. This current grad student and ex-sorority girl survives solely on Diet Coke and the tears of the pledges she personally victimized. She's a Monica, a Marnie, a Miranda, and a Regina. Her favorite hobbies include drinking $14 bottles of wine and binge-watching season 2 of Grey's Anatomy until she cries. You can send her annoying e-mails at

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