Reputational Harm to Women

The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Reputational Punishment of Other Women’s Behaviour - Shelby Hughes, Amanda Champion, Kailie Brown, Cassandra Hesse, & Cory L. Pedersen

The denigration of competitors is an evolved strategy used to give the impression that a rival is less appealing. Evidence indicates that women denigrate other women principally on appearance and sexual fidelity because men value these qualities in partners. Though much sexual selection research is rooted in evolutionary theory, this perspective is limited and has often ignored strategies employed by gay men and women. The current investigation examined whether indirect aggression – that is, the spreading of reputation harming information about a rival woman – is a strategy utilized by lesbians or whether they differ from their straight counterparts. In addition, we explored whether indirect aggression was influenced by factors such as the relationship status of the participant, and the extent to which a rival target was identified as “threatening”, sexually promiscuous, and attractive. Female participants were assigned to one of two possible target vignette/photographic conditions (sexualized versus neutral) based on their self-identified sexual orientation. All were provided the same information about the target’s social life, asked whether they would share that information with others, and completed a threat assessment. Our findings suggest that lesbian and straight women both use competitor derogation as a mating strategy and are more likely to denigrate targets they perceive as sexual rivals. Straight women reported a greater likelihood of conveying reputation-harming information about the target in the sexualized/provocative condition compared to the neutrally dressed condition, but dress did not influence lesbians’ likelihood of denigration. Potential differences in mate selection criteria are discussed.

Article published in the journal Psychology & Sexualitydoi: 10.1080/19419899.2020.1728366