Advertisement

Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 11–12, pp 671–682 | Cite as

The Relationship Between Sexualized Appearance and Perceptions of Women’s Competence and Electability

  • Julia K. Smith
  • Miriam Liss
  • Mindy J. Erchull
  • Celeste M. Kelly
  • Kathleen Adragna
  • Katlyn Baines
Original Article

Abstract

Women do not have a uniform or standardized “suit” to wear in the workplace so they must make daily decisions about what to wear. Some propose that women should dress in a sexualized way to gain power and influence, but sexy attire is related to lower perceptions of competence for women in leadership positions. We explored the effect of revealing or conservative attire on perceptions of women’s leadership competence. We also used eye-tracker technology to determine whether looking at sexualized body parts (i.e., breasts, hemline) was related to lower perceptions of leadership competence and electability. A female candidate for a student senate presidency at a U.S. university wearing revealing clothing was perceived by 191 college students as less honest and trustworthy, electable, and competent than one wearing conservative clothing. Sexualized body parts were looked at longer when the candidate was wearing revealing clothing compared to conservative clothing. Furthermore, mediation analyses indicated that the revealing clothing led participants to gaze at sexualized body parts, which, in turn, led to perceiving the candidate as less honest/trustworthy, which lowered their evaluations of her competence and electability. These findings suggest that viewing a woman in a sexy outfit can lead others to stare more at her body and make negative evaluations of her personal attributes. This finding has implications for the choices women make in workplace and leadership contexts.

Keywords

Eye-tracking Competence Female workplace attire Sexual attire Person perception Electability 

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

My coauthors and I do not have any interests that might be interpreted as influencing or conflicting with this research. The procedures used in collection of data conform to current APA ethical standards for the protection of human subjects. These procedures were approved by the institutional review board of the University of Mary Washington. We also certify that the manuscript is not under review elsewhere and has not been previously published elsewhere in whole or in part.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_898_MOESM1_ESM.docx (650 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 649 kb)

References

  1. Abbey, A., Cozzarelli, C., McLaughlin, K., & Harnish, R. J. (1987). The effects of clothing and dyad sex composition on perceptions of sexual intent: Do women and men evaluate these cues differently. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 17, 108–126.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1987.tb00304.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Report of the APA task force on the Sexualization of girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  3. Aquino, K., Sheppard, L., Watkins, M. B., O’Reilly, J., & Smith, A. (2014). Social sexual behavior at work. Research in Organizational Behavior, 34, 217–236.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.riob.2014.02.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernard, P., Gervais, S. J., Allen, J., Campomizzi, S., & Klein, O. (2012). Integrating sexual objectification with object versus person recognition: The sexualized-body-inversion hypothesis. Psychological Science, 23, 469–471.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611434748.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bishin, B. G., Stevens, D., & Wilson, C. (2006). Character counts? Honesty and fairness in election 2000. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70, 235–248.  https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfj016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brewer, P. R., Hoffman, L. H., Harrington, R., Jones, P. E., & Lambe, J. L. (2014). Public perceptions regarding the authenticity of the 2012 presidential candidates. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 44, 42–757.  https://doi.org/10.1111/psq.12158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Calogero, R., Tantleff-Dunn, S., & Thompson, J. K. (2011). Self-objectification in women: Causes, consequences, and counteractions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cardon, P. W., & Okoro, E. A. (2009). Professional characteristics communicated by formal versus casual workplace attire. Business Communication Quarterly, 72, 355–360.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1080569909340682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deaux, K., Winton, W., Crowley, M., & Lewis, L. L. (1985). Level of categorization and content of gender stereotypes. Social Cognition, 3, 145–167.  https://doi.org/10.1521/soco.1985.3.2.145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285–290.  https://doi.org/10.1037/h0033731.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Dixson, B. J., Grimshaw, G. M., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2010). Watching the hourglass. Human Nature, 21, 355–370.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-010-9100-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dixson, B. J., Grimshaw, G. M., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2011). Eye tracking of men’s preferences for female breast size and areola pigmentation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 51–58.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-010-9601-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109–128.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.110.1.109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ehlers, A. S. (2005). A study of recruitment competency indicators for potential hospitality employers. The Consortium Journal, 9, 59–68.Google Scholar
  15. Erchull, M. J., & Liss, M. (2013). Exploring the concept of perceived female sexual empowerment: Development and validation of the sex is power scale. Gender Issues, 30, 39–53.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-013-9114-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fredrickson, B. A., & Roberts, T.-A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fredrickson, B. L., Roberts, T.-A., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 269–284.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.269.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Gervais, S. J., Vescio, T. K., Förster, J., Maass, A., & Suitner, C. (2012). Seeing women as objects: The sexual body part recognition bias. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 743–753.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.1890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gervais, S. J., Holland, A. M., & Dodd, M. D. (2013). My eyes are up here: The nature of the objectifying gaze toward women. Sex Roles, 69, 557–570.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0316-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109–118.  https://doi.org/10.1037//O003-066X.56.2.1O9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). Ambivalent sexism revisited. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 530–535.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684311414832.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Glick, P., Larsen, S., Johnson, C., & Branstiter, H. (2005). Evaluations of sexy women in low- and high-status jobs. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 389–395.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00238.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Grose, R. G., Grabe, S., & Kohfeldt, D. (2014). Sexual education, gender ideology, and youth sexual empowerment. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 742–753.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2013.809511.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Gurney, D. J., Howlett, N., Pine, K., Tracey, M., & Moggridge, R. (2017). Dressing up posture: The interactive effects of posture and clothing on competency judgments. British Journal of Psychology, 108, 436–451.  https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12209.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Hakim, C. (2010). Erotic capital. European Sociological Review, 26, 499–518.  https://doi.org/10.1093/esr/jcq014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hakim, C. (2011). Erotic capital. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  28. Hakim, C. (2012). Erotic capital, sexual pleasure and sexual markets. In O. Kontula (Ed.), Pleasure and health by education, councelling and treatment (pp. 27–44). Helsinki, Finland: Nordic Association for Clinical Sexology.Google Scholar
  29. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analyses. A regression based approach. New York City: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). From women to objects: Appearance focus, target gender, and perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 572–581.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2010.12.020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heilman, M. E., & Stopeck, M. H. (1985). Being attractive: Advantage or disadvantage? Performance-based evaluations and recommended personnel actions as a function of appearance, sex, and job. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 202–215.  https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-5978(85)90035-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Helminiak, D. A. (1989). Self-esteem, sexual self-acceptance, and spirituality. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 15, 200–210.  https://doi.org/10.1080/01614576.1989.11074961.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hewig, J., Trippe, R. H., Hecht, H., Straube, T., & Miltner, W. H. (2008). Gender differences for specific body regions when looking at men and women. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 32, 67–78.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-007-0043-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Howlett, N., Pine, K. J., Cahill, N., Orakçıoğlu, İ., & Fletcher, B. C. (2015). Unbuttoned: The interaction between provocativeness of female work attire and occupational status. Sex Roles, 72, 105–116.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0450-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Johnson, V., & Gurung, R. A. (2011). Defusing the objectification of women by other women: The role of competence. Sex Roles, 65, 177–188.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0006-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kang, M., Sklar, M., & Johnson, K. K. (2011). Men at work: Using dress to communicate identities. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 15, 412–427.  https://doi.org/10.1108/13612021111169924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2006). The leadership challenge (Vol. 3). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  38. Lamb, S. (2010). Feminist ideals for a healthy female adolescent sexuality: A critique. Sex Roles, 62, 294–306.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-009-9698-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lindeman, T. (2004, March 2). Tough job climate causes casual look to give way to more formal attire. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/business/businessnews/2004/03/02/White-Collar-Suited-for-work-Tough-job-climate-causes-casual-look-to-give-way-to-more-formal-attire/stories/200403020171.
  40. Liss, M., Erchull, M. J., & Ramsey, L. R. (2011). Empowering or oppressing? Development and exploration of the enjoyment of Sexualization scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 55–68.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167210386119.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., Murnane, T., Vaes, J., Reynolds, C., & Suitner, C. (2010). Objectification leads to depersonalization: The denial of mind and moral concern to objectified others. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 709–717.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McDonnell, G. H. (2008). Sexual empowerment: How erotic capital attracts wealth and power. Christchurch: McDonnell Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  43. McKinley, N. M., & Hyde, J. S. (1996). The objectified body consciousness scale: Development and validation. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 181–215.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1996.tb00467.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Moradi, B., & Huang, Y. P. (2008). Objectification theory and psychology of women: A decade of advances and future directions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 377–398.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00452.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Morrow, P. C. (1990). Physical attractiveness and selection decision-making. Journal of Management, 16, 45–60.  https://doi.org/10.1177/014920639001600104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ogle, J. P., & Damhorst, M. L. (1999). Dress for success in the popular press. In K. K. Johnson & S. Lennon (Eds.), Appearance and power (pp. 79–101). Oxford: Berg Publishing.Google Scholar
  47. Overstreet, N. M., Quinn, D. M., & Agocha, V. B. (2010). Beyond thinness: The influence of a curvaceous body ideal on body dissatisfaction in black and white women. Sex Roles, 63, 91–103.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9792-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Parnes, A. (2001, June 13). Dress-down is down if not quite out. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/13/jobs/dress-down-is-down-if-not-quite-out.html.
  49. Puvia, E., & Vaes, J. (2012). Being a body: Women’s appearance related self-views and their dehumanization of sexually objectified female targets. Sex Roles, 68, 484–495.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0255-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rafaeli, A., Dutton, J., Harquail, C. V., & Mackie-Lewis, S. (1997). Navigating by attire: The use of dress by female administrative employees. Academy of Management Journal, 40, 9–45.  https://doi.org/10.2307/257019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Raza, S. M., & Carpenter, B. N. (1987). A model of hiring decisions in real employment interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 596–603.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.72.4.596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rucker, M., Anderson, E., & Kangas, A. (1999). Clothing, power, and the workplace. In K. K. P. Johnson & S. J. Lennon (Eds.), Appearance and power (pp. 59–78). New York: Berg.Google Scholar
  53. Rudman, L. A., Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Nauts, S. (2012). Status incongruity and backlash effects: Defending the gender hierarchy motivates prejudice against female leaders. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 165–179.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2011.10.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ruetzler, T., Taylor, J., Reynolds, D., Baker, W., & Killen, C. (2012). What is professional attire today? A conjoint analysis of personal presentation attributes. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31, 937–943.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhm.2011.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Shertzer, J. E., & Schuh, J. H. (2004). College student perceptions of leadership: Empowering and constraining beliefs. NASPA Journal, 42, 111–131.  https://doi.org/10.2202/1949-6605.1417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Six, B., & Eckes, T. (1991). A closer look at the complex structure of gender stereotypes. Sex Roles, 24, 57–71.  https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00288703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Society for Human Resource Management. (2016). 2016 Employee benefits: A research report by the Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/2016%20SHRM%20Employee%20Benefits%20Full%20Report.pdf.
  58. Solomon, M. R., & Schopler, J. (1982). Self-consciousness and clothing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 508–514.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167282083018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tobii Technology. (2011). Tobii T60 and T120 eye tracker, revision 4. User manual. Sweden (Headquarters): Author.Google Scholar
  60. Umberson, D., & Hughes, M. (1987). The impact of physical attractiveness on achievement and psychological well-being. Social Psychology Quarterly, 50, 227–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vaillancourt, T. (2013). Do human females use indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B: Biological Sciences, 368, 20130080–20130080.  https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.0080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Vaillancourt, T., & Sharma, A. (2011). Intolerance of sexy peers: Intrasexual competition among women. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 569–577.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.20413.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Vanwesenbeeck, I. (2009). The risks and rights of sexualization: An appreciative commentary on Lerum and Dworkin’s “bad girls rule.” Journal of Sex Research, 46, 268–270.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490903082694.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Watkins, L. M., & Johnston, L. (2000). Screening job applicants: The impact of physical attractiveness and application quality. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 8, 76–84.  https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2389.00135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Watkins, M. B., Smith, A. N., & Aquino, K. (2013). The use and consequences of strategic sexual performances. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 27, 173–186.  https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2010.0109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. What to wear: “Professional” vs. “business casual”. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://careerservices.princeton.edu/node/1279.
  67. Wookey, M. L., Graves, N. A., & Butler, J. C. (2009). Effects of a sexy appearance on perceived competence of women. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 116–118.  https://doi.org/10.3200/SOCP.149.1.116-118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia K. Smith
    • 1
  • Miriam Liss
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mindy J. Erchull
    • 1
  • Celeste M. Kelly
    • 1
  • Kathleen Adragna
    • 1
  • Katlyn Baines
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Mary WashingtonFredericksburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological ScienceUniversity of Mary WashingtonFredericksburgUSA

Personalised recommendations