The Lady in Red is a well-established trope for a sexually receptive woman. There’s a song about it, and a movie with the title as well. It’s even featured in cartoons, as seen above. And it’s scientifically established that men see a red dress as a signal for sexy times. But how do other women react?
A new study from the University of Rochester, Trnava University, and the Slovak Academy of Sciences shows that women see another woman in a red dress as a threat to their relationships. Or in other words, they can see that hussy coming from a mile away.
The findings are the result of three separate experiments.
In the first experiment, participants were simply shown a picture of a woman in a white dress and a woman in a red dress and asked questions about the pictures such as “This person is interested in sex.” The woman in the red dress was rated more sexually receptive, although the relationship status of the people being interviewed did not have a major effect on their answers.
Then, however, the researchers moved on to the derogation, or “mate guarding,” experiments.
“Derogation [involves] speaking poorly of another person to make them seem inferior, undesirable, or unlikeable, while making oneself seem superior and more likable by contrast,” lead researcher Adam Pazda explains. “Mate-guarding is the act of protecting one’s own romantic partner from romantic or sexual encounters with others.”
Topics tested included “whether women would derogate on the topics of fidelity (‘I would guess that this women cheats on men;), ” and “financial resources (‘I would guess that this woman has no money’).’
For the third experiment researchers also threw a green dress into the mix to make sure the questions weren’t being influenced by the color white’s cultural associations with purity. They added the questions “How likely would you be to introduce this person to your boyfriend?” and “How likely would you be to let your boyfriend spend time alone with this person?”
Results were still the same. The women in red were found to be more sexually receptive than those clad in green. They were more likely to judge a woman in red as likely to cheat, but not more likely to judge her as poor. And they were more likely to protect their boyfriend from her.
Image from Tex Avery’s Little Rural Riding Hood