Women Dress Sexy To Wield Power Over Me

sexy woman walkingMen sometimes complain that women walk down the street, lookin’ sexy, just to gain power over them.

I can see how sexy ladies gain the power to get a man of her choosing. But I suspect that’s not what they mean. So I asked: What sort of power is that, exactly?

The answers goes something like this: 

See, we spend our lives being trained for self-control, the “ultimate” mark of a real man. Don’t show emotions, always be “cool” and strong, even if only on the surface. So, when a pretty woman makes us “twitch,” makes our heads turn, makes us “loose it” even for a little bit, deep down it feels like she’s breached our defenses, like she’s “got us” somehow. 

Okay, I can see some power in that.

But not much.

How much power does a woman really gain by weakening knees or turning heads?

Big deal. Ya know?

Maybe a woman could use her allure to manipulate a man. But that is only indirect power. Direct power is much more effective. And if she’s just walking down the road she probably won’t even take much time to manipulate.

On the other hand, a woman may hope that her beauty will make a man fall head-over-heels in love with her. But then the ultimate goal is love, not power, itself. And may not apply to gaping guys on streets.

I doubt that women dress sexy just to gain power by weakening knees. More likely, they’re trying to raise their self-esteem, since women are taught that our worth lies in our looks. (Pretty sad.)

And looks fade so we won’t have that power for very long. Better to gain power — and self esteem — through other avenues.

Bottom line: sexy dress is not meant to demean or disempower you.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 30, 2015, in men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. I agree that kind of “power” is a borrowed power, secondhand through the male gaze, so once again it is through the masculine that women have been allowed to feel powerful, at least in this respect. It’s a conundrum because, again as you pointed out, as we age, then that “power” is taken away from us since the male gaze in general tends to see that type of power in youth.

  2. While I agree that there are very low odds that a woman dressing sexually is doing so to maliciously again power over men, I do think there are other motivations besides wanting a confidence boost. There is a “pretty bias” in our society, where those who are more attractive are treated better. A woman might dress more attractively to maintain an expectation of good customer service, have more people hold doors for her, as well as an overall increase in people being polite and trying to accommodate her. I think that this is a kind of power that does outweigh any power that comes from having a man take pause to notice her. I again do not feel that this is done maliciously, and that this expectation could even be occurring without a woman being conscious of it. I think this has less to do with women being manipulative and more to do with how our society values appearances.

    I’ll respond to your other comment when I have access to my other computer because there are some links I would like to send you.

    • I suspect it’s mostly done unconsciously. Society values a woman who looks more attractive and sexy and so she is adhering to the role. And don’t you think that being treated better is related to self-esteem?

      On your other point about customer service, sometimes it is simply an expected part of the job, for sure. And that’s a good point to bring up.

  3. “worth lies in our looks” sad indeed. I agree with your words…

  4. Why do men assume everything women do is to intrigue/please them? I think the reason why some women dress “sexy” is really because they feel the need to compete with other women. It may be indirectly because of men, or the need to “steal” male attention from other women. I don’t think that women always dress sexy to turn heads, because honestly, who likes being gawked at by creepy guys? It can be quite uncomfortable and even more demeaning. But a lot of women feel like they are worth more if they dress nicer than other women. We should focus on what makes us feel comfortable being ourselves instead trying to impress others.

    • I surveyed my women students on this question and about one third of them dressed sexy to get male attention, one third dressed as competition with other women and another third dress sexy because of societal expectations. And even the male attention is probably a way of assuring yourself that you are attractive and therefore worthy – no surprise that this would be a concern in a society that values women based on their looks. But definitely a sad state of affairs.

  5. I agree that women do dress sexy to get mens attention because that does make women feel good about themselves when men are staring at them or giving them attention. That does not mean women do not dress up for themselves just because they want to. I do not agree that it is indirect power though, I think it is direct power cause I know if I dress a little cuter or put on a little make up, it is easier to woo the man and it makes them do things for you. I have a friend that is absolutely gorgeous and her boyfriend will literally do anything for her, because she always makes herself presentable and she’s always looking like a 10 and I think it is easier for girls to get what they want if they are prettier or dressed up. Not because guys are shallow like that but because other men will be looking all the time and the guys get self conscious that the girl will get more attention from someone else, and that happens all the time. This overrall boosts a womens self esteem and helps a female be more confident. So I believe women do it for both benefits and I don’t think it’s wrong because I like dressing up to make myself feel better and I (and most girls) like the positive attention from guys.

    • I surveyed my women students on why they dressed sexy and pretty much all of them did it for self-esteem reasons, But only 1/5 did it because it helped them to get guys to do something for them.

      “Did anyone want to look attractive so that men would be nicer to them and do them favors? Yes. About 1/5 did.”
      https://broadblogs.com/2014/06/09/why-women-dress-sexy/

      And tthat’s still indirect power. You have to charm someone into doing that could be more directly done by yourself, instead of manipulating.

  6. I think that maybe theres some confusion between the ideas of “sexy” and “beauty”. As in, sexy implies that the goal is sexual attraction, which might not be true. It may be just that the goal is to be “beautiful” which doesn’t necessarily carry with it the implication of sexual attraction. Beauty is basically something that gives a person pleasure to look at but doesn’t mean anything sexual. A man who sees a beautiful woman and thinks she “sexy” is basically just projecting his own intentions.

    I think the “got us” in that paragraph relates more to the phrases “gaping guys on the street” and “creepy guys”. Its never fun to be considered creepy and it’s usually a situation that makes you feel poorly about yourself. I’m not sure thats theres a female equivalent to just looking at another person and suddenly becoming some sort of creepy rapist in their mind.

  7. I’ve never heard men complain that women will “look sexy, just to gain power over them” ~ instead it seems to usually be the opposite. Then again, men can be extremely vain themselves, and often try to do the same to women. A piece of mating rituals in a sense 🙂

  8. Since birth, women and men have been trained and taught to act a certain way that represents each of our genders. Women were taught to look pretty by wearing make up and dressing nice or sexy. Men are taught to be masculine and act strong. We are all victims of these societal norms. We learn these things through the media, school, work, parents, and etc. This is in fact the sad truths of the world. I agree with this article that attractiveness embodies power. It does not make people bad people in any sort of way. Girl’s learn at a young age that their values lies in their attractiveness, therefore it becomes their self worth. For women, their self esteem lies in the power of attractiveness. Society has taught women that looks matter for them to be successful. At the same time, women who use this to gain power are called “gold diggers.” Sadly, this unfair view continues to exist.This shows that equality for women is still a major issue today.

  9. I’m not too surprised that there are men who find women that dress sexy to be intimidating or think that those women are trying to wield power over them. However, from what I have seen is that most women like to dress that way for themselves since it makes them happier. On the other hand, we should be teaching the young boys growing up that women can dress the way they want to and they should not think that those women are trying to wield power over them. Additionally, it would be better if our patriarchal society would not objectify women and promote the idea that women can dress up sexy if they want to.

  10. As a women this particular really irks me. In general I particularly find it annoying that I can’t do something just because I’m a women. No one even writes articles about men in shorts looking sexy enough to wield power over people. So why is it that if a women dresses “sexy” that they are doing it intentionally or to gain some power over men. Women should be able to wear whatever they want.

    I do however disagree with one point of this blog in that women dress sexy to gain confidence or self esteem. It’s in my personal opinion that shorts and dresses are way more comfortable than pants, it has nothing to do with how sexy I want to dress. Also a dress is one item of clothing, that I can put on and look presentable instantly aka pure laziness. I’m obviously not speaking for every women or meaning to think I look sexy in any way at all. I’m just addressing more the general idea that if a women wears a short dress she’s trying to look sexy.

    Personally I love the last line, most women aren’t dressing to demean or disempower men.

    • Well I don’t equate dresses and sexiness. A woman may wear a dress for comfort and it may or may not be sexy.

      But when I surveyed my students on why they dressed sexy (not why they wore dresses) nearly all of their reasons were involved somehow with self esteem.

      And not all of my students dressed sexy, So I’m only talking about those who said they did and explained why.
      https://broadblogs.com/2014/06/09/why-women-dress-sexy/

    • “. No one even writes articles about men in shorts looking sexy enough to wield power over people.”

      Because men’s bodies more often than not, don’t have such a strong appeal to wield any power. Men’s bodies are sexually inferior to women’s bodies visually speaking and as far from a lust stand point. If men had much power with their bodies, there wouldn’t be so many sexually frustrated men ha. As men would not have to work or work so much just to get dates or laid.

  11. I honestly think women dress sexy not to gain power over anyone but give power to herself. We live in a society where ads and supermodels have that type of power over us. Companies set the trends and they pretty much have shopping power over consumers, but also behind that power is much more. Women dress sexy so they have power over their self esteems, making them feel good about themselves. They want to the envy of the room, but first the envy of themselves.

    Women dress sexy to gain power over others is also true, but it will always begin with themselves. A situation can also be motive to dress sexy, getting revenge on an ex, or trying to gain attention of someone they want to impress. Maybe the woman dresses that way because it is what makes her comfortable, and feels confident. That doesn’t mean she wants people to stare at her as a sexual product. So of course she will complain about it.
    Most men don’t seem to understand this, simply because most men tend to view things differently.

  12. Catalina Becker

    Hearing men describe this as “power” only reinforces this idea within many women that physical beauty should be our main concern. I’m sure that whatever men say this are not secretly thinking, “Now this will trick her into believing her beauty is her virtue! This will sell cosmetic supplies! This will make her more likely to be with me!” They likely all genuinely believe this as well, and it just goes to show how deeply these concepts of women run in our collective consciousness. It’s a vicious and seemingly endless cycle of women, being both seen as and seeing ourselves as, objects of desire whose worth lies in the opinion of man. Perhaps if our idea of sexiness weren’t so narrow, would this change anything? If there’s no image to emulate, then would we spend so much time focused on it? Maybe, maybe not, but regardless: equating sex with power is dangerous, and it extends into rape culture, which is a consequence of the issues discussed in this post.

    • Interesting idea that guys maybe saying this in order to manipulate women (“I’m sure that whatever men say this are not secretly thinking, “Now this will trick her into believing her beauty is her virtue!”)

      Which actually suggests how foreign this notion that “women do this to disempower men” can sound to women. (It sounded really strange to me.)

      But the guys who write are often so angry that I think they actually see it that way.

  13. In some cases it may be true that women dress sexy to have power over men but I don’t thing that is the norm. It has been the case for years that it is expected of the woman to look good just for the sake of pleasing her man and this is born out of the fact that we live in a society that is dominated by the male perspective. I think that most men that are out and looking for a woman to have a relationship with think that they are making the choice but my dad told me “son the decision is made by the woman from the moment she sees the person she likes and if she doesn’t want to be with you it is not going to happen”. He taught me that the pursuit is our game and that the choice is theirs so its up to us to be on the top of our game if you want to be the chosen one. That statement may seem a little archaic today but I think it has a truth that is still relevant and it’s that in the end it is the Woman’s Choice and as men we should always respect that choice.

    • Plus, we live in a culture that teaches women that they’re worth is based on how attractive they are. So it’s really no wonder that self-esteem typically lies behind the phenomenon — not an attempt to disempower men.

  14. Man or woman, it is important to be comfortable in your own skin. You cannot fully appreciate someone else, if you are not completely confident with yourself. The title of this forum is hilarious, but I understand the perspective of both, the man and woman in this situation. As men, we are taught to have self control and not be a “perv” (looking or staring excessively)- it becomes difficult and your training is tested when an attractive woman passes. I am not sure what part of human nature it falls under, but once you look or smile as a man, the woman then knows you are interested- willing, potentially to go outside your character to impress her. Not all but some. We are judged by our appearance, right or wrong, people treat you with special treatment when you look “put together” so to speak. Understanding this concept and using people’s ignorance against them, is no fault of the woman. You are supposed to use everything given to you and create a masterpiece. Hats off to all women, people in general who take pride in their appearance, but understand it is exterior not interior; and whats on the interior, someones heart and actions, matter more than the logo being worn.

  15. Us women just can’t help being sexy…. hehe…..

  16. I have to agree with the part of women dress sexy to raise their self esteem. I like to dress sexy to make myself feel better, its not for the guys to turn around and look at me. If I dress nice its for me and to feel powerful myself. When women dress sexy a lot of men pay attention to them because they look pretty but then it also bother women that men just hit on them so much. I can say that because I am a woman and it gets annoying that a man doesn’t leave me alone after I finished talking to them. Men don’t have the power taken out of them its just they leave the power just to make a good impression on the women.

    • What you say reminds me that Women often feel disempowered by cat calls — making sexy women feel anything but powerful in that moment. Makes me wonder if some men catcall in response to the feeling of disempowerment they can get.

  17. I agree with the fact that nowadays, wearing clothing like a short dress, would boost a woman’s self-esteem. It gives a great amount of confidence and self-power, as well as, possibly, self-worth.

  18. isn’t it all a matter of perception? a woman dresses well, a man thinks she’s sexy…

  19. That’s a rubbish thought on Power, whosoever mentioned it. And, we can think of whatever we want to, but women are free to dress whatever way they feel like.

    There is no association with power as i see!

  20. Do you think the feelings of attraction for men is equally powerful as the feelings of attraction for women?

  21. I easily agree with the idea that it’s mostly done on part of the woman’s self-esteem since women are told that their worth is in their looks, rather than gain power over or manipulate guys.
    I remember one high school classmate who came to school everyday with her hair always done and little clothing which highlighted her cleavage, even on freezing cold days she would wear shorts and the tiniest thin cardigan. I didn’t understand why until I realized the immense pressure she held herself to from constant attention she received through popularity. She had a terrible nickname called “game-cube” because she had a square shaped face and “guys played with her all the time”, which gave her a slutty reputation I could only imagine being so detrimental to her self-esteem. People thought she was a “stupid bitch”, even though she kindly helped me when I was lost in a math class we had together and she’s currently attending Harvard University. This left her in a situation where her worth was only seen in her looks and she probably felt like she had to dress this way to get any form of respect.
    This leads me to believe that dressing sexy is more like a self-empowerment technique since so much pressure is put on girls in this society to be beautiful and confident to hold worth in a society where they otherwise lack power.
    Perhaps when a woman conveys any power through this societal ideal beyond expectations, it threatens some guys who feel insecure about themselves because their worth in society is through demonstrating power in their masculine stoicism and being sexual at the same time as rejecting sexual or romantic desires, since that could show feelings. For a brief moment, some guys acknowledge a female’s existence fitting an ideal that conveys strength in their femininity, but that does not strengthen their masculinity. Some may internalize her empowerment as a threat to their masculinity and power, so they might blame her for briefly taking away their security and power taught in the unhealthy androcentric mindset where in the patriarchy, men must always be more powerful and dominant over women.

    • Thanks for sharing this experience. Unfortunately, in middle school and high school the self-esteem thing backfires if women start to get slut-shamed — usually due to other women’s jealousy.

  22. I think sometimes the sexy dress empower a woman in different ways. A good looking dress can definitely give people more confidence when they appear in a public environment. I don’t think only women gain the “power” by wearing nice clothes, but men sometimes gain a lot of confidence by wearing nice outfit too. However, I don’t think a lot of women wear the sexy dress is because they want to gain some sort of power by men. I think mostly they just want to raise their self-esteem and to feel more confident in the public. Sometimes, the purpose for women to wear sexy dress is to compete against with other women. Or it could be that the society has to raise the standard so high that some women feel obligated to dress that way just in order to make herself look to blend in with rest of the others.

  23. `Maybe a woman could use her allure to manipulate a man.
    But that is only indirect power. Direct power is much more effective.
    And if she’s just walking down the road she probably won’t even take much time to manipulate´….

    The excerpt above truly got my attention…
    Presumably, women shift behavior during the time of the month when they are ovulating…
    A study from Florida State University evaluated the response of men to women who were ovulating. Its results suggested the single men found fertile women more attractive, than guys who were already in romantic relationships did…

    Researchers postulated that this has an evolutionary advantage, since natural selection favors couples who mate and then stay together to raise their children.
    It was as if the committed guys knew they’re most at risk of straying when a women is fertile, so they tricked themselves into believing she was actually not sexy at all. That way, he would be less likely to cheat.

    According to these studies, one can conclude…

    –that the patriarchy is justified in fearing the power of women… appealing women would not only be manipulative but they entrain a risk to solid couples… No matter if their attitudes reveal that they are ovulating or not… they´d probably act as if they were…

    Furthermore, as the study shows, guys seem to step back if they are in a relationship…
    — Even though, sexy women are dangerous… and any women without distinctions is a risky woman if she is ovulating …

    (Literally… `Sure, maybe we’re biologically programmed to try to cheat on our hubbies with sexier guys during ovulation so we can pop out a boatload of genetically superior offspring. But does that mean we’re powerless to change our behavior? Nope. It’s about being mindful of our biology so we can go with the flow of the body — and evolve beyond our biology´)

    Here is the link to the article I made reference to… http://www.blogher.com/power-woman-sexy-or-scary

    I think it is full of fallacies, but many common stereotypes appear there, so I thought It could be interesting …

    Great post and discussion, dear Georgia… best wishes. Aquileana 😀

    • Oh yeah, I’ve written about that research, myself. Thanks for sending links like that because it’s just the sort of thing I’m interested in.

      Interestingly, in non-patriarchal cultures no one cares about controlling women’s sexuality. I sometimes wonder if the concern about controlling women sexuality comes from the fact that — in small, less complex societies, anyway, when you don’t know who dad is Women have more power. In those societies property is passed through women, clans are headed by women, Family line is traced through Women — all because you can’t be sure who dad is. But there are many other factors that are important to patriarchy in controlling women’s sexuality, And I will be writing more about that later.

      But I seriously doubt that any woman puts on a sexy dress because she wants to feel so *powerful* by making men’s heads turn or making them weak in the knees. It’s more likely a self-esteem thing — “I’m so attractive!” But power? I don’t think that’s likely her motive.

  24. From a woman’s perspective, I firstly dress up or look nice when I go out for myself. I feel that if I look good and I’m confident in what I’m wearing, I’ll have more confidence when I’m out. I don’t dress in clothes that I think would please others. I dress in my style because I feel confident in what I’m wearing. Sometimes I think that the first reaction people give when you see a girl nicely dressed or makeup done up is because they’re trying to impress a man. When really, or at least this goes for me, I look good for myself.

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