[This post is part of a series, inspired by the book Why Men Lie and Women Cry (2003) by Allan & Barbara Pease. Previous entry: Chapter Seven]
Chapter Eight: Women’s Sex Appeal Test
I’m not a woman, so… not applicable. But stay tuned to find out how I fare with the Men’s Sex Appeal Test!
A team of highly skilled animators, you say? Oh, don’t be so literal! Readers should note that this whole post is pretty much just an excuse to objectify women, so… consider yourself warned. It’s the longest chapter in the book, and probably the longest post I’ll ever write!
This chapter kicks off with a heart-warming “case study” about some douche who dumped his fiancée because, after a year or so of dating, she stopped getting gussied up to hang out with him around the house, or to go out with him and his mates. WTF!? Personally, I grew up crushing on grungy chicks, where the fact that they “looked a mess” was part of their allure. While I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal of painstakingly applied make-up, and carefully co-ordinated couture, I think mussed hair teamed with a T-shirt and jeans are much sexier, because they make a woman seem more… I can’t really think of the right words for it, but we’ll go with “earthy” and “spontaneous” for now. Heck, I even enjoy seeing a bit of armpit hair, now and again… although leg-hair still freaks me out, I must admit.
Anyhoo, on with the quotes: “People we meet form up to 90% of their opinion about us in the first four minutes, and our physical desirability is assessed in less than ten seconds.” (p.196) Unfortunately, this chapter is purely concerned with that initial, static snapshot of a woman’s appearance, and doesn’t take anything else into consideration, until the final section which deals (in passing) with desirable personality traits. So, talents and skills are apparently inadmissible as far as “sex appeal” goes… which is kinda stupid, because everybody knows that a woman who can shred a guitar, or howl her lungs out, or beat a drum kit into submission, or make you laugh until it hurts, or waltz her way through a mind-blowing dance/fight sequence is hella sexy… dammit!
Okay, so now we get onto the section of this chapter where the authors state straight out “what turns men on most” about women’s bodies, by listing and defining the Top Turn-Ons. They claim that this is based on exhaustive research, but the problem there is that it represents the mean average, rather than the subjective desires of the men that a female reader might be interested in. I’m not going to pretend that I’m performing some sort of noble service in the name of feminism by arguing with this book about the sort of women I find most fanciable… but I do feel that it’s worth countering some of the more confusing declarations. First off, I was dismayed that their choice of model to illustrate The Ultimate Feminine Ideal was Baywatch-era Pamela Anderson… a woman world famous (even then) for her surgical enhancements! Ironically, after encouraging readers to subject themselves to a “sex appeal” test, and then rubbing “Plastic Pammy” in their faces, the authors caution them: “Do not read women’s magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.” (p. 224) Feh.
They make a good case for the evolutionary desire for a man to find a mate who can “successfully bear his children, flee from danger and defend offspring if necessary”… I also give an enthusiastic nod to the statement that “most men prefer a heavier woman to a leaner one because additional fat is an aid to successful breast-feeding”. (p. 201) But then they contradict themselves slightly by claiming that “a flat, smooth belly sends out a clear signal [that a woman’s] not pregnant, and therefore available to male suitors. This is why gyms and yoga classes everywhere are packed with women doing abdominal exercises, trying to achieve that perfect ironing-board stomach.” (p. 210) Now, while I can admire a woman with a hard body for her power, speed, and strength… especially if she happens to be kicking zombie dogs in the head at the time… there’s also a lot to be said for the softer sort. Not obese, of course, because then you have to worry about health issues… but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a “zaftig”, earth mother type. Especially considering some of the extreme measures that women have taken over the years, to obtain the fabled “hourglass figure”, wearing corsets which deformed their ribcages, restricted their breathing, and even compressed their organs! (p. 205)
– Full Breasts and Hemispherical Buttocks
There’s an interesting anthropological theory about why men are so distracted by cleavage… apparently, “when humans walked on all fours, it was round fleshy buttocks that played the main role in attracting males, who mounted their mates from the rear. Ever since humans began to walk upright on two legs, however, breasts have become larger in order to attract a male who was approaching from the front.” (p. 202) And while we’re on the subject of buttocks, the book claims that in Victorian times, when young women were expected to keep their entire bodies covered in public, they would wear large bustles to boost their chances of pulling! (p. 209)
Meh. I find high-heels rather a turn-off in real life, because their intended effect of lengthening the leg has no effect on me, and I’m left to worry about the cramped toes, spinal damage, and general precariousness. Give me a short women in trainers, any day of the week! I can understand the book’s claim that longer, thinner necks are seen as an indication of “gender difference”, but I can’t say I’ve ever cared much, one way or the other.
– Sensual Mouth
Some fun facts to mull over here: “Zoologists believe a woman’s lips evolved as a mirror of her genitals because they are the same size and thickness and, in an aroused sexual state, both expand and fill with blood.” (p. 214) Which is why, the book suggests, that red lipstick in particular is so popular, as men mistake it for a “genital echo” of the woman’s readiness to rut. Crikey! For no apparent reason, this section also talks about elongated earlobes as an indicator of a woman’s sensuality… an effect which is replicated by dangling earrings in our modern world. That just grosses me out, frankly… and I’ve always found dangly jewellery to be an annoying distraction. It’s not a phobia, as such, just one of those irrational dislikes that I can’t explain.
When it comes to faces, the book states that “for a woman’s face to be universally classified as ‘pretty’ the formula is clear – it must be childlike”, (p. 213) and then goes on to basically describe a Manga character with flawlessly smooth skin, huge eyes, and a tiny nub of a nose. Now, I’ll admit that I am a sucker for “doe eyes” (preferably dark brown though, not the “baby blues” that this book suggests men prefer), but I vigorously refute the rest of their claims. For one thing, their suggestion that “you’ll never see a female model with a big nose” (p. 217) is patently false… for another, the implication that larger/broader noses are inherently “ugly” comes off as vaguely racist… especially since the book was published in South Asia, where a lot of my favourite noses originate from. I’ve got a pretty big beak myself, and I’ve always considered small noses to be rather a waste of space. There’s no doubting that “baby-faced” women are attractive… but to really stand out, I think a face needs some texture… some dissonance… some character!
There’s no reference to skin colour in this chapter, but I’m often reading about a worrying number of dark-skinned women buying all sorts of scary products to lighten their skin… and there’s a casual reference here to Japanese people having cosmetic surgery on their eyelids to make them look more “Caucasian”… it just depresses the hell out of me. To steal a line from a song, “if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other!”
Fun hair fact: “Blondes have 140,000 hairs, brunettes 110,000, and red-heads 90,000”. The book also claims that blondes have “higher oestrogen levels than brunettes, something that men seem to pick up on” (p. 217), but once again there’s no citation for that. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer brunettes… “the brunetter, the better”, imho… but red-heads come a close second, so I was slightly disgusted to find the authors perpetuating the prejudice against gingers in an earlier chapter, where it’s suggested that a woman ending up with a “red-headed, freckled-faced computer technician” (p. 168) was some sort of abominable booby prize! In fact, I think freckles are damn sexy… like a trail of breadcrumbs leading your imagination under the clothes. Yum. I also have a thing about thick eyebrows. They don’t mention them at all in this chapter, but I like to see a good solid slab of hair over the eye!
There’s no mention of piercings or tattoos either, which can be very sexy… depending on the number, placement and quality of design, of course. Weirdly, their section on how clothing affects attraction, blames punk and grunge for the fact that “by the 1990s, fashion models began to have unfeminine, emaciated bodies” (p. 221), even though Twiggy’s career as a model predates punk, and most of the female punks I was into back then had traditionally “feminine” bodies. Granted, it was kinda hard to tell with all the layers they wore, but that just made it more exciting when you did detect a suggestion of breasts under their flannel shirts, or the hint of buttocks in their baggy jeans! I don’t think the punk style is “anti-attractiveness”, any more than punk itself is “anti-music”… it’s just a spikier, less easily digested form, for people who are bored with what they’ve been fed before… and you can’t blame the musicians for what the mainstream fashion media come up with once they’ve co-opted a scene!
Anyhoo, while it’s pretty much an immutable fact that men “have an overwhelmingly visual response to a woman on first approach”, (p. 225) according to the authors’ own research the qualities men look for in a long-term partner are:
2. Good looks
I’d rate “Humour” higher, of course… and I’m rather annoyed that the book includes a line about how “as a woman, having a sense of humour doesn’t mean you tell jokes. It means you laugh at his jokes.” (p. 226) Presumably that was, in itself, intended as a joke… but with this book it’s rather hard to tell sometimes what is meant to be taken seriously, and what isn’t. Although I pride myself on my ability to make people laugh, I’d be perfectly happy to date (and defer to) a woman who was funnier than me… especially if she let me write with her! :D
[Pictured, from top to bottom (as it were): Lunachicks, Lady Sovereign, Regina Spektor, Jonte Short, M.I.A., Shirley Manson, Brody Dalle]
Next entry: Chapter Ten