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June 17, 2004

Comments

PF

While I'm no girl, there's a lot makes a guy interesting to look at, and a lot more interesting-looking guys about, then there are girls, to my eye.

Five o'clock shadow, looks real nice on a lot of guys, not on a lot of girls. Deeply wrinkly forehead or cheeks, pretty sexy on a guy, not on a girl. Sweat. Bulbous nose. Chest hair. Unibrow. No, I take back the unibrow. But: fem guy, rrrowrr, butch girl, hm, no.

Any one else ever noticed that the girls that girls say are hot, like oh, say, Julia Roberts, are actually really appallingly butt-ugly?

belle

For the record, I am mystified by the alleged hotness of Julia Roberts. And Jennifer Aniston.

PF

So we're on the same page there, at least.

How are you on neck hair?

Me: hot hot hot!

Mom and all her Thousand Incarnations in Other Women I Have Known: shave it.

Julie

I'm terrible with hot. I almost never see someone I think looks "hot." (Hollywood men are almost never attractive to me.) But I see lots of people I think look interesting. But interesting is for eavesdropping, not so much for hitting on.

Still more likely to be women than men, though.

Good question, Belle, and I still can't answer it.

Julie

belle

Neck hair I can live with. And the truth is, a little back hair on an otherwise stunning guy, also ok. It's just when it's the hairy icing on a generally slobby cake that I have to say no.

Kip Manley

Aw, c'mon, Belle. Give the guys a break. For years, outside certain marginal subcultures, it's (largely) been women who were the objects of desire, and men who did the desirin'. We've been rewiring that paradigm with brute force, but there's still a ways to go before men (largely) find it natural to fret and fuss about their desirability and spend money and time trying to do something about it. Until then, it's going to take sly propaganda efforts like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Salon articles about metrosexuality (okay, maybe that wasn't so sly) to plant the necessary FUD. And there's the usual entrenched Old Boys' Club who's deeply suspect of the whole endeavor, and dimly aware of our efforts to rewrite the paradigm. They like desirin', not being objects of desire—that's girly! Put that handcream down, son! Untuck that shirt! Have another beer!

Ah, but here I am, drinking my coffee, reflecting that I used to dress so much better twenty pounds ago. (The Spouse snorts. "Thirty," she says.) —Maybe I ought to start walking to work.

MC

I think there's also a large of amount of a kind of conspicuous consumption going on. Taking pains to improve your appearance, or even acknowledging that your appearance could be improved is admitting that you are not the best-looking guy in the whole world. Which of course, I am. ;).

Dave Barry once said something like the prettiest women can think she's totally ugly because she thinks she has puffy ankles or something, while a guy can be 100 pounds overweight with 8 greasy strands of hair combed over his otherwise bald head and still think that he's the hottest thing ever.

I think there's something true about this--that guys aren't willing to evaluate themselves, because they aren't willing to find themselves wanting. Ever try to tell a guy he was a lousy lover? How'd that go?

I'm not sure why this is, but maybe it's because the need to be beautiful and great is actually stronger in males than it is in females. Maybe guys don't put as much effort, because, ironically it might matter more.

Gaia

Whatchu talkin 'bout, Willis? Mr. Nahasapeemapetilon is all that!

Iron Lungfish

I'm horribly self-conscious about my appearance. I run every day - or at least as often as I can manage with my schedule - I eat right, I waffle on the body-shaving issue (my last girlfriend liked hairy guys) but other than that I try to keep myself looking as good as I can manage - which isn't very good, because being ludicrously poor at the moment, I can't afford the hottest newest clothes, a gym membership, or, frankly, a girlfriend. Sex, like everything else, costs money, and as with everything else, the lower class gets f**ked (or rather, doesn't).

Carlos

Was snarking out to Khuda Gawah with C&D in Bucharest, and it struck me that the male lead in the reel set in the modern day was a dead ringer for David Cross doing an Erik Estrada impersonation. Eeeeee. And yet, Shilpa Shirodkar as a policewoman... wow!

My guess is that male charisma -- sexual, personal, what have you -- is very culture- and context-dependent. So I see a mean and petulant frat boy past his prime, while others see a warm and concerned statesman with whom they can imagine a personal connection. But female charisma seems much less so. (I suppose I could concoct some bogus evo-psych theory about it, but why waste everyone's time.)

C. -- who agrees in the abstract about Julia Roberts, but has no doubts that he would melt if she turned that 1000 watt smile on him.

ben wolfson

If Julia Roberts bared her toothy grin at me, I'd fear for my life.

Jason

Here's my view from Washington, DC. While I'd say that people here are, on balance, much less attractive than their cohorts in NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc., I'm especially struck by the huge male-female disparity here. Take almost any random hetero couple on the street, and the woman will out-babe the man by a factor of, like, 5 or 6. This seems to hold true across all lines of race, age, and class.

As to the on-average-lower level of babeliness, I'm going to posit a couple of possible causes:
(1) D.C. has an unspoken uniform dress code that is really sexless and drab.
(2) D.C. is a geek-magnet, which geeks are often pretty famous for not giving a shit about their looks.
(3) The heavy influence of mid-western and southern politicians tends to scare away the fashionistas. (This same influence also tends to explain the sufeit of high-end steak houses and relative dearth of decent continental cuisine.)

As for the male-female babeliness gap, I'm too sleepy to come up with real answers.

Jason

Oops ... I meant "surfeit." Did I also mention something about being sleepy?

Julian Elson

We want to think, somehow, that men and women must be "naturally" equally attractive, because they are equal in numbers and, with the exception of gays, complementary sexually, so it seems like they "should" be. What if women are just more attractive, though, to the human aesthetic generally? It may seem like, sexually, men should think women are pretty and women should think men are pretty. Let's leave sex aside, though. Humans can't mate with either vultures or cardinals (right?), nor are they otherwise really important to people, as, say, food or predators. Yet if you ask most people, "which is more attractive? A vulture or a cardinal?" I think most would find the cardinal attractive, and the vulture ugly. This has no biological function (at least, no direct biological function). Cardinals just appeal more to the human aesthetic (male or female) than vultures, and maybe women just appeal to the human aesthetic more than men.

Kip Manley

Um, Julian?

That's pretty much what's called the (heterosexual) male gaze. --Unless you've got a load of ev psych to back it up. In which case, bring it on!

Related: nobody's brought up our many animal cousins who find male beauty and corresponding female drabness (drabitude?) to be necessary to birding and beeing. --Cardinals, fr'inst.

ogged

Ok Belle, how have chosen your boys? Paying more attention to studly and well-coifed, or to smart, able to keep up, occasionally listening, etc.?

harvestbird

Hmmm, I think MC is on to something, in saying that the straight male gaze only goes in one direction--it's not reflexive. It reminds me of a conversation I once had with a young guy who was joking about looking for funding for a project to measure the contours of women's arses. When I asked if he would be happy for similar research to be done on him, he said, "I am not a lady".

Or, more concisely, my brother's comment that lesbians are women who have realised that women are hot.

PF

Kip, Julian, here's Dave Barry on this important question:

If a man is with, let's say, his wife, and he sees an attractive woman, and his eyeballs go shooting SPROING out of their sockets and dangle from their optic fibers around his knees, this is NOT HIS FAULT, because he is under the control of his primitive reptile brain, and his wife should not get angry at him, even if it happens to be their wedding reception.

Julie, you have got to be kidding.

PF

Also, an adopted brother I have who grew up farming chickens in Eritrea, he mentioned to me once, that it was the unusually colored males (not the bright ones, not the clean ones) who got the most booty. In a flock full of shiny red-and-orange cocks, the black-and-white cock scores.

harvestbird

Put "discuss" on the end of that final sentence, PF, and you've got yourself a gender studies essay topic.

Chun the Unavoidable

I would like to know what the libertarian position is on penis-enlargement pills. Let's assume the following things are true:

1) These items do not work.

2) Many are sold, and their manufacture and advertising creates significant wealth.

3) Their appeal is based on misplaced male insecurities. If men spent more time worrying about their clothes, grooming, empathy, conversational ability, etc., they'd be much more successful in relationships, as a) these things can be changed, unlike the size of a penis, and b) they're more important to women.

If I still blogged, I'd work this up to the "pony" thing, but I'll just leave it in outline.

Ray

I know this dates me, but could it indicate a power imbalance and prepubescent training that splits "attractiveness" from any experience of actual sex? Guys sport a wider range of looks in public because we can get away with it without being jeered at, and we get away with it because we're entitled. And I like it that way. I don't think of perfume, anorexia, and shaved armpits as primary sexual characteristics of girls. I don't fancy them becoming primary for boys, either.

When more hetero men say they married because "she made me laugh," or lap up to female CEOs despite their age, weight, and open incompetence, or to politcas while interning, you'll see more ugly women and pretty men. In communities where trophy husbands are possible (gay S.F. & L. A.), they appear. But gay men (and some lesbians) still often have a dubious advantage over straights by learning about sexuality by noticing their reactions to sex.

Of course, I didn't latch onto this theory through sheer silky smooth altruism. For myself, there's nothing hotter than a somewhat distracted looking woman who makes me think when she talks (which would be often) and wears no makeup but sweatshirt and jeans. I don't think I'd meet many hot women in India. (Well, I probably would, but not that way.) I'd be one of those nineteenth-century guys panting after Georges Sand, for sure.

PF

Oh, my. My, my.

Ray

You should see her in a sweatshirt and jeans. You'd be surprised.

Adam Kotsko

I can't believe I read the whole thing.

The throwback

Isn't it just that, no matter how little immediate on-the-street appeal they have, guys can still get laid because ultimately women make their sleep-with/don't-sleep with judgements based on the potential partner's success and (political, corporate, etc.) power and stuff?

I mean, think about it. Even when a woman DOES see a hot guy on the street, does she want to actually sleep with him? Maybe sometimes, but virtually the women of my acquaintance balk at that step.. unless they're drunk. Sober, they need a reason to sleep with him other than "he's hot". And good for them. But that's why guys focus on the stuff other than hotness.

I really don't think it's a matter of guys not thinking about their appearance critically. All the guys my age I know are hypercritical of our appearance, but we don't put as much effort into improving it as girls do because, frankly, we have limited resources and focusing too much on our appearance would be a waste of time. (Once we pass the basic "clean clothes, regular showers, able to see our toes" test).

The fact is, guys who spend their disposable money and time trying to make the girls they like feel special -- those guys get results. Guys who spend their disposable money and time trying to make themselves look good might get a lot of compliments, but not much sex, except the unsatisfying drunken kind, and they're even less likely to find a serious relationship -- in fact they're likely to be rejected, ultimately, precisely because they're so "vain".

spike

Its been touched on here but i wanted to expand on the work that it takes to be stunning.

Even the most 'stunning' woman isn't 'stunning' right out of bed. Most 'stunning' women i have known have been very staight in letting me know that it takes a good hour at least to get that way. Thats an extra hour of work and the financial liberty to consume the products that do that work (shower, good shampoo and conditioner, make-up, clothes, good eating habits (or bad ones as the case maybe, ie eating disorders) and exercise). If men were asked to place that much time and energy on their looks, more often than not they would laugh at you. Unless they care so much about their appearance that they will do the work necessary to get there and in so doing they open themselves up to social critique on their manhood.

In other words, its not about evolution or biological imperatives at all. It is more about the cultural standards of beauty within patriarchy and of how beauty is defined for genders and sexualities within the mainstream and subgroups, that really matters when it comes to 'good looks' stunning or not. If more men followed the Queer Eye model, there would be a lot more 'stunning' men out there, but the whole reason why Queer Eye is what it is, is because it flounts counter-normative gender norms. Metrosexuality is all about applying the norms that women have had to follow for centuries and applying them to men. Many men and a good number of women dont want their men to be so image conscious, because they beleive that attention to image is unmanly. Or i should say, american patriarchy has demanded that such image consciousness be labeled, unmanly.

Zach

Yall are making this *way* too hard.


Point: Men, starting from adolescence and usually for a lifetime thereafter-- are MUCH more unpleasantly selfconscious than women are. Have this weird heightened sense of how other people are looking at them, how they compare to whoever else is in the room.

(Women may dispute this, but frankly you're wrong. Anyone who has ever raised a son or little brother through junior high has watched this happen: just because men generally get better at covering this, do not imagine that it went away.)

Point: This is patently exhausting, and generally stomps on your self-esteem.

Point: Exhausted people with permanently irritated self-esteem, are likely to decide "f*ck this anyway" and stop caring.


Hardly any men feel they can compete-- on body-fat levels, body hair, head hair, facial prettiness, tallness, appendage length, etc etc etc-- with the BMOC in the high school locker room, let alone with the reincarnations in Hollywood and etc for the rest of their lives.

So they (sanely) stop paying attention, and go on to other things.


Queer Eye gives guys concrete, quantifiable, *achievable* ways to remediate points A and B, which takes care of C. Which is a huge relief to the guys in question, as well as their girls.


Short of that kind of intervention, women have also learned mostly to just live with it.

NJG from NYC

"Like most girls"??? What patriarchal fantasy world are you living on?

You've fallen into the trap of thinking that your own experiences can be translated to the rest of society.

AB in NYC

My Indian fella is gorgeous. Your loss.

Steve

"like most girls, I've made out with other girls"

Yeah, this amused me more than anything else in her article. I guess she must have grown up in New York or something.

Steve

Lindsay Beyerstein

On the whole, society just cares more about what men think than what women think. That goes for both men and women.

The traditional feminine ideal requires that women care a lot about what men think. Some women rule out lucrative career options because they think physics reduces their sex appeal.

Whereas, it's just not macho to evince any doubts about your absolute sexual desirability to all sentient beings as such. You've got to act like everyone wants a piece of you, including the gays, the little old ladies, and the hound dogs--and you know it. As far as anyone knows, it's all you can do to beat them off with a stick. Too much grooming bespeaks insecurity.

Walt Pohl

I guarantee that if you went back in time to ancient Greece, people would comment about how there were more totally hot men than women. We grew up in a culture where our eyeballs are constantly bathed in images of women as aesthetic objects. We develop an eye for it, just as people who study Renaissance art develop an eye for that.

Anyway, the gap between what straight men think is attractive in women and what straight women think is attractive in women is quite large. My wife frequently gets hit on (by men) more the more slovenly she dresses.

Finally, slovenliness is a good thing! All fashion is more or less like foot-binding -- a useless cultural signifier whose only effect is to increase the amount of human suffering in the world.

sean

"(Heterosexual) male gaze" is a term lacking explanatory power as to why things are the way they are - it's a concept that's better employed as a tool for pointing out HOW things are and how they seem (as elements of our interpretive and perceptual processes).

I bet in ancient Greece, people thought guys were hotter in general than we do in America today. They tended to render and praise the beauty of the male form a great deal. And they liked the young boys, too.

Matt

Bella,

To see a really quite nice looking Indian (bengalli, maybe?) guy in a movie, you can watch Roy's old "Life of Apu" movies, but you have to get to the 3rd one. THey are also _really good_ so I suggest them to everyone. Or, you can watch the film "Mr and Mrs Aier" (I might have the name spelled wrong) for another. It's also a pretty good film.

I think the girl-making-out is more common than people think. I've known many girls, from all around the world, who'd done such things and would never consider themselves lesbians.

ben wolfson

s/Roy/Ray/

Carlos
Even the most 'stunning' woman isn't 'stunning' right out of bed.

... oh, I don't know.

Anyway, one can still encounter stunning women (why the scare quotes? they still stun me, who am otherwise pretty jaded) where that hypothetical hour of preparation has been negated. After a workout, during a run, caught in the rain, stuck in the subway, after the workday from hell, et cetera.

belle

I didn't mean that no Indian guys are hot; I've known plenty of great-looking ones. I just mean that they are very much outnumbered by amazingly attractive Indian women. As far as Ancient Greece goes, it's my opinion that in modern-day Greece the average 17-year-old guy just is incredibly hot, moreso than his female counterpart. I was on an archaeological dig with a young man named "Adonis" one time, and he deserved the monicker. Have most girls made out with opther girls? OK, maybe not. More than you think have, though. I guess it is important to note that I went to an all-girls school (NCS in DC), then to Columbia and then to Berkeley. Certainly a majority of women my age I know have made out with a girl, even if it was only at a slumber party in 10th grade.

Shai

"Every fifth person on the street in India is a stunning, slender girl in a sari, with waist-length, gleaming black hair tied up with jasmine, and giant dark eyes. By contrast, even the men starring in movies in India are often strangely rotund and sporting a dubious moustache."

Unless Indian women are outsourcing how would this be possible? Clothes and makeup have only a limited effect on for example, facial symmetry which should carry over to males?

Last time I was in Montreal I observed something similar (about women, dont really notice men) in a mall near our hotel. A little more exploration the next day revealed we were just walking in the right corner of the city.

Shai

queer eye and "what not to wear" just recommend a clean shave, one of a few current dominant male haircuts (hint: look at the last 5 haircuts tom cruise had), and the junk you'll see at abercrombie and fitch. (the current anti-queer eye fashion is trucker hats and retro kitsch one would previously find exclusively at punk skater shops) Fashion is mostly a positional good, so if any significant number of people followed their tips, then they wouldnt be fashionable. so anything on queer eye other than "wash your face", "shave once in a while" signifies a bandwagon and soon to be death of a fashion. ditto the nytimes style section.

spacetoast

Lindsay-

I basically agree with your first comment, have no opinion on your second, and disagree that the thing indicated in your third is constrained along sex/gender lines. I don't know if you think that men are out there wanking to Florence Henderson (well, Laura Bush then), or what exactly, but, of my male friends, all, in one way or another, obey the trope of lusting after the aloof temptress who fits your description about "macho" just exactly. It has nothing to do with macho, I think... rather, demonstratively entertaining doubts about one's sexual adequacy is just in general not a good way to go about becoming an object of desire.

Shai-

I totally disagree with your second comment. On the four or so occassions I watched Queer Eye, I clearly observed an insidious promotion of the Rod Stewartification of men's fashion, which, I believe, has been on the gay agenda for some time. Every douche that goes on that show comes out the other end with highlights and a suede jacket, as far as my data. "Wash your face," indeed.

PF

I was thinking most boys had probably made out with other boys too, and then I thought, well, I went to an all-boys school, after all, so my viewpoint is probably skewed, and now I see I went to the all-boys school that Belle's all-girls school was sister to, coincidentally.

Bob

Case in point: Apu and Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon. Also (relevant to The Throwback's comment) remember that while Apu is no Adonis, he's the biggest catch in Springfield.

Shai

spacetoast:

that too. i was thinking more this:

http://www.thehollandsentinel.net/images/082303/TVLookoutLR.jpg

or a t-shirt and a suit jacket. but my girlfriend read my post and said i'm a little bit unhinged, so who knows.

ben wolfson

I dunno, Bob. Before he got married to Manjula (and he had precious little to do with that), you never really saw Apu with a woman. Even Mr. Burns has been on more dates than Apu. The one exception I can remember is in the episode in which Homer buys Lisa a pony, and she looked kinda skanky.

Doctor Memory

(Slight digressive, but at 45 posts who's keeping track any more?) For my money, Queer Eye's weakest area is the personal fashion department. Sure, Carson's funny to watch, but I wouldn't want to dress like him (Carson's outfits, minus bitchy humor, are gussied up trash), ergo I sure as hell wouldn't want to be dressed by him. Where they shine, in terms of providing useful examples to slovenly straight guys, is in the grooming and interior decorating departments: god knows there's nothing revelatory about being told to clean up your room and shave slowly, but it seems like a lot of guys do need to hear it.

belle

Doctor Memory: I totally agree about the Carson thing. If I wanted every guy I saw to look Eurotrash I would just go to a foam party in Ibiza. And OMG! The mysterious PF went to St. Alban's! I'd get all Cathedral pride on you if I hadn't hated my high school so much.

PF

I never spent four such miserable years. They were so miserable they stretched out into seven, or eight if you count my blighted eighth grade, which became only a painful memory of bliss.

Lindsay Beyerstein

Spacetoast writes:

I don't know if you think that men are out there wanking to Florence Henderson (well, Laura Bush then), or what exactly, but, of my male friends, all, in one way or another, obey the trope of lusting after the aloof temptress who fits your description about "macho" just exactly.

Heh. Good point.

But in order to be a temptress, you have to show that you care about being sexy. You have to dress up and flirt. Impression management is key. Being aloof towards individual men is different than being indifferent to male desire.

Dave

As for the male-female babeliness gap, could it be that DC has more faith in the Kissinger aphrodisiac?

Consider Zeus, who claims he had no trouble hooking up when going out in tar-and-feathers (or, on one notable ambrosia-sozzled occasion, the decor from one of the aforementioned steakhouses).

oh oh oh

i coudln't imagine that i've readen the whole thing.

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