Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Male Attractiveness in the 21st Century

David and I just watched Mel Gibson’s amazing film “Apocalypto,” which takes a peek at the lives of Mayans in the Yucatan in the 16th Century. As amazing as this civilization was (and you’d think we’d learn more in school about the peoples of our own continent), it was still pre-industrial, and therefore primitive by today’s standards.

It made me think about the differences between the past hundred years and all of human history in the time that preceded it. Among those differences, of course, is the relationship between males and females of the species. Interestingly, things haven’t changed all that much for men in all these millennia; in “Flintstones” days they chose their mates based on physical attraction, and that’s just as true in 2007. I’m not saying today’s men are Neanderthals; I’m just saying they are turned on by pretty women and always have been. When it comes to marriage, they will seek other traits as well, but when it comes to mating (and sex is mating), looks are generally enough.

Women, on the other hand, are in a whole new boat. Just as genetically men are hard-wired to seek beautiful mates, women are hard-wired to pursue men who are competitively successful, skillful, and good providers. In days of yore, that meant men who were strong, smart, and/or talented...men who could protect you from enemies, hunt well, and perform the skills to keep a comfortable home.

But over the past century, industrialized society has meant big changes. Women don’t need men to provide safety, food, or shelter. Competition, which at one time literally determined who lived or died, and who won the quality females, has now been relegated to the arena of play. Successful athletes still attract women, but the majority of men don’t compete for mates in this manner. Their natural competitive urges are typically channeled into things like fantasy football, PlayStation, and flaming each other on Internet bulletin boards.

These things don’t really turn women on. And because they still yearn for the strong, smart, and talented, they will often find it in celebrities: movie actors, TV stars, singers and dancers, athletes. I’m starting to understand why nowadays we have so many reality shows like “Survivorman,” “Top Chef,” and “Design Star” and women love them. It’s just great to see men demonstrating any kind of prowess. The problem in this is that it can be very frustrating; not only are these men unattainable, in real life they aren’t necessarily particularly good catches.

We’ve come a long way, baby, and I’m not complaining about either the “emancipation” of women or the technological advances of society. But let’s face it: women have had to adjust their male-seeking radar. Even since the late 60s when I went through puberty, the accepted idea of the ideal man has changed dramatically.

I grew up learning to lust after the swashbuckling space lothario Captain James T. Kirk. He was later replaced by the charming, dignified Jean-Luc Picard, who nevertheless at least was a strong, handsome figure (weren’t we all turned on when he said “Engage!”?) DS9’s Captain Sisko was a step forward in terms of empowering blacks, but he was at times so conflicted as to be almost an anti-hero. And then came “Voyager” and the inevitable female captain.

Well, political correctness dictates that we all should have been happy, and I guess we liked Captain Janeway well enough, but it left us women with no commanding male figure, and the male viewers all complained that she wasn’t young and pretty enough. Naturally. Well, as you might expect, they got the incredibly hot Seven-of-Nine to make up for it. Meanwhile out of the male cast, I found the most engaging character was the balding, gentle, slightly goofy holographic Doctor. Interesting, nice, but not sexy.

Forgive me, non-Trekkies, for that illustration, but it perfectly demonstrates the sort of thing that has been going on over the past 40 years. Men have, in a sense, been castrated, and meanwhile women’s basic natural tendencies have been lost in the shuffle. It’s true that our more enlightened culture has made great improvements in many ways (and didn’t I just blog about how dreadful the 60s attitudes were towards women?!?). But if women are finding it hard to be motivated to choose mates, or to be aroused by men outside the entertainment field, or to be satisfied in their sex lives, I really have to think this is a factor.

The hero of “Apocalypto” knew how to hunt, and how to make weapons from plants and rocks. He could build deadly traps and out-think/out-maneuver his enemies. He could run and climb and leap with a couple bad arrow wounds. He could rescue his loved ones. This kind of man will impress today’s woman with all her sophistication, despite the fact that he can’t speak English, pay for an expensive car, or win the football pool.

So, do I have a conclusion here? A recommendation, an eye-opening revelation? Not really. But ladies, if some night you are lying in bed and can’t think of a single male to fantasize about, this just might be part of the reason.

At least they’re still making James Bond movies.


The Persian Courtesan said...

I think you are shining the light on a very serious issue .... gender roles now that we have thrown out traditional roles. Sure, women have their roleS (yes, I meant more than one role) defined. But do men? Not from the perspective I have. I don't think either gender really knows what makes a man a "real man" anymore. All I know is that defining a man by the kind of car he drives is ridiculous.

Diana Laurence said...

Too true, P.C.! I really feel rather badly for men today...our culture fails to provide them with a clear cut model. The car thing IS ridiculous...likewise the idea that your watch says who you are! That commercial just kills me.