Of never feeling hot: the missing narrative of desire in the lives of straight men

I’ve been thinking this week about the experience — or lack thereof — of being the object of other’s desire. Two different posts got the wheels turning: Girls, Both Real and Otherwise by Daisy B., and Figleaf’s Unforseen Consequences of Men Believing Themselves Unseen. Both Daisy and Fig, in different ways, talk about alienation from their own bodies, at least as they appear to others (and, in a sense, to themselves). I recommend both posts.

In feminist circles, it’s common to talk about the tremendous damage that objectification does to women of all ages and adolescent girls in particular. Many young women remember a moment (painful, terrifying, or, perhaps less often, full of wonder) when they realized that they were the object of another’s sexual desire. Even more women have memories of being sent the mixed message of how both to entice desire (lessons on how to apply make-up, how to dress “sexy” taught at a young age) and how to avoid appearing either “slutty” or “ugly.” (the distinction, of course, is a shifting and elusive one.) For better or for worse, most young women grow up with a cultural awareness that their generally speaking, women’s bodies (though perhaps not their own) are intensely desirable to boys and men; strategies for managing that desire are much-discussed facets of women’s magazines, the advertising industry, and conversation.

But we don’t have a culture in which many young men grow up with the experience of being seen and wanted, in which young men grow up with the sense that their bodies are desirable and beautiful as well as functional. Our cultural discourse about young men teaches that managing their own (presumably insatiable) sexual desire is the defining task of their adolescence. A “jock discourse” that encourages young men to “score” with as many women as possible and an “abstinence discourse” which encourages young men to restrain themselves heroically have essentially the same perspective: your job as a man is to channel your libido, either into sexual conquests or radical restriction. Both discourses center male desire, just as most discourses aimed at young women teach teenage girls how to gain, manage, and direct that same titanic force. The missing element, of course, is the idea that female desire can be directed towards men in general, and towards their bodies in particular.

There’s some explicitness below the fold. Use your own judgment about proceeding.

At first glance, it seems that this argument is oversold. In my high school youth groups and gender studies classes, women — when the environment is safe — often admit to “looking.” There are spaces, more and more perhaps, in which women can acknowledge that a visually-stimulated libidinousness is not solely the province of the be-penised. Television shows like “Sex and the City” and “Gray’s Anatomy” make female desire a central feature of the dialogue — though of course, and this is critically important, the men who are obviously longed for are strikingly good-looking in some fairly obvious ways. Most young men grow up with what might be called the “Brad Pitt Discourse”: the idea that a small subset of particularly attractive men are the objects of women’s desire. But despite the abundant evidence that women’s desire is directed towards an extraordinarily diverse set of physical “types”, few men in our culture grow up with the sense that their bodies could be longed for and wanted.

Gay male desire, of course, is desire directed towards other men. Young gay men will, presumably, sense what it is to be wanted in a way that their straight peers will not. Of course, both gay men and women have been taught to be very careful about being obvious about their desire for straight men — the very real threats of homophobic violence and slut-shaming serve as effective controls, controls which (among many other things) rob young straight men of the strangely wonderful, albeit often disconcerting experience of being wanted.

I’ve written before about my sexual past with men. Most of my fleeting adolescent experiences with guys were with men considerably older than myself. And one of the things that drew me to them was, of course, my attraction to their obvious attraction to me. In high school and even in college, I felt clumsy; nerdy; awkward. Even after I had a girlfriend and a budding sexual history with women, I had never seen and felt obvious and intense desire for me from a female partner. I remember that the first time an older man made me — geeky Hugo — feel wanted, even craved, I felt a rush of elation and relief so great it made me cry. The sex I had with him was not based on my desire for him; rather, I wanted to make him feel good out of my own colossal gratitude for how he had made me feel with his words and his gaze. I was a bi-curious straight boy who had never felt someone ache for him — and the first time that happened, I was floored. Afterwards, this man (about the age I am now, a thought that discomfits me a bit) ran his fingers across every inch of my body, murmuring flattery of the kind I had never heard from a woman’s lips.

My early sexual experiences with men and women were deeply affected by these discourses about desire. I knew my first girlfriend and I were “in love” before we ever slept together; our sex, initially fumbling, became both easier and much more fulfilling over time. But when I thought about what made our sex good for her, I assumed that it was a combination of her emotional attachment to me and my own burgeoning proficiency as a lover. In other words, I assumed that my skill and our shared romance worked together to “make her have” an orgasm — because that’s what the discourse taught me. Neither of us had a vocabulary for anything else. She said encouraging things like “You make me feel so good.” When I first was with this older man, he said something that rocked me: “You’re so hot, you make me want to come.”

What a mammoth distinction between those two phrases! The idea that I could be sufficiently attractive to someone that his own desire could overwhelm him was beyond flattering — it was truly revelatory. And when I replayed what had happened between us, all that remained in my memory for years was my recollection of those words and how they made me feel. That distinction between how these two people described what was happening sexually isn’t unique, I think — it captures something real about the ways in which our cultural attitudes shape our vocabulary and experience of desire and being desired.

It took me years to unlearn these discourses, and years before I would experience being desired — in the most obvious visual sense — by someone other than a gay man.

In a men’s group a dozen years ago or more, I first read Delmore Schwartz’s famous The Heavy Bear, a devastating poem about what it is to be embodied. We read it to stimulate a discussion about male self-loathing; every lad in the room identified, at least in part, with what it meant to go through puberty feeling “in love with candy, anger, and sleep”, feeling the grossness and imperiousness of the body, a body which distorts the real self, making it into a “stupid clown of the spirit’s motive.” We teach our sons that it’s okay for boys to be dirty, to be heavy, lumbering, hungry bears. Feminists often frame that, rightly, as male privilege — it’s easier to live as a slave to impulse than to deny it altogether, as girls (who must be “everything nice”) are forced to. At the same time, many young men grow up with a keen sense of their own awkwardness, their own clumsiness, their own sense that their bodies are repulsive. The idea that someone could long for all of that shaking, raging, farting, sweating bundle of energy seems impossible; who could possibly want to touch this? Who could possibly be turned on by something so evidently unappealing?

So many straight men have no experience of being wanted. So many straight men have no experience of sensing a gaze of outright longing. Even many men who are wise in the world and in relationships, who know that their wives or girlfriends love them, do not know what it is to be admired and longed for for their bodies and their looks. They may know what it is to be relied upon, they may know what it is to bring another to ecstasy with their tongue or their touch, but they don’t know what it is to be found not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye but worthy of longing. As Fig points out:

Since (the) Rules of Desire are problematic, and since they conspire to make us (men) feel undesirable for any reason but the worthiness of our accomplishments or status (largely, I believe, as a byproduct of accommodating other of men’s preferences), it’s just one more barrier that needs to fall before gender equality is really gonna work. And not because men should be objectified equally to women (wrong direction) but because not understanding that we can appear as physically attractive leads us to go a little overboard on the worthiness front. From which much hilarity does not ensue.

Indeed. The very real hurt, the very real rage, that men often feel as a result of having no sense of their own attractiveness has very real and very destructive consequences. It’s not women’s problem to solve; it’s not as if it’s women’s job to start stroking yet another aspect of the male ego. The answer lies in creating a new vocabulary for desire, in empowering women as well as men to gaze, and in expanding our own sense of what is good and beautiful, aesthetically and erotically pleasing. That’s hard stuff, but it’s worth the effort. I know what it is to believe myself repulsive, and what it was to hear that not only was I wanted, but that I was desirable for how I appeared as well as how I acted. That was precious indeed, and far too few men have known it.

65 thoughts on “Of never feeling hot: the missing narrative of desire in the lives of straight men

  1. I actually was talking about Figleaf’s post to a friend of mine, a rather attractive fellow (let’s call him D). D is an outgoing flirt, who never has had difficulty getting into any kind of relationship. He told me that he didn’t think he was attractive. I was floored; this is a guy who is confident (sometimes to the point of arrogance) and frequently in a relationship, and he didn’t know he was hot?

    This is an area of disconnect that I find really interesting (even more so because I was apparently not aware of how common to males it was). Really, I think the only way to fix this is for there to be more mixed-gender relationships. My hubby, for instance, new exactly that women were visually attracted to other men because he was the only guy in an entire youth group full of women. He learned a great deal about women’s perspective from those years, let me tell you.

    I guess I always assumed that guys knew they were hot (when they were). They walk like they are, they act like they are, and they flirt in a way that’s generally a “hot girls” prerogative.

  2. Hugo, I think you’re way off base on this one–not with what you write about the feelings of men, of course, but in your perceptions of how straight women feel desired by men. This, for instance:

    “For better or for worse, most young women grow up with a cultural awareness that their bodies are intensely desirable to boys and men;”

    and

    “Television shows like “Sex and the City” and “Gray’s Anatomy” make female desire a central feature of the dialogue — though of course, and this is critically important, the men who are obviously longed for are strikingly good-looking in some fairly obvious ways. Most young men grow up with what might be called the “Brad Pitt Discourse”: the idea that a small subset of particularly attractive men are the objects of women’s desire.”

    For the first, most young women are aware that men want to, excuse my crude language but, fuck them; that is entirely different from growing up being aware that their bodies are intensely desirable. The awareness that they have is that they are walking, excuse me again, fuckholes–there are reasons that phrases such as “in the dark all cats are gray” and “any port in a storm” are common cultural euphemisms. The other awareness that they have is that a small subset of particularly attractive women are the objects of men’s actual desire for anything more than an “easy” hole. I have lost track of the number of women of my acquaintance, now often in their thirties, who have a lot of bitterness and anger about the fact that no man has ever really intensely physically desired them–made them feel hot in the way you so eloquently describe above–no man has ever said such things to them. This same hurt and rage in women is absolutely identical, and anecdotally I’d say nearly as prevalent, as it is in men.

  3. Lisa KS, I think I could have been much clearer — our media imagery doesn’t project the “fuckhole” narrative (though alas, it is as you say); it does center the idea that men are visually drawn to women in a way that it doesn’t suggest that women are visually responsive to men. This certainly doesn’t mean that women should automatically find male objectification pleasant or welcome or flattering!

  4. Hugo, I think you’re missing Lisa’s point, which was dead-on.

    There is certainly an element in our culture that suggests women don’t desire men – the tired old studies about men being more “visually oriented” and so forth. But you flip this around to assume that this means women do see themselves as desireable.

    You don’t seem to understand that “desirable” is not a single thing. There’s the “desirable” that women are literally sold – if you diet enough, use the right lip gloss, wear the right clothes and try to Please That Man, then despite your numerous imperfections, you might be deemed worthy enough to be sexy and attractive. That is, desirable. If you fail to work your way into this tiny and elite group of women, then you’re “desirable”, all right, but only (as Lisa points out) as a fuckhole. Sure, men will screw you, but they’re secretly repelled, because you don’t look like a supermodel, and that’s all your own lazy-ass fault.

  5. I see the point now — in my rush to make a point about men’s total lack of experience with being desired, I forced a false dichotomy that painted with far too broad a brush. Point taken.

  6. Taking off Mythago’s point, I suppose that Hugo’s post could be rephrased/summarized as: women (or some, or many) are made to feel that they might be sexy and attractive if they buy the right things, etc; men (or some, or many) are made to feel that beings like them can’t be attractive whatever they do. That bodies like theirs (in the broad, putting-us-all-in-to-categories sense) just aren’t attractive at all.

    Many women are led to feel like they are an unattractive instance of a body type that is attractive; men are led to feel like they are a body type that is unattractive, full stop.

  7. @Lisa KS, who said “I have lost track of the number of women of my acquaintance, now often in their thirties, who have a lot of bitterness and anger about the fact that no man has ever really intensely physically desired them–made them feel hot in the way you so eloquently describe above–no man has ever said such things to them. This same hurt and rage in women is absolutely identical, and anecdotally I’d say nearly as prevalent, as it is in men.”

    Your point is interrelated to the point Hugo (and I) are raising but it’s really, really important. What Hugo is talking about is the different heterosexual gender narratives of desirability. What you’re talking about is the disconnect between gender narratives and actual real life.

    In other words a) we have little vocabulary for discussing visual/physical desire for men and b) the vocabulary that exists for discussing desire for women excludes many or most actual women.

    That’s not to belittle your point. At all! I spend a lot of time thinking about it, and trying to work through it. In fact the lack of a narrative of desire for men first occurred to me while thinking about it. But they’re different problems. That both need to be addressed.

    figleaf

  8. you’re totally right about many men not feeling wanted aesthetically. i remember when i said how amazing this guy’s body was once and he just lit up. kind of like a high school girl being told by a casting agent he would like for her to model in paris. it just never struck me that a lot of men haven’t been told how “hot” and how “wanted” they are.

    i guess my reasoning with antigone was similar, assuming men just knew they were hot. you know with all the starring and googly eyes we make-i guess we weren’t clear enough.

  9. Interesting post.

    It seems that scientists aren’t quite sure what to make of visual stimulation in women. A couple months ago there were articles about how watching chimp porn turns women on physically, but the women didn’t actually acknowledge that arousal.

  10. Great post; I can totally relate. As a straight guy in my late twenties, I’ve had a desire to shine/glow/radiate and be sensuously appreciated and desired at least since some time in college. I wanted to feel sensuous and have that sensuousness seen and appreciated. I figured out how to feel sensuous, but I couldn’t figure out how to experience the appreciation of it from women until not so long ago. So, I flirted with gay guys and gay friends even though I never did anything physical.

  11. I’m glad this post has been helpful to some. And I rather like how Stephen puts it:

    Many women are led to feel like they are an unattractive instance of a body type that is attractive; men are led to feel like they are a body type that is unattractive, full stop.

    Haven’t thought it through entirely, but that seems esssentially right to me.

  12. And again, while I can’t speak for how you guys, personally, feel – I’m not seeing the “men feel unattractive” thing. Maybe I’ve just known one too many guys who were convinced that on the eighth day, God created beefcake, and it was them. Feeling that your body is ‘neutral’ – that men’s bodies are just sort of, you know, people bodies, but women’s bodies are the sexy ones – isn’t the same thing as “I have a penis so I’m ugly”.

  13. I just asked my boyfriend if he knows he’s hot and he shrugged and said “as much as anyone, i guess”. (Which seems like a pretty neutral and well-adjusted attitude.) I never realized I was violating a cultural script by telling a boyfriend he’s hot, or cute, which I do pretty frequently.

    Anyway, years ago, I used to have the occasional fantasy or erotic dream about this or that VERY geeky male friend. Awkward-geeky. Free tshirts from software-companies and unstylish glasses. (But also smart and funny, and bear in mind that while I might have dropped some money on nice glasses I still like a good math pun, so the geek is not an exotic Other to me.) I think you’ve just articulated why this was a turn-on for me — because in the fantasy they are unspeakably turned on by my desire, which is so quite a new thing for them.

    Yeah, that fantasy’s a little conceited.

    If you are interested in women expressing desire, and talking and reflecting on how men are desireable, read some fanfiction, which is majority female-authored and increasingly public and available thanks to the magic of the internets. You’d be surprised how many women want to jump, say, Data or Severus Snape. I wouldn’t by any means portray this as a random sample of ALL women, but it’s an interesting and pretty public conversation about male desireability.

  14. I’m having a hard time feeling too sorry for guys about this.

    How about this? We (straight women) will tell you when we think you are hot if y’all (straight dudes) tell us when you think we are smart and funny and really interesting. Because men don’t tell us that very often. And seeing how I value those things way over beauty, I think that once again men have the much longer end of the stick, especially because I think that women are less forthcoming with their carnal desire because of how fucked up we are trained to be with regards to our sexuality, which is largely not our fault and something we do. not. want.

    I mean, women are encouraged to keep their fantasies and desires to ourselves in a larger sense, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that we often are not comfortable unleashing our appreciation of some men. We trained to police our sexuality so we don’t “send the wrong signals” and what you are describing is exactly the kind of “wrong signals” they are talking about. It’s too sexual (= slutty), you are a cocktease if you don’t follow through (= slutty bitch that leads men on), and it makes you vulnerable (= you will get raped for being slutty). So they say.

    Beauty is like the one important thing that people think that women have the upper hand on and pretty much anything else that is considered a woman thing is trivialized and devalued by men, save for maybe childbirth. The thing is, in this misogynist society, sometimes confessing your desires put you at a further disadvantage. If women are already considered inferior (though physically attractive as a class), then they are extra doubly inferior to hot men. Conventionally attractive men (the Brad Pitts) can be the biggest pricks in the entire universe because they are treated like little kings and that often goes to the head. To let a guy know that he is your personal Brad Pitt is a bad, bad move unless he’s really a good person deep inside already. Almost all women have issues with their appearance even if they look like supermodels because we are conditioned to find and obsess over their “flaws”, so you don’t see the unbridled egotism as much. (Though admittedly some fake it, but that’s because no self confidence isn’t attractive, right, ladies?)

    I’m with Antigone that a good solution is mixed gendered friendships. I was blessed with an amazing group of friends and we reaffirm each others’ hotness all the time, but in a friendly way. It’s nice to hear that from someone who isn’t trying to fuck you, and many of my male friends have never really heard it before, like we’ve been discussing. It was a total relief for me personally that I did not have to look perfect to be attractive to people because that is not the message we hear, though the contexts are different for men and women. It’s a lie that people have to look like gods and goddesses to be attractive, but at least men are told they have other things going for them. Because of this I have a really hard time feeling bad for men as a group about this, but I love letting good people know they are hot now, so I tell people when I want to despite what I wrote in the first paragraph. I reject the narratives of how women should behave and do what I want, though I understand women who act as they are expected to.

    (This comment is a little bit of a jumbled mess and probably needs clarification.)

  15. I’ve said it before–probably got lost in moderation–that most men haven’t heard from anybody but their mothers that they are valuable, worthy of being loved (or liked) for who they are.
    Instead, most young guys believe they need to be useful, competent, active, or they’ll be alone. Which, when you think of the “nice” things women say about a guy, is frequently validated.
    Hence, when a woman tries to indicate to a guy that she thinks the real him is worthy, he might not get it. It’s a concept which does not exist in his universe.
    At the same time, I’ve seen some guys who were so hot they were dodging girls and getting friends or family to lie about where they were–anyplace but available on the phone prior to cellphones–but that was about hotness. Not their own sweet selves.
    Ran into a guy who put together a list of women decades ago who had made him quite pleased by being more than necessarily kind or pleasant or complimentary, or who had asked him to do one or another thing for them that should have generated an attempt to follow up on his part. But didn’t. It was as if he’d changed a tire for a woman he knew slightly and, instead of inquiring if he liked walnuts in the brownies, she gave him a tight hug and a lingering kiss. It would have been out of context. He had nearly a dozen out-of-context encounters listed from his early days, none of which had impelled him to follow up. Instead, he went his way pleased that she–whoever it was–seemed to like him.
    That she was providing a particularly forthright Indirect Indication of Interest didn’t occur to him for many, many years.

  16. Hugo,

    I think this may indeed be one of the more important disconnects between men and women that conntribute heavily to mutual misunderstanding. Case in point, Lisa KS and Mythagos comments, and the exact mirroring of what you wrote about the male perception of female desirability. I think it would be a worthwhile and interesting discussion to get into detail about those mutual misperceptions.

    Personally, I largely agree with you here – as a guy who has mostly been complimented for his intellect throughout his life, it was a moment I’ll never forget when I realized that women ARE checking me out. It seriously lifted my self-confidence to an unexpected degree.

    That said, I still find that women do not appear to be as visually concerned as men are. Blame patriarchy or biology or both, in my opinion men are more unforgiving about visual features they don’t find appealing than women. This is especially true with respect to social assertiveness and confidence in general, based on whichever, in my opinion. Women will always value confidence over attractivity, men will usually value appearance over confidence.

    Elle Dee,

    if you have a hard time feeling sorry for men simply because you can’t understand their perception, how could you expect them to empathize with you and your perception of our shared reality?

    That said, I only make compliments about female physical features in two situations: a) as a genuine gift to someone I’m not really interested in getting to know – meaning, I’ll just tell you that I think you look great in that dress and walk away and b) as a compliment and indication of my personal, possibly sexual, attraction to you, at least half an hour after I told you that I find you smart and funny, and that I appreciate you in ways that are not just visual.

  17. Sam – I truly believe you have the best intentions, but giving a strange woman a compliment about her looks may not always be perceived as a gift. She doesn’t know you and doesn’t know that saying “Thank you” isn’t going to turn into one of those conversations where you decide she’s interested, and get angry and call her a bitch for ‘leading you on’ when she’s not.

  18. @ElleDee, who said “I’m having a hard time feeling too sorry for guys about this.”

    Feeling sorry for men wouldn’t be all that helpful anyway. It’s at least part of a bed we’ve made and are laying in. So the most productive thing to do… for us and anyone who’s willing to help… is figure how to get us to get up.

    “How about this? We (straight women) will tell you when we think you are hot if y’all (straight dudes) tell us when you think we are smart and funny and really interesting.”

    I think that’s more critical than almost anything for getting over the next gender hurdle. The gendered beauty and worthiness traps are caustic in the extreme. Whereas Mythago correctly identifies male form as “neutral” men tend to perceive “neutral” as irrelevant. With the result that men imagine we can only be attractive in terms of material-accumulation or accomplishment. With the further result that we perceive heterosexuality as transactional. With the *further* result that we’re indoctrinated to see women’s accomplishments not just as competition but as an existential threat. Because, to paraphrase male-persona Red Green, “if the women don’t find you handsome, and don’t find you handy, they’re not going to give you the time of day.” And would that form a nice basis for ultimate self-hating misogyny? Why I believe it would!

    So anyway, at least for me, the point isn’t to make us *feel better* by broadening beauty narratives to include us. Instead it’s to further bend the gender conventions that say there’s only one way society assesses men just like we’re already working to alter the way society assess women. It’s about finding more ways to undermine the two-sphere model of gender.

    I hope that makes sense.

    figleaf

  19. Mythago,

    “Sam – I truly believe you have the best intentions, but giving a strange woman a compliment about her looks may not always be perceived as a gift. She doesn’t know you and doesn’t know that saying “Thank you” isn’t going to turn into one of those conversations where you decide she’s interested, and get angry and call her a bitch for ‘leading you on’ when she’s not.”

    yeah well, people still give presents even after the Trojans were fooled by that horse. Of course she doesn’t know. And I don’t know if she won’t slap me because her boyfriend has just told her she’s too fat and she thinks I’m making fun of her. Possible.

    That’s the problem with being different people and not knowing what’s going on in each other’s minds at any given point: miscommunication can happen. Still, that’s no reason not to talk at all – at least for me, and, if I may add that, women are usually able to pick up the subtext of the compliment and the body language and I am able to do this quite smoothly abd confidently.

    I mean, really, there’s a difference (and this is a sort-of real case) between kneeling in front of a waitress, trying to grab her hand and saying “you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen”, and saying “before I forget, you look really lovely in that dress tonight, have a good night” when you’re on your way out.

    If she’d get the feeling that I would want to hit on her instead of merely mentioning my appreciation then I would have done it wrong. Very wrong. You cannot hit on someone until you know they’re attracted to you. I wouldn’t have done this a few years ago, for being afraid of the approach as well as being afraid of a negative reaction, but I’ve learnt a lot about human communication and inter-gender communication in particular.

    I forgot to mention another instance where I compliment – occasionally visually: when I’m not interested in an interaction or able to have one at that point. Since men are usually concerned with visual features I know from female friends that they are often taking rejection as a reason to question their physical attractivity. And I’ve been rejected as well and know how it hurts. So I usually end such a conversation with a compliment, possibly with one expressing my appreciation for her appearance.

  20. figleaf,

    I don’t think only heterosexuality is transactional, all relationships are (and as such all sexual relationships), but we may use different definitions of transactional.

    Apart from that, I think you have identified the most important variable generating threats of social backlash. And to the extent that it’s (becoming) a political threat, making men feel better (giving them the feeling that their body is sexually desirable, their touch is desirable and NOT worth less than that of a woman) would be helpful, in my opinion. Of course, it’s difficult to get that message out.

  21. Pingback: Deconstructing Beauty: Why Do We Care? « Kittywampus

  22. SamSeaborn: You misunderstand me. It might not have been clear, but I have talked about this with my guy friends before and do empathize with them. It sucks and they deserve better, but it’s just not possible sometimes and there are much larger issues at play. But let me explain.

    I have a hard time feeling sorry for guys because while it does suck for them, I think a lot of it stems from the social constraints placed on women, so it seems like more of a side effect of a much larger problem for women. My freshman year of college I was sitting on a bench outside my dorm in a common area at night. There were many groups of people doing their own thing and some guy yells something exasperated complaining about how he couldn’t approach women who are alone at night because they think he might rape them. And, yeah, I wouldn’t like people fearing that I was a rapist either if I was just trying to talk to them, but, dude, women don’t act like that for no reason. It’s because the threat of rape is real. That example is more extreme than what we are talking about, but I feel similarly. Women (generally, obviously individuals vary) don’t run from strange men approaching them and hide our desires because we want to, it’s because we perceive it’s in our best interest and/or what we are trained to do. If there were less consequences for women, I doubt there would be a problem for men. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that I do feel sorry for men (the good ones who don’t rape and deserve to hear that they are hot), but only to a certain point.

  23. My mom used to say “Smart girls like to be told they’re pretty, and pretty girls like to be told they’re smart.” Maybe we can kind of insert “people” instead of “girls”? I think those who have had intellectual validation come easy might enjoy someone appreciating their physical attributes and vice versa. I don’t know.

    For me, I was told that I was smart and interesting when I was young. When people started noticing me in college, it was kind of intoxicating, so I think I can understand how a man (or anyone) who had not had that kind of validation might feel.

  24. Ah, well, the “ecology” of the approach. There are ways, even at night in an isolated area, of signaling one’s harmlessness, but by and large that simply isn’t an appropriate place or time for an approach, to the extent that women will NEVER relax enough to signal receptivity, because that receptivity just won’t be there, no matter how good your non-verbal communication, so the answer is either to give up or approach anyway while maximizing one’s harmlessness, with the understanding that YOU are the interruption, the potential threat, and that an incredibly high portion of the time the legitimate response will be to break contact in a way that reassures your interlocutor.

    Universities are such overwhelmingly social places that I suspect that the “I can’t approach” was a proxy for “women aren’t attracted to me”, that the guy is chatting up women in every context because the women he’s meeting in more social contexts aren’t responding to his advances in a positive way, at all, ever, because young North American college-age women tend to like good-looking, high-dominance, socially-adept high-testosterone men, and to reward them for being so.

    Again, what part of the average man’s experience *doesn’t* validate “if you aren’t handsome or handy, women won’t want you”? The once-in-a-blue-moon meet-up with someone whose intangibles (personality, humor) match his to the extent that it’s easy to build natural rapport. But one reality of life for some straight men is that one is attracted to very, very many women, very few of whom will naturally reciprocate that attraction, and with whom one’s personality, values, and life choices are compatible.

  25. Elle Dee,

    I am a victim of that line of thinking and feminist indoctrination to the extent that (in conjunction with my personality) I wasn’t able to express my desire for women at all, until I spent years getting over it.

    I think what Hugo – and certainly figleaf in his comment above – wanted to express was that a) “feeling hot” or sexually attractive in one’s own right is not just a missing narrative in male experiences, but b) that this lack of sexual confidence is the origin of not just a few problematic inter-gender behaviours. After all, when coping with a common feeling of rejection two strategies seem dominant: acceptance or over-compensation. The first will likely create internal anger, the latter will probably create anger in women and not change anything about the rejection and the missing perception of being sexually wanted.

    I’m not kidding when I say that discovering that I was attractive and that I wasn’t at the mercy of women when it came to approaching and mating, that I, too, am a sexually attractive being and do have agency in this process that is not related to my earning potential, was a huge and important step, certainly one that allowed me to empathize more with the problems women face.

    Eurosabra,

    “that I suspect that the “I can’t approach” was a proxy for “women aren’t attracted to me””

    possible. But there are A LOT of men who simply can’tappraoch, even in social situations. While they are probably able to learn it, no one has ever taught them how to talk to women. The same is probably true vice versa, but women usually still don’t feel in charge of expressing their interest by actively approaching someone, so for them this isn’t too big a problem.

  26. an incredibly high portion of the time the legitimate response will be to break contact in a way that reassures your interlocutor.

    Eurosabra, that’s exactly right. I’ll borrow that for the next time I write another post aimed at the men who complain that women are unfriendly and cold.

  27. The more of this discussion I read, the more I don’t really think there’s a gender difference in this regard. There is a subset of both women and men who are considered examples of “hot.” This has some relationship to their physical characteristics, but more to do with their self-presentation (clothes, hair, confidence, attitude).

    I am a woman with a body well suited to our current definition of attractive/hot. Yet I have really NEVER been one of the “hot” girls, because I don’t wear make up and generally dress casually and non-provocatively and I think give off the opposite of an attention seeking vibe (whatever that is). I’ve had a number of male friends who seem suddenly surprised when seeing me dressed up or more revealingly clothed.

    I think for people (male and female) who have never felt themselves to be seen by others in the category of “hot,” it can be a real ego-boost to be seen that way. And for people who are constantly pegged as the “pretty boy” or “pretty girl,” being seen as smart/competent provides a similar ego boost.

    When I first read Hugo’s piece I thought I agreed with it, but the more I read the responses the more I think there’s really not much difference in the way men and women experience this. Women are perhaps pushed harder by corporate interests to do their best to be “hot” whereas men are less encouraged to transform themselves to fit that category, but it seems like both men and women who have lived their lives feeling unattractive get a boost from realizing others may actually find them attractive, and that both men and women see attractiveness as the perogative of a small group of impossibly “hot” members of their sex.

  28. Emily. I once worked with a woman who was SMOKIN’ She dressed against it. With the exception of a swim suit which she wore in the project-required swimming, I never saw her in anything but what was called a “shift”, I think Shapeless, down to the knees. Or, in some athletic endeavors, an oversized sweatshirt. Even when I saw her one place or another on her other business, that was how she dressed. Going to church, teaching a class, going out with friends.
    The point is that women have to go out of their way to hide their attractiveness. While men have to go out of their way to advertise it. Women’s clothing is designed to demonstrate or emphasize attractiveness. For men…slacks, button down shirts, tee shirts, cargo shorts. Unless you have a chest like Ulysses, you have to tailor a dress shirt to make the difference clear between that and a belly sucked in, and those guys who do have their shirts tailored are considered abnormally self-absorbed.
    Men could certainly dress themselves like peacocks–and have–but not now. Certain pictures of Henry VIII show him standing imperiously with hand on hip and several layers of shoulder-emphasizing vests and sashes or whatever.
    Men simply do not compete in the physical attractiveness arena, do not think of it, except for a few.
    The CW is full of stories of the good-looking ordinary guy who loses to the scrawny–or chubby–rich guy. Don’t know if it’s true, but to the extent that it’s believed, it makes worrying about being hot kind of useless.
    Hence the one thing a man can actually accomplish, which is to be good for something. He can’t make himself taller, can’t make his chest huger and his waist smaller than his bone structure allows, can’t make his eyes bigger and more alluring.
    He can be useful, competent, good for something. And the way the world works currently, if he is, he’s going to do okay socially and romantically, and if he isn’t, he’s not.

  29. Interesting post. I think you’re right about men, absolutely, but I also think that what you’re describing as this lack of sensing desire also applies to so very many women, too. Being objectified and leered at is not the same as feeling longed for in a good way. You yourself talk oftne of the distinction between the penetrating stare and the appreciative glance.

    And doesn’t anyone else find this ironic coming from the man who – how can we forget? – won the 2008 “America’s Hottest Prof” award according to Rate My Professor??

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  31. Of course, some people (call them “the unattractive”) never get this experience of being desired, at all. Is that a problem?

    Even expanding from the Brad Pitt and Jessica Alba set of “genuinely attractive” for both genders to include the “normally attractive,” I suspect that the “normally attractive” doesn’t include the vast majority of the population — it doesn’t include, for example, almost anyone over 40 (35?), the overweight, the disabled, anyone who has bad acne scars, people with funny-shaped jaws, etc. etc. It strikes me as a form of whining best responded to with a tiny violin or a crying river to piss and moan about how people in that rather privileged “normally attractive” class don’t get told how hot they are.

  32. One you hit 35 or 40, nobody will ever look at you with a gleam in their eye? Wowsers.

  33. Women often take shit for voicing their desires for men. In certain places, it is just fine for a fellow to say a woman is hot, attractive, pretty, whatever, but if a woman compliments a man on his physical attractiveness, it is considered to be unseemely or too forward. Sure, I think a general “you look nice in that suit” will fly just about anywhere, but women have been and still are shamed for expressing anything sexual, at all, and that encourages women simply to say nothing.

    Look at a group of teenage boys- if they talk about sports (and girls) or music (and girls!) or comics (and GIRLS!) its all typical, game on, generally accepted behavior. However, if a group of girls are talking about music (and boys), or school (and boys!), or television (and BOYS!), well, they are boy crazy and need to grow up and act like ladies.

    When you spend your entire life being told to concentrate on whatever and quit gazing at “hot male celeb of the week” you figure women just aren’t supposed to think about those things, let alone speak them aloud.

    Social Conditioning is a pain all around, eh?

    I, however, firmly believe in telling a fellow he is hot if I think he is. And yeah, sure enough, some guys have no idea.

  34. Mythago, whatever, you get the point. I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now right next to a college campus (with more young and attractive people than average). I count 18 people in eyeshot, 6 or 7 of whom probably count as “normally attractive.” The other 11 or 12 are left completely out of this “hot people have it soooo hard” pity party.

  35. Meh, the point is what you’re missing. This isn’t about hot people being found hot; it’s about the way that women being the designated sex class has the effect of men seeing themselves as excluded from being desirable.

    How many of those attractive young people at your Starbucks do you think are thinking to themselves “God, I am totally hot”?

  36. Mythago, I recognize that that is Hugo’s point, and yours. My point is that Hugo’s point is somewhat offensive, in its focus on the harms patriarchy inflicts on a privileged class (the hot) and its total disregard of the larger unprivileged class, who would suffer the lack of validation of their own desirability whether or not women continue to be the designated sex class.

    To be perfectly honest, I find it nauseating that someone with Hugo’s sexual history, who has doubtless been found attractive by scores of women and men, should whine about “the very real hurt, the very real rage” from not being found “worthy of longing” in a world where he’s probably in the top 10% of men as the object of longing. Even the phrase “worthy of longing” is offensive, as it perpetuates the idea that being the object of longing is some kind of virtue, of worthiness, as if the unattractive are worth less than the attractive, and as if “the very real hurt, the very real rage” the actually unattractive (not the merely socially constructed as unattractive, hot men) suffer every damn day is just irrelevant and unimportant.

  37. Hey, if your beef is with Hugo’s being a narcissist, that’s one thing; but the idea that there is a privileged class of the hot vs. the non-hot leaves me scratching my head. What is actually vs. socially constructive attractiveness, anyway?

  38. Oh, no, Meh, we know from NiceGuy(tm) syndrome that men aren’t allowed to feel hurt, anger, and rage about being passed over for their unattractiveness, and unattractive WOMEN exist, if at all, as a laboring class for unpaid or low-paid “women’s work.” The “Marthas” of _The Handmaid’s Tale_.

  39. the idea that there is a privileged class of the hot vs. the non-hot leaves me scratching my head.

    Seriously?

    It’s always been quite clear to me. The conventionally attractive have lots of advantages that other folks don’t, going way beyond simply “more people are attracted to them.” (Not that that’s insignificant.)

    And I think Meh has a point – Hugo conflates being seen as undesirable because one’s a member of the class “man,” and men aren’t desirable, with being seen as undesirable for any other reason. He seems to imply that, if that narrative of desire weren’t missing, than no man wouldn’t feel undesirable (which also implies that in the current situation, women never feel undesirable). And when that comes from someone who *is* generally acknowledged as desirable, it can be quite off-putting.

  40. we know from NiceGuy(tm) syndrome that men aren’t allowed to feel hurt, anger, and rage about being passed over for their unattractiveness

    Er, Nice Guy Syndrome is about blaming one’s being passed over purely on the bitches’ shallow preference for jerks, with “jerk” being defined as “a guy banging a woman to whom I feel entitled”.

    jfp, I’m not disagreeing that those fitting conventional standards of attractiveness are privileged – just not the idea that there is a defined, rigid and objective standard of who is ‘hot’ that excludes, for example, all persons over the age of 35. (Quick, somebody tell Sean Connery!)

  41. My looks and brains have been commented on in positive ways. And yes, it is reassuring to know that a lover enjoys being in your intimate company for whatever reason. But I really wish I could be free of appearance anxiety stress. I wish it mattered less. It’s like as a woman I feel I need affirmation of my physical attractiveness to know I am still a contender, when I know looks are what matters least in love. I sometimes haven’t gushed about the appearance of attractive men because I didn’t want them to feel the same way as me. I want to make men feel they were valued for who they are, not what they look like. I find the buzz of a compliment on my appearnce fades pretty fast and creates a replacement need – have I changed?, do you still think so? and so on. Whereas attraction to my character seems less fleeting.

  42. Mythago, it’s pretty clear that there’s a definite class of hot people of both genders, even if it’s only socially acceptable to remark about it in the case of one. Whether that class is itself socially constructed or not is kind of irrelevant to the point that there are some people who get attention from their preferred gender(s), and some who don’t, and it’s pretty clear to everyone who is in which group. (And a few exceptions like Sean Connery do not wipe out the regularity, which is that the older you get, the fewer people find you attractive.)

    Those of both genders who are dumped into the unattractive group not only don’t get to experience the desire of others, but if you’re in the not-hot class, you’re not allowed to even express your own desire. We can see this in both directions: women often have a visible and public “eww” reaction to the attentions of a man in the not-hot class, and men, naturally, take it a step nastier with revolting things like the “no fat chicks” bumper sticker (which really means “hey, fat chicks, don’t you dare have sexual desires or attempt to be seen as attractive”).

    Eurosabra has a point… Nice Guy(tm) syndrome has two parts to it. You’re right, of course, Mythago, that it’s about men blaming women’s for their own lack of dating success, but the root cause of that lack of success is often that the men are in the not-hot class.

  43. matey.
    Since men–especially younger men–are not often told they’re valued for who they are, your telling them might not actually have an effect.
    It would be as if you tossed a man an electrically-charged wire. He’s got the wire/he heard your comment. But he does not have a ground which is to say the concept that you reference, his personal wonderfulness, does not exist. So, not having a ground, the current/real message does not flow.
    He goes on his merry way pleased that a nice girl thinks he’s okay.
    When a woman goes on a date with a guy, she’s likely to say, afterwards, “I had a great time.” “It was a wonderful party/concert/picnic/dinner/walk in the park.” She says this, in part, because she knows he exerted himself to be sure she had a good time and she wants him to know she appreciates it.
    IOW, she said he’s good at providing a fun date. IOW, he knows what she likes, knows where to find it, maybe is competent at arranging it, has a bit of fun making it a surprise, got the good seats, etc. She wants him to know she got all that.
    But the likelihood that she’ll put her hand on his arm and say, “I like you.” is far, far less.
    The result is that he’s been told he’s valuable for what he can do, not who he is.
    So he is motivated to do more, more expensively, more involved, more exotic, more innovative.
    Since that’s what she likes.
    Thing is, she really should appreciate what he does for her. To not do so would be ungenerous.
    Result is as before.
    He’s good because of what he does for her.
    Some guys, if the woman put her hand on his arm and said, “I really like you,” would be tempted to look over each shoulder to see who she was talking to.
    “Me?”
    So you might want to keep in mind the tactic of kicking him in the shins, grabbing his shirt front and saying PAY. ATTENTION. TO. ME.
    Couldn’t hurt. Might work.

  44. Some excellent points, all, but I’m a bit leery of the idea that I ought not to be making the argument because of who I am. If the argument is wrong, fine, it’s wrong. But to say it’s more problematic because of a perceived greater attractiveness on the part of the person making it. Thin women don’t suffer less from eating disorders than obese women, even if thinness is socially constructed to be more desirable. And telling thin women to “shut up” when they complain they “feel fat” is obviously unacceptable — can we not play suffering Olympics, please?

    To be blunt, the fact that I won the damn “award”, if it can even be called that, and my own history of sexual “success” (again, questionable term) is not some sort of evidence that over the course of my life, I’ve always felt confident and secure in my skin. In the OP, I referenced how I felt about myself as an awkward, clumsy, unappealing adolescent – and whether that was how the world saw me or not, it was bloody well how I saw myself, and trust me, people, the pain was real with real consequences.

  45. Huges, I didn’t mean to offend with the Rate My Professor thing. The Hugo you were, though, contrasts with the Hugo (or HUGES) you are today in an obvious way, and people are commenting on that. Some people might find you attractive and not say so, and thus you miss out on their compliments. Someone less attractive is also missing out on a compliment, but not because someone else is biting their tongue, but because the compliment isn’t there in the first place. I think that’s what people are trying to say.

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  47. This is a very interesting post!

    When I am with men I find physically attractive I feel the need to let them know – often loudly – “Hey, you’re HOT – it makes me crazy! I can’t take my eyes off you!” And I was shocked the first couple of times when, after being complimented these men (of various backgrounds and “types) got very quiet and then muttered something about how they were “sorry” they weren’t “ripped” enough, or they had “too much hair” or “had a little winter weight but just wait until summer” or guys who wouldn’t take off their baseball caps because of an imagined “bald spot” they were covering. I simply did not expect to hear anything like that because based on cultural indoctrination (chicks worry all the time and obsess and ‘apologize’ for their appearance, dudes never do) you simply do not ever expect a man to be insecure about his appearance, especially in a sexual situation. It seemed to make them very vulnerable in a way I had not experienced male vulnerability before. (Naturally, as I found them insanely hot – I was compelled to repeat the compliments!)

    I was shocked again when I came out of a viewing of that oily leather speedo epic 300 and overheard two fit teenage boys saying, half jokingly, “now I feel really insecure about my body” Half of me wanted to turn around and cackle “NOW YOU KNOW HOW WE FEEL!” But the other half of me knew if I were a guy I’d be discouraged too – maintaining that physique would be as physically exhausting as keeping a “perfect” female figure

    Your thoughts and those you linked to are very compelling – I hadn’t considered that men don’t hear this because one imagines that in a world of “male privileged” that when they wake in the morning there are thousands of pop culture messages to greet them saying “Hey there hot shit! You’re so awesome because you’re a dude, here are pictures of super hot chicks you totally deserve! Yeah!” Even men I’d slept with or dated who appeared to know they were tasty physical specimens in the eyes of many women, still seemed confused as how to respond when they were directly complimented (and I had to stop and wonder if they thought me smug or self absorbed when I responded to compliments with “Thanks! I was deal a pretty fair genetic hand!”) as if they were vaguely aware they had a competitive edge but were not sure what it was.

    I am glad to see that while you have kept in mind the myriad of social aspects of fairness at play here, there is reverence in your writing for the sanctity of two adults who find each other unspeakably hot to say so without anyone crying objectification or shallowness!

  48. Mbwahahahah! I’m going to attempt to demonstrate Hugo’s point by example, one that goes back to my original inspiration — a post by Holly of The Pervocracy who upbraided straight men who claim they can’t tell if other men are attractive.

    My point (I mentioned it either in the post Hugo linked to or another on the same subject from around the same time) was that while I can tell which men I think are attractive it doesn’t seem to align at all well with what hetero women find attractive.

    Anyway, intending no slight whatsoever to Hugo, he doesn’t line up at all with what little vocabulary I have of visual desirability in men. As Holly pointed out, pointedly, neither straight women nor gay men — who are sort of by definition only academically interested in other women — have the luxury of such ignorance about attractiveness in women because Western Civ is absolutely saturated with the vocabulary of women’s desirability. Even (the majority of) women who don’t perfectly fit the published/standard ideals get measured by the vocabulary of those standards. The corresponding vocabulary for men (in heterosexuality) is such that we can’t even competently positively or negatively assess ourselves because if there are standards they’re not cannonical.

    Because, again, of the other stupid binary that men’s looks are irrelevant or (as Ren accurately points out) unwelcome because they’re assessed by other criteria. Which criteria, we’ve noted, women are often only grudgingly acknowledged for because historically that wasn’t supposed to be their sphere.

    My point, again, being that we’re not going to get where we need to go by tackling a single sphere. Instead both must be made permeable.

    Finally, not sexy over 30 or 40? That rules out an awful lot of adult life. And yet many or most people are still sexual very late into life.

    figleaf

  49. Anyway, intending no slight whatsoever to Hugo, he doesn’t line up at all with what little vocabulary I have of visual desirability in men.

    Crushed, I am, crushed!

    Then again, I’m gone to seed in my forties.

  50. Well Hugo & Fig I guess it’s time for all us over 35-ers to head to to pasture or be shot or whatever. Our lives as sexual beings are over!

    It’s like “Logan’s Run”!

    I even managed to type that with a straight face.

  51. @Hugo: my reference, of course, was to the assertion that you’re wind-at-your-back gorgeous to women. Which for all I know you might be! Which was, of course, my point and, I think, yours: it’s not that there’s no such thing as “attractive” or “desirable,” obviously. It’s just not well discussed.

    Doh! Oh yeah, and the *biggest* reason it’s not discussed, of course, is that traditionally a) women weren’t particularly allowed to express a preference, and b) in most of patriarchy men are supposed to have, let alone express, preference. Women, traditionally, weren’t supposed to care as long as they had a) babies and b) support.

    Which brings up my final point: trying to dissolve the two-sphere model makes way more sense where there’s at least the possibility of socioeconomic parity.

    figleaf

    p.s. @RenegadeEvolution: it was pretty wonderful meeting you this evening. Us over-40s, Hugo included, are just *so* washed up! :-)

  52. Good job, everyone, of focusing on laughing at the over-40 thing in order to avoid addressing the actual point of my comment.

  53. I think this issue comes back to women as desiring subject. Once a guy accepts the idea that a woman has desire, has active sexuality, he also has to accept the possibility that her desire will be directed at somebody other than him. He doesn’t even have the comforting fantasy of, “If only I was richer/taller/better dressed/tougher, she’d be mine.” It means giving up control, the belief that he can somehow earn her acceptance.

    OTOH, to quote “Superbad”: “Just imagine if girls weren’t weirded out by our boners and stuff, and just like wanted to see them. That’s the world I one day want to live in.” That line is a little hint of hope and redemption in the midst of teenage straight male hell.

  54. Peter. I am probably older than you and I don’t recall ever thinking women didn’t have sexuality or desire, or that it might be directed elsewhere.
    The problem, as I understand the point of the post, is that guys sometimes don’t notice when it’s directed at them. Frequently don’t notice. Hence the comments about directness and so forth.
    And when they do, they’re probably wrong.
    I think there’s a difference between sexual confidence–I know what I’m doing and I do it well–and knowing that one is desired. If you can demonstrate the former, the latter might follow. Or if you can pretend the former, somebody might believe you, up until demonstration time.
    Being desired is a different item. You walk into a room and women either notice you sexually or they do not. And, secondly, you either know it when they do, or you don’t. Thirdly, you think the next time you walk into a room the reaction will probably be positive, or you have no clue.
    Fourth. When a woman indicates interest, you either get it or you do not.
    All of which has to do with how young men are raised in terms of what they find themselves valued for, which is generally, “What good are you?”
    If a woman tries to say she likes you for your sexuality or your own sweet self, and all you know is people telling you you’re good because you’re useful (change tires, win ball games, throw out the intruders at the party, provide old tests for the sorority files, paint the house, buy a beer from time to time, show up for the wars), the likelihood that a subtle approach will work is right around Absolute Zero.

  55. Meh-

    Well, forgive us for poking fun at the notion that people over 35 are suddenly no longer attractive, when in fact, there are a lot of people over 35 who are considered just that…many of the “most desireable” celebrities are over 35, and sure, they are special, but also serve as an indicator of other humans as well.

    Is there “pretty privilege”? Yeah, there is. I see no denial of that here. But sorry, as an over 35-er, the idea that some assume we have no sexuality or attraction/desire for people is insulting. So yep, I will make fun of it.

  56. Thank you for this. Long-time lurker, first-time commenter. Read this post when you first had it up. This past weekend, told my boyfriend all the things I liked about his body (something I’d never done before). I told him how I loved the back of his neck, the sharpness of his cheekbones, the way his back muscles feel beneath my hands. Basically, I told him he was very, very hot in my eyes. He was floored and we had a wonderful talk. And after the talking… wow. He was moved, seriously, to hear these things. He’d never heard them before, and would never have asked.

    Oh, and my boyfriend is 38, and I’m 24. Older men can be very, very hot. So too older women; I plan on being a hottie when I’m his age! (Please, however, don’t call me a cougar!)

  57. Admittedly I haven’t had time to read the entire thread and take notes, so I’m just adding 2 cents. We do grow up with a Beauty and the Beast dichotomy. It’s a given that women live in the realm of beauty, that it’s their natural territory, and all the magazines and sex-based advertising reinforce or bear that out. Men on the other hand are taught to assume that they (we) occupy the realm of dirty, sweaty, belching, beastliness with odd-looking bits that waggle and look funny or awkward, or are too overt. So men by default, I think, tend to assume that they’re not going to be attractive because they’re not Beauty, they’re the Beast, and beasts aren’t pretty, inside or out, except occasionally in a fairy tale. I admit many exceptions and complexities to this, but the female-Beauty/male-Beast dichotomy is pretty well-embedded in our culture.

  58. I like that Leopold, that’s useful to me! so thank you. I think we should be looking at losing the categories, not at putting men in the beauty category – or women in the beast.

  59. After reading these posts, I kinda wish I had any clue what it felt like to be complimented on looks (I totally did get one compliment on personality) by a member of the opposite sex who was not also a member of my family, as seems to be taken for the norm for straight women, which I am. Agree with Meh about hot privilege. Making it more acceptable to compliment hot menz is nice, but completely irrelevant to me as a not hot person. It needs to be acceptable to compliment people you might find attractive who don’t resemble the popular notion of hotness. Assuming anyone does, because I keep hearing that they do.

    “Many women are led to feel like they are an unattractive instance of a body type that is attractive; men are led to feel like they are a body type that is unattractive, full stop.” Agree, but want to point out that plenty of women also feel there is nothing they could ever do to be sexy or attractive because their unsexy instance is just so hopelessly unsexy in every way that it may as well be a different, unsexy type (i.e. ugly women don’t count as women–and indeed men often talk about “women” but seem to mean “attractive women”). (Which makes the advertising that much more infuriatingly depressing.) Plus, it’s not men’s fault they are not physically attractive, because they can’t help it; women should be able to and it is their duty to be hawt or else they fail at life. (Not that people aren’t cruel to men considered undesirable, but physical appearance is portrayed as of very little importance compared to women, for whom it is pretty much the be-all end-all.)

    “You’d be surprised how many women want to jump, say, Data or Severus Snape.” I wouldn’t actually jump them, but they are indeed hot. Is this off topic? I’d like to include less traditionally attractive people in there, but fictional characters who aren’t tend to be limited to a few stereotypical personality types based on their body type, and I don’t feel comfortable expressing attraction to real people because they would be grossed out that an ugly chick felt that toward them.

    “There is a subset of both women and men who are considered examples of “hot.” This has some relationship to their physical characteristics, but more to do with their self-presentation (clothes, hair, confidence, attitude).” That doesn’t mean anyone can get into it on just presentation. Make-up on a pig and all.

    “He can be useful, competent, good for something. And the way the world works currently, if he is, he’s going to do okay socially and romantically, and if he isn’t, he’s not.” At least competence is easier to acquire than a completely different body.

    “Thin women don’t suffer less from eating disorders than obese women, even if thinness is socially constructed to be more desirable.” This point is arguable, because a heavier women can have anorexia but not be diagnosed and therefore perhaps not get help because even anorexic behavior is not enough to get her thin enough for the diagnostic criteria. This may be a very small difference in harm proportionally but I wouldn’t be surprised if it existed statistically (I wouldn’t really be surprised if it didn’t, either, but it might). Thin women suffer from people making assumptions about them based on their bodies in a parallel way to fat women, but they also have thin privilege, and there is no such thing as fat privilege. If a thin women complains about how the media makes her feel fat without intentionally or unintentionally putting down actual fat people, great. If she complains about the media telling thin people they are too fat without any acknowledgment of the effects on actual fat people of casting fat as an extremely undesirable trait, I would suspect she bought into the anti-fat rhetoric even if she didn’t actually imply that fat people were all lazy gluttons, as so many people believe, even liberal feminist type people. It’s the default. I would expect even clueless feminists to be more generous toward thin ugly people, but the media influences my perception of the default opinion and there are some people who really haven’t examined their privilege as attractive-bodied people. I don’t think Hugo is annoyed that ugly people like me exist, but their existence is barely acknowledged in this post and its followups. I guess that’s fine for other hot people, like how it’s not bad to talk about sexism in the context of super-rich elite schools and stuff, but it ignores people who can’t get into those schools, and if that sexism was eradicated but it wasn’t addressed elsewhere it would make freedom-from-sexism-at-school another commodity only the super-rich could afford.

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