Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More asymmetry: 'Game', or why male looks *must* matter to feminists

The notion of 'game', that certain techniques allow men to get women* they couldn't otherwise, is well-known to be off-putting to feminists. Aside from the fact that sleazy men in bars who rate women on a scale of 1 to 10 are feminism's most natural enemies, it's not necessarily obvious why feminists would object to what ultimately amounts to the encouragement of casual sex. If both parties are willing to play out some convoluted seduction scenario, what's the problem?

Here's what: 'Game' rests on the assumption that women do not, like men, immediately rule out the vast majority of potential partners on the basis of looks, regardless of how witty these men are in their approach, and only consider such factors as intelligence, kindness, and sense of humor among the men they would, on the basis of looks, consider having a romantic relationship with. (I've pointed this out before, but to preempt comments along the lines of how tough it is for men who don't look like Abercrombie models: for looks to matter does not mean that all women consider as possibilities men with one particular look. I don't use the word 'type' to denote personal preference, because these restrictions do not always manifest themselves as 'must be redheaded and between 5'10" and 6'-style parameters.)

Since women do, like men, scan parties and cafés involuntarily for the people they find most attractive, 'game' is about telling women not to believe themselves worthy of taking this most basic standard into account. It's about men convincing women that there's a man shortage, such that a good-looking, intelligent woman must settle, no, be grateful for, at best, an unattractive but clever man, as a one-night stand or a husband. (He bathes, doesn't steal your money, and doesn't beat you? How lucky you must be!)

And it works, so long as many women refuse to demand that whatever effort they make with their own looks, men do the equivalent. Or, when it comes to 'natural' beauty, that even women who aren't spending hours and thousands on their looks should understand that looks are indeed part of what they have to offer, and that by dating a man far worse-looking (by her standards), they are setting themselves up to wonder what he has that makes up for the disparity. In cases where there isn't a clear answer (money or power), the woman is left thinking she's not as smart or interesting or otherwise impressive as her guy, and it's in the man's interest to encourage this line of thought.

One would think the feminist objection to 'game' would be that it objectifies women. Instead, it should be that it refuses the possibility of women objectifying men.

*Clearly, 'get women' means different things in different contexts. If the point is to figure out what will get someone beer-goggled and desperate to come home with you, there may well be techniques, although they say that standing next to the person and saying hello will do the trick. The sober, the merely tipsy, and those interested in relationships lasting more than one evening, are another matter.

24 comments:

Paul Gowder said...

I'm bound to regret getting into this discussion again, but, well, such is life.

What you're advocating here now is something even stronger than before: not only considering looks (which we've never disagreed about), but considering looks with overwhelming weight -- that is, it's not even a matter of a bunch of different qualities that counterbalance one another, but about one primary must-have quality, followed by a bunch of secondary qualities that can't, at any level, make up for the primary quality.

What an improverished view that is for either gender to have. Frankly, I'd take a less-pretty version of Lou Andreas-Salome over less intelligent, interesting, charming, etc. Jessica Alba in a heartbeat. It's a little bizarre to outright advocate the opposite -- advocate a lexical priority for the human quality, among those that are dating-relevant, that is most corrupted by commercialism, the source of the most pain to the victims of its social construction, the least relevant to character or personal worth or any of the higher concerns in life, etc. (possibly wealth is worse, but either way).

Paul Gowder said...

(Also, wouldn't that make the men who rate women from 1-10 feminism's natural allies, rather than sleazy enemies? At least, the pro-objectification feminists. It sounds like you want everyone to be running around rating one another from 1-10 based on immediate visual input.)

Phoebe said...

I thought I'd be clear about this, but here goes: by 'looks' I don't mean anything to do with Jessica Alba and the like. I mean individual preferences, varying by subculture and, yes, by personal taste. And this post is about first meetings, at a bar or party, say, and not about romance stemming in friendship. But either way, each person looks at each other person and makes a judgment about whether a romantic relationship would even be in the realm of possibility. All of us, including Ms. Alba, must accept that some we like will take one look at us and say, no thanks. In other words, George Clooney is not 'hot' enough for me, because I don't find Clooney attractive, even if society would place him as out of my league. I'm sure he's not to worried about it, though.

Another problem with 'game' that I didn't get into is that there's this assumption that there's a 1 and a 10 and all men agree on where each woman ranks. Clearly if that were the case, the species would not continue. Men looking for a 10 by their personal standard I can understand. Men looking for a 10 as deemed by society, as some kind of prize, are another story.

Phoebe said...

I thought I'd *been* clear about this.

Miss Self-Important said...

So would the women dating or married to ugly guys then be anti-feminist?

Phoebe said...

This brings up the question of whether by "ugly" you mean men the woman finds unattractive, men society deems unattractive, or men who fit both categories. A man most would consider ugly, but who an individual woman finds hot, is hot in that situation. If the woman is conventionally attractive, others will assume the man must have something to compensate for the disparity. But if, within the couple, there's no disparity, who cares what other people think? The cases that concern me are ones in which a woman must an effort with her appearance to attract/keep a guy who makes no effort with his. Or, if effort isn't the issue, where a woman whose natural appearance attracts her guy does not, in turn, find the guy attractive, but has been manipulated into thinking she shouldn't care how her man looks, so long as he's a 'good person'.

Of course, it's not necessarily the best idea to apply ideological labels to specific cases. No woman should go after a man she wouldn't otherwise in the name of feminism. The goal here is that feminism would free women to make demands they would like to, but have felt uncomfortable making.

Phoebe said...

Maybe if I sum it up more briefly, the whole point of this post will be clearer: The point of 'game' is that any man (regardless of looks) can get any woman he wants. As far as I know, there's no one claiming to have found a technique that would allow any woman, regardless of looks, to get any man she wants. For women, it's always about how to *keep* a man, the assumption being that a woman who's not physically attractive to a man in the first place does not stand a chance with him.

The biological inspiration for this is clear enough. The idea is that sex between a willing woman and unwilling man would be impossible, whereas, switch the genders, and mechanics change. But if the idea is for sex to be enjoyable for both partners, the man being attracted to the woman is not enough.

Daniel said...

"This brings up the question of whether by "ugly" you mean men the woman finds unattractive, men society deems unattractive, or men who fit both categories."

My trouble is that I don't think that these categories are separable. What an individual person (male or female) finds attractive and what society deems attractive are interlocked.

marcus said...

Jesus, Phoebe, you're getting more and more incoherent with this. Either looks mean something or they don't. If they mean whatever qualities are subjectively attractive to anybody, then there's no content there. Feminism valuing looks just implies feminism must value how much women enjoy / are attracted to their partner. Which is sort of obvious. If looks have objective meaning, it implies that feminism should be about getting women to realize that they are really only attracted to 7-10 on the scale or something like that and believing they are attracted to someone who other women think is ugly is a form of false consciousness. Which is sort of ridiculous.

It sounds like what's really going on is that you have some convoluted theory about the Patriarchy is somehow forcing women to be with men they aren't actually attracted to, for whatever reason (looks or otherwise), and don't get pleasure from being with. If you just unpacked that it would be helpful.

Also, you completely misunderstand the contentions in "game", which in many cases is even more anti-feminist than you imagine, but for completely different reasons. Most variants of "game" are about plugging in to women's natural desire for domineering, cocky, high-status men.

Aside from the fact that sleazy men in bars who rate women on a scale of 1 to 10 are feminism's most natural enemies

Feminisms most natural enemies? This just identifies feminism completely with the traditionalist female hostility to "wolves" and "playboys" who want casual sex with committment. It's exactly the bunch that Victorian women would have said were Womanhood's most natural enemies.

Miss Self-Important said...

But if it boils down to the appraisal of a person's appearance at any given moment, how can we know what either the men or women involved really think, and why should the first glance at a bar or whatever be the deciding factor? You can become attracted to plain people over time through mere exposure--does that still count as settling for an ugly dude? Or, you can get with a hot dude and he can become fat or unattractive over time--should you leave him b/c he has failed to make proper maintenance efforts? What if you happen to be a hot chick who doesn't care about her own or anyone else's hotness, and so, using a different criteria, end up w/ an ugly dude and appear to society to be another hot chick "settling" for an ugly dude?

There is, in addition, a question of whether women are putting all that effort into their appearances solely to get men, or also to impress/intimidate other women. It's not actually clear that men do find all the complex beauty procedures that women undertake to be extremely attractive. It's possible that a similar number of men are with some women in spite of their weird ideas about beauty rather than because of them. Do these men owe their ladies equal effort at beauty? What if those efforts only make them as questionable in appearance as the girls from Staten Island who wear fake nails and Juicy Coutoure velour coordinates?

Daniel said...

"One would think the feminist objection to 'game' would be that it objectifies women."

Also, I don't think that there is a single "the feminist" response or objection to anything meaningful (There probably is a single "the feminist" belief in universal suffrace, etc.). Feminism means so many different things that I imagine that there are countless objections (or acceptances) of "game" that can claim to be feminist.

Petey said...

So many possible hooks to latch onto here. I'll choose two:

"As far as I know, there's no one claiming to have found a technique that would allow any woman, regardless of looks, to get any man she wants."

I'd advise checking out the next issue of Cosmopolitan or Glamour magazines.

They contain 836 tips for how to land the man you want.

There's a 'game' for women, believe it or not. It just happens to revolve heavily around cosmetics.

-----

"It's about men convincing women that there's a man shortage, such that a good-looking, intelligent woman must settle, no, be grateful for, at best, an unattractive but clever man, as a one-night stand or a husband."

I hate to fall back on weird and unsavory essentialism, but an average 18 year old female or average 36 year old man is in a sexual buyers' market.

We can certainly all decide to make a compact to pretend this isn't the case for the sake of sociability, but doesn't mean it isn't the case...

Paul Gowder said...

Phoebe, I of course agree that feminism should insist that women be free to demand whatever they want, but that doesn't mean that there are some things that are better and worse to want.

Less abstractly, I think we have competing false consciousness narratives here. You seem to think that women who don't give lexical priority to (subjectively preferred) looks are the victims of an ideology that says that women need not be attracted to their partners, and that if that ideology went away, women would demand more hotties.

I, by contrast, think that both women and men are the victims of an ideology that confers status on certain kinds of physical characteristics, and that if that ideology went away, both women and men would demand a more holistic set of qualities from their partners, and saying "feminism says you should demand pretty people" entails the counterproductive "feminism says you should demand who society tells you to demand."

Fortunately for my false consciousness narrative, there is copious evidence in the entertainment and beauty industries for the cultural construction of what people demand (and, I can hear Marx whispering to me from the grave, a strong connection between those things and the class system). (Just think, for example, of the not-unfamiliar phenomenon of X dating Y, to whom X is attracted, but who doesn't meet the media standard of attractiveness, and being reluctant to tell his/her friends because of social pressure to conform one's attractions to the media standard.)

My claim also entails the denial of your claim re: the subjectivity of appearance tastes -- contrary to what you seem to think, almost every woman, at least in our culture, seems to be into George Clooney, and almost every man seems to be into Jessica Alba. There are huge classes of both men and women that are considered super-desirable, as well as huge classes that are basically excluded from the dating market. (Particularly horribly, consider the racist preferences against black women and Asian men.) But these are culturally constructed, and ought to be resisted, not encouraged. It's just not true that there's a wide diversity in physical-appearance preferences. At most, there are small subcultures that like non-media-preferred appearances, while the vast majority likes what they're told to like.

Phoebe said...

I'll try to respond to all...

Daniel,

"What an individual person (male or female) finds attractive and what society deems attractive are interlocked."

Of course they are. It almost seems to obvious to mention. Severe acne, morbid obesity, and a few other features I can think of are not found in covergirls and are not typically desired by ordinary people. But "interlocked" does not mean "identical." Personal 'tens' differ greatly from societal ones. If this weren't the case, everyone would either be single or miserable, save the few among us dating supermodels.

There's no one feminist idea about anything. Fair enough. But again, I think of this as too obvious to mention. No one here is expecting WWPD to be capital-F, definitive Feminism. It's feminism as I understand it.

Marcus,

From the tone of your comment, I sense you'll disagree regardless of what I write here. But here goes: It's really not that complicated. Looks matter in selecting romantic partners. 'Looks' here refers to personal preference. Personal preference is influenced by societal norms, but often differs from it quite a bit. See my response to Daniel above. As for my possibly having misunderstood 'game', it's true, I have not studied it in depth, but am I wrong in thinking it involves techniques to allow even ordinary-looking men to 'score' hot chicks without being rich or successful?

MSI,

"how can we know what either the men or women involved really think"

We can't, which is why what appears to others as disparity might not to the parties involved. (Here I might be revising a former view, but not one I expressed on this blog.) In terms of relationships that begin as friendships or in which one partner's looks fade... my point is not that looks matter most. It's that in a situation where this is all you know about people, this is the first level of selection. But even in first-as-friends or long-term relationships, looks matter insofar as one must continue to be at least somewhat physically attracted to one's partner if the relationship is to remain a romantic one.

"It's not actually clear that men do find all the complex beauty procedures that women undertake to be extremely attractive."

In my experience, men claim to dislike various beautification procedures and to want a 'natural' woman, but often unknowingly admire the effects of makeup, Spanx, etc. Of course, there are limits. I'm not saying men care whether sweatpants say Juicy on the butt or come from Kmart.

Petey,

"I'd advise checking out the next issue of Cosmopolitan or Glamour magazines."

And I'd advise rereading the very sentence you cite: "As far as I know, there's no one claiming to have found a technique that would allow any woman, regardless of looks, to get any man she wants." Note the "regardless of looks." These magazines advise women to *change* their looks to attract men. That some of these changes can be removed with soap and water doesn't make the the same as 'game' as advertised to men.

Paul Gowder,

You seem to forget that I'm coming at this from a class of women "basically excluded from the dating market." (See Roissy on Jewish women. Charming! Or, see stats on the number of single Jewish women: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/ujcpop.html. And, though my nose is unremarkable, I look plenty Jewish. I promise.)

I'll now refer you back up to my response to MSI: Looks do not matter *most*, but they often matter *first*. A woman might care more about intelligence than looks, but at a party, she will have to first rule out the men she could not imagine kissing before learning which among the men she could imagine kissing is most brilliant. As for the 'holistic' approach, I'm not sure what qualities you think should be allowed to count. Wouldn't looking at intelligence be 'unfair'? Should there be any difference between what one seeks in a romantic partner and what one looks for in a friend?

And no, I'm afraid I don't buy that "the entertainment and beauty industries" are responsible for us choosing partners in part on the basis of looks. It's far more likely to be a mix of natural inclinations and the decline in arranged marriage that have pushed us as a society in that direction.

Finally, do nearly all women want Clooney and nearly all men Alba? Who knows. As I see it, beauty in movie stars does to an extent influence what individuals find attractive, but it also serves as a proxy for attraction, period. 'Clooney' is a stand-in for the feeling any woman gets when the man she finds attractive enters the room, whether or not he looks a thing like the actor.

Alpheus said...

Phoebe, if you think physical attractiveness is largely a matter of personal preference, then what's your problem with "ordinary-looking" men trying to score "hot" chicks? Maybe the chicks will think the men are better than ordinary. Or maybe the chicks will think that they themselves are not "hot."

Petey said...

"Finally, do nearly all women want Clooney and nearly all men Alba?"

Nearly all? No?

On average? Yes.

-----

Also, to revert back to unsavory essentialism, there are some reasons why - on average - men might gravitate toward looks while women might gravitate toward mastery of skills.

At the end of the day, humans are just a special tribe of chimps who've acquired language, y'know....

It's worth noting that Clooney, like Frank Sinatra for a previous generation, is special less for his looks than for his seeming mastery of social skills.

Petey said...

"Note the "regardless of looks." These magazines advise women to *change* their looks to attract men. That some of these changes can be removed with soap and water doesn't make the the same as 'game' as advertised to men."

I'd argue there is no difference here.

Women's magazines advise how ordinary women can temporarily change their looks to attract any man they want.

Men's magazines that offer tips on the 'game' advise how ordinary men can temporarily change their personality to attract any woman they want.

(Obviously, men's mags are also talking about how to groom yourself and women's mags are also talking about what personality to assume in the bar, but still, the focus is on looks for women and personality for men.)

Daniel said...

"No one here is expecting WWPD to be capital-F, definitive Feminism. It's feminism as I understand it."

So, just to be clear, when you say "One would think the feminist objection to 'game' would be that it objectifies women" what you mean is "One would think that the WWPD objection to 'game' would be that it objectifies women"? Or do you mean "feminism, as I think it is defined regardless of how others might interpret the word, should object to 'game' because it objectifies women"?

Phoebe said...

Alpheus,

Good point. What makes all this difficult to discuss is that there is, as I've pointed out above, a relationship between what society deems 'hot' and what most people find attractive. Which is why I don't argue that taste is purely subjective. My point, roughly, is that there's a difference between which men a given woman would consider technically 'hot' (say, that guy on the side of all those Abercrombie bags) and which men that woman is personally attracted to. And, same idea for men. Still, of course there's an overlap/influence. That a woman doesn't find Mr. Abercrombie anything special does not mean she will happily date men of any height, weight, age, or facial appearance. But such a woman might rule out both overweight men *and* men with the tanned-and-toned Abercrombie look.

That was longer than it needed to be. Point is, what we consider attractive is not 100% independent of societal influence, nor 100% dependent on it.

Petey,

So you agree that 'game' marketed to men is about behavior, and seduction techniques marketed to women are about looks. I don't see how it matters if makeup is temporary or tattooed on. This is getting rather circular. You say we are apes who can't control these matters. I say women do care about men's looks, and that feminism permits us to act on these preferences.

Daniel,

Every sentence with an implied 'I think' does not begin, "I think." That I'm speaking of feminism *as I understand it* is implied.

marcus said...

That a woman doesn't find Mr. Abercrombie anything special does not mean she will happily date men of any height, weight, age, or facial appearance.

Women do care about looks. There are no women who will happily date a man of absolutely any "height, weight, age, or facial appearance". But they care about it a lot less than men do, and they care about certain dimensions of personality a lot more. There's no contradiction there.

Mike said...

they care about it a lot less than men do, and they care about certain dimensions of personality a lot more.

They *say* they do. I'll ask you the same question I asked at Amber's blog: Where are these beautiful women who are dating ugly and charming, but poor men? Show me a hot woman with an ugly man and I'll show you a hot woman with a rich man.

Women are just as superficial and petty as men. Just in different ways. Men want T&A and don't care about a woman's money. Women care about face and body, but will overlook both if the price is right.

Both genders are awful, which is why we should hate humanity, and stop treating women like poor victims, or supreme creatures of virtue.

Feminism, if honestly examined leads to one result only: Misanthropy. And, yes, that means hating women as much as men.

Phoebe said...

Marcus,

What are you basing this on?

Mike,

It's fair to say that *some* women will date unappealing men so long as they have money. That willingness is far from universal, though, and is likely to fade as female salaries come to equal male.

Petey said...

"So you agree that 'game' marketed to men is about behavior, and seduction techniques marketed to women are about looks."

Yup.

"You say we are apes who can't control these matters."

Nope.

I think romance is a wonderful grey area that is roughly half chimp ways and half human ways (aka civilized).

"I say women do care about men's looks"

No doubt.

And men do care about women's behavior.

-----

But think about it this way:

Most of Jessica Alba's attraction is about her looks, although her behavior certainly does matter.

Most of George Clooney's attraction is about his behavior, although his looks certainly do matter.

Phoebe said...

Oops, clarification--never mind what I said re: statistics about single Jewish men vs. women. More Jewish men are single. I think it was that more Jewish men than Jewish women marry out. I'll need to look into this.