Sunday, August 04, 2013

The world's greatest mystery

The danger in publishing a photograph of one's self, alongside those of various individuals who've rejected you romantically, and asking why the rejections, is that 'readers' will ignore the text (in this case, a man asking several women why they'd turned him down over the years) and come to certain... conclusions based on the provided images. One of the women who rejected this dude is a model. And not in the avant-garde/heroin-chic runway sense. Nor in the delusional 'aspiring model' one. In the swimsuit-model-attractive sense. The other women are also - as is, I believe, pointed out in the Jezebel commentary - plenty conventionally good-looking. The guy? Perfectly within normal limits, but maybe not someone who wants to put a photo of himself next to a photo of a model and ask - as if it's the world's greatest mystery - why she wouldn't be his girlfriend. He also claims to be 5'6", which by the rules of the internet makes him... substantially shorter than 5'6". But it's not his fault that he's short! Isn't it unfair that height enters into so many women's assessment of male physical attractiveness? That physical attractiveness enters into it for women, period?

Let's consider the reverse scenario: A woman who's heavy (this being, for women, the equivalent, give or take, of shortness in men) and also not especially pretty or well-put-together posts a photo of herself, alongside those of male models, professional athletes and the like, and asks, utterly baffled, why she isn't with any of these men. This theoretical woman not only feels entitled to date the Ryan Reynoldses of the world (and, by implication, to preemptively reject her own male physical equivalents), but also genuinely doesn't understand why she keeps striking out with men. This theoretical woman is defining "men" as "men who could be hired to be 'the strapping guy' in a commercial aimed at women"; men who fail to meet this definition don't register. 

Would this ever happen? Yes and no. Yes, there are people of both sexes who, though not conventionally spectacular themselves, will only accept that in a partner. Which is just fine if they're fine with the substantial possibility of remaining single, a possibility that's mitigated if they happen to be very impressive in other areas, or if they're willing to settle in other areas. "League" isn't law. There's nothing disgusting or wrong about a mismatch in that area. And looks are subjective. Wait long enough, and you, the unconventional-looking sort, might find that you are the very epitome of the type of someone who's your type, which happens to be the conventional ideal. (See: the Marisa Tomei-George Costanza "Seinfeld.")

But it's less fine if people - men or women - believe the world owes them their dreamboats. And that seems to be more common in men. Women tend to have if anything too much self-awareness in this area, if anything a too-keen sense of how our own looks don't match up with societal ideals, and we may often if anything overestimate how much that matters for pairing off. A woman who for obvious reasons doesn't meet these ideals isn't going to be mystified if much-sought-after men reject her, and may well assume she wasn't pretty enough even if - it can happen! - that wasn't the issue. That an equivalent man might be mystified tells us oh so much about these matters. Even if - I suspect - the entire point of that article was for the man to give the impression that he dates women along these lines; it just hasn't worked out with any of them yet. A humblebrag of sorts.

As Tracy Moore of Jezebel points out, the rom-com scenario of stalking amounting to seduction is not even thought plausible if the woman is the rejected party. This, as I see it, is because we take for granted that if a man doesn't find a woman attractive enough for that, it's never ever ever gonna happen. Women, many imagine (incorrectly) just require convincing. (Says "game," says nice-guy-ism, says the culture more broadly.) And any woman who doesn't respond to convincing is being shallow. That the man has likely already exhibited superficiality in deciding which women to pursue in the first place is conveniently ignored, because it's so thoroughly assumed


Flavia said...

During the brief period that I was internet-dating I saw some doozies. Like the guy who DID NOT INCLUDE A PICTURE--and his profile was a whole rant about how shallow women are if they're just clicking through photos, and how they should want to get to know him for him, before judging based on appearances. (There was another guy, sans rant, but whose "profile picture" was an aerial group photo of some 40 people--it looked like a promo photo for his company. I assume he was trying to make the same point.)

Which, fine. I guess. But I'm pretty sure they weren't contacting women based solely on the text in their profiles.

Phoebe said...

Indeed. If the looks-shouldn't-matter men also believed that women's looks shouldn't matter, there wouldn't be a problem. The problem is that they don't believe this for a minute, and aren't even under any kind of pressure to pretend that they do.

The way I think this works is, we-as-a-society refuse to recognize the existence of female desire. So a woman's desire for a good-looking man ends up cast as a desire for status, not pleasure. When the reality is, for men and women alike, status and pleasure both enter into it.

caryat said...

WHY would this guy or his editor think that if he asks women why they weren't attracted to him, they would tell the truth? Seems like a really unfair thing to do to someone.

Phoebe said...

The easy answer is, because it's "Vice." But setting that aside, it seems significant that it's inconceivable that this assignment could have been given to/pitched by a woman. The gist of the piece is that this guy is finding out 'what women want,' and that that's some great mystery. Whereas, har har, what men want is obvious. But it's similarly obvious and mysterious for both sexes. Men and women alike consider some people attractive enough for romantic potential, and rule out the rest of humanity. That much is simple - the reason for 'no' is usually nothing more complicated than 'you don't do it for me.' But there's still some mystery, because attraction is quite subjective, and because the way it works for most people is, someone will need to be attractive enough to be considered, but not everyone who meets that standard is ultimately deemed appealing enough for dating/sex/marriage, because other factors (personality, etc.) enter into it.

Anyway, we assume that men only care about looks (simple!) and women only about not-looks (complicated!). And the answer is, both care about both. But in dude's case, for this article, the answer is very clearly (despite the women's overall politeness) that this guy wasn't hot enough for these women, in the women's own subjective estimation, which just happens to overlap with the estimation of many a neutral outside observer.