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March 29, 2010

Manly vs. Girly Men: What Do Women Want, Anyway?

Fausta brought a rather sensationalistic WSJ article to my attention:

New research suggests that women from countries with healthier populations prefer more feminine-looking men. Jena Pincott on the science behind attraction and masculinity, and the future for manly men.

After crunching the data—including the women’s facial preferences, their country of origin and that country’s national health index—the Face Lab researchers proved something remarkable. They could predict how masculine a woman likes her men based on her nation’s World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancy and the impact of communicable disease. In countries where poor health is particularly a threat to survival, women leaned toward “manlier” men. That is, they preferred their males to have shorter, broader faces and stronger eyebrows, cheekbones and jaw lines. The researchers went on to publish the study in this month’s issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.

manly.jpgI took a similar test on the BBC web site a few weeks ago. It wasn't immediately apparent to me which faces were supposed to be more manly - in most cases the differences were quite subtle. But my results indicated a strong preference for the more "manly" (broader face, heavier browbone and jaw) face. The BBC test didn't seek to make any political points with the results but in reading the WSJ article, a few things jumped out at me.

1. I question the link between an online "which of these photos do you find more attractive" selection process and the mating preferences of actual women choosing living, breathing men. Ask most women whether Brad Pitt is physically attractive and they'll probably say yes. But attractiveness isn't the only factor in selecting a mate.

Several studies have shown that men find big busted blondes the most attractive of all female "types". Yet studies also show that when marriage is the goal, brunettes are preferred. We are not slaves to our endocrine glands.

2. Age is another factor: most of the women in the study were in their early to mid 20s. Young women are more attracted to young men (i.e., men who look like boys). As we mature, our tastes change. Mine did.

3. Regarding the "trust factor" and high testosterone men, some research suggests there may be good reason to prefer more androgenous men:

... experiments have shown that men with wider faces tend to be more aggressive — broad-faced hockey players spend more time in the penalty box, for example — and are perhaps more dominant. They are also more likely to use aggression for altruistic means by, say, attempting to punish people who steal or break other societal rules.

Here's how the researchers figure the link between facial width and trustworthiness might work: During male adolescence, a surge in testosterone prompts bone growth not only in the spine and limbs, but also in the face. Therefore, a wide face may be a sign of an overall bigger man, one who can get away with being more aggressive and less cooperative. Slighter men might act in a more civilized, and trustworthy, way — out of necessity.

Women are multitasking more than ever these days: balancing home and family life with careers, school, and other interests. Where once women managed their personal relationships, we now juggle them just like we juggle everything else. Our attention is divided. We spend less time with extended family (which may mean that time tested advice about the care and nurturing of husbands doesn't get passed on from generation to generation to the extent it once did). All of these factors may make a more aggressive, less cooperative man seem less desirable - especially to young women who lack the time and coping skills to keep the relationship on an even keel. Too high maintenance. Add the decline of traditional morality to the mix and there's even less reason to want a man who constantly pushes the envelope.

4. I doubt that health care factors into even unconscious risk assessment, especially for young women (most of whom are healthy). This looks like a value statement in search of "proof":

After crunching the data—including the women's facial preferences, their country of origin and that country's national health index—the Face Lab researchers proved something remarkable. They could predict how masculine a woman likes her men based on her nation's World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancy and the impact of communicable disease. In countries where poor health is particularly a threat to survival, women leaned toward "manlier" men. That is, they preferred their males to have shorter, broader faces and stronger eyebrows, cheekbones and jaw lines.

Lots of things are threats to survival. I'd hardly put the availability of government health care at the top of the list. In some societies - and arguably in most societies outside of Western Europe - the biggest threat to survival is the threat of violence and aggression from fellow citizens. Highly industrialized societies are generally pretty peaceful, which would logically tend to make the potential for aggression in men seem less useful and more threatening.

5. Finally, I found this observation intriguing. It also appeared in my BBC test results but I can't find that page:

"Facial types indicate how a particular person might behave in a relationship and the potential benefits they could give to offspring," said Dr Tony Little, from the University of Liverpool's School of Biological Sciences.

"A masculine face is linked to high testosterone levels, which demonstrates good genetic qualities.

"Those women who prefer masculine men are selecting genetic benefits for their children, despite the fact that high testosterone levels can also increase the likelihood that the male will have an affair.

"Those men with a feminine face tend to be associated with stability and caring," he added.

Women who considered themselves highly attractive were more willing to take a risk with a highly testosterone-charged male, and were less likely to fear such a man straying.

When reading my test results I thought, "Well, I certainly don't consider myself beautiful, but I am very confident about my ability to get along with men and very comfortable with them". I've never worried much about affairs, for instance. It makes sense that a more confident woman (whether that confidence comes from the awareness of beauty or from some other source) would find overt masculinity less threatening.

Richard Fernandez, in a must read essay, has a lot of insightful things to say on the whole girly man phenomenon, but I have to disagree with him here:

One Valentine’s Day I saw what must have been a retarded man buying a box of chocolates in a supermarket. Later, I saw the same man at the bus stop, wearing a clean shirt and tie holding hands with a mentally handicapped woman of his own age. John Buchan asked whether the lasting things in God’s sight were not the oceans nor the lofty mountains, but the love of fragile creatures for each other. Maybe the real explanation for the apparent preference for androgyny is a desire not to fall in love with someone else, but to fall in love with ourselves. In that case feminism is neither the liberation of the feminine in the man nor the masculine in the woman, but the denial of both.

The urge to blame feminism for the fact that the world is changing is common enough, but I think it's misguided. When I was a young girl I used to go to bars on the weekends. My friends and I tended to avoid the ones that had a reputation for being "meat markets" but in many ways that's an apt description for the search for a mate: it's a market in which persons with varying attributes are sized up, compared, desired or found wanting.

As with any market, buyers in the mating market respond to their environment. Demand isn't a constant - it's always in flux. It stands to reason that in a highly regulated society where traditional gender roles are giving way to a more blended environment that demand will shift in favor of a man who can adapt to changing circumstances. Men themselves, for the first time in recent history, say they value a woman's earning power. So clearly our desires are not carved in stone; the weighting scheme changes in response to our options and perceived risk.

Despite all of this, I confess to an enduring fondness for the old fashioned man: strong, often silent, sometimes stubborn and unyielding but as strong as a rock. But there is no denying that living with such a man is hard work, and it's harder work when both husband and wife face a constantly shifting tangle of conflicting priorities.

What this means is that the successful man (like the successful woman) must be flexible. He must adapt and overcome. The good news is that even the manliest of manly men can do this. It's just that, in order to compete in a changing world, he may have to develop skills that don't come naturally to him if he wants to win the girl of his dreams.

Posted by Cassandra at March 29, 2010 02:22 PM

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I've heard it often said that women want the man that they married, not necessarily the man that they are married to. At least, that's what I've heard many time from the woman that I am married to, at present. :-)

Posted by: spd rdr at March 29, 2010 04:21 PM

We are not slaves to our endocrine glands.

You say "slaves to our endocrine glands" like it's a bad thing.

Posted by: I Call BS at March 29, 2010 04:51 PM

I would guess that she loves you dearly just as you are, mr rdr.... it is just that sometimes she has the urge to strangle you in your sleep.

That usually develops after marriage for both sexes :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 29, 2010 04:57 PM

Regardless of other signs, a scientist observed that birth order plays a role in mate selection. He said mixing two first borns in a relationship is akin to putting two cats in a gunny sack.

My wife and I are both willful and stubborn, but if we had it to do over, we would marry again forty two years later.

Posted by: James at March 29, 2010 05:22 PM

I've discovered that several layers of burlap wrapped around the neck are effective at reducing the spousal strangulation urge, but the downside is that she spends half the morning complaining about her chafed fingers...

Posted by: BillT at March 29, 2010 05:27 PM

As a man, as an eligible bachelor, I've grown a bit fatigued with this question and the discourse around it. I've decided to re-frame the question, that is, to ask: what do I want? For those who think this sounds selfish, I'll run the risk of grandiosity by asserting, as a traditional male, that seizing the initiative and offering some masculine clarity serves the interests of the fairer sex as well as the "social dynamic." For, after many years observing the confused and sorry state of American femininity, I've sort of concluded that women really don't know what they want, and need to experience better examples of what they should want.

Posted by: rrpjr at March 29, 2010 05:37 PM

We blamed it on the "Devil Wind" in Southern California:

Chandler describes the Santa Ana thus:

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge." "Red Wind" (1938)

Posted by: vet66 at March 29, 2010 05:52 PM

I think I'm with rrpjr. I may not consciously have known that I should be looking for a guy who, if the Nazis were on the rise, would instinctively fight them before it was too late -- but I should have known that. Actually, maybe I did know it on some level. One of the first memories I have of my husband is a story about his reaction to an armed robbery at his place of business. His reaction may have been startling and even, by my professed standards at that time, crazy, but it sold me on him forever.

I've been re-reading Jane Austen lately. I can't get enough of her treatment of how people should be choosing their mates, versus how most people actually do it.

James -- "if we had it to do over" -- we do have it to do over, every day. The downside of a permissive society may be that it's distressingly easy to dissolve a marriage, but the upside is that if you stay married you do it out of continued choice, year after year.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 29, 2010 06:14 PM

Allow me to post a story about the selection of spouses....I'll try to make it short.

I am not handsome, nor athletic. I don't watch sports. I walk with a limp after a 1993 car wreck. I was never successful with the girls. I didn't kiss a girl until I was 23, and stayed a virgin until 35.

There was a girl--way back when--named Erin. She was as beautiful as a supermodel..short, fit, blonde hair and blue eyes like a lagoon near some tropical paradise--a man could drown in those eyes--and drown happily.

Erin was not merely beautiful. She had what I call a 'proven character'. With an 4.0 MBA and a Daddy who was partner in an Financial Services firm her career was guaranteed to be an easy success.

But she didn't take the easy way. She became a missionary. She went to Argentina for 3 years, and Nigeria for 2. She gave up her career with her daddy's firm to check groceries in the local store. She wanted to be near our church and the dozen or so inner-city girls that she mentored every week. She was, in short, the Perfect Wife.

We were both involved in various ministries at the church. We were good friends, but that was all. I asked her on a date maybe 6 times (we were both jazz fans). She turned me down each time.

On the day of the disaster that was to become of my wedding...about an hour before the ceremony was to begin...she came to the door of the room where I was waiting in my tux with my friends. She was in tears...big HUGE tears rolling down her face. I asked her what was wrong. She put her arms around me and said "You're the one that got away". I couldn't believe it, so she repeated it. I reminded her of the 6 times I had asked her out on a date, she replied "You should have asked 7". I reminded her that we had known each other 12 years at least--she had plenty of time to make her desires known. But she said "I knew you were in love with me, but I was stupid. Will you forgive me?" "Of course" I said. I kissed her on the forehead, gave her a hug, and told her that I am a man of my word, and had given it to the lady in the white dress. I sent her away, and have regretted it ever since.

I have 3 other nearly identical stories. I have learned that women are just as shallow as men when it comes to good looks. The 4 women could not see beyond my ugly face to the heart of the man beyond it. It doesn't matter whether broad or narrow the face, the amount of testosterone or retention of hairline. Character really doesn't count--at least until the time is too late.

Posted by: Geekasaurus at March 29, 2010 06:29 PM

"if we had it to do over"....
I've wondered about that one a few times in my married life. But that would mean wishing my children out of existence. It would mean nullifying half a life time of memories and experience to trade it for....What?

We live in the now, brood about the past and all its losses, and can only wonder about the future, the undiscovered country.

Who knows how many years any of us has left on the clock? My father never lived to my age, he died at 52. I may live to be 90 (my mother is pushing it now), or may kick off next year.

Make the most of the time you have. Cultivate the person you love, and try to find joy and beauty in all the things you share (baseball, frozen margueritas, working in the garden, 3 cats and a dog living together, mass hysteria).

And don't forget to wear that burlap thing around your neck.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 29, 2010 07:12 PM

The ability to see within comes with wisdom; wisdom comes from experience; experience comes from failure.

Posted by: I Call BS at March 29, 2010 07:18 PM

You've given some thoughtful explanations for why women might prefer these things. I don't know that I believe any of them are the right explanation. You're not necessarily well placed to know, since you yourself aren't part of this phenomenon.

In addition to which, I'm aware of a scientific theory that appears to explain it. It may be much more determinate than you might believe. The real reason that 'better health care' tracks to this may be that 'better health care' in the Western world means access to these birth control drugs that appear to alter feminine mate choices away from masculine faces.

This entire study appears to be consistent with that hypothesis. I would say it's evidence that makes that biological factor more likely, because it happens to track precisely with what that hypothesis would predict. (In other words, the probability of the hypothesis given this evidence seems higher than if this study had shown that it wasn't 'health care' but, say, 'water quality' that was tracking this.)

I'm also not sure I believe that these less-masculine-men are easier to live with, either. You cited George Will's piece approvingly on the importance of men growing up and getting a job. Right, fair enough: men need drive and purpose. Those are the same qualities being selected against here.

We've seen and discussed, you and I, several essays by women who are totally dissatisfied with modern men. Only one of those men was a soldier (and it was more the deployments than the man she was rejecting, in that case). The rest all complain about... these very qualities of men who are 'less manly.' They cook, they clean, but they're not interested in sex. They're sensitive, but they lack direction. They're passive-aggressive, rather than coming out and just having an honest fight. Etc.

My guess is that the most likely explanation is that (a) birth control drugs are indeed altering womens' choices in areas where they are widely used, and (b) those altered choices are making the women less happy than if they'd made choices in accord with where nature would have led them unaltered. (B) is a guess, but (a) seems to be strongly supported by this evidence, in addition to the initial research. Now, it's not final yet, but this should be seen as adding weight to the hypothesis, because it's perfectly consistent.

Posted by: Grim at March 29, 2010 10:00 PM


I think that people (men and women) have always had a divine right to be unhappy. My father's parents were terribly unhappy with each other, but stayed together until my alcoholic Granpa died.
They passed the unhappiness gene onto most of their off-spring (nature or nurture?). My father's siblings were all pretty miserable in marriage, except his younger brother, who was gay. {:)
Being miserable is just more out in the open now, and all the dysfuntional hysteria is just more acceptable as a symbol of dysfuntion. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not so sure that you can find a pharmaceutical reason why people find misery in their lives.
Celebrate dysfunction and you will find it. A majority of my co-workers are either miserable or just happy to complain about their marriages.

One guy is happy (he's just remarried , 3 months now). Just waiting for that to change.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 29, 2010 10:57 PM

I'm trying to sort out what that icon is supposed to be.


Guy with funny parted hair?

I don't know about unhappy marriages -- fortunately, my family seems to produce good ones most of the time. Of course, all the men have broad faces and big, heavy bones, and are mostly marked by thinning hair from a young age. Those are all the markers of testosterone poisoning. :)

Now, my kid sister did have an unhappy marriage that ended in divorce this last year. She married a thin-wristed guy who was in advertising or somesuch. So, you know, my experience all runs the other way. Still, it seems like we've heard a lot of complaining on just this point from various women writers, which seems like evidence against the proposition that this kind of man is 'easier to live with.'

Posted by: Grim at March 29, 2010 11:07 PM


I believe - strongly - that being masculine or manly isn't merely about the qualities we associate with testosterone.

In college I ran up against quite a few outwardly manly guys who were (in reality) little more than spoiled children full of bluster and braggadoccio. They weren't men and I didn't respect them. But they sure fit the outward stereotype.

You once said that it was the province of women to judge men. Well, some of the men I've thought were most masculine were not outwardly so. But they had an inner toughness and discipline that commanded my respect.

The guys George Will writes about strike me as more the type that play at being men or talk about being manly as opposed to actually being manly. Their lives are lived in reaction to events rather than as an expression of their values.

In the end, I think it is character that matters more than outward "manliness". That is the quality I've always found most attractive in a man - knowing what one stands for and refusing to cave to pressure. I don't care whether a man does that in a showy way or by quiet, stubborn resistance. What matters to me is that he can be counted upon to do the right thing.

There is a great passage in one of my favorite books about war. One of the battle commanders is gay. He has never been particularly "manly" in his outward aspect, but the core of him is rock solid and no one doubts it. I realize this sounds like a PC book but it really wasn't. The passage is one of the most moving things I've ever read.

Sometimes I see conservatives celebrating what I think of as machismo, but to me that isn't manly. Just as the capacity for gentleness (when it's appropriate) has always seemed to me to be the essence of being female, so the capacity for strength seems the quality that is most manly. It doesn't have to be physical strength. Sometimes moral courage is the hardest test of all.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 29, 2010 11:33 PM

The real reason that 'better health care' tracks to this may be that 'better health care' in the Western world means access to these birth control drugs that appear to alter feminine mate choices away from masculine faces.

You know, I'd be more inclined to this theory (which I did consider, by the way) if it weren't for the fact that women prefer less masculine guys for most of the month. That is what they tend to prefer for a long term relationship.

The uber masculine ones are preferred only for short term relationships, and only when the woman is most fertile (at best a few days out of the month).

Like I said, I like a certain kind of man but to me what is "manly" may not be the same as what others think it is. Physically, if one were to look at the VERY few movie stars I think are dishy, they all conform to the traditional masculine stereotype. I thought of posting a few pictures of movie stars I find attractive, but decided that was really pretty irrelevant :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 29, 2010 11:39 PM

A problem with many women is that they themselves don't know what they want.
(Hmmm...sounds like a great idea for a song)

Fortunately, my woman wants a real man, and (according to her, anyway) that's me. "You can fool some of the people all of the time"... ;-)

Posted by: camojack at March 30, 2010 01:40 AM

I think I know what I want. It's just a matter of finding him. And then, him in turn wanting me... Easier said than done, though.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 01:51 AM

My daughters expressed the opinion during their high school years that the “girly boys” were less aggressive and safer to date. I found during the “pre-date interview” that most of them wanted girls to believe this so they wouldn’t shy away from initial physical contact. I don’t know why but my daughters always blamed me for not getting second dates.

Posted by: crazy mike at March 30, 2010 05:43 AM

My buddy Norm had a very effective "pre-date interview" technique. He'd ask them about their grades in school, state that Kelly had to be home no later than 11PM, and then just made small talk while he continued to hone his survival knife.

Kelly eventually married the only guy who asked her for a second date, and Norm is a grandfather thrice over.

Posted by: BillT at March 30, 2010 06:32 AM

Mine was pretty simple as well. Receive driver's license and record address. Curfew was midnight, the porch light went on at 11:30, I was on the porch at 11:45, in the car at midnight, and would start the "hunt" at 12:15. My final statement was "You have the responsibility to protect my little girl; if anything bad happens I expect to hear that you died trying to protect her". There where only two that could look me in the eye and say "yes sir". One's my son-in-law the other is engaged to my other daughter.

My daughters complained to their mother about my "rules" and there was even talk of "locking dad up in the basement" when a new boyfriend came to pick them up. It didn't bother me too much, I would have just cleaned my shotguns.

Posted by: crazy mike at March 30, 2010 07:29 AM

Interesting ideas here, but I don't see any clear answers to the questions raised...

I do know that I haven't found any of the "pretty boy" Hollywood stars of the last 5-10 years all that attractive on a primal level. There's an aesthetics-related pleasure in viewing them--like a beautiful painting--but they've never made me drool.

In thinking through the male friends I have that I consider particularly attractive, I think they do tend toward the square-jawed and solid... but at the same time I've known men whose features were leaning more on the less-testosterone side of things who made my heart do little flips simply because of who they were as people--much like Cassandra says about character and courage, I guess...

What's my ideal? I honestly don't know. I was talking to a girlfriend recently and the subject came up. We decided that I wanted/needed someone with the courage and strength to go toe-to-toe with me in matters of both intellect and emotion, and yet still be very tender and protective. Funny, but I've always seen the coexistence of both the courage/strength and tenderness as very "masculine..." But they're found in the best of women, too. Perhaps it really IS all about character for me after all...

Or maybe I'm just one of those women who have no idea what I really want. ;)

Posted by: FbL at March 30, 2010 08:50 AM

No one was ever interrogated on my behalf before. Went on one actual date in HS - got asked to the prom my sophomore year by the junior that sat behind me in algebra class - and I don't recall him being "questioned". The GI I dated that last summer in Germany (God, that's 20 years ago this year) came over for dinner a few times, but I don't think Merle was ever alone with my parents. Of course, he was in the same battalion as my dad, but different companies. These days, living at home isn't really something I'd want to advertise to a potential suitor....

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 08:56 AM

Someone's up kinda early...

I'd have to agree with you, Fuzzy. As I mentioned on another thread in recent days, there really isn't a Hollywood celeb I'd swoon over right now. Someone I think I might swoon over (I don't know that I'm much of a swooner, anyway) is definitely on the manly side - tall, dark & handsome, most definitely. It's only a matter of he doesn't know me from anyone, and even if he did...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 09:05 AM

The uber masculine ones are preferred only for short term relationships, and only when the woman is most fertile...

Perfectly correct. However, that still means that there are two effects not occuring in heavy-birth-control societies:

1) A great deal of what we do is habit. If there is a regular (albeit short-term) effect that causes women to reflect on masculine men, that will habituate your preferences in the long term. So, for example, it might move your overall set-point higher toward masculinity than if that effect were absent.

That would be consistent with women in countries with low birth-control/poor health care having a 'set point' that prefers stronger masculine characteristics in men.

2) It seems reasonable to believe that women who are under the strong effect at this most-fertile time will occasionally end up finding themselves marrying the father of their unexpected child. Thus, some long-term relationships will be formed even though only the short-term effect was in play.

In any event, I take you at your word when you say that masculinity isn't in your opinion associated with testosterone. I'm not sure how that relates to homosexuality, though, since you bring it up. I'm not aware of whether testosterone, high or low, has anything to do with that.

"You once said that it was the province of women to judge men."

Indeed, I've said that several times -- and often quoted others who've said it. One of my favorite formulations is Wolfram von Eschenbach's: "...there are two rewards that await us, heaven and the recognition of noble women."

I've also said that it was up to women to judge women. One thing that has to be judged carefully is how you train younger women to become "noble," so that they can perform this function of providing "recognition" to younger men whom we want to become good.

You'll recall that I believe that older men have a very important role to play in training younger men -- so, it's not only women, but also men of honor and experience, who must judge (and help train) young men. Part of what old men need to provide to young men is a sense of how they should think about young women -- how important it is to honor them, and not treat them as if they were not of the utmost importance.

Older women need to teach young women that young men will depend on -- and be shaped by -- their expectations to a much greater degree than they may realize. If you want men of decision and inner authority, you have to help train young women to value that in them. In so doing, you'll be helping to train the young men also.

Teaching your daughters to be noble and virtuous was part of what your program of a few months ago was about. Elise, for example, brought up the question of developing a virtue ethic for chastity that wasn't unfair to women, as previous ones might have been, but that could be taught to young women of today. We discussed a lot of the other virtues also.

It may be time to take the next step with that project. Now that there's a basic model on the table, it might be time to flesh it out a bit, and think about how you might start teaching it to younger women.

I mention this in reference to a certain video that's been playing everywhere, which bothers me quite a lot. It appears to have taken a young women who had a good voice and a certain natural beauty, and taught her to celebrate drunkeness, being arrested by the police, debauchery, etc. And now she is teaching others to celebrate these things.

That's a basic failure in society. I would say that all of these failures are related. Young women are not being taught to be noble. Young men are not learning from them the things that men naturally turn to women to learn. Older women have not taught younger women adequately how to value themselves nor what to value in men. And older men have been distanced from young men by society in several respects: largely driven out of teaching as a profession, kept away from children out of the fear that men are more likely to be abusive, and of course the crisis of divorce and fatherlessness.

Posted by: Grim at March 30, 2010 09:38 AM

Grim all the way.

Either my dad was too spacey to notice, or he had total confidence in my ability to protect myself -- maybe both -- but in any case I never gave him an opportunity to grill my romantic interests, and he never pushed the issue. So I haven't got any good stories about how he terrorized my young men, other than to trap them in a corner and try to get them interested in whatever mathematical joke was interesting him at the time. (If they didn't respond, he wouldn't get mad, they'd just fall off of his radar, and likely mine.) But I liked Bill Ingvall's pleasantly smiling approach: "When it comes to my daughter, I just want you to know that I have no problem with going back to prison." One way or another, no man except one criminal on the street once has ever tried to overpower me physically.

These days I've changed a good deal, and I'd expect a father of any young woman I cared about to take the line you guys have described above. I might be behind him sharpening my own knife in between offering the young beau cookies.

Until that goon jumped my roommate and me on the street one night, I never gave a moment's thought either to the idea of a man as a physical threat or the notion of him as a protector. But we did get away with only minor injuries in large part because a man responded to my bloodcurdling scream by driving up and scaring the guy off, then driving us to the hospital. Since then I've never been quite as oblivious either to threat or to gratitude.

Cassandra, you mentioned the importance of a man who has the strength to do the right thing under pressure. That's the essence of sex appeal, of course, but it's another of those things I consider of equal importance in a woman. If a marriage is to involve two adults and succeed, they're both going to have to try to live up to that ideal, both publicly and privately. The way I see it, that's the first and most important thing God created us to do. (As C.S. Lewis said, courage is every virtue at the sticking point. Pilate was merciful until it became dangerous.) I grant you that normally the courage works its way out differently in men than in women. I completely agree with Grim about the importance of older men making young men understand what's expected of their honor, and of older women making younger women understand what to demand. It works the other way, too -- a lot depends on what young men demand from women in the way of character.

I keep coming back in my mind to the warning to the young man that, if anything happens to his date, her father expects to hear that he died trying to protect her. That's a good way of waking up the young man to the seriousness hiding behind all the lighthearted irresponsibility of playing around with sexual attachment. Which brings me back to Grim's original point about how birth control changes everything, which I agree it does.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 30, 2010 10:36 AM

Lots of things are threats to survival. I'd hardly put the availability of government health care at the top of the list.

Interesting. My first thought wasn't to link "Health" with medical care but rather nutrition. In advanced societies that would score well on WHO's scale, food isn't really much of a problem for the vast majority of the populace. For those on the low end of their scale, a significant portion is downright near starvation. Subsistance farming and/or hunting is grueling and backbreaking work. The increased musculature and bone strength would be factors that helped increase food production.

It would be interesting to see if the same relationship holds when the genders are reversed. Do men prefer more feminine women as health/nutrition/etc. goes down as 'many hands make light work'?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 30, 2010 11:02 AM

I don't know what ladies find attractive. Listening to my daughters in their teen years I did notice that they considered the "feminine looking" boys as friends, not boyfriends, and allowed them to initiate physical contact such as a hug or a kiss on the cheek like they would with female friends. I assumed that young ladies preferred these boys because they felt that the gender gap was closer with them then with the more masculine looking boys.

Posted by: crazy mike at March 30, 2010 12:19 PM

Great post and comments, as usual, Cassandra! I love hunky guys, always have, always will. That's what that BBC quiz told me, like I didn't already know. Was crankily looking at spreadsheets at the office today when a new part-time worker was being processed near my dungeon...er...ergonomic cubicle... He commented on my poster of the Marine Silent Drill Platoon and said that he used to be in the Marines. I looked up from my dreary toil to see a god in human form. 6'4', rugged features, a smile, polite, trim....made my day! Married, but not dead....

Posted by: retriever at March 30, 2010 01:55 PM

So how about tats? You ladies like your men inked up?

Posted by: spd rdr at March 30, 2010 02:54 PM

Tatoos are okay, within reason. The GI I dated that last summer in Germany had a few. And, he got another one shortly before I went back to the States - a very large-breasted woman holding some sort of machine gun... I guess it depends on what the tats are and where they are...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 03:04 PM

Gee, maybe I oughta get a tat.

After all, my tetanus and hepatitis series shots are all current, so I really should take advantage of it...

Posted by: BillT at March 30, 2010 03:19 PM

Manly men rule. One tatoo related to something important in your life (e.g., military service, fraternity/sorority, criminal gang, etc) is OK. Anything beyond that is just tacky.

Posted by: Average Looking Fully Clothed Women Looking For Manly Men - Leave Me Alone You Wimpy Wannabe at March 30, 2010 04:40 PM

I'm with ALFCWLFMM-LMAYWW ;) Manly men, all the way. Every day of the month and twice on Sundays :) Metrosexual pretty boys need not apply. I've ALWAYS been like this too - if you look at the boys I had crushes on in high school, you'd see the same pattern. All were "manly" (or as manly as a high school boy could be). MacGyver is too.

What can I say? I'm predictable in that sense. The one time I found myself attracted to someone outside of my normal phenotype, it wasn't pretty and ended quickly.

As for tats, MacGyver doesn't have one (his own personal preference) but they don't bother me as long as they are tastefully done and have meaning beyond "It's a random Saturday night and I have nothing better to do with my $200."

Bill - if you're seriously interested, I know a guy down south where the Chit-hook guys are that does incredible work.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at March 30, 2010 05:01 PM

Ok then, which is manlier: A tattoo of "sunshine" on the bottom of a guy's foot (!?) or a snake on the face?

Posted by: spd rdr at March 30, 2010 05:12 PM

Neither. Both violate my "tastefully done" rule.

Bottom of the foot? WHY?
Face? OUCH. And WHY?

Posted by: HomefrontSix at March 30, 2010 05:22 PM

Oh I dunno HF6.

Nothing says "manly" like "a very large-breasted woman holding some sort of machine gun" on the left bun served up with a pair of ass-less pleather chaps.

/rest of comment pre-emptively deleted on the grounds that it would violate everybody's "tastefully done" rule :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 30, 2010 05:26 PM

It isn't a "machine gun." It's a [your tasteful answer here!].

Posted by: spd rdr at March 30, 2010 05:47 PM

Are you trying to tell us that you have a tattoo of [your tasteful answer here!]?

Posted by: Cassandra at March 30, 2010 06:39 PM

The only tats I was aware of that Merle had were on this arms...

That guy is "walking on sunshine". Took me a minute to get that one. Guess he's a Katrina & the Waves fan?

I also have to agree with ALFCWLFMM-LMAYWW. Maybe that's a contributing factor to me hanging out around here?

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 06:40 PM


I was pretty sure that a guy in assless chaps would not be your style :p

I don't have anything in particular against tattoos. A group of friends and I almost got one for my 40th birthday, but I decided against it at the last minute. It wasn't that important to me and I figured I'd have to endure so much grief that it wasn't worth it.

One of my sons has a tattoo. He didn't tell me for the longest time but when I finally found out, I rather liked it. I guess you'd have to put me in the "tasteful" club though. If I have to look at something all the time it had better be aesthetically pleasing.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 30, 2010 07:38 PM

One of his other tattoos was a black panther. Don't remember the other "old" one.

My brother got a couple of tattoos when he was in the Army. One should has the Porsche crest and the other was a rose with his then-fiance's name. They never got married. He later finally had a leaf tattooed over the name...

My best friend got a very small ring of blue flowers tattooed on the back of her shoulder.

My sister has a tattoo on the small of her back. It's a treble clef with a purple butterfly. It's in memory of her best friend that was killed in a car accident the summer between their freshman and sophomore years of college. Amanda's death devastated my sister. Another friend who is artistically talented drew up the design the tattoo artist followed.

I'm not anti-tattoo. Just don't see myself getting one. Having a tattoo isn't a bar for consideration of whether or not I'd go out with a guy. But, any tattoos do need to be tasteful, and be able to be concealed when appropriate.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 08:15 PM

Oh, and you're right about guys in assless chaps, as far as I go... Chaps are for one thing - riding horses.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 30, 2010 08:17 PM

One of my sons has a tattoo. He didn't tell me for the longest time but when I finally found out, I rather liked it.

Well, of course you did. It's a classic.

Posted by: Grim at March 30, 2010 08:53 PM

Me [looking at intricate Chinese characters on Some Guy's arm]: "I see your tat artist has a sense of humor."

Some Guy: "Why?"

Me: "That reads, 'Screams like small girl' in Mandarin."

Posted by: BillT at March 31, 2010 02:27 AM

Yeah, my favorite is that whatever character the person has says, "Stupid quai loh..." :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2010 09:07 AM

Nah, Grim ...

Sons grow up, leave home and fall in love. When they do, Mom gets shuffled off under the mental bed where the dust bunnies roam wild :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2010 09:08 AM

Tattoos, like jewelry, can be either beautiful or tacky beyond belief -- more often the latter. I've always liked really intricate, beautiful, color-saturated tattoos that cover a whole area and take full graphic advantage of the shape of the limb underneath, like the carvings on a Scythian weapon. If a tattoo's not worth being displayed after death on a mounted, preserved skin, I'm not that interested. I was briefly tempted after reading "Courtship Rite," one of my favorite sci-fi novels.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 31, 2010 09:29 AM

I could never get one. Needles terrify me.

I could discuss the merits of chaps (on cowboys, thankyouverymuch) but I don't have time for a cold shower.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at March 31, 2010 02:28 PM

Semper Gumby!

Posted by: John (Master of Inanity) Donovan at March 31, 2010 04:14 PM

I'm in the mature, manly men preferred category. "Wanted: mature, confident gentleman not overly worried if his girlfriend/fiancee/wife is familiar with geology, animal husbandry and the ranching industry, and agronomy as well as the domestic arts. Must have a sense of humor and a willingness to put into friendship/courtship/marriage the effort it deserves. Send list of firearms owned (for caliber compatibility purposes) and pictures of truck and housecat to [redacted]." :)

OK, so I'm kidding about the truck and the housecat. Sort of.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at March 31, 2010 05:23 PM



Posted by: J.M. Heinrichs at April 1, 2010 07:06 AM

I heard a couple of women discuss in a video remark that they like men that make them feel safe.

Whether this is done through feminine or masculine traits, doesn't seem to matter from my view. The result is the result.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 2, 2010 02:23 PM

As a woman who likes manly men (both in terms of their 'f*** off' attitude and their physical characteristics, I would recommend to all real manly men - who don't want to be reduced to simpering girly men - to keep your pair and get a wife from southeast asia that won't expect you to act like a woman.

Posted by: Srubna at August 28, 2010 04:07 PM

"What this means is that the successful man (like the successful woman) must be flexible ... The good news is that even the manliest of manly men can do this."

Yeah, but where's the incentive? A guy who is that manly and has a big ego will probably cheat. There's little incentive for him to share all sorts of domestic burdens. He will probably lose the woman, but probably doesn't care that much.

I'd say that people have different strategies. Some men want to have monogamous relationships and raise their kids well. Some men want to get lots of women pregnant, raise none of them, and just hope that a few of them end up as capable adults, since the rest will have all sorts of socio-economic problems.

Monogamous-type guys are better off with monogamous-type women. ie. If you are the proverbial "nice guy" find a "nice gal". Staay away from flirty, flaky, superficial women who are better off with their male coutnerparts.

As for the women who aren't really sure what they want, I would stay away from them. As someone else said, it's jsut as important for men to ask "what do I want" as to keep asking women. Some women just contradict themselves.

Not sure if they are being duplicitous, or just confused themselves, or are just so high maintenance divas who want a sensitive guy to console me, super manly guy to protect men, rich guy to provide for me, and new age feminist guy to be equal in every way. Good luck with that. I also want a wife who is a supermodel scientist and daughter of a millionaire and a great cook.

Posted by: JJ at September 14, 2010 02:22 PM