Belmont Club

The Girlie Men

A study described by the Wall Street Journal concludes that women from “healthy countries” don’t like he-men. Respondents, mainly white women in “Argentina, Sweden, Russia, Australia and the United States,” were presented with pairs of photos each representing the same man. But in one the image had been subtly altered to create a more “feminine” appearance. The authors say that in countries with an efficient health care system the women tended to choose the feminine-looking image.

The faces, it turned out, looked eerily alike and yet subtly different, like identical twins. They were created by software that masculinizes or feminizes a person’s features in a few keystrokes. Only by examining the faces closely could one discern that the man on the left, say, had slightly rounder eyes and a narrower jaw than the one on the right. Some of the faces had slightly thinner lips than their doppelgängers, or wider-set eyes, or thicker archless brows. It took most women fewer than 10 minutes to click through the 20 pairs of male faces and select which ones they found hunkiest.

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.

The authors argued from principles of evolutionary psychology that women from countries with bad medical systems selected men from a tougher genetic pool because they wanted their offspring to survive. Since a good proxy for tough genes turns out to be testosterone, they picked out Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome. But testosterone also creates problems: men who are “uncooperative, unsympathetic, philandering, aggressive and disinterested in parenting”. They are men who might balk at sitting down when using the toilet. What to do about testosterone?

The link is testosterone, the hormone behind manly muscles, strong jaws, prominent eyebrow ridges, facial hair and deep voices. Testosterone is immunosuppressive. This means a man must be healthy and in good condition to withstand its effects on his development. Testosterone is also linked to other traits related to strength: fitness, fertility and dominance. From an evolutionary perspective, masculinity is basically man’s way of advertising good genes, dominance and likelihood to father healthier kids. When disease is a real threat, as it had been—and arguably still is—heritable health is invaluable.

The answer is apparently for women to ditch it as soon as it is safe to do so.  Hence the preference for feminine looking men in women from countries with medical provision. The reason American society is so full of atavistic knuckle-draggers is because its health care (until recently) was so primitive. Now that Obamacare has been passed the United States has every prospect of truly joining “Western civilized societies”. They are leaving the dark ages of Gary Cooper and John Wayne and entering the bright sunlit uplands of Mr. Sensitivo. America’s high masculinity rankings, properly understood, are an indictment of its national character.

And where does the U.S. stand in the masculinity ranking? The answer is fifth out of the 30 countries in the study, one of the highest. This is, after all, the home of James Dean and Clint Eastwood. And where does America stand in the health index ranking? Twentieth of 30 countries, one of the least healthy.

With Obamacare passed it’s time to blow-dry your hair (if you have any) and apply that subtle cologne. But there’s a price. Taken to its limit this theory explains the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire: when a society becomes richer and more stable the he-men go out of fashion. The fops rule the roost. The girlie-men get the all girls. And so it goes until the barbarians arrive at the City Gates. Then overnight he-men are back in demand. But by then the race of two fisted men are extinct and the women are ravished by he-men of a different sort. The kind who rape, pillage, burn and torture.  Ultimately they burn all the books, put women under heavy veils and go back to the economy of raising goats. So the evolutionary psychology also explains the Dark Ages.

But the theory fails to explain many observable facts. It would seem that the gangsta man with a gun in his pocket has a much better chance of fathering 10 children than the poor working stiff with a cucumber sandwich and some bananas in his non-leather low-carbon briefcase.  Try coming home every night at 6 PM, turning over your entire paycheck and devoting your entire weekend to mowing the lawn. How attractive will you be to a certain sort of woman? Of course to these certain sorts the solution according to the article, is to seek out the perfect man.  The caring, high status sort of, kind of he-man.

Then again, women have always asked, why must we choose either/or in a mate, and not all-in-one? In a study of 107 American married couples, evolutionary psychologists David Buss and Todd Shackelford found that beautiful women (as determined by averaged ratings of eight teams of male and female interviewers) want it all in a partner: masculine, physically fit, loving, educated, desirous of home and children, a few years older than themselves and with a high income potential.

… Will any of this change as American women become increasingly secure economically, socially and medically? A study led by psychologist Fhionna Moore at the University of Andrews finds that as women’s level of “resource control” increases—that is, they become more financially independent—their preference for good-looking men increases. So will it be considered progress if women start pursuing “metrosexuals”—impeccable guys who exfoliate, order salads for dinner and carry man purses? This remains an open question, and it’s fun to speculate. Perhaps the vision of artist Corita Kent will come to pass: “Women’s liberation is the liberation of the feminine in the man and the masculine in the woman.”

But is this the perfect man?  Even if he were, the metrosexual type described is available only to people who live within a very narrow stratum of society, unless we are to believe each station of women in life should have progressively lower-rent versions of Anderson Cooper until we finally get to the men tricked out in finery from the five and dime. But by then they would be parodies rather than real catches. And how many perfect metrosexuals are available to the unattractive, not very smart woman? All the ugly people, where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

The final objection to this theory is that it fails to account for why the he-man should allow himself to be pushed into oblivion by this turn of events. There is no unresisted extinction without consent. Any he men who let this happen to them aren’t. Perhaps real life is more complicated than this simple paradigm.  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. Not love, but vanity is blind.

Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5

Tocque: Requires Javascript enabled in Firefox 3.5, IE 8.0, or Safari 4.0