Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gender and Acting Hot

The men in the comments are skeptical about whether women would really appreciate their trying to act hot, per the previous post. Paul Gowder contends that one thing keeping men from manifesting hotness is the "looks bar":
I think the looks bar for men being able to get away with that sort of thing is higher. [The Apostate stated that "t]his lawyer, if he hadn't been shortish and cute as a button would have come across as creepy with those lingering gazes and flirty affectations." (Women who aren't actively repulsive can act sexy without punishment.)
I noted that part of men's difficulty with acting hot-but-not-creepy may be a lack of role models. Women can pick up "acting hot" from the plethora of hypersexualized female images in our culture, but men have fewer models to work from and thus are more likely to fall into an uncanny valley of almost-suaveness.

marcus challenged the idea that women would actually be receptive to hot-acting men:
Men are pathetically responsive to any sign of sexual seductiveness and unlikely to pick holes in the performance. Whereas women are as selective in this area as they are in the rest of the mating game, and more likely to deliver a withering critique when there are problems in the execution.
I've heard enough men give withering critiques of women's sexual presentation to think that this is fairly common for both sexes. Women may also be so intrigued to see a rare hot-acting man that they may be less likely to criticize. (The relative lack of models may work to men's advantage here; women have far less well-formed ideas of the various forms of hot-acting men.)

Assume, however, that women do in fact react more negatively to average males' attempts to act hot than men do to average women's. Why is it okay for physically attractive men to work it but not okay for less handsome ones? Can plain women act sexy without negative reactions? Hmm.

An integral part of hotness, per The Apostate's post, is "when a man acknowledges his sex appeal and wears it proudly on his person, in every look and gesture and the way he moves, signaling that at any moment, he’s down for doing the dirty." This makes him someone the viewer would have sex with (henceforth "A-hot").

The reason why unattractive women are not deemed creepy for acting sexy is that sexual advances from ugly women are not threatening. The small but real potential for a sexual advance from an unattractive man to turn into a nonconsensual sexual encounter discomfits the recipient. (By definition, a sexual advance from an A-hot man, if it turned into an encounter, would be consensual and desired.)

If you are not Pierce Brosnan or a button-cute attorney in California, how do you embrace your A-hotness without social opprobrium? The best advice I can think of is to project a non-threatening, humanistic, demeanor. An advance from someone who obviously regards you as an equal, desires enthusiastic consent, and doesn't act entitled or take himself too seriously is much more likely to be taken in good cheer, no matter what the fellow looks like. One can make sexual advances without objectification.

I also don't know if I buy the idea that women can act sexy without punishment; women who flaunt their sexuality are taken less seriously, have their agency undermined (overtures perceived as blanket and irrevocable consent), and are stereotyped as sluts by more puritanical folk. Men can also be a bit more direct in their advances than women can without being perceived as crass or crude. If it's unseemly for women in general to be too direct about their sexual needs, it's even more socially frowned upon for ugly women to do so (the subtext being that if anyone wanted to be with ugly women, he would have come to them; their more forceful approach is just evidence of their pathetic solitude, etc.). Needless to say, this is bad.

* And men who love men, but I'm interested in the gender roles at work here.
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