Monday, December 22, 2008

All my girls at the party, look at that body: The Female Gaze and Male Physicality

Since the recent discussion of chest hair broke the previous PTN record for most comments, it seems like there might be an audience for additional ruminations in this area.* There seemed to be a consensus that, whatever the media might say about changing standards for masculine appearance, women were generally accepting of anything short of serious outlier status and men, as would be consistent with this lackadaisical attitude, were not often altering their natural state.

But if women don't take this particular trait into serious account, what do we care about? What do we notice about a man who attracts us? Specifically, is the female gaze (insofar as it can be generalized---and perhaps it cannot) fragmented or holistic? Are we more or less likely than men to focus on distinct aspect of appearance, divorced from the whole? Or are women more likely to describe their attraction in a gestalt sense: that is, that to classify a man as attractive or unattractive, without immediate recourse to description of the features that compose the whole?

It's often said that women's desire is less visually oriented than men's, but the composition of that vision could be just as important as the weight of the sense generally. Could women be just as visual as men, but more willing to disregard suboptimal traits by focusing instead on optimal ones? Does it follow that women would thus have "lower standards" for appearance than men? Female choosiness rebuts this somewhat, but there are of course other factors than appearance at work in sexual attraction.**

So, women: When you see a man, do you classify him as attractive or unattractive first, or do you initially notice particular attractive or unattractive features?

* This is all extremely het-focused, for which I apologize in advance.

** The Kissingerian, the "good sense of humor," etc. But once you broaden this to include non-physical traits, we're getting into an examination of personality characteristics as an engine for female sexual desire, which are perhaps more challenging to describe, and an even greater matter of individual taste than chest hair.
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