Loosening up on Looks and Moving Beyond Status

young men, dating, confidence, status, looks

Do guys really choose a mate based on looks? Do females really go for high status? Kevin Carty examines how men are influenced by their peers, and how we should all loosen up a little on our dating standards.

In the opening line of their second album, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady sings: “There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right. ‘Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.’” Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouac’s alter-ego in On the Road, was right in 1957, and he remains sadly right today. And his rightness, then and now, is intimately connected to a few of Finn’s last lines of the very same album: “Guys go for looks, girls go for status.”

As I see it, when evaluating prospective dates, most straight young men that I know are either driven by attractiveness to a certain woman, or they consider attractiveness to be a prerequisite, only dating women who pass a certain test of beauty. Guys go for looks.

And, I’ve always found it to be true that self-assured men, their confidence a seeming symbol of their own social standing, have more success with the straight women that I know. Girls go for status.

On the surface, this might seem to validate a long-held theory of the evolutionary psychology community, that men like women whose curves, well-colored cheeks, and youthful glow belie a certain fertility that they adaptively desire, and that women like men of status and resources who can provide for them and their children during the arduous years of pregnancy and early childhood. But, I don’t think that’s the case. “Guys go for looks, girls go for status,” may be descriptively true, but it is not so as a complete result of evolution. It’s a socialized tendency, one that only serves to underscore my belief in the need for real and moral change in the area of gender roles and relationships.

For example, in an authoritative study published in 2002, Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly demonstrated that women’s desire for a mate of status tends to decrease as the society in which they reside becomes more gender-egalitarian. In other words, status and its associated resources matter less and less as women are rightfully given the opportunity to provide for themselves and possess their own resource-rich status. In addition to the obvious moral obligation of equal job opportunity for women, I find this to be an amazingly positive development for us young men and our modern masculinity.

For every man who has ever wished he didn’t have to pay for each date, for every man who has resented his position as the pressured breadwinner and provider, this is progress. For every man who wants to be seen as more than a collection of clothes and cars and cash to show off and shell out, this is meaningful change. For every man who has spent time trying to learn and exude confidence, whether it be through pick-up-artistry, relentless exercise, or pressured social posturing, this is good forward movement. Not a single one of us men wants to be evaluated through the lens of our status or its symbolic signifiers. No, we want to be people, whole and valued, unique and textured; as gender equality slowly but surely marches its way across the world, women’s willingness to care less about our social status will help us realize this goal.

Furthermore, consider the other clause of the lyric. As I wrote above, many men consider attractiveness to be a prerequisite factor in their dating lives, evaluating women and only pursuing a relationship or hookup if they pass a certain bar or advance beyond some BS numerical test. The evolutionary psychologist spies this pattern and sees attractiveness as fertility-signaling, but, in my eyes, that’s just another naturalistic fallacy.  As I will write dozens of times in my coming months at The Good Men Project, masculinity is a social construction, built with the brick and mortar of all-male groups. Most trends of masculinity, everything from our propensities toward shame and anger to our peer-group loyalty and solidarity, can trace their roots to the homosocial world of men hanging out with other men. Such is the case with the apparent fact: “Guys go for looks.”

Think of trophy wives. I doubt that the wealthy, powerful men of the world are dating young, stereotypically women to please themselves alone.

What about men who take prostitutes as dates to formal functions? I doubt that they are doing so for their own visual pleasure at the event.

Consider another example, one more relevant to the college-aged and young-adult masculinity that I, and some of you, are navigating right now. Do you act according to higher standards of attractiveness (flirting, asking for numbers, etc.) when you are among your male friends or your female friends? Or, would you exercise higher or lower standards if no one was to ever see your prospective partner?

Lastly, to share my own story, even though I have had countless female friends tell me the same, I still vividly remember the spring day when one of my male high school friends told me that my first girlfriend was “really cute.”

These instances are telling. We men, especially those of us living through the uncertain and often hyper-masculine world of college and early adulthood, are in a desperate, constant search for the validation of our male peers. And, the physical attractiveness of our partners, something most of us do “go for,” is a facet of that search. Not one of us should have our dating lives constrained by the shallow opinions of our peers. Not one of us should be so limited in such a meaningful area of life. Not one of us should be so unfree.

It is true: “Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together,” and it is equally true that “Guys for looks [and] girls go for status.” But of course, neither of these things is everlastingly the case. The gendered failings of hetero dating are not static, and the values of masculinity that hamstring our lives are thankfully dynamic.

- Photo Credit: emilyrachelhildebrand on Flickr

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About Kevin Carty

Kevin Carty is a 20-year-old feminist frat boy and Political Theory major at Brown University. He loves coffee, punk rock, communitarianism, and the reformation of modern masculinity. He tweets from @PolitiCarty, and can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

  1. I had a hard time making sense of this:

    “Think of trophy wives. I doubt that the wealthy, powerful men of the world are dating young, stereotypically women to please themselves alone.
    What about men who take prostitutes as dates to formal functions? I doubt that they are doing so for their own visual pleasure at the event.
    Consider another example, one more relevant to the college-aged and young-adult masculinity that I, and some of you, are navigating right now. Do you act according to higher standards of attractiveness (flirting, asking for numbers, etc.) when you are among your male friends or your female friends? Or, would you exercise higher or lower standards if no one was to ever see your prospective partner?”

    I would imagine a wealthy and powerful man has a lot more freedom to pursue (and obtain) what appeals to him than most.

    The example of taking a prostitute to a social function makes a little more sense as an example of choosing a woman to impress others. But it’s such a narrow slice of humanity. Truthfully, these two examples… the wealthy guy with a trophy wife and the guy taking a hooker to meet his folks… how much do these really apply to most guys you’ll meet?

    The last example, might have some typos. I couldn’t figure out what you’re writing about. The last line sounds like you’re suggesting that guys are less choosy about a booty call, but I’m guessing that’s not the point.

  2. Eleanor says:

    Interesting article. I think that if men want to be seen as ‘people, whole and textured, unique and valued’ rather than as ‘a collection of clothes and cars and cash to show off and shell out’, they would do well to cultivate an inner life rather than waiting for gender equality to change societal standards.

  3. Kerplunk says:

    I’m a 49 year old woman. I was in college in the 80s (at Brown too, as a matter of fact), and what strikes me when reading this is how far society has gone backwards, if what you say is indeed true. Back then, there were mainstream magazines that wrote about these attitudes (het men being inflexible about female attractiveness, het women being attracted to status), but no one I knew in real life actually held them. We found them to be puzzlingly old-fashioned, and assumed that they would die out, and that they were in fact dying out already. But it does not seem that society has been headed in that direction!

    • Hi Kerplunk

      These days, every young woman only wants hooking up, casual sex and flings with good looking, popular men. It is an unwritten rule.

      Do you think in your time things were different and women were less harsh and unforgiving to men on their looks? Do you think the sexual marketplace was more egalitarian for men back then?

      • Kerplunk says:

        I don’t think it’s ever possible to say what “every” woman/man/youngperson/oldperson etc. wants.

        There is a difference between societal expectations and actual lived experience. Broader societal expectations matter because we all live together in our society and we want it to be a just society, but in the narrow sense of finding our own partners, it really doesn’t matter very much what society as a whole might consider to be the ideal partner, because we are each only looking for one partner (and even if we are looking for numerous hookups, they will still comprise a very small percentage of all the people in a society).

        Even if women in general are “harsh” and “unforgiving” (and I don’t know that that’s true), that only matters in the broad sense of wanting to create a more caring society, but it doesn’t really affect each of us individually, since we each are only looking for one, or a few, partner(s), and it should theoretically be possible to find at least a few who are forgiving and kind!

        Whether it was different then than it is now, I don’t really know. I was only referring to my own experience, which was a lot different than what was presented in the media. I suspect the same is true today.

        • Even if women in general are “harsh” and “unforgiving” (and I don’t know that that’s true), that only matters in the broad sense of wanting to create a more caring society, but it doesn’t really affect each of us individually, since we each are only looking for one, or a few, partner(s), and it should theoretically be possible to find at least a few who are forgiving and kind!

          You left of a bit of Tim’s sentence:

          Do you think in your time things were different and women were less harsh and unforgiving to men on their looks?

          Which in fact seem to be supported by OKCupids analysis finding that the women on the site rated 80% of the men as worse-looking than medium.

        • You say the ‘broader societal expectations’ and the sexual preferences of individuals are two separate issues.

          I’ve always found this concept interesting and problematic at the same time.

          It is interesting that only in recent times have women begun to make a distinction between the 2 issues. For ages we have been told that its the sexual / partner preferences of men that cause these societal expectations.

          Perhaps the distinction has become necessary due to some observations in the sexual / dating marketplace, in recent times?

          The thing is that societal expectations and preferences of individuals are inevitably linked. Those who measure up to societal expectations attract more people and have more dating & sexual opportunities. Those who don’t, attract fewer people, get fewer opportunities.

          If an average looking woman gets more opportunities than an average looking man, perhaps we need to revise our view of which gender faces harsher societal expectations of physical appearance

        • Kerplunk

          You say the ‘broader societal expectations’ and the sexual preferences of individuals are two separate issues.

          I’ve always found this concept interesting and problematic at the same time.

          It is interesting that only in recent times have women begun to make a distinction between the 2 issues. For ages we have been told that its the sexual / partner preferences of men that cause these societal expectations.

          Perhaps the distinction has become necessary due to some observations in the sexual / dating marketplace, in recent times?

          Societal expectations and preferences of individuals are inevitably linked. Those who measure up to societal expectations attract more people and have more dating & sexual opportunities. Those who don’t, attract fewer people, get fewer opportunities.

          If an average looking woman gets more opportunities than an average looking man, perhaps we need to revise our view of which gender faces harsher societal expectations of physical appearance

        • I think it matters when you resemble or fit the written description of the man or woman out of central casting who plays the “unattractive friend” of the star of some movie or television show or book. I have a trait that is often code for unattractive in a man, and even though in my actual life that trait has only a small practical impact, men who look like me are the butt of an at least implied joke pretty much daily.

          That gets old and it wears me out sometimes, though probably only when other things are wearing me down first. I cope with this well enough and the coping is pretty much automatic, but I do invest energy I could use elsewhere, if only in being good natured about the looks I get when the joke is told or the strory line unfolds.

      • I wouldn’t say that young women ONLY want to hook up with good-looking, popular men… but a good-looking, popular man will certainly have far more options than his less attractive, less popular peers.

        The problem with any argument about what people want when it comes to sex and relationships is that most people’s perception of what they want is tempered by the more limited reality of what they can actually get. It doesn’t do me much good to continue to pine for a woman with model-good looks when I’ve only rarely ever met one in real life. I’ll either consciously or sub-consciously adjust my standards to incorporate the best of what I’ve been able to get in the past. While I might truly want a woman with model-good looks, a nympho streak, who’s a great wife and mother, and who’s also completely loyal to me; since I’ve never met this woman IRL (likely because she probably doesn’t even exist), I’ll subconsciously “settle” for a cute, faithful woman with an awesome personality.

        Most people don’t understand this dynamic because they’ve never had to face it in their own lives. But last year I briefly dated a woman who regularly told me that she NEVER would have considered a guy like me to be her “type.” When I pressed her as to why, she eventually admitted it was because she never thought she would actually land a guy like me. The reason being, she’s one of those cute girls with an awesome personality, which is what I prefer… whereas most of the men whom she knew that “looked” like me (ie, African-American college football players) only dated the hot but ostensibly dim-witted cheerleader types. She didn’t consider those guys and her to be in the same league, so she auto-rejected them out of a very real and valid sense of emotional self-preservation.

  4. Started reading…. scrolled down a bit…
    Yup! written by a kid.

    • My thoughts exactly. The author is theorizing about what men and women are attracted to, whereas most of us have lived it. I’ll trust my 30+ years of experience over idle theorizing any day.

      Besides, even if his theory holds true, what exactly does that mean to the average guy or girl? We don’t live in theoretical laboratories, we live in the REAL world. So men and women’s biases are shaped as much by culture as they are biology… okay, I’ll buy that. But I still have to live in this (or some other) culture. I might think that it stinks that women are socialized to objectify social status in men, but it’s still far easier for me to improve my social status than it is to change an entire culture.

  5. “We men, especially those of us living through the uncertain and often hyper-masculine world of college and early adulthood, are in a desperate, constant search for the validation of our male peers.”

    I never gave a rats ass about validation from my my male peers. And I still don’t give a rats ass!

    I am driven strictly by the way I see my self, religious beliefs, personal goals, and accomplishments.

  6. Also, one of the author’s supportive statements was, “For example, in an authoritative study published in 2002, Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly demonstrated that women’s desire for a mate of status tends to decrease as the society in which they reside becomes more gender-egalitarian.” Okay, that’s nice and all, but notice that the tendency is only decreased…. it’s never eliminated entirely. Even rich, egalitarian women prefer to mate with men of higher social status.

    I’m sure it goes the other way as well. In a country were nearly 2/3rds of the population is obese, men will naturally relax their standards for what they find attractive in a woman. However, the preferences are still there. But when men look around and see few women who satisfy their physical ideal, they will take the best of what they can get or else risk spending the vast majority of their time alone.

    • @DD

      “But when men look around and see few women who satisfy their physical ideal, they will take the best of what they can get or else risk spending the vast majority of their time alone.”

      Correct. This is what women term settling. And women are taught to never settle.

  7. Kevin Carty says:

    Hi everyone. There seems to be a problem with my hyperlink, so here is a link to the study I cited.

    https://labs.psych.ucsb.edu/roney/james/other%20pdf%20readings/Eagly_Wood_1999.pdf

  8. Randy Strauss says:

    Biologically speaking, women are attracted to men who have the ability to care for and shelter offspring. So, wealth plays a part in female attraction. Men are attracted to symmetrical beauty because the subsequent offspring would have a better chance of making offspring. Darwin would be proud.
    The rest of the article, in the face of evolution, technology, society and economics, is a farce.

    • Oh dear. Ability to provide doesn’t make men more sexually attractive to women. It only makes them more useful and relevant.

    • When I look at ape, and see the female apes trading sex for for food with the best hunters, it strikes me as a rooted in intelligence rather than biology. There are is also research showing that women at one point choose monogamy and suppressing female sexuality in order to acquire more stable shelter and increase the demand for sex in order to drive up the price, this seems to be the same sort of intelligence.

      What do you base the claim

      >Biologically speaking, women are attracted to men who have the ability to care for and shelter offspring.

      on?

  9. You taking about an “authoritative study”, its it considered authoritative outside of ideology driven academia?

  10. My theory: both genders go for status. But women’s status is measured based on looks more than men’s is (although not completely!). And all of this is totally socially enforced and not biological nearly as much as conventional wisdom would tell you.

    So would a more gender egalitarian society reduce this effect? partially – because women would be less regularly objectified (or, rather, the degree to which men and women are objectified would even out). but i think on a social psychology level, people are still going to try to choose partners with status. read that as “coolness” or “attractiveness” or “alpha-ness” or what have you.

    The reason this isn’t TOTALLY depressing is that everyone interprets status differently, and it’s very wrapped up in what your tastes already are. Some girls see being on the football team as a major status symbol (yes, even at Brown), whereas that’s not really my thing. Those girls are probably going to date football guys. I’m not. And everyone involved will be happy with this arrangement! Yay subjectivity!

    • Clara

      Men’s tastes are more varied and egalitarian than women’s. That’s why on college campuses, fat below average girls can get laid left and right (with better looking guys)

      Even the football players will have sex with girls of varying level of attractiveness…from the cheerleaders to dorky nobody’s.

      So the reality about human sexuality is only bitter and depressing for men…not women. You should be happy about it. It will only get better for women.

      • Kerplunk says:

        Conventional wisdom, academic studies, and my own personal observations and experience all strongly contradict what you are saying. Women are under great pressure to be attractive to men, and that is manifested in all of the things that women are expected to do to make themselves attractive: use make-up, wear fashionable and flattering clothes, remove body hair, undergo salon treatments (like facials, etc.), color and style their hair, and in some cases even resort to surgery to improve their appearance. Men do almost none of those things, and certainly at a much lower rate, because it is simply not as expected of men, and that is because …. wait for it … women find them attractive without it! (There are other reasons, of course, why women might want to feel pretty. It’s not just about men.)

        Men are far more concerned about the physical attractiveness of their partners than women are. There is a mountain of evidence to support this point of view.

        I don’t know where you got your information that unattractive girls get laid all the time. If that’s true (and in my experience it just isn’t true, but assuming that it is), I would guess that it’s only because men are perhaps more likely to want sex more often, and are therefore more willing to have a sexual encounter with someone they may not find particularly attractive.

        • Kerplunk

          The picture you’re painting is of a bygone era where traditional housewives lived in constant fear of their husband’s philandering while they were supposed to be faithful themselves.

          Conventional wisdom takes time to be challenged. The conventional wisdom on this subject is too dominated by women’s perspective and narratives. It is not easy to challenge core beliefs that people grow up believing. And most people have grown up believing that being physically attractive is the woman’s job.

          The dynamics of the modern day dating and sexual marketplace are nothing like you describe and men face an insurmountable pressure to stand out in every aspect, including looks, in order to have opportunities…. in order to attract women. I can see you don’t want to address that point and are fixated on what happens within a marriage.

          You talk about men not being happy with their wives appearance more than vice versa. Do you realize that in this day and age, women cheat atleast as much as, if not more than, men? And this doesn’t take into account that women’s infidelity is under-reported. (they are better at hiding it)

          More importantly, it is a well observed fact that when women cheat they do so with men who are much better looking than their husbands, while men in most cases cheat with women less attractive than their wives. What does that tell you? It probably suggests more men find their wives physically attractive than vice versa.

          You speak as if married women are powerless. In reality, in most cases a woman can find a new better looking lover much more easily than her husband. The irony about the husband who is complaining about his wife’s weight gain, is that his wife can go out and have an affair with a man much better looking than him if she wanted to, before he can find a woman to have an affair with.

          Yes, a lot of men complain about their wives’ appearance. They are vocal about it. But for every man who is vocal about it there are perhaps 5 women who don’t find their husbands physically appealing but don’t say anything. They feel nothing for their husbands bodies and looks. They live in sexless marriages, cheat with good looking studs, or close their eyes while making love and fantasize about some male celebrity.
          What is better?

          *****

          I have a simple question for you.

          If women face greater pressure to look good for men than vice versa; how is it possible that AVERAGE LOOKING women have more dating, relationship and sexual opportunities than AVERAGE LOOKING men, all other things equal?

    • The subjectivity about women’s tastes in men, is over-rated. I don’t know why women push this view of beauty and tastes being very subjective and varying.

      Women’s tastes are actually very converging and similar. More so than they like to admit.

      The proof is that a small minority of men get a disproportionate amount of female attention and sexual opportunities. It is not so skewed the other way round.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] “Guys to for looks, girls go for status” — who here hasn’t heard somebody try to back this statement up with biology? I mean, really. I did not sit down in Dr. Cohen’s 9th grade biology class to discover that red blood cells carry oxygen and men want to bang supermodels. My theory is that both genders go for status, but the easiest way for a woman to get status is through her looks, so men go for good looking women as a side effect. I mean, aesthetics too, I bet. Anyway, Kevin (who wrote this post) is also featured on my press page. He’s a good dude. It’s no wonder these good men want him on their team. [...]

  2. [...] more on male sexuality: Loosening up on Looks and Moving Beyond Status For more on masculinity and homophobia: Ending Anxiety with Solid Shields and Open [...]

  3. [...] As I’ve written before, most every one of us young men finds comfort, solidarity, and often even greater character, through the all-male groups that we inhabit and come to love. They are an essential part of guyhood because as brothers and bonded friends, we can lose our selves, at times, and gain a communal identity. [...]

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