Cleavage or Soul?

What women do we love? Let’s think about that for a minute.

For some time, Esquire—tag line: “Man at His Best”—has featured a section called “Women We Love.” I went online to see some of the women “men at their best” are in love with.

The eight all-time (stretching back to 2002) most loved women are Kate Beckinsale, Megan Fox, Katy Perry, Christina Hendricks, Anna Torv, Angelina Jolie, Beau Garrett, and Monica Bellucci. In the thumbnail preview shots, two of the women appear to be putting at least one finger in their mouths, one is lying in bed seductively, one is wearing a wet T-shirt, and one has her lips parted suggestively. Only Angelina’s image suggests some kind of self-respect.

I click on bustier-clad Katy Perry and skip down to the interview, trying to ignore Ms. Perry in full black lingerie, complete with garter belt. After all, this is about man at his best; there must be something serious here that we all love so much.

Ah, here it is: “I always wanted to suspend from the ceiling in a twirling banana,” Katy tells Esquire.

I’m done. I close the browser window and stare out the window.

Who are the men Esquire‘s talking about? What is it that we love about these women? Their twirling-banana-swing fantasies? Their factory-fresh “breasts”? Their naughty smiles? Are those things truly what men at their best love about women?

When Hanna Rosin wrote about “The End of Men” in The Atlantic, she pointed to the fact that women represent the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history, and that for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. But there is something more basic going on.

In media and culture, men are increasingly caricatured as knuckle-dragging cartoon characters, particularly when it comes to how we view women and sexuality. And by whom? Men, of course. It’s not women running the strip clubs, porn websites, and editing spreads in Esquire. We have an enemy—and the enemy is us.


The popularity of Esquire’s “Women We Love” section gets down to the very core of what has happened to guys in 2011. We have allowed our manhood, the nuanced truth of who we really are, to be stolen from us. If Rosin is right that men are doomed, it’s for this reason.

Yes, we are the minority in the workplace and at college—but that’s because our motivations and meaning in our lives have been scrambled by popular culture, which mandates that the thing we really should want, the thing that will prove we are the alpha males, has turned out to be hollow, addicting, and spirit-crushing. While we watch football and stare at Megan Fox, women in this country are getting shit done.

Put more bluntly, I am talking about the difference between masturbating and making love. “Women We Love” aims at the former, focusing on naked pictures of improbably shaped, unattainable movie stars who play dumb for our satisfaction. (I suspect that Katy Perry is quite bright, bananas aside. And largely, it’s not the women’s fault they appear so vacuous.)

Most of the guys I know are unfulfilled looking at pictures of women they will never meet (not only are they unmeetable, they don’t actually, technically, exist). They prefer making love with a woman who stirs their passions on more than one level. But we have been conditioned like so many Pavlovian dogs.


Jhumpa Lahiri

Yes, good men love women. But we love women in all their complexity, for the things they do, for their intelligence, their wit, their athleticism, their creativity, their power, their force of personality. We seem to have forgotten that along the way, and our brain-numbing intoxication by pornography in all its forms threatens to end us—not because it is morally wrong but just because it distracts us from the truth and scatters our power. It’s one big acid trip fantasy with no connection to improving our lives, being good fathers and husbands, and advancing our careers.

The models I have met in the flesh have all turned out to be quite unattractive. When a supposedly beautiful woman opens her mouth and soulless, empty nonsense tumbles out, the perfect 10 becomes a two in a big hurry. No amount of cleavage can make up for the lack of soul.

My wife is a lawyer turned decorator turned child advocate. Yes, she is hot—but she is also smarter than I am, far more graceful in a crowd, and can convince just about anyone to do just about anything when it comes to helping at-risk children. She is hot not just because she is beautiful, but because she is all those other things, too.

So with no further ado, here is MY list of the women men love, if we actually stopped to think about it. These are women who are fascinating, cool, and lovable. They have it going on—and not because they might (or might not) want to suspend from the ceiling in a twirling banana.

  • Chelsea Handler
  • Melinda Gates
  • Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Kate Middleton
  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Patti Stanger
  • Steffi Graf
  • Lady Gaga
  • Michelle Obama
  • Laura Hillenbrand
  • Portia de Rossi
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Esquire, how about switching it up and working off my list for a change of pace? And let’s not ask any of these women we love to wear black garter belts for the photo shoot, OK? Let’s focus on what’s really important for once.

♦ ♦ ♦

Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.






Cleavage or Soul

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. Peter-Andrew:Nolan(c) says:

    Hey Tom? Why don’t you do some articles about how ‘good men’ like me get hated on and abused endlessly by so called ‘good women’ for having the termerity to tell our wives that are no longer welcome to steal from the family finances and lie to their husbands?

    And how about you write some articles about how ‘good men’ get 5% of the proceeds of their 25 years of labour while ‘wifey’ gets 95% and how ALL the women support that? How about you write some articles about the crimes being committed in the Family Courts against ‘good men’? How about you tell the young men:

    “5% is the new 50% if you are a man.”

    Here is all the material you might need.

    How about you challenge the ‘good men’ to start openly calling western women the liars and hypocrites they have so thoroughly shown themselves to be?

    How about the ‘good men’ start holding women accountable for their actions? As we do men.

    We do all this? THEN we might get somewhere.

  2. Good to see there’s still some respect. The stereotype that so many women see of men is not a positive one. The one thing I’m confused about is why Anna Torv isn’t on the latter list.

  3. Mark Ellis says:

    I’m going to go way out on a limb here and nominate some smart and lovely women that are at the top of my list: Ann Coulter, Mary Katherine Ham, S.E Cupp, Monica Crowley, and Laura Ingraham.

    And here’s one for the libs, Judith Woodruff, a smokin’ hot babe who went to jail to protect a source during the Plame scandal.

    Just saying…

  4. Thoughtful and well done, Tom.

  5. Gregory A. Butler says:

    This article is stupid and full of FAIL on so many different levels.

    Let’s start with the “end of men” nonsense.

    The fact is, we live in a misogynist world ruled by powerful men, and have for the past 5,000 years. Men still control government, the armed forces, corporate America, the business world as a whole and just about every field of endeavor in our society.

    There may be more women college grads, but that’s because a woman needs a college degree to be paid the same salary that a man with a high school diploma would receive (factor in for race and we see Black women college grads making the same salary as White male HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS).

    In other words, women go to college more than men out of sheer economic necessity – and in every field, even predominantly female occupations, the majority of managers are men.

    So no, Tom, women are NOT taking over the world!

    With that out of the way, let’s attack Tom’s main thesis.

    He appears to be saying that it’s wrong for men to be sexually attracted to women for their appearance and it’s wrong for women to enhance their appearance to attract men.

    That seems like a pretty puritan world view, something I’d expect to hear from one of those bible thumping Fundamentalist idiots, not a liberal feminist man.

    Tom, you can do much better than this – I’m really disappointed in you for writing this article.

    • Hi Gregory A Butler –

      So are you saying that it’s actually a better world where women have to work twice as hard then a man just to get the same pay-off for doing the same job? I guess it’s okay as long as women aren’t taking over the world huh? And men can be twice as lazy and get the same jobs while women keep on challengaing themselves to work harder just got a chance at something a man just has to sit back and get just because he is a man? Sure seems like you think that’s a much better world then one where women are actually having true success. Why is that?

      • "nice" guy says:

        Way to completely misinterpret that post. Does it sound like he thinks it’s good that women have to work harder for the same pay? Also, it’s a fact that women aren’t taking over the world. Regardless of whether you think it would be a good or bad thing if they did (I think it wouldn’t make a bit of difference) it doesn’t change the fact that men still have the most control over the course of events in the world.

  6. And what if the “shit that women are getting done” is just as “hollow, addicting, and spirit-crushing” as that that men despair of? Modern capitalist wage slavery is happy to exploit all of us.

  7. “Also I enjoy how Timothy has resigned himself to a life of persecution and rejection despite being in his early twenties. I didn’t meet my partner until my mid-twenties – stop being such a baby.”

    Judging from this, you’re someone in his mid 30’s, early 40’s, who doesn’t know just how worse off young men are nowadays compared to even 10 years ago. Please do not lecture me.

  8. I don’t understand the belligerent attitudes of some of the male posters. They seem sincerely affronted and hurt, as if they are being attacked. However, they are the first to defend such mediums like porn that more times then not, debase women based on the value of their body parts and call then four letter names. So to the men that have become belligerent about this article, why is it okay to get off to material that simplifies and sexualizes women to the degree that it’s okay to call us b*tches or sl*ts but it’s not okay to call men out for the sexual material they promote through their encouragement and viewership?
    One poster mentioned how Maxim had an article about how to cheat on your girlfriend without her knowing. What man here really wants to defend a medium that actually tells you to degrade your life partner in favor of new A$$? What kind of man thinks that’s the judgement of a man that honor and respects his partner? Because I have to tell you Gentlemen, those of you that are defending an industry that makes its money off of , not celebrating true female beauty, but celebrating an over photoshopped or surgically enhanced version that treats women in interchangable garbage, have your priorities JACKED UP . It makes no sense to become belligerent about honest discussions about how much media DOES objectify women and defend this objectification on the back of what men *need* sexually. You’re sexual desires towards women does not mean you get to treat us like we are garbage to use and toss. But that is what every man’s magazine, every porn movie, does. It promotes the images that women are only as good as their surgically enhanced young bodies, and the next new women is around the bend. You want respect? You have to give it first. And too many men want respect but they want to be able to use women how they see fit, when they see fit.

    • "nice" guy says:

      Porn is not the problem. People have sexual desires, and there are extremely attractive people willing to use their bodies to help people satisfy their sexual desires, and they do this with their bodies. The problem is not with porn, the problem is that that attitude extends far beyond porn. The problem is with Hollywood and the music industry, who would lead us to believe that only beautiful women have talents worthy of our attention. The problems is with a culture that deems it not masculine to admire a women for doing things that are traditionally considered male fields (this is not as bad as it used to be, but is certainly still an issue.) If these problems went away, our distorted view of porn might correct itself. We would understand that people get horny, and people like to look at hot people. Why isn’t it possible of a man to look at porn featuring a woman he’s attracted to and then read an article written by a woman whose intellect he admires?

  9. Most Posters Missed an Important Point says:

    I have no problem with men consuming porn. None at all.

    I do have a problem though… there isn’t a single magazine by & for men… that actually extols the virtues of women for anything except their ass. Not a single lad mag or even ‘higher class’ mag has a single article on a woman who has achieved something that has nothing to do with her tits or ass.

    In fact… the opposite is true. You will find nearly all portrayals of intrepid, intellectual women who fall short of Megan Fox looks will be negative. Name calling and derision is all there will be.

    Contrast this with magazines popular with women… ie. People… which present a much more wide spectrum… men we just wanna sleep with, men we admire, men we respect for their achievements, etc.

    This is what the whole objectification thing is. The one-dimensionality in which men tend to view women. Where ‘hotness’ is a necessity and all other characteristics are a ‘bonus.’

  10. I usually don’t comment, but I found this article fascinating. Your article basically says men are good when they are more masculine, good women make men more masculine and, therefore, good men.

    It also says basically that men get to define what is a good woman. A BAD woman is SEXUAL. even though she is getting paid to be sexual by men, has encouraged to be sexual by men and generally lives the life she does because men think she is attractive. So, men create bad women. GOOD women as defined by you, are not sexual but are hot & kind of act like humans more EXCEPT that they have to legitimize your masculinity.

    So good women legitimizing your masculinity is problematic because: A. good women aren’t sexual and therefore must be sexually passive when combined with your masculinity which you deem as good. (that’s fucked up). B. it’s problematic because it hurts men. masculinity is only a single set of human traits. Defining your human fluid self through a single set of traits completely denies your humanity. Which you seem to sense, because it’s apparently rough being masculine. Or else you wouldn’t have written this.

    BTW, Women in the workforce is not necessarily a great thing for women or a bad thing for men – many women are in the workforce because they have no choice (lower-income women) and often have to raise children while simultaneously working. More women in the workforce also doesn’t hurt men because women aren’t the ones in management, aren’t CEOs. Women have traditionally been used by our economy as temporary, low-income, docile workers and they continue to be. We (women) also make less then men (still) for the same amount of work. So, it really shouldn’t be threatening.

    look into Michael Kimmel if u want

  11. I agree with your basic proposition–that a woman’s soul is more important than her boob size. But your article is badly written and also sexist. You write:

    “In the thumbnail preview shots, two of the women appear to be putting at least one finger in their mouths, one is lying in bed seductively, one is wearing a wet T-shirt, and one has her lips parted suggestively. Only Angelina’s image suggests some kind of self-respect.”

    Since when did posing sexily for a camera mean lack of self-respect? Oh right, when the guy looking at the photo has a madonna-whore complex. Because we all know that women’s self-esteem shouldn’t be based on their talents, accomplishments, etc., but on how much skin they don’t show. Right.

    I read the Katy Perry interview. Yeah, she talks about twirling in a banana. The interviewer also comments on what chords she uses in her songs, asks her what her main musical influences are and where she sees her career going. You would’ve seen that if the sex stuff hadn’t disturbed you so much.

    • My understanding of his issues (in particular the issue of the way that the women have posed for the camera) is simple. The women in those photos demonstrate a lack of self-respect not because they are fully in charge of their sexuality but rather because they are owned by it. If those photos were meant to define those women, as they undoubtedly were, then they come to represent women whose only gifts are sexually charged. Why not a picture of Katy Perry on stage if what they love so dearly about her is her performance? Why not place the most pressing information from the interview earlier so that the banana comment seems off-hand or insignificant? To say that this article is sexist is to imply that the Esquire article does not reduce these women to bare sexuality, which it in fact does. Meanwhile, young women all over the country, just like me, are learning that sexual liberation consists of putting oneself on display for the world and “owning” one’s sexuality. How we go about doing this is to have meaningless and often indiscriminate sex, to actually give men total control over us again by becoming objects for their adolescent fantasies. We give them exactly what they want instead of demanding to be valued and appreciated for who we are instead of who we will sleep with. Men get ideas from porn or celebrities about what they want in women and instead of saying, “That’s unrealistic, that’s not who I am, I am not okay with that!” we learn from a young age that we will need to attempt to measure up to those fantastical standards. We’re not going out in stilettos because it makes us feel good; we go out in them because it garners attention. Unfortunately, it is the only way too many women know to earn any attention and so, once more, they are slaves to the sexual appetites of men, because how else will they be told they are worthwhile? There are ways to be sexy without being objects and there is a difference between having a Madonna-whore complex and recognizing that those women don’t value themselves enough to put their talents before their bodies.

      What I take issue with in the article is his inclusion of Lady Gaga on the list of women he loves. (And Gwyneth Paltrow, but that’s a personal thing.) If Lady Gaga felt comfortable with her talent, she would not prance around on stage and in public wearing ridiculous costumes. If she felt secure enough that her music alone could earn her the fame and musical freedom that she clearly desires, then that music would be allowed to stand alone, and not to be overshadowed by the pranks and silliness that she pulls on us all. Gaga hides behind her gimmicks and lets her music fall by the wayside. (Which isn’t to say that I think her music is bad; it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s not bad as that genre goes.) I wish she would wash her face and play her piano while wearing some clothing.

      • But, while Lady Gaga is not my cup of tea either (and my following comments may be completely wrong) my impression is that Lady Gaga is not just about music, the same way serious graphic novels or movies are not about just the visuals or just the story or just the audio, but about the synergi of all that makes that medium. Lady Gaga, as far as I have understood it, is essentially Visual Kei with brains: not just brainless music/lyrics, not just flashy and provocative visuals, but a kind of art stemming in the combination of interesting music/lyrics and thought-provoking visuals. Art also never is produced in vacuum, but is heavily dependent on context, elements of which are timeless to seriously varying degrees: The modern audience miss out on a huge chunk of all the references, jokes and puns in Shakespear plays, while a lot of other references and emotions are far less volatile and more timeless. No, I am not implying that Lady Gaga is a modern equivalent of Shakespear, just that the latter is partially overrated and overhyped in part thanks to Sturgeon‘s Law, as well as that he seems classier than he is thanks to most people not getting all the crude and disgusting jokes, making modern examples of artists and authors less classy looking just because the less classier aspects are still obvious to the mainstream.

        That said, I might just be seriously overestimating her. I have only seen/heard six or so music videos of hers, one of which I seriously misunderstood and loathed until I was enlightened about its context (“Telephone” – which to my radio/tv avoiding self at face value looked initially like nothing but a spamtastic attention-whoring 10 minute long commersial music trailer for various services and products. Having avoided mainstream medias for the past decade most definitely have its disadvantages as well as blessings: you misunderstand and fail to get a lot of the in-jokes in society when they touch the less savory aspects you have been avoiding.)

  12. wellokaythen says:

    I’d like to see a different Boolean: how about “Cleavage AND Soul”?

    Esquire’s thumbnails are also not doing any favors for people who may be most attracted to other physical attributes not shown from those angles. Waist-up from the front doesn’t necessarily show what all hetero men find pleasant to look at. Does the magazine assume every man is a “breast man”? I like a good kneecap. Show me a sexy patella.

  13. wellokaythen says:

    Wow, Jhumpa Lahiri is beautiful. Her neck and shoulders are exquisite. Hair up off the back of the neck is very sexy. Excellent choice for a photo. Yay, reform!

  14. Forrest Horn says:

    great article! I’d disagree however with this statement about porn… “not because it is morally wrong but just because it distracts us from the truth and scatters our power. It’s one big acid trip fantasy with no connection to improving our lives, being good fathers and husbands, and advancing our careers.”
    I would say that it is for these reasons precisely that it is indeed morally wrong. It destroys people. This statement seems to say to me that we are afraid of upsetting people in a pluralistic society by assuming that anything is morally wrong. Follow this line of thinking and the Newtown tragedy is also a morally neutral act. Otherwise, love this article and it’s overall point!


  1. […] Today’s feature, written by project founder Tom Matlack, takes men to task for the objectification of women, offering some insight. […]

  2. […] been plenty of criticism of my recent piece “Cleavage or Soul?” for presenting a supposedly negative deconstruction of masculinity—to wit: “As far as […]

  3. […] been plenty of criticism of my recent piece “Cleavage or Soul?” for presenting a supposedly negative deconstruction of masculinity—to wit: “As far as […]

  4. […] been plenty of debate over Tom’s latest editorials—see here and here—centered on why it’s problematic to vilify smut and its (mostly male) consumers. […]

  5. […] that vein, writer Tom Matlack has skewered Esquire for limiting their list of “Women We Love” to what boils down to a list of “Women […]

  6. […] editorialist care scrie pentru site-ul (Proiectul barbatilor buni) se revolta din cauza unei sectiuni promovate de catre Esquire – cea mai de notorietate […]

  7. […] to Cleavage or Soul? I stopped reading Maxim, Esquire, and other “men’s” magazines a few years ago simply because […]

  8. […] Tom Matlack wrote what I thought was a very thoughtful piece a while back: “Women We Love for the Wrong Reasons.” […]

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  10. […] since criticizing Esquire for objectifying women in their Women We Love Section — a post (“Cleavage or Soul?”) which for a time won me the honor of being the “Mangina of the Month” among Men’s Rights […]

  11. […] as bad as the “Women We Love” section for which I took so much abuse criticizing in, “Cleavage or Soul: Women we Love for the Wrong Reasons” but not sure how watching Ms. Robbie helps us decipher the most pressing issues of […]

  12. […] stand for and a lot of what they have to offer the world.  A recent post of theirs entitled “Cleavage or Soul” does a great job in pointing out the difference between what the media portrays as […]

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