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.
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.