Ozy Frantz lays out why “men are attracted to X” or “women are attracted to Y” formulations are doomed to failure.
This post originally appeared at No Seriously, What About Teh Menz?
Evolutionary psychologists, everyone’s favorite peddlers of pseudoscience to justify all manner of -isms, have long theorized that people tend to find traits more attractive when they signal fertility. Therefore, men are attracted to young, thin, large-breasted women, and women are attracted to tall, deep-voiced men. Science!
Turns out… it’s just not so. In fact, men with higher voices have higher sperm count, a key measurement of fertility. The correlation is not huge, as you can see in the scatterplot in the linked post, so don’t go about assuming Alan Rickman is infertile. Nevertheless, it is definitely real.
Of course, this really isn’t news to anyone. People have long had various objections to the evolutionary psychology theories of attraction, most notably:
- People are not all attracted to the same thing;
- Many aspects of the Western beauty ideal, such as (cis) women being too thin to menstruate, are actually counterproductive to the whole making babies thing;
- Evolutionary just-so stories are, while often interesting, rarely falsifiable and thus not exactly science;
- The “people are attracted to fertile and healthy people” theory does not explain the apparent attractiveness of obese women in Mauritania, women with tuberculosis in Victorian England, and women with bound feet in medieval China, to pick just a few utterly irrational cultural beauty standards;
- Queer people exist.
However, this is, interestingly, one of the few times an evolutionary psychology hypothesis about male attractiveness has been disproven with science. Apparently it is just as socially constructed as female beauty is! Imagine that.
On the other hand, studies have shown that men with deep voices tend to be rated more attractive than men with high voices. My pet theory? Men tend to have deeper voices than women, and modern Western culture tends to find pushing sexual dimorphism to its extremes attractive. It’s similar to the phenomenon of women, generally less hairy than men, removing all their body hair in order to appear more attractive. Or of women with large breasts. Or men with big muscles. Really, that whole “sexual dimorphism is hot, hot, HOT” thing is all over the place in conventional beauty ideals. (Yes, androgynes are generally considered “strikingly attractive,” especially in alternative subcultures. Please note the word “alternative,” and also the connotation of “striking” as being both unusual and surprising.)
Further evidence for the “deep voices are good because MANLY” theory is that, in a result surprising to no one who is a connoisseur of Dom Voices, deeper voices tend to be rated as being more dominant. Dominance (that is, power) is pretty much the definition of masculinity in Western culture, from sexuality to work to violence.
With all of this, am I saying that attraction is entirely socially constructed? Of course not! What any individual person finds attractive is some combination of early experience, random psychological quirks, social conditioning, and (yes) biology. Nevertheless, when a trait is clearly evolutionarily unhelpful, and also clearly a part of a culture’s beauty ideal, I think the “social construction” theory has suddenly become extremely plausible.
I think that I have gone entirely too long talking about deep-voiced men without including an Alan Rickman video.
[Transcript: Alan Rickman reads Shakespeare's Sonnet 130. Ozy's ovaries explode.]