Monday, February 12, 2007

What Do Women Want? I’m So Glad You Asked, Dr. Freud

Protein Wisdom linked to a study in the UK on what women find attractive in men. It’s not a rigorous accounting by any means, but it certainly shows the intuitive mating selection process for women.

High-flying men are not as attractive to women looking for love as those with an average job, scientists say.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the University of Central Lancashire research found the 186 female students asked preferred good-looking men.

But within that group, those without top careers were deemed most suitable, the Personality and Individual Differences journal reported.

The team said women seemed to feel high-flyers would not be good fathers.


“We suggest that females see physically attractive, high status males as being more likely to pursue a mating strategy rather than a parenting strategy.”

There is more information at the site, with looks being weighed against men’s professions.

When I first saw this at post at Protein Wisdom and read the comments, I noticed there were only men on the thread. So I had to put my two cents in. And as I thought about it, I remembered the many groups I’d facilitated with battered women as they struggled to figure out how they’d ended up being in a nightmare relationship. Was there a way to gauge which men were safe and if there was some way to tell ahead of time, what was it? So often they’d say sadly, “but he was so nice

Over the course of several years, with the input of hundreds - if not thousands - of women, we came up with some basic guidelines. I was surprised, as I commented on PW’s post, that I remembered most of the criteria for “safe” men. But then, we did work on this subject for several years, and it was a pressing one for each member of the group. Obviously, I internalized their ideas.

What follows is not necessarily in order of importance. In fact, I don’t recall that we ever ordered the criteria that way. It seemed more important to simply understand the details that went into making a safe choice where men were concerned.

It’s important to remember that this is after-the-fact reasoning. Each woman was bringing to the conversation what she needed and what had been sorely missing in her relationship with the man she’d trusted, the man who ended up beating her.

“Scientific” it’s not. But heart-felt is definitely the foundation of this list. Such sadness and loss went into describing a safe man - but also great hope.

The study that Protein Wisdom linked to discussed whether wealthy men would be considered most attractive. That was one issue we talked about since some of the women came from upper class backgrounds. And physical attractiveness was another. Some physically abusive men are quite handsome…

Here’s my comment at Protein Wisdom, with some editing for this post:

When I used to do crisis counseling with battered women the idea of a “safe” man was a recurrent theme, hashed over again and again as women struggled to figure out why they hadn’t seen it coming...

Handsome isn’t necessarily safe — very often, having gotten by on his looks since he was two, Handsome may tend toward narcissism. tend — obviously they’re not all like that, except for those in Hollywood. Narcissism flourishes there.

Very wealthy men are of two categories: inherited and earned. The former do tend to make strategic alliances, though some of these partnerships are disastrous. See Ethel Kennedy’s family tree.

The latter, with their earned wealth, have a different sense of entitlement. Usually they’re looking for drop-dead beautiful as a further proof of their success. Again, just a tendency, not an absolute. There is a high rate of divorce in this category due to the driven nature of many high earners. Just ask any bitter ex-wife of some doctor. She ended up raising the children by herself only to have him trade her in after thirty years for a newer model. Strangely, the new one often looks like the old one, just twenty or thirty years younger.

Anyway, that said, here’s the “safe” list my battered women evolved over the years:

1. He gets on well with his family, particularly his mother or sisters. Family members don’t do dramas or cut off relationships —e.g., his momma gets on with her own family and her in-laws (as best she can).

2. He works steadily at a job he really likes. Never leaves one job without having lined up another. Isn’t a work-a-holic.

3. He has an avocation that really engages him — fishing, reading, motorcycles...whatever. But not so absorbing he’s never home or unavailable for extended periods.

4. He has some interest in the larger world and gives some of his time to a community group or someone in need. Like maybe he mows the yard for the old people next door.

5. His moods are reliable. Not happy-sappy, just predictable— e.g., you know for certain how he feels and what he will say and how loud he’ll say it if — again — you borrow his tools and don’t put them back. A corollary: the person he is in public is the same person he is at home. No Jekylls/Hydes need apply.

6. His times and routines are predictable. He’s never three days late for dinner.

7. He has a sense of humor and thinks you’re funny, too. You share secret jokes.

8. He’s sensible about money and reasonable. You don’t have to account for every penny, nor do you have to worry he’ll buy a $500.00 whats-is instead of paying the rent or the mortgage or the children’s dental bills.

9. He enjoys children to some extent, especially his own. He sees them as people.

10. He’s trustworthy. Keeps his word.

It’s been a few years, so that’s the list as I remember it —though maybe there were twelve qualities, not ten. I think one was “no substance abuse of any kind” since that was a frequent problem, and physical abuse is often accompanied by substance abuse. However, battering a woman when you’re stone cold sober is far more frightening an indicator that you’re a dangerous person. Those are the women I preferred to send out of town to another shelter.

And I believe they decided that a “loner” was a danger signal since it meant you couldn’t have friends, either. It also meant he didn’t have good people skills, another warning signal.

By the way, this phenomenon really does cut across socio-economic lines — and political ones, too. Though politics didn’t enter the equation much if the abuse was severe. No room to think about who’s running for office when you’re busy running from someone who swears they love you.

That was then. I wonder what it’s like now for Muslim women here in the US. That problem never came up on my innocent pre-9/11 horizon.

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James Higham has another survey here, this one from Canada. He’d like to know if you agree.