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The Reverse

I already talked about what it's like for men to experience female beauty; what I want to talk about now is the reverse: what it's like for women to experience male beauty. It's not the same experience, or so I claimed; in fact I think it's similar, but vastly less intense, so that it seems qualitatively different.

Why do I think that? The idea originally came to me in a moment of inspiration. On the one hand, women don't seem to comprehend why men like to look at women, especially naked women; on the other hand, what's not to comprehend? As a man, I just like to look, it's an end in itself. Therefore, women must not have the analogous experience.

Later I came up with some other arguments.

The first argument has to do with advertising. I don't have any actual numbers or anything, but I hope you'll agree with me when I say that ads contain a lot more pictures of beautiful women than of beautiful men. If the two experiences were equally intense, wouldn't there be equal numbers of pictures? Yes, maybe women aren't in charge of advertising, but I have great faith in capitalism—if there were something there to exploit, it would be exploited, regardless of who is in charge. And, yes, maybe women have less purchasing power, but not that much less, especially not if you look at particular product categories.

Now, as a second argument, imagine that the same pictures, instead of being used to advertise products, were the product. Wouldn't that be a pretty direct measure of how pleasant the pictures are to look at? But, we don't have to imagine, because what I just described is pornography, and, indeed, there's a lot more of it for men than for women. A lot more.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the different experiences make sense in some kind of anthropological way. The fact is, men pursue women, and not vice versa. That's how it is in most cultures now, so that's probably how it was when humans were precultural. Back then, I figure, people didn't exactly know what they were doing—not like now, when everybody is completely self-aware—so it was helpful for men to get a little push when they saw women, to say, “hey, keep going, you're on the right track”.

The way I've stated it—men pursue women because of the experience of female beauty—the argument may sound backward, or even circular, but it's not, really. The point is, the ones that pursue ought to be the ones that experience beauty. Why it's men that pursue, and not women, I don't know; probably there's some reason why it's evolutionarily advantageous. But, the fact is, men are the ones that pursue, therefore they ought to be the ones that experience beauty.

That's all I wanted to say about the experience of male beauty vis à vis the experience of female beauty; now I just want to talk about the experience in itself.

Of course, it's not an experience I've had, but I can still make some informed guesses about it. For example, I can guess that the stereotype of male beauty that you see on romance novel covers is about as close to what women actually find beautiful as the stereotype of female beauty is to what I described in Aspects of Beauty … which is to say, not very close, but at least sort of in the right direction.

I can even try to imagine what it's like for women to experience male beauty. The experience is less intense, so it ought to be like … nothing; like the absence of beauty. So, men, imagine that … construct a mental image of a woman who's exactly ugly enough to be neither attractive nor repulsive, and then imagine that everyone in the world looks like that. What a sorry world that would be!

That's not really a fair comparison, though. The experience of beauty may be more pleasant for men, but there are probably other kinds of experience that are more pleasant for women. Social interaction comes to mind. Probably the best example, though, is the experience of cuteness. If someone brings a baby to a social gathering, what always happens? The women are mostly fascinated, and the men are mostly indifferent. Maybe there's a reason for that … maybe what it's like for women to look at babies is what it's like for men to look at women.


  See Also

  One Thing Leads to Another
  What Is It Like to Be a Male?

@ August (2003)