Image taken from – and this post prompted by – this post at one of my favourite film sites.
I want to sketch out a simple understanding of the nature of heterosexual attraction, in order to explain why I disagree with the line of argument expressed in the picture. It is an understanding which has only developed in me recently, and is still a ‘work in progress’, but the main lines of it seem to me to be very plausible.
The starting idea is this: the fundamental building block for what counts as sexy in a member of the opposite sex is “whatever makes for healthy babies” (and I owe that formulation to Athol Kay, whose writings I recommend). However, what counts as ‘making healthy babies’ is different in men and women.
For men, any particular act of sexual intercourse is ‘cheap’. It requires very little investment of biological “currency”, ie time and resources. For men, therefore, the question of what will make for a healthy baby is first and foremost a question of fertility, and therefore whatever indicates fertility is seen as sexy.
For women, however, the situation is directly opposite. However brief an act of sexual intercourse might be, the consequence, at least potentially, is immensely costly in terms of time and resources. Whilst there is undoubtedly an element of purely physical attraction (ie a purely ‘biological’ assessment of health and fertility) there is also a significant social element. That is, one of the key markers that trigger attraction for a man is ‘social status’, which is a proxy for the ability to command resources – and therefore ensure that any child born has a better chance of being raised to a healthy age.
So having said all that, what is my disagreement with people like MaryAnn? Well, that motorbike image is not comparing like with like. It is comparing an image developed to appeal to the biological instincts of heterosexual men – in other words, an image of a woman emphasising all the cues of healthy fertility – with a pastiche. The picture of the man by the motorcycle is not an image designed to appeal to the biological instincts of heterosexual women. What would such an image look like? Well, how about this:
In other words, not just that here is a handsome man, but that here is a man with significant social status and dominance.
What the objections to such images seem to me to be based on is a repudiation of the fundamental basis of male heterosexual attraction. Perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps male heterosexual attraction is so inherently destructive to the social order that it really does need to be corralled and controlled. In many ways, traditional Christian sexual ethics is about just that.
Yet if we are not to be irredeemably sexist about this, we need to also acknowledge the fundamental basis of female heterosexual attraction, and the possibility that an unrestrained female desire can be just as destructive as the equivalent in the male. In other words, if we are not to be completely prejudiced, we need to ensure that those things which might turn women on are kept as far from them as possible, in just the same way that those things which might turn men on must be kept away from them.
We would end up with, among other things, a ban on images and a rigid segregation of the sexes. Something, perhaps, that looked a lot like Saudi Arabia.
Alternatively, we could just become a lot more relaxed about both sides of the equation, accept that men respond sexually in the way that they do, women respond sexually in the way that they do, and delight in our differences.