Historically, I’ve always gone for effeminate blokes: tall, skinny types with long eyelashes and perfectly-coiffed hair. The kind of boys that would cause my mother to ask whether I was in denial about being gay whenever she came back from a dinner party or a night on the sauce (“It’s not that I have a problem with lesbians, darling, I just don’t want you to be one!”)
To be fair, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety on offer when I was a teenager. I went to an all-girls grammar school, and the only
prey potential boyfriends in sight were the gangling youth at the all-boys school opposite, which was teeming with the academic offspring of the Buckinghamshire middle-class. Girls who went in for the grunting Neanderthals that made our mothers and grandmothers go weak at the knees – built like a bison and hairier than a Wookie, the kind who won’t watch Titanic or eat salad or wear anything but a T-shirt in any weather because feelings/lettuce/sweaters are for sissies – had to look elsewhere.
Personally, I blame the mums.
The classic archetype of the blood-thirsty, overprotective father figures strapping chastity belts to his daughters has given way to pushy, doting mothers and clingy, over-sensitive sons. The result is an epidemic of mummies’ boys. I’m not talking men who can be replied upon to remember their mothers’ birthdays, I mean the ones that practically have to be prised away from their mothers’ teat before you can get them down the pub. I have a very good friend whose ex, Boring Tom, once spent the afternoon sat on his mother’s lap being essentially cuddled. In front of her parents. (The final nail in the coffin was when she had to check the man-child’s tyre pressure for him because he didn’t know how to do it himself, nor had the initiative to Google it. Very embarrassing.)
For me, it took until February last year to realise that girly men aren’t actually all that. The trigger-switch was the close of a two-year relationship with a bloke with astoundingly sub-par levels of testosterone. Here was a twenty-four year old man who got me to pluck his eyebrows every fortnight, cheerfully spent £16 on a pot of hair wax and shaved off his snail trail with a razor. When his new flat-packed bed arrived from Dreams, it was me who crawled around on the floor putting the thing together while he played the glamorous assistant and handed me the screwdrivers. In short, he was about as masculine as Graham Norton holding a strawberry Cornetto. I should probably have twigged when I guessed (rightly, it turned out) that he would like a complete Clinique for Men skincare set for Christmas. Not that there is anything wrong with male grooming, of course; quite the contrary. Skincare is very important regardless of gender; male or female, neglecting to exfoliate and moisturise properly is going to leave you looking like you’re made entirely out of elbow skin, but you know you’ve got problems when your boyfriend gets more excited about your new cooling eye gel than you do.
I’ve sorted hated myself for thinking like this. After all, as a crusader against all kinds of sexist bullshit – and that’s a two way street – it does seem a bit hypocritical. But recently I’ve had an epiphany. These ‘girly’ men display the qualities that are traditionally associated with women – excessive vanity, submissiveness, an irrational fear of DIY – but actually I find these qualities annoying and unattractive in anyone, regardless of gender. Nobody likes those irritating people who spend half their life taking duck-faced photos of themselves, or people with no backbone whatsoever, or anyone who can’t work out how to pump up their own bicycle tyres, that goes for boys and girls. Initiative is a great quality in anyone, in friends, lovers, mentors. Nobody likes a wet lettuce.
If nowadays we can reject the idea that these generally ‘weak’ traits are more feminine (and, conversely, that the more powerful traits are more masculine), then the problem is not ‘girly’ men but weak ones. Conversely, successful, outspoken, extroverted women are often described as manly or ‘butch’, but in fact they’re not being masculine per se, they’re just displaying the strong traits and personalities that traditionally have been associated with men.
But does exhibiting traits strongly associated with the opposite sex make you unattractive? The question is a bit more complicated with homosexual and trans people, but a quick straw poll of straight girls on Twitter unanimously demonstrated that most women prefer ‘men who act like men’. Apparently, no girl wants to have to hide her new expensive face cream from her boyfriend. I think most guys would avoid using phrases like ‘women who act like women’ to avoid being lynched by the angry feminist lobby, but observational evidence suggests that generally men are more attracted to, well, ‘girly’ girls. I have a friend who is outgoing, funny and supremely self-confident. She also sports a really spectacular rack. Recently a workmate told her, completely unprompted, that although she was fun, interesting and generally a right laugh, he wouldn’t ever consider dating her. He used the word ‘Banter-saurus Tits’ (!?!?) Although he phrased it badly, once his bizarre, back-handed compliment was untangled he meant that she was ‘one of the lads’. Someone to have a laugh with. Undateable.
Does this mean that forthright, pushy women are, in general, less attractive to men? Do quiet, weak-willed women do well with the opposite sex while men with the same qualities automatically fall by the wayside?
What ‘type’ do you go for? Do you like people who exhibit their traditional gender traits? Or do you like ‘girly’ men or ‘masculine’ women?
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