This study may seem frivolous, but it tells much about gender politics. Body image, gender, and how the sexes are treated are related to appearance to an extent. What is known is that women can also be shallow although this accusation is directed at men. However, before taking this study as scientific fact, it should be noted the sample only contained 160 women. If a wider sample was used results also could possibly vary among choices. If there is a mechanism that influences women selection of boyfriends and husbands it seems to be contrary to feminist proclamations. The sudden vociferous chants and criticism of toxic masculinity become problematic if women are attracted to these attributes. Gender equality may not be feasible due to female behavior if this study is correct. The conundrum is what would be the explanation of women and men who deviate from this pattern. The lugubrious realization may be that our concept of love does not exist. Sex selection may just be a driving force rather than our free will. Humanity may not be able to change its behavior if its biologically based. Yet, the impact of environment is a significant one. It should be assumed that the women making the choices in the experiment were partially influenced by the cultures they were raised in. The goal of the study was to see how such preferences evolved over the millions of years of human evolution.
If women like the strongest men, the question arises why are there some that deviate from the pattern? The reverse is that their are men who show a predilection for women who are physically strong. Are these just random anomalies or a means of maintaining genetic diversity? The idea would be that the strongest men would have access to most females and be successful at spreading their genes. Physical strength may have been a indicator to women of good health. Yet, the risk is that in an ecosystem a species becomes so copious that it goes over the carrying capacity. The result would be either extinction or possible reduction due to predators. Humanity does not have a natural predator. Since the days of the paleolithic civilization has made humankind the most successful species on the planet.
The reason sex selection may have worked in favor of stronger men was due to the harsh realities of survival. Hominids were not the dominant species. Predators and limited food supplies could be a threat. The rise of civilization meant that gradually brute strength was not as big a factor in survival. Hunting and gathering gave way to farming. Muscle power was replaced with technological power. Marriage emerged in civilization as more so a property arrangement. Women in most cultures were subject to arranged marriage. The women in the 21st century have a choice in who their partners are. It seems that certain men would be at a disadvantage with this change. It has been harder for men to establish relationships. Having low status or simply no luck makes the situation worse. Women will in comparison face less rejection and have greater variety of choice. Men who have money, power, and high status gain more access to women compared to men who do not. This scenario would make muscles meaningless. Love really does not exist, rather it is a feeling that is operating in the context of natural and sex selection.
The experiment should not be taken immediately as fact. The study published in Proceedings in Royal Society B has some issues. The subjects were college aged women and no other demographic. It is possible that tastes could change with age. Aaron Lukaszewski the author is an evolutionary psychologist. Psychology does have a history of using anthropometry to rank human beings. The most egregious case was that of William Sheldon in the 1940s under his concept of constitutional psychology. There is some element of truth that women may prefer men of certain body type. However, that does not apply to every woman on Earth. The images of men were taken from men at the university gym(60 total) and 130 students from psychology courses. When the images were presented it only showed torsos. Faces were not presented. Normally, people may find multiple features attractive rather than just one body part. Hiding the faces may have effected how the women rated men in attractiveness. The men’s physical strength was measured by weightlifting machines, grip strength tests, and other techniques. Hand grip may not be as precise as weightlifting. People were then asked to guess the men’s strength, but this may not be as close as one would think. There was a match between their guess and measurements, yet it may not be as precise due to the inclusion of hand grip strength. There is a bias directed at most muscular men. It was implied in the study that there is a line that women would draw in which men were too muscular. They are obviously referring to bodybuilders calling them “cartoonishly exaggerated.” This contradicts the thesis, because men of that size would be stronger than the ones in the study and would therefore be the most attractive to women.
The hypothesis would have to be rephrased. Women like strong women with a certain degree of musculature. At this point the argument seems to descend into generalities and ambiguous territory. We should assume that the extremely pumped up men have very little difficulty attracting women. It should also be noted that the author of the study is male and he may be presenting male body ideals that he had seen as a child. It cannot be ignored that biology still influences human behavior and actions. Environment is also a powerful factor as well. Evolutionary psychologists point out that women’s preference for physically strong men was rooted in survival. Before civilization a strongman would be a useful protector of women and children. They could be hunters and provide more social benefits. Strongmen could be useful and expendable in fights against other tribes of people. Women could watch men compete for them and gain more material reward with little effort or danger to themselves. Others dispute this theory mainly, because the early hominid species were never subject to naturalistic observation.
Body image and beauty is not universal. Even among individuals it varies immensely. Lisa Wade a sociologist who teaches at the Occidental College in Los Angeles states one should not be so fast to attribute preferences to evolution only. A certain type of male body and female body is idolized compared to others. Women have been rejecting the thin body type through a body positive movement. Men are still stuck in a one dimensional image of masculinity. The image of strong muscular man is seen on magazines, TV, comics, and film. Many men do not fit into this image. Only a small minority of professional athletes do. The rise in muscle dysmorphia has caused men to have an unhealthy obsession about being big. Physiques that are very athletic are difficult to obtain. Third wave feminists often recognize the harm body image conformity does to women, but rarely care about its effects on men. This is a time period in which masculine identity may be in some crisis and its effects could be devastating for society. Poor self image and mental health issues will increase. A society cannot be functional if the men in it are not. The accusation that men are more swallow is discredited, when it is realized women reject more men than accept them.
If third wave feminists are devoted to equality, then they should be able to address this problem as well. Mass media and images are powerful. Lisa Wade notes that 100 years ago the body ideals were different. Over the centuries beauty standards have changed. The new phenomenon is that there is a demand for body image conformity. Now it effects both sexes.
Gender cannot be ignored in this study. It is clear that one image of masculinity is being indirectly idolized, with some even realizing it. There is a gender hierarchy that operates in society. Men are at the top and women are placed second. The non-binary or people with different sexual orientation are either excluded or ostracized. The men who are powerful get more privileges in the gender hierarchy. Physical strength was more of a benefit in a world that was not based on technology or civilization. Weapons negated pure brute strength, which means there was reorganization of society. The men who have the most wealth and political authority became the rulers of the world. Women were denied access to the public sphere and were regulated to a secondary status in the gender hierarchy. This was only challenged in the 19th and 20th century with the first, second, and third wave feminism. Even with these changes the image of the macho man survived. At many times it underwent a revival. Critics make the mistake of calling this toxic masculinity, but rather it is machismo. There is nothing wrong with masculinity. Machismo is more about degrading women, being homophobic, and being domineering of most people. Those negative attributes have nothing to do with masculinity. The gender hierarchy depends on some level of machsimo to ensure its survival. This study could be unintentionally embracing some elements of machismo.
Women choosing a certain type of man is not the issue. The problem is the risk that comes with women selecting men who are much more physically powerful. Domestic violence and sexual assault are real threats to women. The majority of cases of violence directed at women occur from men they know. If women are more willing to gravitate to men who are stronger than them it increases their risk of being harmed. Abusive relationships do not always involve physical assault. They can be verbal or psychological attacks. There are a number of reasons why women remain in such relationships. Relevant to this study women may be more willing to accept abuse from men they believe have good looks and power. As long as female behavior does not change a disturbing cycle of abuse will continue.
This also explains why rich powerful men are able to avoid punishment for sexual harassment and assault. If the #Me Too movement cannot acknowledge that female behavior must change as well women may still find themselves victim to abuse. Male behavior must change, but women’s predilection to being attracted to domineering and abuse men must end. Otherwise gender equality and the #Me Too movement is an exercise in futility. This is the one subject that most people ignore when discussing gender based violence. The tendency is to confuse it with victim blaming. It is not, rather using preventative measures to ensure security. There may just be no way to prevent this. No amount of feminism can change human biology. When may have an instinct to be with the strongest and aggressive man, because sex selection is such a powerful force. True love or love in general may not exist. The human motivation is simply to make offs spring to propagate certain genes.
The study has not produced a cross cultural evaluation. It was done with college students from a university. So there could be hope yet for the vast a majority of average males. The study could produce different results depending on age, country, race, and religion. The faces were not in view of the female observers. Facial appearance may also influence attractiveness. When a person rates another’s attractiveness they do not just look at one part of the body. Most of it is observed by a person who shows interest. There may not be one secret or universal answer to what is collectively considered beautiful. If this was discovered it would most likely make people feel defeated. The modern world has made dating more difficult. Algorithms utilized on dating websites are picking couples rather than people doing it themselves. Some men and women face so much rejection it turns them to extreme fringe groups. Incels, MGTOW, and femcels would not exist if people were not so lonely or constantly repudiated. It effects men worse, because women do not have to make too much effort to start a relationship. Nature has made women extremely picky in an evolutionary sense. The only reason a woman remains single is because she wants to be. Women exhibit shallowness although they do not acknowledge it as such. Loneliness continues to grow in a number of countries and its simple to see why. Maybe it is better to be happy with one’s self rather than pursue a relationship or marriage. Free will seems to be more of an imaginary concept when behavior is dictated by natural and sex selection.