≡ Menu

FFB: Appearance, attractiveness and gender differences

wrong cheese

This month the Feminist Fashion Blogger’s prompt/theme is sexuality. I thought I’d revisit some thoughts about the vilification of girls who wear skimpy/’trashy’/footballer’s wives type clothing when going out on a Saturday night. I don’t like these kind of outfits from an aesthetic point of view either, but I am always shocked how willing otherwise perfectly sensible people are to assume that because a girl wears fishnet tights and hot pants, she’s somehow morally deficient.

I have argued in the past that from the point of view of the girls the skimpy clothes are a social bonding thing much more than a way of attracting male attention. The other thing about this idea that skimpy looking clothes act like a siren call to men is that it’s based on such a simplistic view of men and human sexuality and desire.

It assumes that men are (1) always after sex and (2) have these direct Pavlovian responses to seeing legs or a bit of cleavage, like they immediately get excited and can’t stop themselves. Women on the other hand, are not seen to have any of these automatic reactions at all, and really aren’t conceptualised as having any sexuality at all independent of their assumed quest for love and commitment.

This idea of gender differences and men as impulse driven animals is still widely used as an excuse to at least partially absolve men of their actions in terms of harassment and even rape, which I’m sure some of the other FFB bloggers will talk about today, so I won’t. But it’s also not inherently true, I’m sure.

Who we fancy and who we don’t is so personal and so complicated, and can never be expressed as a set of rules. Here’s a quick list of style-related things I have, at one time or another, found attractive in men (I ran out of time to link them all up or this would be a man fest):

It completely depends on the person. Long hair may look delicious or Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, but it will make someone else look unkept and messy. The way the person looks and what they wears interacts with what they say and what they do and what we know about them in a way that can’t be pre-judged. But that’s the fun of it, isn’t it. We all, men and women, fancy a diverse range of people (well, most people do. Some people do have a very narrow ‘type’ I suppose) for a totally diverse range of reasons. And that should be celebrated.

It is true that men, more than women, are socialised into a culture where they are supposed to fancy girls in skimpy clothes, and associate the skimpy clothes with sex. But I refuse to believe that that is a natural difference that would be there if our culture wasn’t set up this way. I remember one time back in 2000 or so walking into a pretty sexist conversation Dave and some of his friends were having about how hot Britney Spears was. It just so happened that we had talked about her the day before and how he didn’t fancy her at all. But he basically went with because of peer pressure and because it was easier. He soon grew out of that sort of nonsense but some men may never. But they could, or it’s possible for boys to never end up in that situation where they view women like that in the first place. And I think part of a more positive socialisation is a recognition that people fancy other people for all sorts of reasons, that women aren’t objects that become sexy by virtue of revealing clothing.

Ultimately I am optimistic that in appreciating the diversity of people’s personal attractions there is a way into creating a less sexualised culture in which people are free to wear whatever they want, because it is recognised that what people wear is only one of the myriad factors determining if people fancy them or not. In which a low cut top does not equal sluttiness and is not an excuse for sexist behaviour. And equally, a culture where we don’t have to conform to narrow limits of how to dress to be attractive to men.

I don’t think we are that far down that road of creating less harmful ideas of dressing and attractiveness, if anything we seem to have gone backwards recently, but I do believe that there is no biological barrier and that getting there is possible!

What do you think?

Read the rest of this week’s posts on the FFB blog.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • poet 16 November 2011, 9:05 pm

    Great post! I agree with all you say – while I admit that “innate” differences in how sexuality “works” for men and women are likely based purely on their different hormonal workings, socialization is a HUGE factor in how these differences play out in behavior. With regards to fishnet tights, I actually think they can look very sophisticated if done right, I just find them uncomfortable 🙂

    I’ve been swamped with work and I can’t promise I’ll manage to write a post right now… maybe next week! I can still add it to the linky thing, right?
    poet recently posted..These boots are made for walking… not for paintingMy Profile

    • Franca 16 November 2011, 9:57 pm

      Yes, of course@

  • Carolin aka HouseCat 22 January 2012, 7:22 pm

    Hello, I’ve just read this entry via Feminist Fashion Bloggers. I wrote a blog entry on a similar subject http://domesticatedgoth.blogspot.com/2011/12/revealing-clothes-unwanted-attention.html and linked to your blog at the end of it as I think it makes a very important point, especially about the over-simplified version of how attraction works 🙂 Also, nice to see another Scotland-based blogger 🙂
    Carolin aka HouseCat recently posted..Gothic & Lolita, Globalisation of Culture, and FemininityMy Profile

Next post:

Previous post: