I have a secret board on Pinterest titled “These Would Make Beautiful Characters.” Like many writers, I work better if I have visuals in front of me, so this board is populated with people like Josh Holloway, Henry Cavill, Jamie Dornan, Joe Manganiello. Where are the women? Oh, yeah. Those. They’re scattered here and there, but the board is mostly full of eye candy of the manly muscular variety. Which brings me to my thought of the day. How many times have you heard that men are more visual than women or that physical looks aren’t as important to us as they are to men? If you’re anything like me, more times than you can count. I was just reading yet another article arguing that women still look for mates based primarily on their ability to provide for a family. Frankly, I’ve seen that argument so many times I want to scream. I’m not arguing that those claims are necessarily wrong, but I’m calling bullshit on anyone who paints me with that brush. I have a feeling many women would do the same.
It’s true that women often wind up in relationships with men who aren’t as good-looking as they are, and we see this reality reinforced on television time and again (Peg and Al Bundy, anyone? Cliff and Clair Huxtable? Wilma and Fred?), but that seems just as likely a side effect of the fact that society demands women work fifty times harder than men at maintaining their looks than it is due to us having some evolutionary disregard for a man’s looks. Let’s face it, ladies. We don’t have the luxury of choosing a mate from a huge pool of men highly invested in maintaining their looks. Men do. And so we wind up with an awful lot of Cliffs and Clairs, Pegs and Als, Wilmas and Freds. And that’s perfectly fine. But even after all this time, there’s still far too much evidence that women’s primary form of currency is still their beauty; men’s currency, their ability to support a family, which is not so perfectly fine. It’s 2014, and women are doing a damned fine job of providing for themselves. A biological imperative driving us to get all hot and bothered over average-looking great providers? Bullshit. You know what? When I was single, I wanted a lot of things. I wanted a good provider, sure (just like I wanted to be a good provider myself), but I also wanted a mate who was funny, intelligent, caring, and hot. Lucky for me, I got one.
But when it comes to my heroes, I’m no different, and the romance genre is evidence that a ton of women feel the same. What’s the ratio of heroes who look like Chris Hemsworth to heroes who look like Cliff Huxtable? 20:1? At least. Because for many of us, romance novels are our equivalent to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (unless you’re into erotic romance, in which case maybe they’re equivalent to Hustler or Penthouse). Sure, we’re here for the story first, but we’re also here for the fantasy, and the fantasy is usually gorgeous. Why? Because we too are highly visual creatures, we too are attracted to beautiful bodies, and it just serves to fuel misconceptions about the sexes to pretend otherwise. For the vast majority of us, the fantasy doesn’t look like Cliff any more than swimsuit models look like Oprah. The fantasy looks like David Beckham or David Gandy. Smoking hot. And you know what? I bet both of them are great providers.