Women misjudge men’s desires

Sometime in the afternoon when I reached the middle of Megan Schmidt’s recent column about cosmetics, I began laughing into my lunch (though not at her).

“Girls learn early on that if they want attention from boys, they will have to wage competition against one another. They understand that if they are more attractive than the next girl, they stand more of a chance of being asked out.”

Ms. Schmidt would be wrong about this only if she thought it applied to women more than men. I might even argue that, because of supply and demand, men are probably obliged to compete more than women. What made me laugh is that the relationship between the use of lipstick, eye shadow, etc and being attractive to men is basically a sham. Indeed, when Ms. Schmidt alludes to the “vicious cycle of primping,” we understand that it is vicious because it goes on and on without going anywhere. The time, effort, and money expended don’t really produce the intended effect.

If we’re talking about what’s “on the outside” and that is, after all, where makeup goes then there are a few things men find attractive, and a particular shade of eye shadow isn’t one of them.

If what you’re interested in is attracting the male gaze, then showing some cleavage is a far cheaper, easier way of getting that kind of attention.

At the same time, cleavage isn’t tested on animals, isn’t made from petroleum by products, and contains no ingredients that have been linked to cancer and birth defects.

Cleavage has a greater connection to male attention (if that’s what you’re looking for) than lipstick, mascara and artificial tanning. This is likely because cleavage has a much longer evolutionary history and males are hardwired to be receptive to it. Some might say that the male focus on cleavage is superficial. Those who say this are correct: it is superficial, and most men are ashamed enough of this to quickly turn away before they are caught staring. My remarks about cleavage may be interpreted as just more male shallowness, when in reality they are an attempt to save women money just as Ms. Schmidt’s original column was.

But allow me to go a little farther and suggest that they are also about saving women from themselves. When we use the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” to what are we objecting? It’s true that quick judgments based on surface characteristics are going to lead people astray.

More than that, focusing too much on appearance has a way of undermining the dignity of the person being judged. To be superficial is to treat people as objects, not as human beings.

Now it is clear that the men who are more interested in breasts than personalities are treating other people as objects. What’s worse is that they may be treating themselves with less dignity than they really deserve. Maybe some men realize this, which is why they are embarrassed to be caught in the act.

But what can we say about the women who are more than willing to turn themselves into objects?

This is one way of understanding the “vicious cycle of primping.” Who perpetuates that cycle? Most men could hardly care less about makeup.

While males may still lead the gigantic, multinational business consortiums that produce and market cosmetics, what drives the companies themselves is an inhuman (and hence, asexual) desire for ever greater profits.

Your basic guy on the street doesn’t go around saying, “Oh yes, eyeliner makes you so attractive to me.” The corporation’s help establish that illusion but so do other women.

In service to that illusion, they learn to judge themselves and others by what goes on the outside and not on the inside. Willingly, even exultingly, they undermine their own dignity and the dignity of anyone else who becomes part of the same cycle.

At least your cleavage isn’t an illusion. Multinational corporations do not sell cleavage. Cleavage need not be a product.

And while some of the men who focus on it may treat the bearer of cleavage as an object, she remains a natural object and not a commodity.

If you want male attention without losing your dignity or breaking the bank, then exposing cleavage is the way to go.