Created By: PapercutChainsaw on April 8, 2011 Last Edited By: MercuryInRetrograde on May 13, 2011
Troped

Men Are Strong Women Are Pretty

Passive men and plain women aren't sexy!

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Certain ideals are expected to be embodied by male and female characters for them to be seen as attractive to the opposite sex. Sexy female characters are physically desirable; Sexy male characters are strong and proactive. This is a consequence of Men Act, Women Are as applied to sex appeal: A woman's attractiveness is mostly due to her passive physical attributes, while a man's attractiveness is mostly a result of his behavior.

For female characters, passivity does not detract from their attractiveness. In extreme cases, female characters who are very active will be seen as undesirable, or that they can only love a man stronger than themselves. Further a physically unattractive woman will always be unattractive regardless of how proactive she is.

Male characters are viewed as less attractive if they are passive. In fact a dynamic evil man is more likely to be viewed as attractive then a decent but weak man. A physically unattractive man's dynamic qualities can also make him more attractive.

Some male characters who are physically attractive-particularly in a "pretty boy" kind of way- will be seen as weak, less than a man, or suspected of being gay. This holds doubly true if they spend time cultivating their attractiveness. (In fact, many male characters with a large female following tend to be disliked by male audience members- possibly because he's a threat to their sense of masculinity.)

In summary, physical attractiveness only ever adds to a woman's sex appeal while being active may or may not detract. Whereas for men being proactive only ever adds to a man's sex appeal while being physically attractive may or may not add to his desirability.

These differing standards lead to the genders being held to equally damaging but different standards of attractiveness and have numerous Unfortunate Implications.

For women the implication is that your actions are irrelevant to your attractiveness to the opposite sex. As long as you're beautiful, even if you're 105 lbs of useless deadweight or utterly psychotic you're still desirable.

The Unfortunate Implications for men is that men are shallow and only after one thing, thus they don't care if a woman is a dynamic, active character. Also, male characters will end up pulling more then their own weight, emotionally and physically, in works where this trope is in effect.

And, just like the beauty ideal puts incredible pressure on women to be beautiful, the strength ideal puts incredible pressure on men to judge themselves against an impossible standard of stoicism, willpower and physical strength. These pressures have not received as much press or attention on their effects on men and boys, partially due to the idea that men aren't as emotionally fragile as women, that things that affect women are worse than things that affect men. This in turn enforces another Double Standard: That women must be defended from the evil media, while men should be able to just shrug it off.

In the last few decades there has been more of a push to create attractive, dynamic female characters. Unfortunately this often seems to come at the expense of the male characters they are paired with who are portrayed as incompetent and emasculated. It is a hard balance to strike, and difficult to imagine a work in which a beautiful, virgin male character is saved from peril by a grizzled female Anti-Hero who is changed for the better by his pure heart, without the man seeming like a useless wussy-pants whose wuss-ness disqualifies him from being a man and, more importantly, from being saved.

This is the supertrope for Ugly Guy, Hot Wife, Beast and Beauty, Cookie Cutter Cuties, Hollywood Homely, Non-Action Guy. See also Beauty Is Never Tarnished, and the unequal application of Dirt Forcefield.


General Examples

Specific Examples

Community Feedback Replies: 62
  • April 8, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Methinks the description could stand to be written a little less soapboxish. o.o
  • April 8, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    ^How's that?
  • April 8, 2011
    batgirl1
    1. I'm certain there's a how-to-draw-superheroes guide, by Marvel IIRC, where this is pretty much stated explicitely. I don't recall where I learned about this, though.

    2. Eh, maybe tweak the wording a little more? I don't think strong men and sexy men are opposite concepts; maybe you're thinking specifically of "bishie"? Or by strong, are you refering to characters more like the ones drawn by Rob Liefeld?
  • April 8, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Mercury, I think we've been doubling up on our edits :P. Every time I try to change something I find you've beaten me to it. I'll wait til later today and then expand the bottom paragraph into an examples section.
  • April 8, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Marginally better, but not by much. The idea that women have to have the right face, hairstyle and body to be treated with respect is nonsensical. If anything, guys who would call such nonconforming women ugly are the ones who are Acceptable Targets here.

    EDIT: But yeah, "strong" and "sexy" definitely aren't contradictory for males. If anything, they're almost equated with each other, both in popular culture and according to a lot of evolutionary logic. For what it's worth, I'll grant that there are other traits women find attractive in men than strength, but it's still a major factor in sexiness itself and should not be contrasted with it.
  • April 8, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Agree on changing the bits about sexy men being explicitly a bad thing. Actually, I think we need a trope for that. ("The Narcissus"? "The Fop"? "Too Sexy For My Shirt"?)

    @neoYTPism The idea that women must fit a certain mold in order to be acceptable is best expressed through tropes such as Hollywoodhomely, Hollywood Pudgy and Fat Girl. These characters are rarely allowed to be a part of the main cast, and, if they are, they are usually the resident Butt Monkey and Acceptable Target.
  • April 8, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Okay, so the idea is that unattractive women are Acceptable Targets in fiction but not in real life?

    Also, what of my point that strong men are considered sexier?
  • April 8, 2011
    batgirl1
  • April 8, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    ^^Recognized. Still trying to think how to integrate it best.
  • April 8, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Well, some male characters that fuction mostly as love interests, or are the object of a lot of fangirl attention tend to be automatically disliked by a male audience and mocked heavily for their lack of masculinity. (Possibly because to admit to liking such a character threatens one's own heterosexuality in the eyes of other men?)

    Also, I don't think it's really possible to seperate Real Life from fiction with regard to the treatment of unattractive women. Women's magazines and advertising provide a nasty middle ground between fantasy and reality, which is why we use the term "media" rather than "fiction".
  • April 10, 2011
    Alrune
    ^This. Men are often too masculinity-challenged to bear the presence of a particularly good-looking guy.

    Plain looks, nevermind being ugly, is unforgivable for women. Likewise, being physically challenged when you're a man is a crying shame in the eyes of the media, since you can't be physically proactive. Hence the existence of Inspirationally Disabled.

    Also, notice just how intelligence is never brought up in those archetypes? I mean you must be strong and action-oriented when you're male, you must be a passive sex-object when you're a woman. When does the "smarts", nevermind complexity, come in?
  • April 11, 2011
    RossN
    Hmm... maybe with 'smarts' men are expected to be cunning (and thus proactive) while women are expected to wise (and thus passive). Any number of male action heroes are Book Dumb but are great at thinking on their feet while explicitly smart women tend towards the Hot Librarian or Hot Scientist sort of trope - their intelligence is shown more through learned knowledge than being naturally quick witted. Thus you might end up with a Talented Princess Regular Guy situation where the gal knows much more than the guy but he is usually the one who saves the day through his quick wits.
  • April 11, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Some of this passive/active stuff could also potentially go on the Men Act Women Are page. Come to think of it, this is probably a Sub Trope of that.
  • April 11, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    Yep, it could.

    I don't know if this is a subtrope or something else. Maybe there needs to be a transformation language for tropes. As in X transformation is applied to Y trope to get Z trope.

    In this case Men Are Strong Women Are Sexy is the idealization of Men Do Women Are. Or maybe Men Do Women Are as applied to sex appeal.
  • April 11, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^The way I see it is that strength is displayed through action, whereas sexy is just something you are.

    We could have a "Trope Arithmatic" page somewhere (Just For Fun?)where we show how tropes interact with one another to produce other tropes...
  • April 11, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    I think that would be a lot of fun and a lot of work.

    How would you distinguish this trope from Men Act Women Are?
  • April 11, 2011
    batgirl1
    ^^ We do have a Trope Arithmetic page somewhere...ah, Here
  • April 12, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Seriously? They even used the same name (sort of)? Whoa. Strange minds think alike...

    ^^ Anyway, back on-topic. I think it's easiest to just present this as a Sub Trope of Men Act Women Are.
  • April 12, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    The body text is getting quite long. Perhaps we should move some of it to the examples section...
  • April 12, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    Or we can work to create more segmented analyses like in Men Are The Expendable Gender. I'd have to think about how to do that for this one though.
  • April 13, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    I think we can get rid of the last paragraph, since we'll cover that in the examples. And, I like the second-last paragraph, but it might be better off being reworked into another example.

    If you want to do this in multiple sections, we can post them in the replies section for now, and see if we come up with a good selection of sub-headings to file them under.
  • April 14, 2011
    CindehQ
    Pretty much every shonen nakama. In good shonen manga, every character in the group is useful in their own way. Meaning the majority (the men) can be gonks as long at they're also badasses. Women however, no matter how competent, must ALSO be (at the very least) cute. And of course, in poor shonen manga, the females tends to be regulated to being eye candy, her looks being her only interesting point.

    Anyways, isn't this whole trope basically: "The number 1 factor of a woman's worth is her looks. The number 1 factor of a man's worth is his ability to take action." A man with good looks and a woman who can take action are more bonus points then the deal breaker. Another way to look at it, is that in movies the male characters prove their worth, while it's the viewers who decide the female's worth. Take for example, every "loser guy gets the girl" story. When the guy mans up, we're expected to cheer. What reason are we given to like the female? Because she's pretty. The movie doesn't need to even give us a reason to like her, they just expect us to like her on looks alone.

    Even in movies aimed at girls, it's somewhat similar. While the male can easily become the 2D beauty equals goodness character, when it's the girls times to "prove herself", it's usually in the form of showing she's beautiful (so now it's okay to like her). Who cares if she's developed as a person? The important part is she's pretty and now has worth. Sure on could argue the make over was meant to be a physical manifestation of her becoming a better person, but how many loser guys have to be made over to be worthy of their love interest?

    Sorry for the mini rant. I think the description is good. It doesn't seem more preachy than any other gender related trope.
  • April 14, 2011
    HeartMint
    Was someone talking about this how to draw guide? I'm not even sure if the artists are self-aware enough to know they're invoking this trope.

    I've actually seen someone do a parody/experiment where they reversed the sexes. It was pretty interesting.
  • April 16, 2011
    NESBoy
  • April 16, 2011
    JimCambias
    This is pretty much Truth In Television. Regardless of how you feel about it, human brains appear to be wired so that women are "attractive" based on their looks while men are "attractive" based on perceived power and status. However Unfortunate you think the Implications are, they appear to be a fact of human biology.
  • April 16, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    Look up neuroplasticity. Saying human brains are 'hard wired' for anything is a shaky proposition at best.
  • April 17, 2011
    JimCambias
    I live with a neurobiologist. Look it up yourself.
  • April 17, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^Well, maybe if we get someone with enough experience in the field who can write a balanced segment on this, we could possibly include a section on it. But we had a comment on biology in Men Are Generic Women Are Special, which gets edited every other week with people disputing what is true and what isn't. Basically, this could end up as a natter magnet if done wrong, so I'd want to verify it before putting anything like that in.
  • April 17, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    The biology behind a trope is irrelevant to the fact that it exists. We can have a WMG entry for this trope and people can put in all their proposed explanations for why it exists there. As it stands I don't think that that is relevant to the taxonomy of a trope.

    Also, this idea that men are attracted to beauty, women to status as a biological absolute is predicated on the idea that the social structure of great apes models our own closer then that of, say, canids or other pair-bonding species. In a cooperative breeding pack species, status is absolutely essential to which female breeds and the dominant male will preferably pair with the most dominant female he can find.
  • April 18, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^Yeah, the WMG's probably a better idea.

    So, any ideas about formatting the body text?
  • April 18, 2011
    cathstuart
    Sorry. despite all the great work, this is just another facet of Men Act Women Are. The concepts discussed, and even this discussion, it's all the same stuff, just viewed with a slightly different emphasis. So... is this part of a long-running series or project about how men do and women don't? Or is this just a coincidence, Mercury In Retrograde & Papercut Chainsaw?

    And just to agree with neoYPTism, male strength IS male sexiness, for a lot of women. It's a false dichotomy. But if you want to dismiss women's opinions on male strength/sexiness, just continue making this stuff up from a male perspective and good luck to you.
  • April 19, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Well, yes, it's a Sub Trope of Men Act Women Are, but I feel there's enough content here to justify its own page.

    I guess we're kind of going with a looks-based definition of "sexy" here, but I see your point- there could be some confusion. Maybe we could substitute "sexiness" with "beauty" or something similar?
  • April 19, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    "And just to agree with neoYPTism, male strength IS male sexiness, for a lot of women."

    And being a 18 year old supermodel is sexiness for a lot of men. What's your point?

    "But if you want to dismiss women's opinions on male strength/sexiness, just continue making this stuff up from a male perspective and good luck to you."

    Why don't you explain exactly what's offending you? I think the discussion of what men find sexy from the female point of view is quite prevalent and more then counterbalances this. Just off the top of my head:

    Male Gaze Hollywood Homely Hollywood Pudgy Cookie Cutter Cuties Ugly Guy Hot Wife Abbhorant Admirer Fat Girl Give Geeks A Chance Hollywood Thin

    BTW, I'm not male so it's pretty much impossible to be 'making this stuff up' from the male point of view.
  • April 19, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    I think the confusion is coming from the way we use the word "sexiness" in the article (We're using it to describe physical attributes, rather than overall attractiveness.) So, since a couple of people have had issues with it, it may be necessary to reword some parts of the article.

    What if we called it Men Are Strong Women Are Beautiful? (If we can use the term "beauty" in the purely physical sense.)

    I also get the impression that people may not be reading the article the whole way through, or are misinterpreting some parts of it, since we clearly state that "A woman's attractiveness is mostly due to her passive physical attributes, while a man's attractiveness is mostly a result of his behavior." Either way, for some reason, our point is just not coming across.

    ... we tend to attract a lot of critics on these articles, don't we? :P

  • April 19, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    I know. And what's really interesting is that one person will criticize it for being 'from a male Po V' and then another will criticize it for being Straw Feminist. Either we're out to lunch or we're striking just the right balance. ;)

    I changed the working title. I liked the alliterative effect but I guess clarity is more important.
  • April 19, 2011
    neoYTPism
    This will need some pretty strong Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgment if and when it gets launched. o.o
  • April 19, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^ You think? I guess this stuff is somewhat subjective, but I don't think it's likely to start a flame war in the same way that politics and religion are. As long as Justifying Edits are kept to a minimum, there shouldn't be too much trouble. I can see it having a very active WMG and/or Just Bugs Me page, but I see that as a good thing.
  • April 20, 2011
    captainpat

    Charles Atlas Superpower is not the Spear Counterpart of Most Common Superpower. That probably needs to be switched with Heroic Build.
  • April 20, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    The concept of this trope is played with in Ranma One Half, in his male form Ranma beats opponents with standard fighting. In his female form she is just as liable to use her looks to distract or trick her opponent as she is to fight.
  • April 25, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    I guess we need to have some more discussion if this trope is going to be launched.
  • April 26, 2011
    cathstuart
    "one person will criticize it for being 'from a male Po V' and then another will criticize it for being Straw Feminist"

    Just a niggle: Straw Feminist doesn't 'balance out' male Po V. They aren't equal opposites. They often come from the same place.
  • ^ You're right that the male Po V doesn't balance out Straw Feminist. Maybe I should have said 'Straw Misogynist' although the original person who complained referred to a male Po V (as if that's a bad thing.)

    But what did you mean by 'they often come from the same place?'
  • May 9, 2011
    peccantis
    • Even though in Spirit Stallion Of The Cimarron the horses are only anthropomirphised up to where they have eyebrows, some vaguely human smile-like expressions and white scleras, and a tendency to whinny too often compared to real horses, Spirit (the stallion) is still distinctly a strong, active and athletic animal, while the mares are more pretty than anything. The leading female Rain comes off as decidedly sexy, with sultry glances and swaying gait.
  • May 9, 2011
    cathstuart
    I'm not disputing anything anymore. The article is a lot better written, and I think I get where you're coming from. If you think it's a useful trope to highlight, go ahead. I originally thought the article was completely ahistorical, given the centuries of reinforcement of the idea, since at least Ancient Greek times, that 'men are active, women are passive'. It just seemed like we were getting a whole bunch of 'men are from mars, women are from venus' type articles, which I didn't perceive as very helpful or progressive. In fact, it seemed like conservative reinforcing of prejudice and stereotypes. If you keep searching for this stuff, you're going to keep finding it (and you're going to keep reinforcing it).

    But you just seem to be interested in highlighting it as a trope, so whatever. But that comment about "our modern ideas to sexuality"...I don't know whose modern ideas you're getting this from. I thought women were expected these days to be even more 'proactive, 'work harder' and 'have agency' with regard to sexuality - you can't even retire when you're over 40! You have to be a cougar or a milf! And as for what teenage girls are expected to do these days... I just think that sexuality comment in the article is way outdated and wrong, and not modern at all. Good luck.
  • May 10, 2011
    peccantis
    IMHO it is a useful trope to highlight: there is a disappointingly large number of people who think this is truth rather than a trope. This is so ubiquitous there's no way we shouldn't have this.
  • May 10, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Wait... so all of this arguing has just stemmed from some peculiar variant of Poes Law? Oh, well, I'm glad that's sorted out.

    The trouble with writing something like this is that we can't explicitly say "This is how it is in the media but it is definitely not true in real life!", because some people would argue that there is a biological basis for certain behaviours, and, therefore, some truth in the stereotypes. So, what we have to to is describe the Double Standard without passing judgement on its validity, which causes some confusion with people believing that we support/endorse that way of thinking, when in fact we are trying to do the exact opposite.

    And, as peccantis said, I think it's important to highlight this trope, so that people become aware of it and start trying to avert it in their own work.
  • May 11, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    "avert it in their own work."

    Because well done trope aversions are how great new stories come about! :D For example, since writing that 'trope inversion example' I've decided I've got to write the story based on it and make it work.

    "The trouble with writing something like this is that we can't explicitly say "This is how it is in the media but it is definitely not true in real life!","

    Well, it sort of is a bit of a reflection of real life. However the point is that it doesn't have to be absolute truth. By pointing out the anatomy of the trope, that gives writers the ability to write around it. And, I think mature men look for strength in women and, conversely, there is more and more appreciation of masculine beauty among women.
  • May 11, 2011
    captainpat
    ^^ I don't think this is a trope. It's more of an idea, an idea that may effect a work but I don't think it's a plot convention or anything.

    Also who are the "people" you're talking about? It is the audience? or the author? either way, nobody here is a mind reader so it pretty much comes off as assumptive to claim that anyone outside the work has a specific idea without evidence.
  • May 11, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    ^ It's a meta-trope.

    I think s/he specified what s/he meant by 'people' in each instance s/he used it. The meaning comes across as 'that group of individuals that believe or argue X position.'

    'some people would argue that there is a biological basis' -> People means people who would argue there is a biological basis 'people believing that we support/endorse that way of thinking' -> People means people who think the write up of the metatrope legitimizes it somehow
  • May 11, 2011
    captainpat
    ^ Sorry, I'm not understand what you're saying, but I don't have any major objections to this trope. However, I don't think it should have specific examples. It's still assumptive unless you know the author's mindset.

  • May 11, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Just for future reference, I'm a "she." :)

    And, no, it's not quite a plot device in itself, but rather an implicit message that is communicated through tropes and plot devices. Most of the time, it wouldn't even be intentional on the writers' part because of its subtlety, which, in my opinion, is all the more reason to draw attention to it.

    "People" in the last instance I mentioned it refers to anyone reading TV Tropes. Everyone who reads this site has some sort of interest in fiction, and there are many tropers who would one day like to produce their own works. So, if TV Tropes is effectively training the next generation of writers (who are all self-aware and enjoy messing around with established tropes). So, if you want an outdated Double Standard like this to disappear, the best way to do it is to make an article about it, so that future authors will be able to avoid it in their own writing.
  • May 11, 2011
    captainpat
    ^ The problem with "implicit messages" and "subtlety" is that they usually boil down subjective interpretation.

    Whatever though, is this supposed to be a guide or something? Least from your comments it kinda feels like this trope is supposed to have an agenda.
  • May 11, 2011
    Ardiente
    "the females tends to be regulated to being eye candy,"

    RELEGATED. Not Regulated. LESS GOVERNMENT!
  • May 11, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    ^^^ She, huh? That makes it even odder for us to have been accused of writing from the male Po V. XD
  • May 11, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^Hehe... I know... I'm never sure whether to laugh or headdesk when I get comments like that. At least it means I'm not coming across as a Straw Feminist.

    ^^^ Well, that's kind of how Unfortunate Implications generally work. The writers, most of the time, don't intend to send that message at all. It's really more of a subconcious thing- they're just following the trends that have already been set without thinking of the implications.

    Most sexism/racisim/any other form of stereotype or discrimination is completely unintentional (Ever heard of a self-proclaimed racist?). I like to believe that most people try to do the "right" thing, but sometimes they need help to recognise that something they are doing or saying may come across as unfair or offensive.

    As for our "agenda"... I think I've already stated that. It's so people are aware of the implications, can recognise them when they see them, and avoid sending unintended messages in their own work.

    Anyway, I hope that's cleared a few things up for you. I don't put any of this stuff into the main article since it would probably come off as too preachy...

  • May 11, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    ^ Ultimately I think the point is to identify the metatrope and let creators do what they want with the knowledge. On the one hand writing according to what people know and accept is safe.

    But, on the other hand, writing something that plays against type well...? That is something that gets noticed.
  • May 12, 2011
    captainpat
    ^^ Ok, the main article doesn't sound preachy or anything but even Unfortunate Implications is YMMV. It this page gonna a have a subjective banner on it?

    Regardless of how blatant the message feels to some people there's always gonna be another group of people that say that "the message isn't there",or "You're reaching". Pretty much anything that's not explicit almost always opens itself for interpretation.

  • May 12, 2011
    neoYTPism
    The laconic just seems weirdly worded... "sexy women are sexy?"
  • May 12, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    How's that?
  • May 12, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Better.

    EDIT: Still not sure about the laconic, though. A woman can still be sexy because of her actions (acting seductive, or having a personality considered Fetish Fuel like that of the Genki Girl) and a man can still be sexy because of his body. (Ie. Being muscular.)
  • May 12, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    The idea is that being physically ugly is a deal breaker for women in terms of their sexiness; being inert and not proactive is a deal-breaker for men in terms of their sexiness.
  • May 13, 2011
    MercuryInRetrograde
    We got five hats so I'm launching the sucker!
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