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Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty
When I was born, they looked at me and said, what a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.
And when you were born, they looked at you and said, what a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.
Barenaked Ladies, "What a Good Boy"

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. Furthermore, 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 than 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 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 a complete and utter bitch you're still desirable. And if you're not born beautiful enough, no matter what you do, Failure Is the Only Option for you.

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 than 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 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. See Action Girlfriend for the few couples who approach such a dynamic, like Zoe and Wash from Firefly.

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

General Examples

  • In romantic comedies, an undesirable woman can easily remedy her faults with a makeover, and, surprise, surprise, discover that She Cleans Up Nicely. An undesirable male's transformation is less of a physical one, and more about growing up and accepting responsibility for his actions.
  • The tropes Cute Monster Girl and Green-Skinned Space Babe: Even non-human creatures must be conventionally attractive to human males.
  • Beast and Beauty and Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Men want women who are more attractive than they are. If they choose women based on qualities other than looks, then they are suspected of being gay and the women they're with is obviously an attempt to deflect from their gayness. In this dynamic, women are forbidden to want physical attractiveness in their mate. Often because they are above being selfish and petty.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased, No Guy Wants an Amazon, All Amazons Want Hercules, Best Her to Bed Her: Women want men who are stronger than they are. Some women are seen as attracted to weak men however the assumption is that they are attracted to these men in order to dominate and abuse them. Or, in lighter versions where the man is justifiably weak, she is attracted to him because of his need for healing. The man in these more acceptable scenarios is still a Badass or a former badass.
  • Compare male superheroes with their female counterparts.
  • The fact that Faux Action Girls can exist. It's not really necessary to establish them as strong as long as they're hot. A male character who is supposed to be badass needs to live up to his reputation through acts of strength and manliness, while a female character does not.
  • Our so-called modern attitudes regarding sexuality betray this trope. Men are seen to give women pleasure through their actions; while men get pleasure from women's bodies in a way that women don't from men's. Thus the emphasis is on men's technique, or their agency, and women's bodies, or their passive attributes, in sex.
  • Pretty much every group of True Companions in shonen. 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.
  • Abhorrent Admirer, Fat Girl, Hollywood Homely, Hollywood Pudgy: Women are basically not allowed to look "plain", let alone be ugly. In the off-chance an ugly woman makes an appearance on screen, chances are she's a Foil to a frumpy yet eventually attractive woman; or she's a villain. Additionally, women are forbidden to look for physical attractiveness in men as it makes them pass off as shallow bitches.
  • Hollywood Old, White-Dwarf Starlet, Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have: Basically, old age is a female character's doom. As soon as a woman loses her youthful beauty, she becomes expendable because she's not sexually desirable. While you may find plenty of older male characters scoring attractive, nubile hotties, women over 50 who aren't some Cool Old Guy's wife are either crazy or pathetic.
  • Bury Your Disabled, Inspirationally Disabled, Evil Cripple: Disabled men are always seen as sexually undesirable and forcibly chaste. Being unable to take physical action to advance the plot, they can only hope to be supportive characters, or brainy ones, but romance is definitely off the table, unless the story wants to drop an anvil about accepting people for who they are.
  • When women actively attempt to subvert this trope they often still find people referring to it, much to their frustration. For example, many women who actively try to get recognised for their achievements in science, the arts, physical achievements, and so on often get written up in the media through an angle of "look at this beautiful gorgeous woman... who by the way is a rocket scientist" instead of simply mentioning that she IS a rocket scientist, as the media would with a man. This causes many women much frustration, that even when they attempt to subvert this, people STILL refer to their femaleness above their actual achievements.

Specific Examples:

Advertisement
  • The Total Gym brand of exercise equipment, endorsed by Chuck Norris and supermodel Christie Brinkley. Do the math.

Anime & Manga
  • The author of Rurouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki, believes that men should be strong and women, cute. There are few, if any, women able to fight any Big Bads or against Kenshin and his team. Though in Kaoru's case it isn't so much that she's weak, but that everyone else is too strong.

Comic Books
  • Played With in the original the Marvel Family: all three members had Strength, Wisdom and Speed, but while Billy and Freddie also had Stamina, Power and Bravery, Mary's additional powers were Beauty, Grace and Skill. Averted in the Post-Crisis reimagining, where the three all had the same powers from the same (male) benefactors.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games
  • In the second edition of Fantasy Hero for the Hero System, there was a description of what it meant to have a characteristic higher than 20: "Songs are written about the man with 25 Strength or the woman with 24 Comeliness."

Video Games

Mythology
  • The reason why the first man and woman in Philippine Mythology are named Malakas and Maganda respectively as they were born on split bamboo.

Inversions:

Anime & Manga
  • High School Debut: Haruna, the female lead, is defined mostly by her strength and athleticism (her looks are merely average). Yoh, the male lead, is known for his attractiveness, and it's the first thing people comment on when meeting him for the first time.

Comic Books

Film
  • In WALL•E, while pretty much every robot featured is adorable, EVE is the one who does a whole lot more for the sake of her boyfriend and her directive/career, while WALL•E himself is pretty much thrust into situations he shouldn't be in for the sake of a romantic partner.

Literature
  • The world of A Brother's Price features a broad Stereotype Flip of most gender roles, set in an analogue of the nineteenth century. Therefore the noted attributes of women are strength, confidence, intelligence, competence etc, with ugliness being a detriment but fairly minor, but although men are expected to be able to run a household and raise children their beauty is extremely important.

Live-Action TV

Radio
  • A Prairie Home Companion: In Lake Wobegon, all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

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