And when you were born, they looked at you and said, what a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.
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 led 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 are that men are shallow and only after one thing, thus they don't care if a woman is a dynamic, active character, and that women have no worth beyond their looks. 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.
Around the start or a little before the 21st century, there has been more of a push to create dynamic female characters. Unfortunately this can mean the male characters they are paired with are seen as incompetent and emasculated. It is a hard balance to strike, and it's 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, and Sexy Dimorphism. See also Beauty Is Never Tarnished, and the unequal application of Dirt Forcefield. Contrast Amazon Chaser for when a female character is desirable because of her strength and proactivity, Weakness Turns Her On for when a male character is desirable because of his weakness, whether it's temperament or body, and Nothing Nice About Sugar and Spice for when a female character feigns being helpless or girly to hide her violent side.
- High School Debut: Inverted. 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.
- Life with an Ordinary Guy who Reincarnated into a Total Fantasy Knockout: In the alternate world, Jinguuji is the World's Strongest Man, overpowering just about anyone and everyone, sometimes combined, and Tachibana is turned into the World's Most Beautiful Woman, able to seduce just about anyone and everyone just by standing there.
- Ooku: The series is set in a feudal Japan where a plague has made women the dominant gender, men being reduced to communal babymakers and prostitutes (and are generally considered too precious to waste on dangerous jobs like soldiering). The main exception is the capital, where the shogun gets a harem of men for her personal use, and while they're theoretically her bodyguards, they tend to be on the pretty side as well. Later one shogun gets the idea of using men in a fire brigade where their muscles can be put to better use.
- Played With in the original 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 (which came from goddesses) were Beauty, Grace and Skill. Averted in the Post-Crisis reimagining, where the three all had the same powers from the same (male) benefactors.
- Doctor Sivana's two non-evil kids are Beautia, who lives up to that name, and Magnificus, who is a Badass Normal.
- Y: The Last Man: Inverted. The central cast is a badass secret agent and bodyguard, an Insufferable Genius cloning expert and the crucially important survivor. The first two are both women, the last is a Non-Action Guy.
- Genderbends will often take this route, especially for very curvaceous women and very muscular men who are stated to be attractive. When switching to the opposite sex, many physically powerful guys will often turn into skinny girls with little muscle definition and noticeably large breasts and hips. Likewise, girls who were already like that gain steely abs and beefier structures even if they weren't big on strength building in canon.
- WALLE: Inverted. 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 WALLE himself is pretty much thrust into situations he shouldn't be in for the sake of a romantic partner. Technically they both have No Biological Sex, but for audience purposes they are fairly obviously gendered.
- And I Darken: Inverted. Lada is strong and fast and cruel, and described by all who comment on her appearance as very ugly except Huma, who says she could put in some effort and be prettier. Her brother, Radu, is gentler and more academic, as well as shyer and weaker (though with the time skip he comes into his own, and it's probable that Lada's and his father's bullying made him more shy than natural) and extremely handsome.
- A Brother's Price: Inverted. The novel 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.
- Gulliver's Travels: The Houyhnhnms arrange their marriages with this code in mind, to preserve both the strength and the beauty of their breed. However, if a mare is more strong than pretty, they are fine with it: they find her a stallion who is more handsome than strong.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Men are expected to bear arms and fight while women are expected to sit around and keep house. Arthur "The Sword of the Morning" and Ashara Dayne, siblings whose deaths in the aftermath of Robert's Rebellion were much-romanticized as a result of this trope, exemplify this; Arthur was a Master Swordsman and member of the Kingsguard while Ashara was the World's Most Beautiful Woman at the time. Characters that subvert these expectations, such as Brienne of Tarth and Asha Greyjoy (both warrior women) are met with derision. Even in cases where it can't be helped, like Tyrion being a dismal warrior due to being a dwarf,note are seen as no excuse.
- subverted in Dorne, where noblewomen are just as frequently trained with weapons. Meanwhile, men are expected to participate equally in home life.
- Also subverted by Dacey Mormont, who is an accomplished warrior but receives nowhere near the contempt that Brienne does - probably because she's pretty.
- If Lyanna Stark was indeed the Knight of the Tree (something hinted at, but not confirmed by the books so far), then she would also count as a slight subversion: in that Rhaegar Targaryen would have chosen her for her strength rather than her beauty. It's not a total subversion though, since even her own brother Eddard primarily remembers her as beautiful.
- Daenerys could count as a subversion as well, considering that although she is beautiful all of her followers value either her moral rectitude or her military prowress more. The Unsullied follow her because she freed them from slavery, while the Dothraki follow her because she brings them victory.
- subverted in Dorne, where noblewomen are just as frequently trained with weapons. Meanwhile, men are expected to participate equally in home life.
- These Broken Stars: As Tarver's a Major and Lilac's a Socialite, this was always a given. Her Character Development revolves around becoming stronger, just in time for Tarver to get an infected wound and need her help.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Inverted. The eponymous protagonist tends to kick much more ass than any of her boyfriends, master vampires included. More to the point, the man who is confirmed by the narrative to truly love Buffy-Angel-is clearly far more impressed with her commitment to doing good than with her looks.
- Chuck: Inverted. The eponymous protagonist is a sensitive, Hollywood Homely Nerd who helps his Action Girl bodyguard deal with her inner demons.
- Firefly: Inverted. Zoe, a tough soldier, is married to Wash, a sensitive pilot. Even the episode where Wash demands to go on a mission while Zoe stays on the ship isn't the trope being played straight. He wasn't jealous of his wife's Action Girl status, he was jealous of her Platonic Life-Partners relationship with Mal.
- Stargate SG-1: Kar'yn and Rya'c use this trope for their wedding vows:
Kar'yn: Rya'c, your heart is pure and your spirit strong. You give me strength and joy and I will stand by your side always.
Rya'c: Kar'yn, you are as beautiful as the sun and my love for you is like the morning rays that dawn over an endless day.
- Who Wants to Be a Superhero?: Invoked. The comic covers for the potential contestants had the men with bigger muscles than the real ones, and the women are likewise depicted with bigger breasts except for Fat Momma, who wasn't depicted as any prettier and was instead depicted as a massive, hulking powerhouse.
- Philippine Mythology: The first man and woman are named Malakas ("strong") and Maganda ("beautiful") respectively as they were born on split bamboo.
- A Prairie Home Companion: Inverted. In Lake Wobegon, all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.
- 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."
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, the "Frankenstein's Monster" and "Bride of Frankenstein" backgrounds are almost identical, but males get a strength bonus while females get a beauty bonus.
- Not exactly the case in the Batman: Arkham Series, but the female characters are clearly inferior in terms of combat prowess. Catwoman has lower health, cannot ride Titans, doesn't fight Brutes. Batgirl is a plain tripped-down version of Batman, her Throw Counters are barely useful compared to Batman's. All female characters use kicks more than punches because of their skinny arms.
- The many, many armor sets of Monster Hunter tend to abide by this trope. The male version will often look tough and hide the wearer's face, while the female version will generally focus on looking graceful, keep the wearer's face visible, and in some cases, boast a little Fanservice. The image up top is a more specific example: The male Aelucanth armor set is designed to invoke the image of an intimidating insect, while the female version strongly resembles a butterfly. Aesthetics aside, the game generally averts this trope with regards to the Player Character; both male and female hunters are equally as capable of becoming badass G-rank hunters and neither have a gameplay advantage over the other.
- Final Fantasy XIV:
- Similar to the above Monster Hunter example, the game features a few armor sets that are different in looks depending on if the character wearing it is male or female. Notoriously, the Dragoon artifact armor was purple plate armor for male characters, while for female characters it was purple plate armor with a giant goddamn boob window in the middle of the breast plate that left most of the vital organs one would expect heavy armor to protect completely unprotected. There is, however, no functional difference to the armor, giving the same stats regardless of who's wearing it.
- There is also gear that can only be worn by male or female characters, mostly being "glamourbait" stand-ins for various formal wear that serves no purpose other than to frustrate players who think it would be funny to dress their Roegadyn Warrior in a Thavnarian Bustier. This generally reserves "pretty" or "dainty" apparel for females, while the dudes get tuxedos and the like.
- The character models for different genders in a given race can also exhibit this. Most blatantly apparent in the Au Ra race. The females are shorter than any playable character that isn't a Lalafell, with "cute" faces with round eyes set really far apart, looking like a Real Doll, and smaller horns usually down and to the back/side of their heads. Au Ra males, besides being ridiculously scrawny for the race with the highest Strength rating, are second only to Roegadyn in height, and all have angular faces with scowls carved into them liked the designer was trying to parody Perpetual Frowner anime and video game tough guys, with larger horns angling more up and in front of their heads. However, like armor, this is entirely aesthetic and has no bearing on stats. Which means the 4'9, 115 lbs Au Ra girl will have a higher strength rating than the 7'2, 400 lbs slab-of-meat Roegadyn man.
- Speaking of, Roegadyn are a less exaggerated example. In fact, Roegadyn females are taller than everything that isn't an Au Ra or Roegadyn male and rather well filled out. But they're nonetheless utterly dwarfed by Roegadyn males, the smallest of which is apparently the equivalent of about 7 feet and 2 inches tall, and built in such a manner that would make notoriously huge Hafthor Bjornsson◊ look like a light-heavyweight.
- Gets a lampshade hung on it in The Book of Unwritten Tales's sequel by protagonist Wilbur Weathervane. In a parody of the "Adventurer's Shop" found in most games he comes across two sets of armor. The male version looks decidedly badass, featuring plate coverings, spikes, and a really nice helmet. The female version... not so much, resembling more a platemail bikini with a tiara. When Wilbur asks the proprietor about the two sets, he is positively shocked to find they actually boast IDENTICAL defense and agility bonuses. Having a background in armoring and metalwork, he feels the need to point out the incongruity there, but fails to convince the shop owner. The lampshade is further hung when a female third character enters the shop and Wilbur asks for her opinion on the matter, hoping to get a natural ally in the argument. Unfortunately, she is of the gold digging persuasion and perfectly comfortable with using feminine wiles to get men to do what she wants, so the bikini makes perfect sense to her.
- In Aka to Blue, Aka is the male half of the protagonist pair and is a muscly Boisterous Bruiser, while Blue is the female half and is comparatively soft-spoken and sports a fairly average body type.
- In Tekken Tag Tournament 2 the character select screen◊ sees the males looking tough and fighter-like while the majority of the female characters are smiling and seemingly either looking at the player or posing as cute as possible. The few that are not smiling are usually doing something else that would get the viewer's eye such as Nina William's Boobs-and-Butt Pose.
- Rumble Roses averts this as its only two male characters, Sebastian and Non-Non (bear), both have around Benikage levels of defense and Dixie alongside Becky levels of hitting power without the benefits of each character. Sebastian is also dressed as a BDSM clown but the girls are all dressed in a Stripperiffic way anyway.
- Outsider: Inverted. The Loroi have a much higher ratio of women to men, so the men are kept safe while the women go off and fight or do whatever else is necessary. They think of this as a natural biological and cultural evolution for any warrior race, since it makes reproduction far more efficient than any monogamous model. It takes Beryl a bit to wrap her head around the idea that humans have about the same number of males and females.
- Sword Princess Amaltea: Inverted. Thanks to the story being held in a Matriarchy world, with gender roles reversed, the females are the dominant gender, and while most of them are attractive, their looks are not such a big deal as their intelligence, cleverness, and overall, pride and strength. Males otherwise hold little to no power, especially if they're not royal-born, and their good looks are all that matters, to the point they keep their manes long and are sometimes difficult to distinguish from the females.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: Inverted. Sandy Cheeks is considerably stronger than SpongeBob, who can at best be just Weak, but Skilled enough to compete with her in karate. While SpongeBob himself isn't considered particularly "pretty", he has a few noticeably girlish features, such as his eyelashes and appears to be somewhat mindful of his appearance.
- The official motto of the State of Maryland is Fatti maschii, parole femine:* "Manly deeds, womanly words." Some higher-ups became uncomfortable with the outdated connotations, and changed the official translation to "Strong deeds, gentle words," but this doesn't really change the basic facts.