Aishwarya Rai: Often considered the most beautiful woman in the world.
What do women want? Forgive the rhetorical generalizations, but lots of people would like to know, including many women. This post is a companion piece to my post on men and love and the Internet, here. In that post, I concluded that one of the reasons men invented the Internet was because it was a great democratic equalizer when it comes to pursuing women. Also, the Internet allows men to resolve discrepancies between dissatisfaction in their current situations and their desired situations. They can do this fairly seamlessly - until they have to make their online virtual reality match up with their everyday reality. Despite these wrinkles, the masculine desires for freedom and equality when searching for a mate appear to be two of the driving forces behnd the Tech Boom.
But how do the Internet, and technology in general, reflect and reveal women's greatest desires?
Back in high school, my insane English teacher said: "Don't be fooled, Boys! Women say they want love! But what they really want is powerrrrr." He said he figured this out one day when he found himself peeling a grape for his granddaughter.
According to a new Website, CoupTessa, which is devoted to women's desires in the recession, what women want is monogrammed soap and great deals on laser hair removal. And Tessa, your online guide to these deals, is:
Now, in case you think I came upon this site searching for online deals in laser hair removal, I should say I ran across it reading Forbes, where I found out that Tessa is actually two guys who recently lost their Wall Street jobs at Morgan Stanley. CoupTessa is their startup, a business with the express purpose of profiting off giving women exactly what they want. But considering their description of Tessa and what she's offering, I don't think they have figured out what women want.Tessa is the world’s shopper extraordinaire - a fantastic young woman whose 400-year-old Northern European royal family migrated to the United States after having lost their fortune in an economic upheaval.
Cleverly supporting herself by negotiating the best deals anywhere she could find them, she skillfully evolved into one of today's most interesting personalities - a consummate buyer of superb services. She is chic, she is smart, and she knows a great bargain when she finds it! And all this sure helps her maintain an amazing life style, at an affordable price. Mom and Dad, the Count and Countess, are once again smiling.
After years of mastering the art of shopping (she deserves a PhD in buying), her talent for spotting the "Next Great Deal" became so pronounced that major department stores and couturiers have hired her to spot the newest trends, the best services and the smartest looks. Not only is she a Countessa but also the Diva of Discounts! She knows who she is and how to get what she wants – with no excuses!!!
Her wide array of friends and followers have made her a trend setter and a sought after hostess, excursion guide, shopper for the stars, taste tester, and social arbiter... there is no one out there that Tessa doesn't know, no deal she hasn't sniffed out, and no service she hasn't tried.
She is the Countessa of shopping for women!!!
Tessa is now opening her "Little Black Book" to guide her friends through their cities´ best deals, one amazing deal a day, across the United States.
Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, there's a report that another couple of guys, neuroscientists-turned-human-sex-researchers, created a computer program to decipher exactly what women want. They used algorithms to comb the Internet and assess the desires of more than one hundred million men and women around the world. They presented their findings in a book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts, in which they also discuss what men want. But for some reason, the Chronicle only reported their findings on what women want. Authors Ogas and Gaddam found out that one of the top seven words that women associate with romance and men is: forehead.
But does women's online behaviour reflect their true desires? Critics of the book said, 'no':
In the end, the book concluded that online behaviour reveals the creation of fantasies and fetishes, but misses the heart of what women truly want. It also confirmed that there is a huge gap in final romantic aims, perception and communication between men and women - and that that gap is precisely the fuel for the fantasies.[T]he authors also searched the texts of more than 10,000 romance novels, a genre that appeals primarily to women, to find the words most frequently used to describe male characters. "Forehead" made the top seven. Figure that one out, gentlemen.
The spark for the book came when Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, who both recently received their doctorates from Boston University, were discussing what's known as "Rule 34," which states that if you can imagine it, then pornography of it already exists. They wondered whether they could apply computational neuroscience methods to online sexuality in order to, in a sense, data-mine desire. Ignoring warnings from their Boston colleagues that sex research might ruin their nascent careers, they dove right in.
First, Mr. Ogas familiarized himself with the field of sex scholarship and was "astonished at just how primitive it was," noting that more than 50 years had passed since the Kinsey report. "How has there been so little progress?" he wondered, an assessment that might annoy sex researchers who have labored in recent decades.
One of the neuroscientists' early forays was a misstep. They surveyed members of an online fan-fiction community, people who write stories using, say, characters from Star Trek, including a subgroup that writes so-called slash fiction, which is basically fan fiction without pants. The survey enraged some members of this group, one of whom deemed it "ignorant, casually homophobic, patronising, misogynistic, profoundly privileged claptrap." Numerous, lengthy posts were published with titles like "Some scientists sure have nerve, or, How Not to Study Fandom." It got ugly. ...
As for the published book itself, the primary critique has been that you can't assume that what people search for online is what they truly desire. That point was made by Donald Symons, a pioneering evolutionary psychologist and the author of The Evolution of Human Sexuality, who told the New York Post the following: "Ogi is convinced that when people are searching for things, it's primarily for sexual arousal. I'm not so sure about that. If there was a porn star with three breasts—I bet there would be a zillion hits. Would that be a sign men were suddenly aroused by that? I think not."
... One overarching message of the book is that men and women are so inherently different when it comes to sex that they may be incapable of ever truly understanding each other. It's a bummer of a conclusion, at least for heterosexual couples. On the upside, the authors write, human sexuality is so wildly diverse that, no matter your age or physical condition, "you are the sexual ideal and greatest erotic fantasy" for somebody. In other words, there is probably a person out there who will fetishize you. That may not be love, exactly, but it's something.
So how do female fantasies fit into women's real worlds? It seems that they want - or are expected - to seek an overlap between romantic imagination and reality. One report on a new psych study claims that women's quest for romance conflicts with rationalized scientific pursuits (Hat tip: Lee Hamilton). Women consequently make real-world decisions to work in fields that more readily accept romantic imagination and fantasy as an element of analysis, and generally are therefore more 'feminized.' Or rather, they move into fields that are perceived by some men to understand and explain the world in this manner.
The psych study discussed why women continue to be underrepresented in science, tech, engineering and math fields (shortened by researchers to STEM). The piece was entitled, "Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women's Attitudes toward Math and Science," and was published in the September 2011 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The researchers concluded that women don't want to appear undesirable and are socially conditioned to think that succeeding in STEM subjects makes them unsexy:
But are the non-STEM Social Science and Humanities subjects really conducive to a reality driven by romantic imaginary fantasies? And are these fields really more socially acceptable and accepting of women's desires and romantic imaginations? Tara Mohr's campaign to raise awareness about female education in the developing world confirms that girls who are educated, primarily in the Humanities, get married later and have fewer babies.Park says, "When the goal to be romantically desirable is activated, even by subtle situational cues, women report less interest in math and science. One reason why this might be is that pursuing intelligence goals in masculine fields, such as STEM, conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms."
Park notes that women, in particular, are socialized from a young age to be romantically desirable, and that traditional romantic scripts in Western cultures are highly gendered, prescribing how men and women ought to think, feel and behave in romantic settings.
"Gender scripts discourage women from appearing intelligent in masculine domains, like STEM," Park says, "and in fact, studies show that women who deviate from traditional gender norms, such as succeeding in male-typed jobs, experience backlash for violating societal expectations. On the other hand, men in gender-incongruent occupations don't experience the same degree of backlash as women do."
In response to this analysis, Lee Hamilton recently suggested on his blog that romantic imagination tends to invade women's real, daily lives more than it does for men, due to the fact that men compartmentalize their emotional lives more than women do: "[This distinction involves] the relative ability to compartmentalize sexuality and establish self-conscious limits on sexual/romantic sorting and selection behaviours. I would argue that men generally compartmentalize more than women, while women are more likely to (perhaps unconsciously) allow selection strategies to bleed into other areas of their lives such as school and work."
Following that logic, that would mean that for women, romantic desires and fantasies (including online fantasies) are always somewhat closer to feminine realities than they are for men. Perhaps men use the Internet to create a level, open playing field when pursuing women - and struggle to fulfill technology's promise and potential - while women use the Internet to turn their fantasies into realities?
That would mean that whatever it is that women want, they are using the Internet to make it real.
Recently, I mentioned to a friend that I'd spent the morning listening to early Bruce Springsteen songs from the 1970s and 1980s, something I haven't done in over 20 years. He said: "Born in the USA has strongly crtitical lyrics about the US; Springsteen was shocked when Reagan used it in his campaign. But of course, everyone only heard 'Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, BORN IN THE USA I was, BORN IN THE USA, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, BORN IN THE USA,' etc."
Springsteen might have thought that he made his reputation speaking up for the working man. But, really, I think his draw is that he's a romantic. I said, "Honestly, the appeal of Springsteen at his finest in the early 1980s had less to do with his opinions and everything to do with his gruff New Jersey working class romantic manliness and tight jeans." Also: some great songs.
In two of Springsteen's songs from this period, he presents two sides of the same coin about a man's take on romantic rejection. In I'm on Fire (1985), the guy is doling it out. In I'm Goin' Down (1984), he's on the receiving end. Both have the guy pondering what his woman wants and how it meshes with what he wants and who he is. Either way, the woman's desires and romantic motivations - her fantasies and her reality - are a big mystery.
So even the Boss doesn't know what women want. Pickup Artists say that so-called Alpha Females stand around watching men try to impress them and have a loop running in their heads: "He doesn't get it. He doesn't get it. He doesn't get it." They claim that women are desperate for a man who does get 'it.' Who finally gets 'it'! And who acts on 'it'! They're saying that women want a man who knows what women want, and makes 'it' a reality. Their theory is still completely defined by a masculine perspective, and doesn't say what women actually ultimately want, but maybe it's closer.
Whatever women ultimately want, apparently it is somehow 'unreal' and they are trying to make it real, possibly with male cooperation. Maybe we can find out what women want - this elusive final fantasy that they wish to render real - by considering what women are. They are in fact the human race's natural time-keepers. Physically, their bodies are exactly timed to the months and thereby to the ebb and flow of the whole natural world. This inner-outer connection defines their whole lives and goes well beyond the clichéed biological clock. Psychologically, they arguably take the long perspective, yet spend their lives preoccupied with short term milestones - birthdays, anniversaries - the minutiae of timing in communication, behaviour and social interactions. One site has gone so far as to suggest that women have a sacred relationship with time.
Women are also preoccupied with ageing and the different wisdom that comes with each stage of life, embodied in a triple Goddess, sometimes associated with the final destiny and Fates of humanity. It may be that what women want is chronal synchronicity, to make the finite infinite, and vice versa. And in the romantic realm, they are happiest when men perceive their metaphysical connundrum and help them align and resolve the legacies of the past, present and future. That may sound hairy, but consider how many temporal symbols surround the idea and experience of love. It is a collection of fleeting experiences, which when tallied become eternal. The female role in that process is arguably the clincher.
If this is in fact what women want, are they using technology to enable it? One thing that is indisputable is that the Internet is revolutionizing how we experience time. Time is ever accelerating and making everything hyper-efficient, while letting us drown in an ocean of procrastination. Let's see if women wish to, and are able to, line up that temporal revolution with emotional interconnectedness between virtual and real worlds.
Click here for my other posts on Love in the New Millennium.
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