Peter Shih didn’t know who he was picking a fight with when he posted his anti-San Francisco screed. Bay Area dwellers can take a joke or two about our busses and fog, but we have no patience for such transphobic, classist, misogynist shenanigans. He’s been taken down brilliantly again and again, and given his recent apology, it seems that message is sinking in.
However, no one’s had the time to unpack his “49er” slur. I wish this sort of nonsense didn’t create anxiety and competition among cis-gendered straight women, but I still see it poison the heads of women in my life. Also, I’ve heard other blogger dudes make similar cracks about SF women, so I’d like to take that one on:
“I’m referring to all the girls who are obviously 4’s and behave like they are 9’s. Just because San Francisco has the worst Female to Male ratio in the known universe doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch all the time.”
Ah, how dare San Francisco reject the famous 10-point scale of female hotness!
Listen, I don’t object to physical attraction. In fact, I think it’s one of the magical parts of being human. When it’s mutual, it’s pretty heady stuff, all those hormones rushing and sparks flying. But most people realize, fairly quickly, that it’s not enough to sustain a relationship—you have to connect in other ways. Sometimes having the hots for each other isn’t even enough to guarantee a great hookup.
But I believe physical attraction is a personal, subjective experience. No doubt, some women and men out there have been so genetically blessed that most people would agree they’re easy on the eyes. However, most of us are some combination of beautiful, unremarkable, and “ugly” or “imperfect” features, and we tend to find ourselves attracted to people who are beautiful, unremarkable, and “flawed.” A “flaw” can be the thing that drives you wild. How can you quantify that in a linear 10-point scale?
I do reject the rigid set of impossibly “flawless,” Photoshopped standards of female beauty that TV, movies, and magazines keep telling us we all agree on. It becomes tyranny when these the messages insist, that a woman’s appearance—determined by how attractive she is to heterosexual men alone—is the whole of who she is, not just part of it. Then this fleeting state of perfect beauty becomes a virtuous goal in and of itself. For cis-gendered straight woman, it becomes the mythical golden ticket to fulfillment, true love and amazing sex, and success in all arenas. To see how the conceit of “sexiness as a virtue” works, look at the photoblog, Hot Chicks With Douchebags. To all those straight guys bemoaning the babe snuggling with a Vanilla Ice clone, did it ever occur to you that she might be a douchebag, too? No, because her beauty is the only virtue she needs to be a prize worth pursuing.
That brings me back to Shih, and this 10-point system of physical attraction that’s supposedly uniform among dude-bros and frat guys: It only makes sense if you’re too dumb to understand probability. For the sake of argument, let’s say you could actually rounded up all 3 billion women in the world and apply the supposedly universal (cough, Western white cis-gendered straight, cough) Hollywood standards of attractiveness to rank them on a 10-point scale. So you’d put, let’s say, whoever looks most like Barbie at 10, as I’m assuming that’s the plastic measuring stick Shih and his ilk use. Kate Upton? Beyoncé? Angelina Jolie? Claudia Schiffer in the ’90s? Whoever you want. Now, it’s tricky when you want to talk about the most unsightly woman on the planet, because that poor woman has had something horrible happen to her, such as being ravaged by disease or a disfiguring accident. That’s not so back-slappingly funny, right? But you find her and you put her at 1, and you do your sorting into 10 equal levels.
Guess what? It would look like perfect bell curve, as few people are horrendously ugly or devastatingly gorgeous. Most of women—millions and millions of us—would land squarely in the middle. The young would scale higher, like 7 or 8, and the old (assuming a frat boy’s perspective) would skew lower, like 3 or 4. So that when a dude and his bros hit a club, they’re pretty much guaranteed to enter a room full of women who are all 7s. They may all look completely different, with their diverse heights, weights, body shapes, faces, skin color, hairstyles, but on a scale of 1-to-10, they’re all hot young women dolled up for a club, just a few of the millions of 7s roaming the planet. Jackpot!
Now, of course, this logical fact would render the 10-point game pointless for dude-bros. The truth is, a good deal of women are simply invisible to Shih and his friends: older women, masculine or genderqueer women, sick women, homeless women, etc. (Damn San Francisco and its visible homeless people, amirite?) These guys are only ranking women they consider bangable. A 1 would be a girl you’d sleep with if you just had no other options. A 10 would be the celebrity you’d sell your soul to spend one night with.
This ranking system is designed so that dude-bros can keep score while competing with each other, and also put women in their place. A 9 is supposed to have certain privileges, like self-confidence, even arrogance, and the right to say “no” to men’s advances. But a 4? She isn’t virtuous enough to deserve bodily autonomy. A 4 should be excited that a completely average-looking guy would even talk to her. Doesn’t she know it’s her job to give him sex as soon as he shows a hint of interest? Of course, as soon as a 6 comes along, he’s going to drop her like a hot potato, and she must accept that.
The truth is, in certain circles, women do work toward that Barbie standard of attractiveness like it’s a full-time job. Given what the media tell us, I don’t blame them. And some of them simply enjoy being femme and expressing their sexuality. I get that, too. These women, in addition to their natural genetic gifts, are master illusionists and devoted disciples. They work the magic of hairstyling, body-hair removing, makeup applying, tanning, manicuring, and scheduling dental work and even plastic surgery. They adhere to strict diets, ranging from healthy to deadly, and slave away at the gym. And they invest good money in Wonderbras, Spanx, stiletto heels, fashionable skin-tight dresses, teeny shorts, low-cut tops, and an assortment of bling. They put on the Hollywood image of untainted hotness, then they hit the clubs. (And sometimes they’re not even looking for male attention—shopping, being fit, getting done up, and going dancing with friends are rewards in and of themselves.)
But I suppose it creates a shock when a guy like Shih moves to a place where these practices are not a priority. What Shih doesn’t understand about San Francisco Bay Area women—perhaps excepting some lovely ladies in the Marina—is that they’re just too busy and cash-strapped spend their time, money, and energy on ALL of that. Some do SOME of that, of course. But women here would rather start companies or lead nonprofits, and struggle to do so in an area with some of the most astronomical rents in the country. They’d rather eat local, organic food because it’s delicious and good for the planet, and they’d rather do yoga for health and peace of mind. They’re busy educating underprivileged youth, organizing voters, and leading protest marches. They’re building installations for Burning Man, making experimental theater pieces, knitting sweaters for bike racks, and drawing comic books. They’re planning trips around the world, joining the circus, performing burlesque, and competing in roller derby. They’re swimming with sharks, starting community gardens, and inventing new ways to have sex or commune with nature. They’re building bicycles, they’re singing karaoke, and they’re playing in noise bands. They’re emceeing poetry slams and MC battles, and scratching records with their boobs. They’re learning Arabic, getting post-graduate degrees, taking the bar exam, and yes, even writing code.
In short, those so-called “4s” are actually astounding. Contrary to Shih’s assertion, the numbers in SF seem to favor cis-gendered straight men in the romance game, who can have a date with a different phenomenal woman every night of the week if they want. It’s an embarrassment of riches, one guy admitted to me. And the single cis-gendered straight women I know have no trouble getting laid here, but commitment is the virtue they find rare among SF men. Plenty of these women would give an unremarkable-looking guy a chance, but not if his approach involves clichéd PUA negging, PMS and transphobic jokes, and cruel plans for the homeless. Plus, if all he’s interested in is the surface—or upstaging his bros—then I guarantee you these savvy women smell his shit a mile away.
In a way, I (almost) feel sorry for guys like that, what they’re missing out on. Even the “9s” are have more going on than trying to please bros. They have friends, families, hobbies, and passions, too. Many of them are brilliant at their jobs, whether they turned their beauty expertise into a career like hairstyling or modeling, or they work double-time as lawyers, journalists, teachers, mothers, or community leaders. But when you rank women on a 10-point scale, making their physical attractiveness the most valuable thing about them, none of them get to be people in your eyes.