The word agentic—derived from agency—has been floating around in my head after reading Hugo Schwyzer’s recent piece at Jezebel arguing against a couple of blog posts published on the websites In Mala Fide andHeartiste (full disclosure: both guys are on my blogroll).
Schwyzer decries the arguments put forth at those sites suggesting that women like assholes, bad boys, and jerks:
Never mind that the research on what heterosexual women actually want doesn’t bear this out. For years, studies have shown that women do rate kindness as a particularly attractive quality in a man. Along with humor and intelligence, generosity is a particularly valuable trait; as one study showed earlier this month, guys become more selfless (read: less assholish) when in the presence of women they find attractive.
Seems to me that everyone is right; it just depends on the starting point. Instead of fostering the trope that women like bad boys, jerks, and gangsters to the detriment of nice guys; I tend to believe that women, on average, prefer agentic men—men who act. All else being equal, women prefer men who act in a positive direction. But maybe we should put some stock in that common cultural trope attributed to women: “All the good ones are taken.” Women prefer agentic nice guys, but maybe all of them are taken.
Agentic men are straight-forward, assertive, goal-oriented, and principled. They could be perfectly friendly, emotionally available, altruistic, and presentable to parents, but in a society where assertive behavior and competition are watched with a discerning eye, men with end-games outside social norms are more willing to employ their assertiveness.
Being direct, being unafraid to ask for something, taking what you want: these are all qualities that women find attractive – even when it involves the man’s expressions of sexual desire. For a majority of women, their choice of mate is directly related to the resources that mate can provide, and what a man can provide is a function of his action. A nice guy who has access to resources brings two things to the table: he can get “stuff”, and he’s likely to share a lot of that “stuff” with his partner. An agentic bad boy has at least one Ace in his hand: he can get “stuff.” Being more self-centered, he’s more likely to keep a larger proportion for himself, but his woman indirectly benefits from a larger pie. Since women want resources, it would make sense that if given the choice, women would choose the nicest guy possible—as long as the nice guy has access to resources. The problem is that lines don’t form so neatly.
It would be instructive to drill down and look at general examples of the various groups of men. We can compartmentalize men into 5 camps in order from most desired by women to least, and I’ll provide examples of each type:.....