WOMEN today, at least young ones, have a different aesthetic appreciation of men. Both in the West and East, women are becoming increasingly fond of effeminate men rather than masculine ones.
The trend is most evident among male pop stars and characters in popular TV shows in various countries.
This seems to go against common sense. According to evolutionary psychology, women are supposed to fall for masculine men. Masculinity conveys the message of more power, greater possibility of survival and better access to resources, supposedly guaranteeing a better life for women.
Research by New York University and Princeton University in 2011 showed that the long-term evolutionary "instinct" was changing gradually.
Researchers showed more than 1,000 facial images of the opposite sex to male and female participants - the pictures had been airbrushed to make them look either more effeminate or masculine.
It turned out that men and women both had greater fondness for the feminine facial images of the opposite sex, suggesting masculine men are not as popular as before among women.
The traditional view has been challenged by other research, in which participants were shown pictures of many groups of men from different races and regions.
In each group, there were three pictures of the same man that had been airbrushed: one looked more masculine, the second more feminine and the third almost sexless. The participants were women from rural and urban areas in countries such as the United States, Russia and China.
The result: Urban women favoured faces of masculine men, while women from rural or less developed regions favoured men with effeminate faces.
The results go against the traditional view of evolutionary psychology, which claims masculine men should be more popular in less developed areas, where women need strong men to protect their children.
Researchers say women's preference when it comes to men no longer relies on simple evolutionary concepts; they show more modern characteristics.
So why is women's aesthetic appreciation of men changing in modern times?
A study in the US covering 4,800 white women in their 20s offers the reasons for the change: progress in the medical field and improvement in health levels.
In areas where people are generally in good health and with higher medical standards, women like effeminate men more. In areas with relatively low-level medical facilities, women favour masculine men more.
The conclusion is easy to understand: In a comparatively safe and stable society, in which health is not a huge threat to the survival and raising of children, masculinity - which implies health, strength and power - is not so important to women.
In fact, masculinity means a high level of testosterone, which could make women feel insecure instead. Studies show that men with high testosterone levels are more likely to divorce, leave home and be prone to domestic violence than men with low levels.
Conversely, women think that effeminate men are more considerate and caring. All these show that there are complicated social transformations behind women's preference in men.
Another reason for the change could be increasing equality between the sexes. With economic development and growing emphasis on gender equality, women are making more contributions to and sharing more responsibilities in society.
Both sexes can freely develop their individuality despite traditional gender restrictions. As the number of "tough guys" gradually reduces, women's preference also changes accordingly.
In other words, the social factors behind the phenomenon of women favouring effeminate men are complex, and there's no such a thing as unchanged "nature" or value in contemporary times.
The writer is a PhD candidate in psychology in Britain, and co-founder of online psychology organisation Yosumn.
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