Lothario, Don Juan, philanderer, ‘naughty’, ‘plays away’ — all terms for men who have an overwhelming drive to seduce scores of women, take no responsibility, and often get away with it. In the recent allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sexual attacks on more than 30 females, mainly actresses, whose careers seem to have depended on them being compliant, most of his victims now complain too of his physical unattractiveness. One, the Italian actor and director Asia Argento, who went on to have ‘consensual sex’ with Weinstein on and off for five years, says she was ‘a fool’. Those who have come forward with their stories and condemned Weinstein, often several years later, are being heaped with praise for their courage. A few were courageous at the time, and did report him, but were not listened to. Some accepted out-of-court financial settlements. I suppose it was thought impossible to prosecute such a powerful man. Each day we read more details of how he protected himself.
I hold no brief for Weinstein, who was clearly a bully, a sexual predator and, possibly, as various women including the actress Lysette Anthony claim, a rapist. The taped ‘sting’ (made by the New York Police Department in March 2015) of Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the model who had already reported Weinstein to the police, of her fending him off, several times, in a fearful voice, is chilling to hear.
Yet isn’t there another factor not being mentioned in all this? Because Weinstein’s case is extreme — he is so demonstrably a brute and clearly abused his power in Hollywood to force himself on younger actresses — the assumption is that no one could possibly have found such a man sexy.
But sexual attraction is complex and sometimes murky, and it is surprising how even apparently strong women can fall for philanderers and abusers. Even those of us whose careers don’t depend on keeping quiet about unwelcome male advances often find serial seducers and flirts irresistible and fun. Also, let’s face it, many women like to be found physically attractive. Is putting a hand on a woman’s bottom in a jokey way harmless? Or abusive?
A ‘bad boy’ is often more sexually appealing. A man who manages to sleep with many women demonstrates, on a basic biological level, that other women rate him highly. Who wants a nerdy boyfriend no one else wants? It’s all very well to look for a man who is kind and reliable, but if you don’t find him attractive, what’s the point? A gay male friend, worried about ‘the new puritanism’, says: ‘A woman has to be turned on. It can’t be just walking in the garden. Eroticism isn’t something to be frightened of.’ I personally can’t see the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey but, judging by its huge sales, many women do. Surely a big part of its allure is that the man is physically stronger and the woman in the book loves being overpowered? (My ex-husband used to quote a friend admonishing her docile partner: ‘Dominate me, damn you!’)
There is also excitement, the appeal of danger that you only get with ‘a bad boy’. They are super-energetic and fun. You feel more alive.
It’s also the idea that a male is a different species — the ‘other’. An eccentric woman friend often claims to ‘fancy a man who stinks of BO and wears his tie undone at the neck’. I used to like to take risks, and taking on a bad boy is a type of risk. In New Zealand in 2004, with a surge of adrenalin, I rushed to my hotel with a stranger who then wanted me to do something weird with a shoelace (I am not practical and turned down the request). Aged 27, I was date-raped in a sailing boat by a man who claimed to be smuggling mercury up and down the Florida coast — he’d given me a strong ‘anti-seasickness’ pill.
I recently became fascinated by an article by a behavioural scientist, called ‘The Ethology of Attraction to Bad Boys’, that refers to ‘the symbol of the warlike man who is in control’.
It continues: ‘It is well-known that young men who behave modestly and seem agreeable… are disadvantaged as regards sexual relationships. On the contrary those who are manipulative, arrogant, cunning, overconfident, who play hyper-masculine roles, enjoy a higher number of sexual experiences with more partners. These effects are due not only to the gumption with which these men act, but to the fact that women prefer this kind of man, with a more imposing behaviour.’ In a survey, it emerged that 1,365 women from 11 countries generally preferred the “dad” type man for a long-term partner and the “cad” type man for a short-term affair.
Oh dear! A never-never land where men and women are truly equal may not exist. Should I now unearth the Florida sailor and report him? What about the much older man who exposed himself to me, aged 24, in a flat near Battersea Park? Or the Frenchman I met in the street in Paris when I was 21, who drove me to a fancy restaurant and then afterwards, on our way back, stopped in a side road and pressed a lever so my passenger seat went horizontal? Recently, at an evening in the pub, a man who has been through two acrimonious divorces and was already sitting with two women younger than me (and much younger than him) kissed my hand and I felt a thrill. ‘What an idiot I am!’ I thought later.
I’m all for happy marriages and kind men. But I do wonder, how many women are there like me who, foolishly, still like to take a walk on the wild side?
Listen to Elisa Segrave and Sophia Money-Coutts on The Spectator Podcast.