What Women Want: Insecure Men?

don't worry boys: we'll be your interpreters for the evening

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the Wednesday edition of the Boston Globe had a feature story on the website www.hertaste.com, the gist of which is summed up in their tagline: "you are being overlooked by women for details you didn't even know mattered." The Globe explains:
"Guys think it looks good," says [site co-founder] Panagopoulos . . . "But what men think looks good and what women think looks good are two different things." Adds [co-founder] Kassner: "What guys miss is that women are picking up on little details. It's like a secret world that guys don't have a clue about."
And what, pray tell, are the the "little details" men know nothing about? The categories on the Hertaste homepage are "fashion," "garage," "pad," and "gifts." That's right: guys categorically, it seems, don't know how to 1) dress themselves, 2) purchase the right car or car accessories, 3) furnish a house or apartment, or 4) shop for gifts that say "I actually know and really like you." Those life skills are all part of the secret world we women live in that guys are clueless about. So the women of Hertaste are here to save the day.

I find this incredibly offensive to women and to men alike.

The premise of the website is this: That men must--but don't know how to--make themselves attractive to (hot) women (as evidenced by the chicks lounging on the homepage). This narrative of male incompetence at understanding women draws on the tired pop psychology theory that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus." Such thinking dehumanizes women by suggesting they are so different from normal human beings (men) that they aren't even from the same planet. It also belittles men by suggesting that they're such idiots that they're incapable of actually relating to their fellow human beings (women) without an intermediary to translate women's mysterious feelings and motives.

Specifically, in this case, Hertaste deploys this pervasive narrative of gender difference as part of a time-honored marketing strategy: building on, or manufacturing, insecurities in order to sell stuff. Dudes! Women will think you're a loser if you don't buy expensive clothes, electronics, drive a suave car, or give her expensive jewelry. What ever happened to romantic notions like--uh--having a real conversation? Enjoying a shared interest in literature or movies? Or even--more prosaically--simply prioritizing student loans over a black leather couch?

Fundamentally, my problem with this website is summed up in its very name: her taste. This isn't a website about learning how to better express who you really are, but rather a site that encourages people to perform the sort of gendered identity they think "women" as a group will have the hots for. I can't speak for all women out there, but let me just say that's about one of the biggest turn-offs I can think of.


  1. Have you inquired about how to be a panelist? Sounds like these women are speaking their minds just as you are. Maybe these women do like these things and you're judging 'them.' I think guys letting women speak for themselves and rate products chosen by women is very different from a bunch of advertisers telling people what to do and think. Yes the message on the front page is a bit extreme but I'm not sure you really looked at the site and what is being said and done by who. If you are a feminist censoring other women's right to speak for themselves, to me that makes no sense.

  2. Bill,

    I am not advocating censorship; I am only critiquing the argument the website is making about gender and sexuality. The website is not a matchmaking service: it is not pairing up men with women who have expressed particular likes and dislikes. It is suggesting that men will become more attractive/marketable to all women by following the advice of the women panelists.

  3. Yes, it is offensive. Thanks for writing this and linking it on Feministe!

    Jay McInerney wrote a good line, in BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY: "Why am I in a club like this, looking for the kind of girl who would not go to a club like this?"

    Why transform yourself using someone else's guidelines and style to find someone who will "love you for yourself"?

    Excellent post.

  4. This is great analysis. The kind of attitude on that site is all too common. It just serves to make women the Other, not fully human in the way that men are. The whole mysterious creature whose needs and wants you'll never understand thing is really tiresome.

  5. You're very insightful. I have to wonder just how much worse off we all are living in societies that train us to be consumers at every level; appealing to our basest and crudest desires. I think it tends to reinforce all the negative sexual stereotypes that widen the social gap between men and women.