The sexiest people are thinkers.
When I was at university, the graffiti in the toilets was of a very high standard. One of the most interesting comments I read was “The reason most women care more about their looks than their education is because most men can see better than they can think.” I’ve often wished I knew who said that first, or at least could have met the girl who wrote that on the toilet wall, to shake their hand. At first glance, this comment sounds rather passive-aggressive and misandristic, but let’s break it down into its component messages.
- Heterosexual women want to attract men, because they like men. People tend to overlook this part of the comment, which is why I’ve mentioned it first. This is the complete opposite of misandry.
- Women are encouraged by society to valorise their looks over their intellect. Constantly. Everywhere you look. This is such a prevalent phenomenon that most people just accept this as a given.
- Men value looks over intellect when seeking a sexual or long-term partner. A quick read of the ‘men seeking women’ columns in the newspaper will confirm this. This is why men ‘trade in’ older women for trophy wives. But – to be fair – society backs up this mating strategy.
- The important word in the comment is MOST. It isn’t often you see a sweeping generalization with a modifier.
Not all women or men conform to this Patriarchal pattern. These people are attracted to other people because they are witty, charming, knowledgeable and intelligent … the sapiosexuals. A true meeting of minds and hearts occurs when sapiosexuals forms a relationship.
The Steampunk genre is based around the Vicwardian era, and this was one of the great ages of Patriarchy. It was commonly thought that a woman who tried to understand maths or hard science would go insane; Mary Somerville’s own father thought she would ‘break’ because her intellectual pursuits. So it was an era when women were most definitely encouraged to care about their looks rather than their education. The advantage of writing in the genre is that you don’t have to abide to that viewpoint.
There were women and men in the Victorian and Edwardian eras that valued intellect in their partners and spouses. In fact, I imagine it was the trait that attracted them to their partners in the first place. I know I’m attracted to smart people, and my own husband is a witty and charming man who enjoys bantering with me. My great grandmothers probably shared my propinquity for intelligent men, and my great grandfathers were most likely to have been quick-witted and resourceful men – and the evidence supports this, as they were, after all, successfully pioneering in the Tweed River/Fingal area of Australia.
A Steampunk narrative can either write against this underlying assumption, or write into an Vicwardian society where women are considered the intellectual equals of men, and a clever and educated woman is considered a wonderful marriage prospect, rather than quite the opposite. This is why Steampunk is a Science Fiction genre … we can create such wonderfully improbable settings. We can break the stereotypes.