Listen, we’ve all been there. You share an office with some bloke who habitually corners you to talk about how he once saw Arcade Fire at a festival before they “got big”. He really “gets” Inception. He pretends to not know who the Kardashians are, even though he knows perfectly well who the Kardashians are. He is, in short, not a total arsehole – but a bit of a berk.
Then something weird happens: he mentions his girlfriend, Angela, the paramedic. He lovingly refers to their nights in watching Zumbo’s Just Desserts and you soften a little. You think, “Well, Angela likes him.” You don’t know Angela, but you trust her judgement. She seems sensible. And, to be fair, he is a lovely height. And 20/20 vision, so you can always pass that on to your kids.
Oh, no. It’s happened – you have a crush on the berk from your office and it’s all Angela’s fault.
Before you start composing strongly worded tweets to me about how this never happens, let me point you over here, to this new study. Scientifically speaking, straight women are more attracted to men who other women find attractive. Dr Catharine Cross, from the University of St Andrews, conducted a study where 49 women were asked to rate photographs of men, from “very attractive” to “not at all attractive”. They were then shown how other women rated the same men, which led to them changing their rating by 13 per cent.
“Previous studies have suggested women choose men preferred by other women,” says Dr Cross. “Because if these men are already in a relationship, they are likely to have good qualities like kindness, which can't be judged by appearance.
“Our study suggests however that copying the behaviour of others is useful in every area of life, which might also include choosing where to live and what to eat. It suggests that there is nothing special about men.”
You would sooner trust a woman who has been dating men for 20 years than a man who says his mate is "a good bloke"
To prove that there is, indeed, nothing special about men, the same participants were given the exact same test with images of art – they were asked to rate how much they liked an abstract painting, were shown an average score decided by other women and then changed their rating in accordance with the average.
There are two ways you can look at this study. The first, boring way: women have no self-confidence and exist as part of a herd-like hive mind, forever bending our opinions to suit the status quo.
The second, more intriguing way: women trust other women. In particular, women trust other women about men.
We’ve heard the phrase “I believe women” a lot over the past year and, for the large part, it’s a phrase that has been widely misunderstood. People use the phrase “I believe women” not because they will blankly believe everything another woman has to tell them – honestly, if that were the case, I would still think eyeshadow doesn’t suit me, Mum, when it clearly does – but because women, globally, have to experience men in a way that men don’t have to experience men. In the same way that you would sooner trust the Yelp review of a reviewer who goes to five restaurants a month than one who eats out once a year on their birthday, you would sooner trust a woman who has been dating men for 20 years than a man who says his mate is “a good bloke”.
“I believe women” isn’t some catchphrase that’s confined to the #MeToo movement – “I believe women” is something I pretty much live my life by. I believe women when they tell me that I should buy a 12 in Zara if I’m a 10 everywhere else. I believe women when they tell me that a workplace might seem progressive, but is actually top-heavy with misogynists. And, to refer back to Angela and her boyfriend, I believe women when they tell me a guy is worthy of my approval or my distrust.
This is something that the world of dating apps has cottoned on to, although no one has quite nailed it yet. The short-lived Wyldfire promised an invite-only Tinder, where women had to recommend men in order for them to join. The controversial Lulu offered reviews of men, to see whether he was “a heartbreaker or husband material”, which is obviously problematic for a whole host of reasons. Interestingly, the world of organised group-sex parties have been practising a system of female referral for years – men attending ticketed parties must come with a woman and a reference check.
Bottom line: there’s nothing sinister about fancying a guy because the group consensus is that he is fanciable. I, for example, think Michael Fassbender has a cruel face, but I can see what you see in him. Equally, there’s nothing sinister about believing a woman when she says he’s not to be trusted. Both are opposite sides of the same coin and all make up the same mad fruit salad of being a woman who shares the world with men.