IF one person knows What Women Want it’s the queen of the bonkbuster – Jilly Cooper.
When she enthuses, both on and off her pages, about the joys of gloriously naughty sex, I sit up.
And this week I did, as Cooper declared — quite rightly — that women are attracted to dominant men.
“I think secretly women, although they want to be in the ascendancy… they are quite attracted by the idea of a dominant male… they obviously like a very tough man,” she said, noting her own novels are packed with “very dominant characters”.
She’s not kidding.
Cooper is the woman who created Rupert Campbell-Black — the infuriating, spoilt, entitled, demanding, toff brute who no woman can stand but all want to shag.
Singing the praises of alpha males, she puts the success of the Fifty Shades Of Grey franchise down to its “tough man”.
“I think Christian Grey is whacking away and he’s a dominant male,” she said, before going on to complain that current PC culture is killing our libidos “because men are being so diminished now, everywhere — #MeToo, #Me-Too, #MeToo.”
Er, hold on, let’s rewind a bit. It is pretty self-evident that Cooper is right — women like dominant men.
When women I know enthuse about great dates they so often talk about men taking control of them.
Women build fantasies about men sweeping them off their feet and looking after them.
We like men who are unafraid to decide where they’re taking us on a night out, who will choose the cinema tickets, drive us home, pay for dinner.
Not because we don’t care about gender equality, but because confidence is sexy and light power-play can be fun.
It was when my now-fiancé took me for breakfast and ordered for me that I knew he was The One.
Between the sheets we want tough guys, not vegan snowflakes.
There’s a reason the archetypes in women’s porn focus on confident, action-man types such as firemen, doctors and plumbers, not struggling marketing managers or anxious philosophy students.
When women see the Dream Boys, they want to watch male strippers dressed as policemen, not hairdressers — although this is ironic, given how much action hairdressers get.
As US politician and Nobel Prize winner Henry Kissinger put it: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
And women get off on men who show power, whether it’s physical, financial — or confidence.
It’s why women get excited watching Richard Madden as the Bodyguard, when Poldark’s scything, or Jeremy Paxman’s shouting at politicians, but no one gets weak at the knees over David Cameron, who could not even take control of his referendum.
We have known for decades that women like dominance in bed.
More recently, in a book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts, two neuro- scientists studied the private Google searches of half a billion people to get an insight into men’s and women’s secret fantasies.
One thing they discovered was women’s interest in erotic stories featuring heroes who were dominant figures — cowboys, princes, ranchers, knights.
They noted the “hero professions” in women’s fantasy novels were all “associated with status, confidence and competence”.
And they observed that women have soft spots for male heroes with paranormal powers of control, like wizards and vampires.
Well, who can deny the sex appeal of Twilight’s Edward Cullen?
I don’t see a conflict between feminism and an attraction to dominant men.
After all, what’s more feminist than getting what you want in bed?
The real achievement of EL James, author of the Fifty Shades series, was not in depicting a woman being controlled, but in allowing real women permission to enjoy their sexual fantasies.
Besides — and this really should not need saying — a sexual fantasy is just that.
As any BDSM aficionado will tell you, the key word here is “consent”.
And this is where Cooper made a mistake. She was wrong to conflate women’s interest in dominant men with the #MeToo movement.
#MeToo, at its best, is about simple respect, for the law and for each other’s bodies.
It means being confident to report sexual assault.
It means ending sexual harassment at work.
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It is about respecting boundaries in public life.
A Billion Wicked Thoughts notes that even in romance novels, readers have strict boundaries for how dominant men behave.
The authors note: “Readers of romance novels certainly don’t want their heroes to be rapists or murderers. They’re willing to tolerate a little misogyny and jerkdom in their heroes at the beginning of a story, as long as they don’t stay that way after they meet the heroine.”
A true alpha male has other qualities women value — mostly “kindness and understanding” — and actually, whatever Cooper suggests, I think modern men know this.
After all, it’s boys on Tinder I’ve seen make this distinction best, writing on their profiles that they are “a feminist on the streets, a misogynist between the sheets”.