Looking for sexy in the strong


Some men say that strong women turn them on. But for how long? Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal finds out

IT’S a great hook. Why would any woman (or man, for that matter) bypass a book whose title screams: Why Men Love Bitches. I didn’t. In fact, this seminal tome penned in 2002 by New York Times bestselling author and columnist Sherry Argov called Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat To Dream Girl — A Woman’s Guide To Holding Her Own In A Relationship got me piqued. With a capital P.

Then it got me asking the question: Do men REALLY dig “bitches”? A dictionary definition of the word reads: Bitch — a malicious, spiteful or overbearing woman... something that’s extremely difficult, objectionable or unpleasant.

So is “sugar and spice and all things nice” not what men want? Maybe. When Argov wrote that a woman needs to be a “bitch” to keep her man hooked, she didn’t mean it to be taken quite so literally. The “bitch”, as Argov defines it, is “... an empowered woman who derives tremendous strength from the ability to be an independent thinker, particularly in a world that still teaches women how to be self-abnegating”.

And to make sure that “sugar and spice” doesn’t go out of fashion, one can always add in a dash of hot, sour, piquant, bitter in the mix to create something a little less predictable. In fact, come to think of it, relationships can be likened to food. If you have to eat the same thing all the time or savour the same taste day after day, chances are you end up hankering for something more exciting.

It was sometime on May 13, 1955 that an interesting article (and one that continues to invite much discourse to this day) was published in the Housekeeping Monthly magazine called The Good Wife’s Guide. Among other things, it stipulated that a good wife needed to:

•     Be interesting for him (her partner).
•     Be happy to see him.
•     Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late.
•     Always knows her place.
I can just see Argov having sleepless nights over this.

Men, argues Argov, secretly respect a woman who is strong and has confidence and dreams of her own. “They don’t want women who are needy and desperate for approval.”

Being extra nice to your partner doesn’t necessarily guarantee his devotion. Being nice AND an “occasional bitch” might. Or at least keep your man on his toes. Discover your inner feistiness that can “... turn you into a diva from a doormat,” advises Argov.

One of women’s biggest mistakes, believes Argov, is the tendency to overcompensate. Some are too sweet, some too kind, some won’t even go to bed until the partner is home — regardless of how late he is. Some will stay up all night just to ensure that his food is served hot when he finally gets in.

“Don’t be too eager to please or else he’d think there isn’t any mental challenge,” advises Argov. “Mental challenge according to men isn’t about debating the world economic forum but really it’s just how needy she appears to him. Men like women with a bit of edge, kind of like ‘steel magnolias’, flowery on the outside and hard on the inside”.


Angelia Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna — all strong women of the 20th Century. And who’d like to bet that most of these ladies are also most men’s idea of their poster girl. But, push comes to shove, although men may like the idea of a strong woman, are they really cut out for it?

I know of men who say that there’s nothing more attractive than having a partner who is independent, intelligent and strong. Women who are easily-led and weak-minded don’t do anything for them. Yet, funny how we still see our more assertive “sistahs” being passed over for those with lesser fortitude.

Why the disconnect? Do men actually like strong women or are they only paying lip service to the ideal of a partner who will stand her ground?

Men may initially be attracted to the woman who has a mind of her own, is able to engage in discussions with him, and even go halves with him on the bill. But chances are, he’ll soon tire of the constant debates, her all-consuming schedule (that doesn’t include him) and the fact that she doesn’t need him to bail her out every time a crisis occurs. “I’ll just feel totally useless,” wails a male friend during a recent chat over coffee.

He laments that when women are too self-sufficient, the man ends up feeling unnecessary and neglected. Suddenly the appeal of the strong woman isn’t all that.

“I’d prefer that the woman is strong to the point that she can take care of herself but at the same time, allow herself to be taken care of occasionally. And of course, take care of me!”

Ultimately, says Jaime Shun, a psychotherapist from Peace Clinic in Desa Sri Hartamas, a private treatment centre that provides permanent and sustainable solutions for issues ranging from everyday challenges to psychological problems, men generally want their partners to be their equal. “In our current demanding society, I’d say men would prefer a partner who has a sense of direction in their life, know what they want and are able to cope with life. That doesn’t necessary translate into wanting a strong woman but one who has a hold of life. Being with someone who is lost and constantly needy is really taxing for a relationship.”

But, adds Shun, men want their women to have their feminine side intact too. “Sometimes those women wearing the pants go a little too far, bringing out only her masculine side and thus, causing an imbalance in her own life as well as to the relationship.”

Men, she adds, are meant to dominate. “If you take that feature away from them entirely, they’ll feel weak and vulnerable. Asking their opinions, allowing them to make decisions or sharing the decision-making process with them allows for discussion and encourages communication.”

According to author and columnist Eric J. Leech in his blog, when a man loves a strong woman, he’s also in awe of her femininity. Says Leech: “He isn’t just looking for a savvy business partner, but for someone who’s gentle, giving, warm, affectionate, nurturing, and thoughtful. Secure women need to remember that there’s great satisfaction in allowing a partner to occasionally take the lead. As in the Argentine Tango, too strong of a woman can be a difficult dance partner. She must relinquish herself to the care of her dance partner, who will lead them by tapping into their heart connection.”


Revenue strategist, Zainol Azmi Mohamed who lists actresses Jane Seymour, Jessica Alba, Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and tennis darling, Maria Sharapova among his pick of “strong women” confides that he’s attracted to strong women but NOT one who’s nasty.

“For me, a strong woman is one who is intelligent, knows how to carry herself regardless of the situation she may find herself in, be able to, at a snap of the finger, talk about world economics or any intellectual issues,” says Zainol, adding: “All this combined with the power of her smile and gazing eyes... I’d definitely melt!” A sense of confidence and security in herself, as well as a clear direction in life, are definitely attractive features too.

Argov seems to concur when she says: “Don’t chase happiness outside yourself. If you feel good inside, others no longer can control you emotionally. This kind of calm and self-sufficiency is very attractive. Men are used to women who wear their heart on their sleeve and go crazy for the one they can’t control.”

Public Relations consultant, Jimmy Teh believes that a woman’s appeal lies in her behaviour. He’s attracted to the kind of woman who knows what she wants. “For me, a strong woman is one who has a good personality, good life values and beliefs and is confident. I’d say many single mums I know are the epitome of the ‘strong woman’.”

Teh, whose idea of a charismatic woman is actress Meryl Streep, admits to being attracted to women who can carry themselves well, have a great sense of humour, are attentive and sensitive. “Strong and yet still exhibit femininity — that’s a perfect combination. She should also be someone who can be a friend as well as a girlfriend.”

Strong women definitely impress bubbly Communications consultant, Marc Ng. “But I’m not sure whether they turn me on or off. I guess I’d just need to spend some time with them first! Some strengths may appeal, others may repel. It all depends on what her values are and how she exercises them.”

Ng, whose idea of a strong woman is the beautiful actress, Charlize Theron (“talented, charitable and a champion for destitute Africans”), is put off by women who are too self-absorbed. “Self”, he says, “tends to breed bad qualities such as insecurities, jealousy, pettiness, anger and so on.”

For account director Isaac Lee Matthew, strong women are a definite ‘turn-on’ as “... they’re usually more spontaneous, decisive and ‘fun’,” he confides. “However, I’ve also learnt that being with a very opinionated lady can also be quite tiring as sometimes (for instance, after a long day at work), you just want things to be as non-confrontational and simple as possible — and she doesn’t”.

Matthew, who has always had a “thing” for actress Sandra Bullock (“because she’s always portrayed as a person with strong convictions and belief in herself, both on-screen and in real life,”) believes that it’s not necessary for a woman to adopt the “be mean to keep them keen” approach in order to keep the reign on her man. “Of course, nobody wants a doormat or a total pushover. It’s about striking a balance that works for both parties.”

Shun concurs. The key ingredients for a happy relationship or marriage are mutual trust and respect, good communication and love. “A strong woman will have a good sense of self-esteem and confidence, which are important when building trust in a relationship. You have to be sure of yourself and love yourself first in order to trust and love others in return.”

Many people, adds Shun, think that they need to be loved by someone to be happy. “But actually, the most important love you can cultivate is the one for yourself. When you love yourself others can love you too. That is how a relationship can work — with two individuals having the emotional stability by first loving oneself and then others.

Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov is published by Adams Media Corporation; 6th edition (31 Oct 2002)

Argov’s snippets

“When a man sees you are happy with him but you can be just as happy having nothing to do with him, that’s when he won’t want to leave your side. When you are happy, you are sexy.”

“There’s nothing more prized to a man than something he had to wait for, work for, or struggle a little bit to get.”

“Many people lack the basic equipment to be in a relationship and there’s nothing you can do to change it. You can’t take a skunk and dip it in perfume and hope it becomes a puppy. Eventually, the perfume will wear off and you’ll still have a skunk on your hands.”

“The bitch does not stop moving to her own rhythm. This, in and of itself, prevents her from becoming off-balance like a nice girl who abandons her routine.”

“Because of his hormones, he only has three emotions: crabby, hungry, horny.”


An iconic American poster associated with the movement of women into the paid industrial workforce during World War II.

Jaime Shun

Isaac Lee Matthew

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