The Eternal Question

So, after polishing off my latest discussion on Mass Effect and before getting back to my long discussion of “Fate of the Jedi”, I thought I’d stop and take a look at an even more important question:  Ginger or Mary Ann?

This is, of course, the rather famous question spawned by the classic sitcom “Gilligan’s Island”, which I’ve just started watching after clearing “Futurama” off the decks.  And, of course, I was reminded of that question even before starting to watch the series, and was reminded of it when I stopped to browse its TV Tropes page while installing at work.  The question, for those too young to remember it, was spawned by the fact that the show had two attractive young women among its seven castaways:  Ginger, a movie star/actress and Mary Ann, a farm girl from Kansas.  Ginger was played up as being more seductive, sexy and glamorous, while Mary Ann was played up as being nice, positive and hardworking.  And so many of the male audience noted that they liked Mary Ann better than Ginger.  In fact, from looking around it seems like every time a poll is taken Mary Ann wins out by a significant amount over Ginger.

So while looking around for some more discussion of the question, I found this article that by its own title sets out the eternal question of “Naughty or Nice”:  do men in general prefer the sexier option over the nice option, or vice versa (which is also played out in the classic “Betty or Veronica” conflict in Archie Comics)?  They look at some other TV options along with the “Gilligan’s Island” one, and so for fun I’ll talk about them as well, only skipping the “Bewitched” example because I’ve never seen that show and so can’t really form an opinion.  I do plan on talking more about the overall question about whether sexy or nice is more generally appealing.

But onto the analysis that’s simple for the fun of it:

Jennifer vs. Bailey (WKRP in Cincinnati)I’ve talked about this show before.  The debate here is between the sexy secretary played by Loni Anderson — who was well-known as a sex object at the time — and the intellectual aspiring reporter played by Jan Smithers.  At the time of the show, I think I had a soft spot, at least, for Bailey, and when I rewatched it I definitely preferred Bailey.  The issue with Jennifer, for me at least, is that she didn’t really have what you’d call “natural” good looks.  In perhaps what would be the defining statement for these debates, she didn’t really look like a woman that you’d ever interact with.  And while she probably did have better looks and a better overall body than Jan Smithers, obviously Jan Smithers wasn’t unattractive and so it wasn’t a clear advantage for Jennifer.  So Bailey was really cute, nice, driven and seemed like the sort of woman you’d actually be able to meet in real life, and that you’d actually be able to talk to.  Essentially, Jennifer is indeed the Ginger/movie star to Bailey’s Mary Ann/girl next door.  And since I like smart women in glasses, the fact that she’d fit the Meganekko role means that yeah, she’d definitely work better for me.

Ginger vs. Mary Ann (Gilligan’s Island):  The pairing that started the debate here, and the one that I’m not as far into in the series.  But one thing I’ve noticed already is that they actually, at least for these audiences, stacked the deck pretty badly against Ginger in the show.  In the first season, they are aiming for sexy glamour and have her in tight but long evening gowns and dresses.  By contrast, Mary Ann ends up in short shorts and midriff-baring tops.  It’s kinda hard for Ginger to take the “sexy” role when Mary Ann arguably actually dresses more sexy.  Mary Ann is also more down-to-earth than Ginger is, for the time, is importantly better and more interested in housework than Ginger.  So ultimately Ginger is more seductive, but for conversation options spends too much time talking about the other people she’s dated in a flirty way which makes her, as a character, mostly there for innuendo.  So she isn’t really developed enough as a character, at least early on, and for me, at least, it’d be hard to make up that disadvantage later.  So I’d have to go with Mary Ann as well.

Chrissy vs. Janet (Three’s Company):  So this was, I think, a debate that never really happened, mostly because both of them were always considered attractive and while there were a few shots at Chrissy overshadowing Janet, Janet’s more reserved fashion choices when Chrissy was on the show and Chrissy leaving the show relatively early on kinda muted the entire thing.  But the article chooses Chrissy over Janet, mostly because Janet was too “Miss Goody Two-Shoes” while Chrissy would be more fun, even if the article says that Janet was more attractive than Chrissy.  I’m not sure I’d agree that Janet was more physically attractive, but they are both attractive.  The issue for me is that Chrissy was very, very dumb, and so dumb as to be annoying, as she annoyed both her roommates with that.  Meanwhile, Janet was indeed willing to go to parties and all sorts of events just for the fun of it, so while she wasn’t actually boring either.  She might have been more sensible, but she wasn’t a stick-in-the-mud either.  Given that Chrissy is annoying and Janet isn’t as boring as the article described, I’ll have to disagree with them and go for Janet here.

So, that’s my quick assessment of the debates the article references and comments on.  Later, I’ll go into a bit more detail on how naughty vs nice actually plays out.

5 Responses to “The Eternal Question”

  1. Marc McKenzie Says:

    Well…I liked Mary Anne over Ginger. Perhaps it was because–I don’t know, I found Mary Anne more “approachable” I guess. I also tend to go for “brains over beauty” but I definitely appreciate it when it’s both. I’ve long argued against the notion that female scientists aren’t supposed to be attractive–having studied Bio in college and having worked in the science field for a while before going into art I saw many women who were both smart and beautiful.

    And yes, I’d go for Janet also. Not that I didn’t find Chrissy attractive, but…

    Then again, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that my looks didn’t count for why some women found me attractive (not that I’m a looker anyway; a friend’s cousin, upon seeing my niece, actually told me that he figured out that she wasn’t my daughter because she was far more good looking than me. Oh well)–it was, as a co-worker told me, my intelligence (well, not that I think I’m that smart–I’ve just read a few more books) and also that I had an air of “sophistication” about me. Oh, and that I was a “decent guy”.

    Not that this gave me a swelled head or anything. I still think that the media’s obsession with “naughty vs. nice” sets up standards that are unrealistic, but that’s just me.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I never really had that sort of thing work out for me, personally, but I had some other issues at the time, and probably would do better now that I’ve settled in to being “eccentric” which would cover up a number of my flaws and oddities [grin].

      Yeah, one of the main comments with these debates is that the “sexier” ones also seem high maintenance or too glamourous to work. I think that a lot of people who prefer Mary Anne probably do see her as someone that they could have a nice, pleasant time with which takes a lot of pressure of and so, especially in the long run, would be more fun.

      I also agree that balancing “sexy and attractive” vs nice is a bad thing that the media is pushing. Especially since it seems to be about maximizing them and I don’t think that ultimately is what happens in the real world. One real issue here is that someone may well take someone less attractive who fits with them better than try to get the most attractive person possible, and the debate here often tries to set it up as “Nice vs attractive” instead of “Nice enough AND attractive enough”, which is what I think the reality is. And there is also your issue that people might think that a really attractive woman can’t be smart/nice and an unattractive woman must be smart/nice and, again, that’s not the case in reality.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Does the people who care about the question self-select for a particular answer?

    I suspect those asking / answering the question have a baseline assumption that they invest in just one woman. So the question is not “which actress would you prefer to sleep with?” but “which character archetype would you be more willing to exclusively invest in?”. And someone thinking “investment” is more likely to prefer a person who brings the “whole package” – by which I mean both sexy and competent, not both T and A.

    Which is not to say that most men would choose competent instead of sexy. Both is the ideal, but men are often willing to work around a lack of competence if the sex is good enough. Competence without sex is soul-crushing.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      There is a possibility that those who know that Mary Ann would be considered the less sexy and thing otherwise would be more motivated to turn out to express that. Then again, the debate itself seems to have spawned from the general audience, and Dawn Wells said that she got more fan mail than Tina Louise, and implied that that included more from men as well.

      It is a good point that most of the time — and even in the article itself — the reasoning tends to be that Ginger would be more fun but Mary Ann would be better for a relationship. So a big part of the attraction would be thinking more long-term than just for a fling, which in and of itself is actually indicative since the expectation is that men won’t do that.

      I think that for the majority of men it actually is that compatibility is more important than sex. So what they want is sexy ENOUGH but then will prefer the woman who is more compatible with them over the woman who is sexier. Mary Ann is a prime example of that because she’s certainly sexy enough, but then is more compatible with more men which explains her popularity.

  3. What Spawns the Eternal Question? | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] So, last week I talked about the debate about Ginger or Mary Ann and said that I’d talk more about it later.  I originally was thinking about talking more about the social aspects of this, but then in thinking about it decided that I actually had more to say about the aspects in the media that create these rather common debates, and so decided to just make it fit into my normal media analysis slot, and so that’s why you’re getting it today instead of, say, Wednesday. […]

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