If old stereotypes are to believed, women like their men oozing with masculinity. But a new study flips that thinking on its head, revealing that what women really want in a man might be far from this tired depiction of masculinity.

Even though it had never been proven, the stereotype of women liking masculine men has been around for so long that it was considered true by default. Experts theorized that masculinity signified health and strength, thus it was more appealing to potential mates. But a recent study conducted by British researchers at Brunel University in London has revealed that the appeal of more masculine men only holds for women from Westernized, urban communities. Throughout the rest of the world, women prefer feminine-looking men to their more masculine counterparts.

For starters, the team attempted to define "masculinity" in terms of appearance. They compiled data using computer simulations to merge photos of men’s and women’s faces into composite, “average” faces of five different ethnic backgrounds. They edited the photos of the men to make some more "masculine," and others more "feminine."  To do this, they calculated the differences between the male and female faces. To make a photo more masculine, they increased these differences. Conversely, to make an image more feminine, they minimized the differences.

Then they showed the images to both urban and rural residents of 12 countries and from different ethnic groups. Participants were shown three sets of photos from models of five different ethnic groups. They asked each of the 962 subjects which of the faces they found most attractive. In urban areas, they got the response they expected. Women consistently found the men with the most masculine traits to be most attractive. But the responses of the remaining women shocked the researchers, as they seemed to prefer men with more neutral or even feminine-looking faces.

Researchers theorized that maybe city-dwellers have developed the masculinity preference as a means to make a snap judgment about a man's health without any other background information.

Either way, the study flies in the face of the age-old notion that women prefer manly men, or that the roots of this so-called preference could be found throughout history.

More likely, the masculinity myth is just another urban legend.

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The masculinity myth: Here's what women really want
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