I took my son to see Thor: The Dark World the weekend it opened. It is the seventh movie in the Marvel franchise, which includes The Avengers and Iron Man, and the third starring Chris Hemsworth in the role that brought him international fame. In the film Thor’s love interest, earth-bound scientist Jane (Natalie Portman), is possessed by a dark and mysterious power. Thor must then join forces with his untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to save the Nine Realms from annihilation.
Featuring dark elves and monsters, spaceships and wormholes, it was the first non-animated film my son saw on the big screen and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it blew his tiny mind. But in terms of lasting effects, I would say it’s had a greater impact on me.
I’ve thought about it. A lot. And not in an intellectual, analytical, ‘let’s apply a theoretical framework to a contem-porary version of a comic book hero’ type of way. More in a ‘teenage girl with a crush’ type of way. To speak plainly, I am hot for Thor.
Chris Hemsworth is 6 feet, 3 inches tall. On his IMDB profile his trademarks are listed as follows: ‘Deep resonant voice, light bold blue eyes, towering height, muscular physique’. It seems no review is complete without a mention of his physical attributes. In Rolling Stone Peter Travers reports on his ‘muscles rippling’ and the Telegraph describes him as ‘now so vast of shoulder it’s a wonder he doesn’t topple over’. Variety refers to his ‘stereoscopically enhanced pectorals’ and the Sydney Morning Herald calls him ‘strapping’. Margaret Pomeranz wryly notes, ‘He looks very fit.’
Even self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey gets in on the act, blogging about how when Thor removed his shirt he ‘went a little gay for Chris at that moment. Maybe a lot gay’. Indeed, for the females who have seen it, the scene in which Thor broodingly splashes water over his insanely ripped torso is perhaps the most talked about in the film.
Usually, I’m not really into buff bodies. When I see pictures of Hemsworth suited up at premieres I barely look twice. As the jock in Cabin in the Woods he didn’t even make the needle flicker on the dial. He’s just not my type. In real life, I go for nerdy, weedy men. I’ve never dated a man over six feet.
But since I saw the film, I’ve had a feeling of yearning for Thor. I have allowed myself to engage in daydreams in which the God of Thunder gazes into my eyes or holds me, tenderly yet tightly, as we travel through the bifrost to Asgard. I’m embarrassed to admit this. I’m a 39-year-old wife and mother and Thor is a comic book hero. It seems immature and ridiculous.
What is it about Thor that makes me go so mushy inside? It’s not his hair. I don’t like long hair on men. And it is most definitely not his outfit. I mean he wears, basically, tights. Not a good look. After obsessively watching the trailer and various clips on YouTube I identified one major clue to his attraction: his voice. When he says, in his gravelly voice, ‘I will find a way to save us,’ you better hope you’re sitting down because it will not fail to make you weak at the knees.
A recent study, conducted at McMaster University, Ontario, and published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, offers insight into the connection between human voices and choice of mates. Lead author, Dr Jillian O’Connor, says, ‘Women like lower-pitched voices because of human evolutionary history. Men who have lower-pitched voices have higher testosterone; they’re more likely to be healthy, dominant, attain high social status. These are all things women find really attractive.’
The instinctive nature of sexual response is explored in the seminal (no pun intended) work on ‘sexual strategies theory’ by David M Buss and David P Schmidt. It provides ‘an evolutionary perspective on human mating’ and argues that ‘humans seek particular mates to solve specific adaptive problems that their ancestors confronted during the course of human evolution’. For example, females, who are typically smaller and weaker than their male counterparts, seek potential mates who have the physical strength to protect them from predators and environmental dangers as well as unwanted advances from other males. Thus, women are attracted to body features which suggest strength, including above-average height, broad shoulders and overall muscular physiques. Hello, Thor!
Buss and Schmidt emphasise that though the process of mate-selection is strategic, it doesn’t happen at a conscious level. So though, rationally, I may not find buff bodies aesthetically pleasing, at a preconscious level, I am hardwired to find strong-looking men attractive. As I explained to my husband: this lust is primal. It can’t be fought against.
As well as strength, women are programmed to seek a mate who has the resources to provide for her and her offspring. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the heir to the throne of Asgard has got some resources at his disposal. There’s that hammer for starters. Foolishly, I assumed that women’s increasing independence and access to resources would affect the traits they seek in a mate, but apparently not. Buss and Schmidt demonstrated that ‘women’s mate preference…persevered even across the different contexts of personal access to resources’.
This can be explained by desire and attraction being housed in the limbic brain, which is impulsive and instinctual. By contrast, the neocortex is the seat of rational thinking – the last part of the human brain to develop, responsible for logic, thought, critical thinking and planning. While the rational neocortex might believe that in the modern world a weedy nerd may be just as capable of protecting and providing for a woman as a beefcake, the instinctive limbic system knows better.
Despite all this, upon my first exposure to Thor, in Joss Whedon’s Avengers, I was unimpressed (and I don’t think this was solely down to the stylists getting a little bit too enthusiastic with the ghd). In the forest punch-up scene I was rooting for Iron Man: smart, witty, nerdy (don’t argue, just look at all those gadgets) – classic neocortical attraction. Despite Thor’s deep, resonant voice and alpha male stature, my primal lust wasn’t activated until I saw him in his own self-titled movie. Interacting with his love interest, astrophysicist Jane Foster.
Ultimately it was romance that triggered my sexual response to Thor and in this, I am not alone. In a modern-day version of the Kinsey report, neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam studied the behaviour of more than 100 million men and women who view pornography online to draw conclusions about human sexual behaviour, which they published in the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts.
Susan Bratton summarised some of the neuroscientists’ findings in a piece entitled ‘What Turns Women On?’ for PersonalLifeMedia.com. One such insight was that while men like to look at body parts, even disembodied parts, women are more interested in the emotional interactions between men and women – such as those found in romance novels. She asserts that romance is essentially female porn, pointing out that ‘100 million men in the United States and Canada accessed online porn in 2008 – just slightly more than the number of romance readers.’
Maybe Joss Whedon has read A Billion Wicked Thoughts, or perhaps he just understands these things intuitively, because according to Chris Hemsworth the idea for the shirtless scene came from him: ‘He said there needed to be something romantic in there. Then he said, “Chris, get your shirt off.”’
Glamour.com shared Jimmy Kimmel’s spoof trailer for Thor: The Dark World, which reimagined the film as a rom-com. But the film doesn’t require any such reframing. When Jane’s safety is threatened, Thor is at her side in an instant. He risks his life to protect her and her world. Oh, and did I mention he gazes deeply into her eyes?
Unsurprisingly, powerful eye contact is listed as one of askmen.com’s five non-verbal cues guaranteed to bypass a woman’s neocortex. Allegedly, prolonged eye contact releases phenylethylamine (PEA), a chemical that accelerates attraction, particularly in women. The article recommends lingering ‘longer on her eyes than you would normally, almost as if your eyes stick to hers like soft glue.’
I guess Thor must read askmen.com. He sure as hell bypassed my neocortex. And my god, it felt good.