NEW YORK – They're strong yet sensitive, they help save lives and now they're stealing hearts — manly men are in demand.
Masculinity has always equaled sex appeal, but since the Ground Zero heroes were thrust into the headlines and onto television, tough types have become even more desirable.
"All those strapping firefighters with ashes and scratches on their faces, dirty uniforms and sweaty brows are just downright sexy," said Liz Quilty, 28, a layout artist in Boston.
"Not just because they are the picture of strength and masculinity, but also because they've done the hardest, most noble job of all, which is to put their own lives second to others."
But it's not just about the muscles — or the handcuffs. Priorities have shifted since the attacks, and desire for flashy financiers, lawyers and dotcom moguls has faded. Instead, women are breathless for brawny firemen, tough-talking military guys and brainy politicians.
"I want someone who is more concerned with helping his neighbor than checking his stocks every half hour," said Jen Moses, 26, from Dedham, Mass. "I have a renewed sense of what is important and that is what I want in a man, too."
Government officials have been called the new celebrities in the post-Sept. 11 world, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tops the list of hunks. The silver-haired 69-year-old might seem a little senior to be a sex symbol, but he has groupies gushing like 'N Sync fans.
"He has this way about him that no matter what, he is going to get the job done," said Christy Faustmann, an event marketing manager in New York City. "He is going to avenge what happened. He is going to defend this country."
Faustmann added that even though Rumsfeld is a tough leader, he also seems like a softy at heart. "He has a jovial side. He's got this little smirk that puts you at ease," she said. "He has an amazing ability to lead and be humble in his approach, which is extremely attractive."
While dating Rumsfeld isn't likely — he's married — single women are seeking similar manly qualities with the help of matchmaking services all over the country.
Bridgette Cush, public relations coordinator for Match.com, where over 2 million members log on to search for love, said a masculine build is now widely sought. "After Sept. 11, when selecting a preferred body type, 64 percent of women chose an athletic build as opposed to other types listed." The previous average was 5 points lower.
And Nancy Kirsch, senior vice president of It's Just Lunch, a nationwide dating service, said clients are "thinking deeper about what's important to them."
"People have reprioritized. There is a stability attached to that type of strong and stable man." Kirsch said. "There is also an inner strength shown. Men on television are welling up and crying, but it doesn't mean they aren't strong ... my gosh, it is the opposite."
Attraction to heroic men is primal and won't be fading anytime soon according to Dr. J. Michael Faragher, dean of the School of Professional Studies at Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colo. Faragher explained that this phenomenon isn't unique to the recent disaster — or to women.
"When people feel threatened there's a natural inclination to be drawn towards people that represent safety or security. ... Humans have symbols that represent safety and security in times of danger, uniforms … in particular military, police and fire."
And Faragher said leaders are often seen as desirable. "Feeling safe often paves the way for a sensual or sexual response."
Faustmann from New York echoed this. "If someone protects you unconditionally, they are sexy."