Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's all your fault

Under the innocuous headline Matchmaker's Dating Dos and Don'ts CNN and have managed to bring together a variety of the most harmful gender stereotypes and promote them as "cute." For this article, interviewed Patti Novak from the A&E show "Confessions of a Matchmaker."
Patti says her years of experience have taught her one thing -- millions of women have missed the mark when it comes to love. "Somewhere along the line, and I'm really not sure [when], we lost our common sense," she says.
Unfortunately, Ms. Novak's definition of "lost our common sense" is that women are gradually abandoning the trend of manipulating men into thinking that women are weak, simple-minded, dependent, or just overall less than human. The most telling example of Ms. Novak's view is the "pickle-jar" scenario she uses to illustrate how women could better help men "feel like" men.

Allison's take-charge attitude is what Patti calls the pickle jar effect. "We are so successful today, women. We're fabulous. We work hard. We make good money. We parent. Sometimes what happens when we spend a lot of time alone, we forget to let them open the damn pickle jar," Patti says.

Patti says that if he's not in the room, go ahead and open your own pickle jar. But if he's standing there, Patti says it's just as easy to ask him to open it. "And know that you are the smarter, clever one for doing it," she says. "It's about attitude."

This type of advice, especially when it is distributed through mainstream media, does not reflect positively on men or women. It puts forth the thesis that a woman must be manipulative to be in a relationship and that manipulative behavior is a natural part of being a woman. It also portrays men as insecure and kind of stupid. Blogger Arkades at Shakesville explains this point quite clearly.
I don't think validation based on manipulation is helpful. For one thing, it's a trivial and exceptionally shallow form of validation. It's also easy to see through, at which point it becomes patronizing. Why, it's hard to see how men could possibly survive out in the world at all, so easily and capriciously are our poor egos pumped up and beaten down at every turn!

My advice, to women *and* men: no one rational cares about stuff like who opens the jars. No man should feel slighted if a woman opens her own jar of pickles. Any man who *would* feel slighted by this is clearly not ready for a relationship among equals. Furthermore, a woman *pretending* that she can't do something may indeed be coy, but it isn't cute, it isn't sexy, and it isn't relationship-affirming.

A woman capable of doing something for herself ought *never* feel self-conscious about her abilities, and a man shouldn't take a woman's capability as a sign that his own abilities aren't appreciated.
Carol Lloyd of also takes exception to Ms.Novak's version of dating advice stating "What's obvious is that these formulas for harmony between the sexes request that women, no matter their empowerment in the workplace or their personality, should dumb themselves down to placate their lovers. " We would argue that Ms.Novak's line of advice also portrays being in a relationship as more important than being secure in who you are and having people appreciate you for that.

To recap, according to Ms. Novak, the following are impressions women want to avoid giving out if they want to find love.

"[It's like,] 'I love my life. It's great. It's perfect.'"

"I'm content. I'm having fun,'"

We are so successful today, women. We're fabulous. We work hard. We make good money.

With some parts of the mainstream media encouraging women to be manipulative and ashamed of themselves and other parts proclaiming that women are naturally stupid and deceitful, it's not hard to see why violence against women is so prevalent and misunderstood in our society.

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