chromatomancer (chromatomancer) wrote,

An Illustrated Rant about the Rules

Hey look, you can find a shiny new version of The Rules for sale on a bookshelf, even though it's 2013. And look, they're "Not Your Mother's Rules", according to Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, who, unsatisfied with the success of their 1995 bestseller and follow-ups, still want to indoctrinate you. After all, The Rules aren't anti-woman. They're supposed to protect and empower women, by capitalizing on some sort of essentialist "Male Nature" that makes men want only what they can't have. Not that the chase isn't fun, but there are enough real obstacles to love without inventing fake ones. . .
There appears to be a unicorn in the way.

So let's take a moment to consider the guidelines. I guess I have the two main goalposts covered: "be a creature unlike any other" (you think I'm kidding? this shit is real), and "always be busy." But I'm not doing those things to trap a man like a butterfly! In fact, being busy all the time is a huge detriment in some ways. You have to make time for other people! (I'm working on it.)

13th century butterfly hunt, 'cause.

Yes to having self respect, having boundaries, knowing how you want to be treated. Don't sleep with a man until the third date? Well, OK, that's a self-protective measure and seems generally sensible. But what about this? "Men love to buy and sell companies as well as extreme sports like mountain climbing and bungee jumping, while women love to talk about their dates and watch romantic comedies." Strange syntax aside (men love to buy and sell extreme sports?), this assertion is retro at best. How is a man supposed to know when a woman's playing hard to get after he calls her four times with no reply, or when he's crossed the line into stalking? This sort of thing promotes rape culture, 100%. I just don't see how pretending not to want what I do want empowers me. Sometimes you just know what you want, and that's sexy too. It shouldn't only be sexy when men do it. (And boy is it sexy when they do!)
Archana Bhattacharjee, mountaineer from Assam, 1979.

And then there's the flip side of The Rules, the heteronormative morass. What happens if you don't follow The Rules and their thousand cultural predecessors and antecedents? The threat is that, on your own, you, a woman, won't find a partner as devoted to you as you are to him (and the genders in this case are unfortunately important), that he won't have been hoodwinked into being attentive ('cause that's a big part of The Rules, the hoodwinking), that he won't be supportive and kind. The Rules seem to be designed to simulate self-worth in a culture that beats women down in every way. Essentially the authors are saying that in order to break the culture, you have to accept and internalize its tenets. (Because "guys are the same all over the world".) The Rules are designed to short-circuit a system that teaches men it's ok not to value their wives, by replacing casual contempt for womanhood with devoted passion via some sort of essentialist gender trickery. But by so doing you thereby acknowledge that the standard is casual contempt for womanhood, and that that is OK -- that it is a woman's fault if she can't play the game well enough to inspire that devotion that transcends what would otherwise be her lot in life, to be overlooked, undervalued, and always forced to fight for every privilege.

Remember these?

The authors protest that The Rules are OK because you only have to follow them at the outset of the relationship, and then a man will value you forever because he had to fight for you. This sounds a bit like a fairy story to me. I mean, I'm all for some fisticuffs if they're entertaining enough (example below), but really? The implication is that if he doesn't care about you, if he sleeps around on your 20th anniversary, it's not because he's an ass or because you slept around with his friend. It's because you didn't make him work hard enough in those first few months, so look back and regret, honey! But real relationships are continually sustained and discovered, and that's a good thing.
Who are these people?

You're supposed to be meek, understated, and coiffed? You're supposed to practice The Rules on the doorman, giving him a demure, mysterious smile? What if I don't find the doorman attractive? Do I still have to practice on him? What if I don't have a doorman? Am I doomed? What if the doorman is gay? Does the cumulative approval of random strangers who I will never see again have anything at all to do with my self-worth? And if it doesn't, should it? I mean, OK, I love it when I make a man trip over his own feet by just walking past him. It's a kind of power. But sometimes, y'know, I just wanna walk down the street like a person.
Clara Bow winks at the doorman in No Limit, 1931.

"Act as if everything is great?" But what if it's not? What if I've had a crap day? In general my life is luminous and full of beauty, and inside my head I live in a landscape filled with bees that sip on jeweled flowers, I'm sure. . . but I can't share a funny story about how something went wrong at work? I can't admit to having a headache or heartache? This all seems like an extraordinary boundary to intimacy, if I have to lie. If I have to try to seek someone who likes me when I lie.
Who cares?

Women older and wiser than I am insist that The Rules work, and they're worth following, that they can be separated from their essentialist gender underpinnings and used as tools. And you know, tool use is a sign of intelligence. So repurpose them if you want. After all, you're a modern woman and you can do whatever the fuck you want. But after a while, it may be time to consider a new toolbox.

Your toolbox.

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