Friday, March 9, 2007

I'm a Rules Girl

No, really.

My friend Quelle gave me her copy of The Rules when I was getting divorced, and it changed my life. I'll give you a minute to get your gag reflex under control, because, yeah, it's awful. If you've never had the pleasure, here's an excerpt. My favorite part is when they say, "Men who respond to The Rules are not sick or stupid, but quite normal and healthy. Your average guy." Somehow, I don't see the connection between "not sick or stupid, but . . . healthy" and "average guy." Anyway, I certainly don't have a copy of that crap in my house, so I'll have to give you everything from memory. Shockingly, once removed from the feminist acid bath, The Rules offers one--one--very valuable lesson: Men aren't all that. Really. That's the covert thesis of The Rules. It's so covert that almost no one picks it up, but I'm telling you, it's there.

I can see you're skeptical, but hear me out. The stated purpose of the Rules is to get a ring onto your dainty finger. It assumes that any marriage that flows from rigorous application of the Rules will necessarily be a happy one. It is my contrary belief that such a marriage will be a '50s-style tragedy, and that the only man you'll snag with the Rules is an Oedipal case. But to make my pro-Rules argument, I must take you back to my eighteenth year. I had just started college. It was a bright, sunny day, and I was walking across campus when I suddenly became aware of my posture. My shoulders were hunched, head down, elbows drawn in, with my arms crossed low in front to hide my belly fat. Now, I liked at the time to think of myself as a person projecting confidence, but I had to realize that I was wrong about that. I thought about it for a moment, and decided that, even if I'm not confident, I can pretend I'm confident. With difficulty, I straightened my spine, lowered my arms, and lifted my head. I think my new, commanding presence lasted about as long as it took to get across the quad. That time. After that, whenever I noticed myself cowering, I did my best to lift my head and walk purposefully. One day, I realized that I was standing up straight, arms relaxed, weight balanced, and I hadn't even been thinking about it. The upshot is that, by pretending to be confident, I became confident.

The central commandment of the Rules is this: Thou shalt not show undue attention to men. What the Rules "girls" mean by this is that you should act like you don't care whether a given man notices you or not. You should never be overly friendly or encouraging, and you must never take the romantic lead because, as they constantly remind us, man pursues woman. This is most decidedly not the same thing as Thou shalt not be obsessed with men, or Thou shalt not make the quest for a bacon-bringer the center of thy life. But. When you yourself are an Electra case, when you yourself think of male attention as the nectar of the gods, when you yourself have been taught that you and your body exist for the pleasure and comfort of men, this is quite a revelation. Thou shalt not show undue attention to men. Wow. So I started acting like men were no big deal. I started acting like I didn't expect to be taken advantage of. Like I was a real, human person who deserved to be treated like the fucking gift from God that I am. Pretty soon, it wasn't pretending anymore. It was all true.

Now, I don't even like men. That might sound harsh, but really, most men are entitled jerks. A man has to prove himself worthy of my regard before I'll, you know, regard him. This is not solely because of The Rules, but I have to admit, they were a spark. Take those sparks where you can get them, friends.


ilyka said...

When you yourself are an Electra case, when you yourself think of male attention as the nectar of the gods, when you yourself have been taught that you and your body exist for the pleasure and comfort of men, this is quite a revelation.

Yes, it was like that for me too. And I liked that the authors emphasized getting a life--scheduling things for yourself to do that weren't all about getting a man, trying to become a more well-rounded person.

I mean, it's like you say: Total crap book. But not half-bad if it's what you need to "hear" at the time.

Pippa said...

What you need, when you need's all valuable in a way! Nice post and nice to meet you, we have the same blog background...Cheers, Pippa

Dan said...

I really appreciate this post - entirely too much supposedly "empowering" tripe like The Rules exists to further the misogynistic patriarchy, while pretending to be beneficial to women.

As an aside, I have a question about your personal pic on the blog. While I'm not necessarily suggesting that you show a picture which reveals your entire face, I have to say that for a brief moment it made me think of the misogynistic burqa (sp?), or other forms of dress in militant theocratic patriarchal societies which force the women to hide themselves behind a mask, regardless of the fact that in many of these cultures it can be 120 degrees in the summertime.

Needless to say, I'm sure that you weren't thinking of promoting these misogynistic cultural norms as a good thing, just a little thought I had...

Anonymous said...

Sometimes progress comes in baby steps. Nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

Bitey said...

You know, I hadn't thought about the burqa thing. That's a good point. I'll have to give that some thought.

Fi said...

The thing that infuriates me about The Rules (disclaimer: never actually read the damn book, only going from second hand information I've picked up over the years) is that while all the don't-be-desperate stuff is true and awesome, it's ultimately a big mind game. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard the main idea is playing hard to get.

A little while ago I casually dated a man I wasn't really sure about, but I wanted to give him a chance because he seemed nice enough. I'm quite a private person, happy in my own company, so consequently I was rather aloof with him and initiated probably two phone calls over four months or so. I have to blame the patriarchy (now you know how I found you!) for the fact that this seemed to drive him wild, and the more I pulled back, the more he called and dropped in uninvited and left excruciatingly bad poetry on my doorstep. He must have thought I was playing hard to get.

It ended rather bitterly when I realised I was never going to be attracted to him. I tried to let him down gently, but he was so caught up in his romantic fantasy he thought that if he claimed he just wanted to be friends he could still snog me, hence a major freak-out on my part and confusion and profanity on his.

The moral of my boring story is that all the crazy mind games we're encouraged to play in pursuit of "love" or whatever have a nasty tendency to backfire and really scare the crap out of delicate flowers like myself.

I do like the idea of being so happily wrapped up in one's own life that the suitors have to do all the work, though.