Friday, July 20, 2007

The Dating Advice Industry, Or Why Should I Have To Deal With YOUR Lack Of Personhood?

I have Yahoo set as my homepage, mostly because the stuff on there is an unending source of fodder for blogging. A couple of days ago, the big "Y" came through for me again, in the form of some ultra-treacly "Luv Advice" from the rather large-eared gnome in the picture, a Mr. Evan Marc Katz. Mr. Katz's timely advice consisted of "11 Things Women Don't Know About Men, Plus One Thing They Do Know, But Probably Won't Admit".

This isn't "advice", it's the same old gender stereotypes, repackaged in nauseating list form. Any 10 year-old could probably regurgitate these old saws about "menz 'n wimminz" without much prodding:

1. Getting angry at us for not reading your mind is like getting angry at yourself for not being able to fly. It's not just futile, it's physically impossible.

2. Yes, we do think Jessica Alba is hot. Sometimes we're even dumb enough to admit it.

3. Don't ask us to understand your shoe fetish. Asking us to respect it is even sort of pushing it.

4. You do look good without makeup, just not as good as you look with it.

5. Ever notice how we don't fight with our male friends? That's why we get so frustrated when we fight with you.

6. You care what you're wearing infinitely more than we do. In fact, if you're naked when you open the front door, you won't hear an argument from us.

7. You don't like to get hit on in public, you don't want to date online and you don't want to be set up on blind dates. Tell us if sending messenger pigeons is an appropriate way of courting. Because if it is, we're all over it.

8. There should a statute of limitations on stupid things that we said that can come back to haunt us
There should a statute of limitations on stupid things that we said that can come back to haunt us. I propose 24 hours.

9. Cooking dinner for a man is like buying flowers for a woman, except it takes a lot more time, effort and thought for you to do it. Thanks. We appreciate it.

10. We actually like your girly pet-names for us, but please, not in front of the guys!

11. Just because we like looking at the women in Maxim doesn't mean we want to actually converse with the women in Maxim. Not for long, anyway.

12. Your nice guy friends are the most reliable source for telling you if your new boyfriend's a jerk. And he probably is. (By the way, you might want to consider marrying that nice guy who's giving you advice about the jerk.)

I'm not going to waste my time deconstructing this sexist wank-wank. If you are interested in that, Amanda did a good job on Pandagon a couple of days ago. Rather, I'd like to contemplate the kind of damage this stuff does to real people in real relationships. Even people who get that this is thinly-veiled bullshite end up paying an alarming price in their daily lives. When dating and relationships become "Us against Them", even if it is only OTHER people's relationships, we all loose. So, here is my list of "5 Ways Bogus Relationship Advice Torpedoes Actual Relationships" See how much more parsimonious I am than Mr. Katz? I don't even need to add in the patronizing "one you probably all ready know" for good measure.

1. When people start using gender-based shorthand to describe how other people think, it becomes a lot easier to dehumanize a partner.

2. People will live down to low expectations.

3. Pitting "Men" against "Women" introduces a win/loose mentality to relationships that justifies any behavior, so long as it allows you to "win".

4. Sexist stereotypes give convenient excuses for why things go wrong in relationships, allowing people to stop looking for the real sources of conflict.

5. Looking at relationships as "things" to "fix" misses the point entirely.

So, your saying, "No duh! Like any smarmy little list of relationship how-to prattle, everything you just said is obvious." And it is obvious, sitting here, reading it. But when you are in the throes of a dying love affair, or the heat of a fight, or having a dating loosing streak, social conditioning often kicks in, and the obvious flies out the window. When people are constantly bombarded with the same old tripe, day in, day out, a little can't help but seep in, around the corners. And that's bad. Nasty things get said to loved ones, feelings get hurt, and barriers get reinforced, which usually ends up escalating things even more.

What is even worse is how the people who buy into the stereotypes all of the time negatively impact the whole society. Here are a few examples of how this works. Example 1: Man buys into the idea expressed in Mr. Katz's #1. Women Expect Men To Be Mind Readers. He becomes bitter about situations where he has received messages from women he couldn't interpret. When he goes on dates with women, he decides that anything less than a, "No, I do NOT want to have sex" is either a "yes" OR just a bitch who wants him to read her mind, and he date rapes women on a serial basis. Example #2: Woman buys into #3. Women Are Supposed To Have Frivolous Spending Habits. All ready insecure about her own "femininity", the woman sees going on massive buying sprees as a way of "proving" she is a woman. She spends and spends, until she has spent her way into bankruptcy. Think stuff like this doesn't happen? Start looking around. And of course, both of the above scenarios have an impact on the wider community. And both, unwittingly, feed into the whole stereotype mess that started it all.

Oh, and Mr. Katz? That "nice guy"- the one who's supposed to be a woman's perfect love match? He's the real jerk. He plays women like instruments, too intent on "wining" the "game" to be honest about his feelings from the start, waiting to get an "in", pretending to be concerned about the woman's welfare, right up to the point he becomes her lover, when he starts comparing her unfavorably to Jessica Alba and whining about her shoes.

But you'r a Nice Guy (TM). You know that all ready, don't you?