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Archive for October 10th, 2008

Gender stereotypes are always annoying, but few are more annoying than the idea that all women are desperate to get married and all men are terrified of the prospect. Strangely enough, not all women are marriage-crazed and not all men are marriage-phobic (and some women wouldn’t want to marry men anyway)! But you wouldn’t know that from the New York Post’s piece about a totally stupid book by Lori Uscher-Pines called, charmingly, The Get-Your-Man-to-Marry-You Plan: Buying the Cow in the Age of Free Milk. Classy!

I got married last year, and strangely enough, I didn’t follow Uscher-Pines’s almost staggeringly ridiculous “rules” for (oh God) “buying the cow”. Let’s have a look at them, shall we? First of all, the “don’ts”, most of which are related to behaviour so preposterous that anyone who is even considering doing any of these things is in need of a lot more help than this book can give. In fact, all of these “don’ts” should be so self-evident that Uscher-Pines might as well have said “DON’T refuse to wash for months on end” or “DON’T punch his mother in the face”. Here’s what she did say.

Rule No. 1: Don’t become your boyfriend’s therapist. This is “nagging for smart people,” she says. Sure, you think you’re helping by getting to the root of his mommy issues and constantly talking about what childhood “commitment” incident may have scarred him. Reallly – your intentions are obvious and kind of embarrassing.

Um, you can say that again. But then, so is buying a book called The Get-Your-Man-to-Marry-You Plan: Buying the Cow in the Age of Free Milk. I’m not even going to start on that title, by the way.

No. 2: Don’t get friends to lobby on your behalf. Ooooh. Where to start. “When you do that, it isolates him and it makes it seem like it’s the world against him,” she says. “You really want to make it seem like the two of you are on the same team, and everyone else is on the opposing team.” Also: It’s lame.

Seriously, WHO THE HELL WOULD GET THEIR FRIENDS TO TELL THEIR BOYFRIEND HE SHOULD PROPOSE? Who needs this advice? Crazy people, that’s who! The friends are obviously mad too, I should add, for going along with this.

No. 3: Don’t use the stick instead of the carrot. Hey, Einstein! You’re going to withhold sex as a girlfriend to teach him a lesson, eh? “Men are afraid their wives aren’t going to have sex with them,” she says. “What kind of a message are you sending when you’re not having sex when you’re just dating?” An idiotic one. That’s what.

I love how she just throws out generalisations about men being “afraid” of their inevitably bleak sexless marriages. Moron. Also, way to reinforce the idea that men are so easily led and women’s only power is sexual. I’m just surprised she didn’t use the term “wifely duties”. ALSO, what the hell sort of terrible relationships do these people have, if they seriously consider blackmailing their partners into marriage through some sort of Lysistrata-esque sex strike? God, this is depressing.

No. 4: Don’t go public with it. Cringe-worthy. As an example, she uses the infernal Facebook status update, which should not be: “Such-and-such is not married. Such-and-such is still not married. Such-and-such is staring at her empty ring finger, weeping softly, once again.”

WHO ARE THESE WOMEN? I refuse to believe they exist! I am in my early thirties, the age at which a lot of couples tie the knot, and I have never met anyone so pathetic they would even consider doing this. It is insane. And the fact that it is counterproductive should be glaringly obvious – I wouldn’t even want to be friends with anyone who could carry on in this fashion, let alone marry them.

No. 5: Don’t have an emotional breakdown at a happy event. One horror story Uscher-Pines includes in the book is the desperate non-housewife who humiliated her boyfriend during a wedding toast by saying she “wished her boyfriend would have the guts to do something like this.” Let a happy event be a happy event.

Um, I actually know someone who, after friends of ours got engaged, started going on and on in the pub one night about how SOME people had managed to get engaged, and would they give her boyfriend lessons? It was hideously embarrassing. I was unmarried and unengaged at the time, and she kept trying to drag me into it, assuming I agreed with her, which made me extremely angry. So perhaps this one is not as unlikely as it seems. Surely this can’t mean there are people who do the Facebook and the sex strike things too, though? Please?

Now, I know I didn’t do any of these things when ensnaring my hapless victim wooing my husband. But did I follow the “dos”? Let’s find out….

No. 1: Do talk about expectations. “You’d be surprised how often the man hasn’t thought about marriage,” Uscher-Pines says. “Get it out in the open. Don’t immediately bring out your fangs by saying, ‘Where is this going?!’ But have a positive conversation where he feels like he can contribute.” Oh, and that means letting him talk. And no crying.

OMG, actually talking about your relationship! What a radical notion! Do you know anyone who is married who never discussed the possibility of marriage before they got engaged? Because I don’t. Also, how depressing is it that she feels the need to advise her readers not to cry when they talk about their relationships? Christ.

No. 2: Do spend time with all those marrieds who seem so crazy happy in love. Know what guys like? Things. Things that other people have – like bliss and togetherness and an easy, fun life. “You want peer pressure to work for your advantage,” she says. “Men get turned on to things when they see their peers doing the same.” A caution: Avoid couples with babies. And, extra points for renting movies like “Apollo 13.” Houston, we have a positive example of a committed lifetime partnership.

What the fuck? What does that even mean? Is Apollo 13 some universally recognised symbol of couplehood that I don’t know about? Or is it supposedly such a manly film that you will be making the ultimate sacrifice by watching it instead of Sex and the City or whatever other über-girly film you are of course devoted to? Or is it because it’s a film about men going off to do exciting, scary, dangerous stuff while their poor wives sit at home worrying? Who knows? Also, don’t get me started on how patronising this “tip” is to men. I have no idea why feminists called manhaters, when gender traditionalists are the ones who love to depict men as imbecilic children. Speaking of children, there are actually plenty of adult men who aren’t terrified of being anywhere near them.

No. 3: Do remove the “barrier” he’s created, such as not being able to afford the ring, or the house, or the wedding, or you. Easy, easy, easy. “Directly address what the problem is,” she says. “Agree that you’ll get the ring in a few years. Tell him what’s actually important to you.”

Oh, this is making me lose the will to live. Am I being cynical in thinking that if someone is coming up with ridiculous excuses not to marry you, he doesn’t actually want to marry you? You can get married on the cheap, and a plain gold wedding ring costs less than €100 (believe it or not, you don’t need an engagement ring).

No. 4: Do create some dependency, you scheming bitch. Ha ha, kidding. But really, do this. “Get him to depend on you a little bit,” she says, “and then show him what life is like without this benefit.” Cook him a gourmet meal every night and then stop. Pay bills and then stop. Get his car inspected and then stop. You’re so bad, you’re good!

No you’re not, you’re a manipulative loon! Doing nice things for one’s partner shouldn’t be some sort of bait and switch tactic. Also, if you suddenly “stop paying bills”, you’re likely to get into serious trouble. But hey, losing your credit rating will be worth it when you’ve bewildered some poor schlub into marrying you!

And last but not least, perhaps the maddest rule of all:

No. 5: Do initiate a major life change. No, Slutty McSluttypants, this doesn’t mean sleeping with his best friend. This means saying you might go to grad school or move to a new city or any kind of “fish or cut bait” decision-inducing measure. Basically, create a negotiation point. “An ultimatum isn’t manipulative if you think about it,” she says.

“It’s just saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do. So what are you going to do about it?’ “

What he MIGHT do, of course, is say that he still doesn’t want to get married. And then what are you going to do? Follow through on your ridiculous fake ultimatum and move to Alaska or start a PhD or something? Also, an ultimatum, if it is based on lies, is incredibly manipulative. Even “if you think about it”. And let’s not even start on the use of “hilarious” slut-shaming terms.

One of the many things that really freaks me out about books like this and the attitudes they reflect is the obsessive focus on “getting married” and having a crazy-ass wedding rather than having a good relationship. Because really, getting married does not change anything in your relationship if you love each other already. But you wouldn’t know this from the media, and from books like this. What’s going to happen once the wedding is over? Who cares! It’s all about the (gag) Happiest Day of Your Life. But what sort of miserable relationships do the emotionally stunted man-babies and manipulative harpies that star in this book actually have? The women-are-marriage-crazy industry (and it really is an industry) seems to be based in a world where men and women are so hugely, fundamentally different that they don’t even seem to like each other very much and have to trick each other into doing each other’s bidding.

This is not a world I recognise. My friends who are in heterosexual relationships are actually friends with their partners. They have stuff in common. They make each other laugh. They have mutual friends. They do stuff together. They don’t treat their relationships as some sort of freaky mind-game. And some of them are married, and some of them aren’t. But marriage is not some sort of relationship prize. I firmly believe it should be something people decide to do together, when the time is right for both of them. Of course, I know some feminists have a problem with marriage in general, and I understand the objections. I didn’t take part in some traditional elements of the whole thing that I strongly disagree with (I wasn’t given away; I wasn’t walked up the aisle by my (lovely) dad; I never, in my whole life, considered changing my name) but I am aware that I’m now part of an institution that has traditionally been used to control women – just read our first book club selection, The Woman in White, for proof of that.

I do, however, think marriage is something that can and should be redefined, and I don’t believe there’s anything inherently anti-feminist about formalising your love for and partnership with another person; everyone, gay or straight, should have the right to do this if they want to. Although if you view marriage the Uscher-Pines way, that stops looking like any sort of privilege…

So anyway. I’m not going to pretend that marriage-obsessed women don’t exist; I know that there are women who really, really want to get married. But I don’t think that they are helped by the media reinforcing these feelings by constantly telling them that this is the normal state of affairs, and depicting a world where men are constantly trying to escape the trap of marriage that every straight woman alive is supposedly trying to set for them. This is not the 19th century, and women do have more options in their life. Mrs Bennett was obsessed with getting her daughters married off because they would literally have nothing after their father’s death if they didn’t have a husband to look after them. Times have changed a lot since then. But you wouldn’t know it from films like 27 Dresses and The Wedding Planner and bullshit books like this that constantly tell women that getting a ring on their finger (the more expensive the better) should be their ultimate goal. Plenty of women are also being told by their parents to “settle down”, and it’s not always easy to resist this overwhelming social pressure.

But it’s important for people to acknowledge that it exists, and that the current wedding fever doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that men and women are not two separate species, and that there are plenty of men who want to get married and plenty of women who don’t. And that romantic relationships aren’t actually necessary for a happy, fulfilled life. But if you are looking for a relationship, surely it’s best to be with someone with whom you actually have something in common. For the last year and a bit I have been very happily married, to a funny, kind man who makes me laugh and shares some of my obsessions (political ranting, music, good books, comics, quality telly and amusing animals to name but a few) but were just as happy before we got married and I didn’t do anything to “get him to the altar” (or registry office). We got each other there, together. And neither of us had to stop cooking or pretend we were moving to Alaska.

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