Thursday, May 16, 2019

Down with "The Rules"

In the world of female names, Taffy must have a special place. It is not quite on the level of an all-time favorite-- Hephzibah, as in the writer Hephzibah Anderson-- but Taffy Brodesser-Akner is worthy of note-- even if, the first time I saw it I read: Brodesser-Acne.

As it happens, Taffy’s hyphenated last name is also a political statement. It is an amalgam of her and her husband’s names. If you do a quick computer search you will also discover that her “woke” husband, feminist to his marrow, has also adopted the same hyphenated name. If that what they want to tell the world, more power to them.

I raise the issue because Taffy has written a denunciation of The Rules. You know all about The Rules, because I mentioned the book yesterday in the post about not being down with casual sex. You use, good feminist and insufferable human that she is, Taffy did not follow the rules of what used to be called courtship. And she has managed to find a husband anyway. We are very happy for her. But, of course, her situation, however blissful it is for her, is what the scientists call anecdotal. It does not reflect on The Rules, either for or against.

Still, Taffy does manage to make the case for traditional courtship, even while she thinks that she is trashing it. She begins by noting that The Rules arrived in women’s lives at a point when feminism had transformed them to the point where they were suffering severe anxiety about their ability to attract men and to land husbands. It was the cost of making your life conform to an ideology:

Because it was also a time when we were supposed to be newly empowered. We were ’90s women. The battles had been fought; we owned property and voted. We worked and talked endlessly about things like balance. The women’s magazines encouraged us to take initiative, to ask the guy out. We were on the pill. Colleges were giving out condoms, not just to the men but to the women. There were so many mixed messages, and the women I knew were at war to maintain their independence but also still traditional enough to think about the families they’d been engineered to want. Had we alienated the men with all our independence?

So the authors of The Rules tried to show women how to recover their feminine mystique. Needless to say good feminists were appalled:

The book’s authors, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, promised a generation of women who were at war with themselves (not all of us, but enough of us) that we could find the husbands we dreamed of if only we could control ourselves for a few months (a year tops), sublimate our desires and follow 35 simple rules for attracting and securing a man.

What are the rules? You might call them the applied the feminine mystique:

Don’t chase men. Men are hunters. Make them want you; you are doing them a favor when you are withholding. They need a project. You are the project. Don’t worry: Even if you are a mieskeit, if you put yourself together enough, if you act mysterious enough, you will ignite the heart of a man who is so consumed by the chase that he’ll never really notice that you are incompatible or you are desperately needy or you have untreated clubfoot or your eyes are too close together or you get poppy seeds stuck in your teeth or you have irregular periods or your bikini line is unwieldy or you are a child-hater or your slight but apparent case of untreated scoliosis or you are ambivalent about your religion or you don’t know who you will vote for yet or you do not know how to cook or you have seasonal allergies or you sometimes feel a dark yearning about what you are supposed to be doing on this earth or are similarly vile.

Taffy believes that it was all a subterfuge, a trick that women were playing on men. It never crossed her mind that many women found the rules to be more natural than the new feminist way of being openly needy and assertive and aggressive:

The key was to not appear as though you needed love; that was the only way to get it. Do you understand how many women have tanked a deal in the making by appearing to want love too badly? By revealing themselves? By openly wanting sex and companionship? By wanting it at all? By having it all? A hunter has to believe his prey doesn’t want to be feasted upon, right? (Right?) So how do you pretend you don’t want something you do want? “The Rules” was the answer.

And also:

We could go to a singles event but we had to look like we were only there incidentally even though it was a singles event, and those usually attract a pretty specific audience of people who have decided that they do, in fact, want companionship. We couldn’t make eye contact with a man, and to prevent too much eye contact, we had to walk around the room. We could drink a Perrier but do not get crazy. “It’s hard to do ‘The Rules’ when you’re drunk!”

Naturally, Taffy takes up the feminist angle, The Rules as an assault on feminism. She does not mention that feminists set out to destroy the book and the lessons contained therein.

Put aside the assault on feminism. Or even take the book’s authors’ somewhat squishy theories on feminism — which was what is more feministical than deciding who you want to marry and when and then being able to wrangle him with your wiles? But put that aside, because what had feminism ever done for us except the whole career and independence and voting and rights to our own body thing? It didn’t get us husbands, that’s what. Was feminism going to keep us warm at night while our ovaries shriveled and our uteruses died from loneliness? Was that house in Great Neck going to buy itself? Sure, we all wanted to be feminists. But there were certain truths about men and women and no political movement, no matter how many waves, was going to change those things.

She then notes, as though we all cared, that she herself could not follow the rules. And yet, she did get married and has a couple of children. Apparently, Taffy’s mother was very good at rule-following, but that was because she was strikingly and stunningly beautiful. I am sure that there is a feminist lesson here. I leave it for you to decide:

The problem with “The Rules” isn’t that it shouldn’t need to exist (though, yes). The problem is that if you are someone who needs them, you are probably also someone incapable of following them. Trust me. I read “The Rules.” I couldn’t figure out a way to put any of them into action. I couldn’t figure out how to not look meaningfully into someone’s eyes. I couldn’t figure out how not to need, or to subvert my beta-need in order to get the alpha-need met. I wasn’t my mother. You should have seen her.

But then, Taffy assesses the consequences of five decades of feminism. True enough, as we read yesterday, women are more open and free with their sexuality. They want it as much as men do. Thus, I suppose that she is describing the sex lives of the newly divorced-- why is it that these independent, autonomous feminists had trouble staying married?-- and she is shocked.

It was nothing like what I heard from a critical mass of my friends who were getting divorced. One by one, they came to me and told me about their new dating lives. They told me how different and strange it was to be meeting someone on a phone. To sometimes be intimate with someone you didn’t even end up meeting in real life.


I asked to see their phones regularly. I asked for screen shots of their dirtiest talk. I wanted to understand how it was all working. I became obsessed to the point of unhinged about their new dating lives, in which all sex is plentiful, on-demand, available, and when it comes to romance, all the rules are off and also all “The Rules” are off.

So, women have gotten beyond the Rules. What does it look like:

These days, a man will send you a series of eggplant emojis and say something to you that is unprintable in this family newspaper. These days, a man will vie for your heart by sending you a picture of his penis as the first interaction you’ve had — not to upset you but to entice you (all these years later, men do not understand how penises work for women). There are untold amounts of men who want to know if you will make eye contact while you are fellating them.

It looks like they are taking their cues from porn. Down with The Rules; up with Porn. You’ve come a long way, baby!

When Taffy pretended to be a man, she heard what women were asking potential male hookups… as I said, straight out of porn:

I found that out when I went on the apps disguised as a man. Many of them opened up conversations with the male me asking if I, their suitor, would be open to slapping them or choking them or pulling their hair hard, and let’s just say Rule 36, had the innocent authors of “The Rules” anticipated that a time like this was to come, would probably be not to do that. Yes, we have left “The Rules” behind. We have left all rules behind. We believe in sexual satisfaction now, yes, but also we are not offended by the asks. I leave room for women wanting this level of interaction with a man; of course some women want this. But I also leave room for this being a new tactic in the same old game. We are sincerely answering the question about eye contact while fellating with an affirmative (instead of, say, just wholesale vomiting onto our screens). We are liberated, but we are still conforming to the requests of a man.

Which suggests to Taffy that women are still doing the bidding of men. One does not quite know why she thought that rules girls were doing men’s bidding. In truth, rules girls were more feminine and thus more in control. They were also conducting relationships in order to garner commitment. So, feminists have taught women how to live their sex lives as characters in male-oriented porn:

But it seems like we’re still conforming to the expectation of the modern male, fueled by his sexual education via many uninterrupted hours of internet porn. We squeal with delight throughout degradation, we moan when we want to say “Ouch! Not so fast!” We are still playing by men’s rules; we are still trying to accommodate what men want instead of explicitly stating how — that — we want to be loved.

What really bothers Taffy is that, in her mind, the rules were making women fake. She does not say whether the new modern way is more authentic, but we will be forgiven if we draw the conclusion:

It would have been great if “The Rules” had worked. This is not to say that some of its devotees don’t achieve their goal, which is to attract a certain kind of man (a man who himself wants a goal object of a woman who is not intimidating and not embarrassing and is not too loud and not too needy and not too ugly and not too difficult and not too intimidating and who is not a better bowler than he). This is not to say “The Rules” didn’t result in some marriages. But there was an essential “Rules” conundrum, which was that no one who needed the “Rules” was capable of keeping up a facade like that.

By Taffy’s lights, women are not very nice people. Beneath the skin they are not charming and polite and courteous and caring and considerate. No, they are really monsters:

Because now imagine the man’s reaction to a woman who had once seemed so coy and quiet and ladylike and was now the animal of his nightmares: loud, emotional, needy, human.

If women feel that marriage gives them license to behave like harridans, then perhaps that is why so many of them are getting divorced. 


trigger warning said...

This is off-topic, but "Taffy"? Sounds like a stripper working the poles at Pink Pussycat Gentleman's Club. Hard to take seriously.

The Gold Medal Chica Name, however, is sported by skiier Picabo Street. Sounds like a porn starlet catering to voyeurs.

sestamibi said...

The only Taffy I remember was half of the duo The Starland Vocal Band, known mainly for their 1976 hit "Afternoon Delight". And boy was she excessively cute back then.

See for yourself:

n.n said...

Women behaving the way feminists, in a diversity bid, have painted men. #HateLovesAborton