Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Rules by Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider - Book Review

Reading The Rules was like sitting in the dental chair - it was painful! I forced myself to read the book because last year I read He's Just Not That into You. I expected to hate that book, too, but I didn't. It was just so laugh-out-loud funny that I couldn't help but like it. Also, the message was clear, albeit simplistic; if a man isn't calling you, he's just not interested.

The Rules is definitely retro. I've heard it described as a book that advocates women going back to the fifties. True enough, but not the 1950s -- the 1850s! I could easily imagine Jane Austen writing this book and young women waiting for their gentleman callers in their mother's parlor.

For those who are not familiar with the material, The Rules are a set of guidelines for women to follow that are designed to prevent them from enduring heartbreak and rejection in love. They consist of the following suggestions:

-- Don't speak to a man first in a social setting. Don't ask him to dance, don't stare at him and definitely, don't call him on the phone! A Rules girl needs to play hard to get.

-- After a man calls you up, don't accept a date unless he's given you ample notice. And don't return his phone call if he happens to get your voicemail. You don't want to seem too eager.

-- Clearly, having sex is not an option. You must wait several months, meanwhile seeing the man no more than two to three times a week. And you will be certified as a suicide relationship bomber if you initiate sex! Don't pay for the date, don't meet him halfway and -- get this -- don't talk on the phone for more than 10 minutes every time he calls you. Pretend to have something else to do so that you seem busy.

-- If you want a man to marry you, don't live with him. Hold out for that ring.

Now, before you dismiss all of this as preposterous, as I was tempted to do, keep in mind that the purpose of the book is to prevent women from suffering. The authors argue that men and women are biologically different and as a result, men need to pursue women. If men don't initiate, they will lose interest. If women don't play hard to get, they will never instill a sense of chronic longing in their man. Moreover, The Rules encourages women to be busy and independent, so that they won't view their man as the center of their existence.

As a longtime feminist who has broken all of the rules all of my life, I must concede that some of them may have merit. Whether it's biological or sociocultural, men are different from women. There is still a double standard in society. If a guy goes after a woman for a year and she shows no interest in him, he is simply persistent. If a woman does the same thing, she's desperate. There's no term for a man who "chases" women because that's what a guy is supposed to do (I'm not talking about a womanizer or a stalker. I'm talking about an ordinary guy going after an ordinary girl/woman.) Why is the word "chase" always used in reference to women, kind of like the words "loose" or "easy?" (Heard of any men who were called sluts recently? I rest my case.)

Now, I think that the double standard is completely wrong and that's why I've always violated it. However, the end result has often been that I have pursued men who were not interested in me, or who have ended up being quite passive later on in the relationship.

In my book, D'Amour Road, my main character has an unrequited crush on a younger man. That scenario resulted directly from my interest in this topic of women pursuing men. Theoretically, it's a good thing. The sexes should be equal. In all of my interactions with men, I always try to treat them the same way that I treat females. But the sad fact is that they're not females, especially when it comes to sex and romance.

If The Rules sound antiquated, they are. But that doesn't mean that they may not be effective. I can't imagine following them all religiously, particularly the one about not returning a man's phone call, which seems incredibly rude. But I can see embracing a modified version of The Rules for self-protection and to simplify my life.

Let's face it. If a guy is interested in me or in you, he can pick up the phone. How hard is that? If we as women keep making the first move -- which should be our right -- how will we know if the man was interested beforehand? Is he just responding to our friendliness? Fein also cautions against revealing too much about yourself during the first month or two. Sounds Stepfordish but if you think about it, why do we need to tell anyone who is brand-new in our life all about the baggage that we carry around day in and day out? That's true of new female friends, new male friends or budding relationships.

Yes, The Rules are at least 150 years out of date and they are extremely irritating and disheartening to anyone with a feminist or postmodern perspective, but I found them to have *some* redeeming value. And I'm going to test them out, just for the hell of it.

Sigrid Mac

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