Can Dating Books Be Feminist?

People may be hooking up online more than ever, but the biggest love-driven industry remains self-help publishing. It seems everyone has something to say about how we’re screwing up our love lives—from sexual anthropologists to celebrities. And women, of course, are almost always to blame, according to the “experts.”

We dream of a world where love-advice books will be obsolete—especially those that tell women how to “improve” themselves to land a man. The presumption, of course, is that finding a permanent mate (of the male variety) is the ultimate goal for us all. Our feminist panties get in a bit of a bunch over that, but we also recognize that most women do, indeed, seek long-lasting love (with a mate of any variety they damn well please). It’s in our DNA to couple up, so we’re not about to dismiss that anatomic desire. But why must the tomes that are supposed to guide us towards ultimate happiness make us feel so crappy about being both single and female?

In the name of anthropology (and, OK, for personal reasons), we went in search of positive dating books. We didn’t exactly expect to find feminist texts that self-empowered women to be themselves, which would therefore lead them to the best possible partner—one who would love them for who they are (for the record, we’d love to see that book). But we did expect to find at least a few that took the desperation out of dating.

Here, the (occasional) good and the (overwhelming) bad of what we found:

School of Thought #1: Hurry! Time is Running Out!
Today’s woman likes a deadline. These books put dating in the “diet” or “goal-attaining” framework.

“Love in 90 Days: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love” By Diana Kirschner

On the surface, this seems like just another how-to guide that assumes what you’re doing now is all wrong! Thankfully, this book delves a little deeper. The author is a clinical psychologist who’s worked with countless patients with the same complaint: Why can’t I find the “right” person? Her advice focuses more on finding peace and acceptance within yourself than creating “pro/con” lists of potential suitors. Plus, the “program” of the book—an easy set of exercises of self-discovery—is flexible enough to suit women in different phases of their lives—from young singles to recent divorcees.

Verdict: All-inclusive and encouraging? We’re off to a good start!

“Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate” By Patti Stranger

The “Millionaire Matchmaker” may be a success (at least on TV), but there’s nothing easy or finite about dating. Patti’s “easy” tips for women to become desirable for “the good men” include having long hair and big boobs, ditching your girlfriends (because they’re just competition), not talking too much on a date (men prefer to hear themselves talk), withholding sex and demanding presents (jewelry preferred). The prize at the end of this training course is a committed, monogamous relationship—and a big, fat diamond ring! Yeah, but at what cost? You sacrifice your personality, intelligence, and soul all for a guy who wants a Barbie-doll? And if you’re neither a busty, dumb woman nor a rich playboy, you’re apparently not worthy of long-lasting love.

Verdict: This book sadly represents the bulk of what’s out there. It’s a disservice to women and men.

School of Thought #2: You’re Doing Everything Wrong
You’re single because you haven’t read these books, dummy.

“Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” By Lori Gottlieb

Is being single as bad as dying in a car crash because you drove drunk? The author doesn’t exactly say this, but she does make the analogy that single women need to WAKE UP and see the blood-and-gore of their dating catastrophes in order to never drink and drive, er, date the “wrong man,” again. But her main critique for all you failing single ladies out there is that you’re too damn picky. The book is full of “mistakes” women have made by “passing” on Mr. Good Enough. She says women need to stop while they’re ahead so they don’t “miss out on their best (or perhaps last) chance for marital happiness.”

Verdict: What we hate most about this kind of advice is that it dismisses women’s intuition. Her theory basically says it’s far better to settle for someone for whom you feel no passion or to stay in an unhappy marriage—because, you know, he’ll get a younger, hotter wife and you’ll wind up a cat lady—than to actually feel good about the one you’re with. We think women are far smarter than that. While we admit that some women could use to tone down their expectations of “the perfect guy,” throwing your instincts out the door for fear of missing out on your “only chance at happiness” is far more dangerous.

“Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” By Steve Harvey

This is just a modernized version of “The Rules,” which tells women to stop wearing short skirts and calling their dates too much and start cooking him dinner and expecting him to cheat. The book dubs itself as a manual to men—classified as “keepers” or “fish you should toss back,” which is perhaps more offensive than the advice it gives women.

OK, maybe not. In the author’s mind, acting like a lady sounds a lot like being a submissive housewife. Harvey—a former player who’s now married—says women should expect the worst out of men so that we don’t get our poor, little hearts broken. Here are some other gems of advice: Don’t have sex till you’ve dated for three months or men will think you’re a whore. Don’t do things like open your own car door or make more money than him. And you’d better make him feel smart and strong (read: dumb yourself down for the sake of his ego) or you’ll be single forever. In Harvey’s world, men are stupid, simple creatures and women are too hung up on their own progress.

Verdict: This book belongs in a time machine—or the garbage can.

School of Thought #3: Smart Girls Shouldn’t Be Single
Their titles may pay us a small compliment, but they’re hardly encouraging.

“The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible” By Alex Benzer

We’re so sick of educated, accomplished women being blamed for their success—and for said success being blamed for the “failure” of their love lives. This book starts off by pumping the egos of “smart women”—which in this context means you went to an Ivy League school—but quickly devolves into a finger-wagging lecture. Smart women don’t go out enough because they don’t like stinky bars. Smart women’s standards are too high. Smart women self-sabotage their own relationships. The author’s an expert, you see, because he went to smart schools too (Harvard—and Cambridge!) and he has lots of smart-women friends who aren’t all happily married, which must prove his theory.

Verdict: We’re generally pro-Tao philosophy such as, “If you want to be loved, be the kind of person who is lovable. If you want commitment, be the kind of person who’s worthy of committing to.” This makes sense and focuses on positive self-improvement to encourage successful relationships. Unfortunately, this book spins that theory on its head and plays the blame game a little too much.

“Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl – A Woman’s Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship” By Sherry Argov

God, where do we begin? First of all: Thanks a ton for classifying women as either doormats or bitches, Sherry. It’s great to know a fellow female thinks so highly of her sisters. We know that you’re a comedian and you’re trying to be all snarky and cool, but you’ve positioned your book as a legit guide for dating, and that’s just wrong. You were probably going for “outrageous” with your bits of advice—such as pretending to not really care about a guy so he’ll want you more; or dominating conversations and demanding your way so he’ll know you’re no pushover (and, psst, probably great in the sack)—but the whole tome comes off as just… offensive. And dumb.

Verdict: We’d rather listen to Howard Stern than take this sexist advice—from a woman!—that advocates the kind of game-playing we’re trying to avoid.

School of Thought #3: The Power of Positive Thinking
These books focus on the positive and act as cheerleaders for women looking for love.

“Meeting Your Half-Orange: An Utterly Upbeat Guide to Using Dating Optimism to Find Your Perfect Match ” By Amy Spencer

First of all: Snaps to Spencer for putting “upbeat” right there in the title. Nearly every other dating book screams at women with phrases such as “find love now!” or “stop making dumb mistakes!” This text—half memoir, half advice book—takes the perspective of an honest, encouraging friend who’s been there rather than a nagging, judgmental sorority sister who just can’t get why you’re still single. Spencer, who’s now married, shares her tales of dating past—some sweet, some downright scary—to use as teaching tools. The “guide” part of this book harnesses a little bit of magic from that blockbuster Oprah book “The Secret,” but manages to be a little less hokey. The message is the same—focus on that which you want and it will be yours—but Spencer’s real-life examples somehow make it sound less like spiritual hoo-hah (editors’ note: we dig spiritual hoo-hah, too) and more like good, common sense.

Verdict: Optimism is contagious, which is something everyone should catch.

“Make Every Man Want You: How to Be So Irresistible You’ll Barely Keep from Dating Yourself!” By Marie Forleo

The title made us think this would be another book that pushes the idea that happiness only exists when a woman is securely settled in a marriage with a man. But it has a surprising twist: The object of desire in this book is… you. All the chapters serve as mini pep talks with the same goal: Making you feel great about yourself. It’s shocking how refreshing this is—especially considering self-help is supposed to do exactly that. While the message is uplifting, the advice is straightforward with no BS: “A relationship will not save you; relationships are spiritual opportunities, not a needs exchange; men are as-is merchandise; if you want guarantees in love, you don’t want love.”

Verdict: This book is the kind of girlfriend we appreciate most—one who will give it to you straight, but always be there to make you feel better when things go wrong.


PG

Author: Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.
About Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.

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