Happy new rules

Well, happy new year to you, too. So, did you spend yours in a haze of drunkenness? 'Cause I certainly did.

New Year's Eve saw me attending a gathering at my friend Ernesto's house. It was pretty small, consisting mostly of Ernesto and his girlfriend Nancy, Max and Margot, and my friends Russ and Erin, who were up from Atlanta. It was a good time, and I enjoyed myself tremendously, talking mostly with Russ about the press junkets he's been on in the past couple of weeks.

I enjoyed myself a bit too much, in fact. Ernesto has these martini glasses that hold about five shots of liquor each, and I had three glasses full of Manhattans, plus another couple of martinis. It was a little out of control. I don't remember actually going home; I have a vague memory of my roommate Sam knocking on the bathroom door, looking for a mop, as I was hugging the toilet with my pants around my ankles. My next memory is waking up fully-clothed in my bed, lying on top of my squashed glasses.

Apparently, what I had done was start to fix some food (which was still on the burner when Sam woke up in the morning), and in the process spilled a container of grape juice all over the floor. I was probably trying to get a mop from the bathroom, and just never made it out.

I'm just guessing, of course, because I don't remember doing any of it.

The kicker was that we were having people over to the apartment for an all-day New Year's Day feast. Despite my hangover, it went pretty well. Nick and I spent a lot of money on booze (three different whiskeys for Manhattans, twelve bottles of Veuve Cliquot, six bottles of wine, and some other stuff), and Sam and Matt fixed a boatload of food (omelettes, expensive cheeses, home-baked bread, shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell, broiled roast beef, barbecued chicken wings, and three types of pasta). Lots of people came over; my roommate's friends came during the afternoon, and a few of my friends showed up later on. Everyone was pretty drunk and well-fed by the end of the evening, so all told I'd say it was a success.

Midway through the party, Sam's girlfriend Jenna (whose name I'm sure I'm spelling wrong) brought out a book, and I'd like to digress a bit to talk about it.

This book is called The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. It's been around since 1996, and spawned sequels called The Rules II, The Rules for Marriage, and even Rules for Online Dating: Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right in Cyberspace. The basic premise of all books is that you should become a "Rules Girl," following the rules and treating men the way the books tell you - even if you don't want to.

Naturally, they're horrible. Essentially, the way the authors say a girl should snag a husband is to totally bury your own personality and individuality, putting on a happy makeup-laden face no matter what happens. They say men should always make the first move. That you should never call men, and let them call you. That you should wear makeup even when jogging or working out. It a laughable chapter for teenage girls, they say that you should imitate all the popular girls at the expense of your own self: "You're attracted to boys who wear cowboy hats and boots when they're in fashion. Well, they're attracted to the type of girl they see in Seventeen and Vogue." (I'm quoting from memory here, but it really is that bad.)

All of this has been deconstructed countless times by feminist detractors. But less has been said of the cult-like nature of The Rules; witness Rule #27 - "Do The Rules Even When Your Friends and Parents Think You're Nuts," and Rule #31 - "Don't Discuss The Rules with Your Therapist." ("They're likely to tell you that the rules are dishonest and manipulative," they say - which, of course, they are.) It's a system where any sign of discontent should not even be thought about; you're not even encouraged to discuss them, but merely to smile and laugh.

Less still has been said about the insulting view of men. Men, according to the book, are shallow, stereotypically competitive, and brainlessly instinctual - "train them to call earlier without actually demanding it of them." Or consider this rule: "Stop dating him if he doesn’t buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine’s Day."

Simply put, a woman who follows these rules will treat a man like shit. And expect to be worshipped for it.

I think the authors and their fans realize that this is precisely what is going on. It may have something to do with the book's success. For every negative review on Amazon.com, there are four or five with glowing, five-star endorsements. It sold over a million copies, and that number only escalated after the authors were on Oprah.

It certainly outsells any book written by any feminist, ever.

Of course, you know that the type of woman who is inclined to be a "Rules Girl" is probably a total psychopath in the first place. After all, consider the reason this book was in the house: one of Jenna's friends got married, and his new wife sent her a letter stating that she doesn't want them to be friends. Because of a former relationship they had - six years ago. And she sent the book along (which she says is "my Bible") just to show there's no bad feelings. Stay away from my man, you fucking bitch. If you want one, take this book and get your own. No hard feelings, right? Go get 'em, tiger!

This despite the fact that she and Sam are currently dating, and seem much happier than the psychotically insecure newlyweds.

From the book's popularity, it's easy to deduce one simple rule about females: Women are psychos. And of course they are, but that merely sidesteps the question of why they're psychos.

And that answer is the reason I'm even writing about this. This book is the flipside to my obsession with masculinity. It's these sorts of feminine roles that, in olden days, helped keep men solidly in their place as wage-slaves and domestic providers. And the reason women want them is that when they've had to take on "masculine" roles - taking risks, working to provide for a family, being sexually aggressive, etc - they found them empty of any meaning or fulfillment. There's an entire field of feminist theory devoted to women who develop attitudes that are a throwback to pre-feminist roles; it's often referred to as "the Cinderella complex." The feminist line is that it's simple fear of liberation, something that can be overcome eventually when women realize what's best for them.

Which makes it pretty obvious that feminist theory will never help men. Not one iota. Way back in my first weblog entry about this "masculinity" shit, I wrote this in a review of Susan Faludi's Stiffed:

The biggest problem is, of course, the predictable one: she thinks the solution is that men should adopt feminism, since at heart feminism is about women finding their voices in a society that considers them merely ornamental. But what she fails to realize is that feminism has completely failed women in exactly the areas that society has failed men. Though very successful on the political front, feminism is often mute on deeper issues of female identity. Women rushed into fields traditionally held by men, found no solace there, and then asked, "what now?" And feminism didn't have an answer. Instead, the "answer" many women take is to go back to traditionally female authority roles.

I mentioned childbirth, but it's easy to see that being a married woman is just as much a traditionally female authority role as motherhood is.

So I think this book is just further evidence that I'm right.