Last week Cheryl Lavin re-posted one of her "all-time favorite columns," "Rules for Women."
I'm amazed it's something she wanted to dig out of the archives: I found it bewildering at best, offensively sterotypical at worst. What confuses me most is its inconsistency: much of it reads as though written by a bitter man raging against the games he thinks all women play. Other parts sound, in contrast, like an attempt at a humorous women's code for bashing men (and other women, for that matter). And a few odd ones seem meant to be taken seriously. These are the most problematic, it seems to me, since they're the ones that make it hard for readers to tell if the column is parody or prescription.
"The Rules" (no, not those rules) are below, with some commentary interspersed. Am I just being too stodgy and totally missing the joke, here? Or do they seem as odd to you as they do to me?
Invite a man to go shopping with you only if you need someone to carry your packages or drive.
[Ho hum--typical, cliche girl-bonding stuff, that's also deprecating: we can't transport ourselves or haul our own stuff--and men are just here to serve us]
Assure your boyfriend that every female movie star has had a boob job. [Our bonding, of course, reaches its limit with famous, beautiful girls. Them, we bash, because we know that our partners will be so taken with a character on-screen that we need to run interference. Whaat?]
When your man asks you what's wrong, say, "Nothing." However, when Oprah, Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura asks you, go into excruciating detail. Leave nothing out. [This, to me, sounds like a sarcastic barb from a bitter guy. Surely it's not meant to be taken seriously....so, from a woman, to other women, what's it supposed to mean? ]
The negative effects of cheese puffs and chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream are offset by the positive effects of diet soda. [yes, yes, more coffee-mug slogans]
Feet are flexible and can be made to fit into shoes varying from size 7 to 9, depending on what's on sale. [again...]
You can skimp on clothes, but a good bra is worth its weight in gold. (That's Victoria's secret.) [So this one is true, girl-bonding stuff, Stacey and Clinton approved (though why the product placement?--and therefore totally out of place with the rest of the list]
The Patricia Principle: The more you've been trying to attract the attention of a particular man, the more likely it is that you'll run into him when you're sweaty, short of sleep, without makeup, wearing house-painting clothes, with your hair in a bandana. [Ok...]
The best response to a married man who's hitting on you is, "Say, don't I know your wife?" [Sounds reasonable enough...]
Learn how to say "back off" very loudly and look fierce while you say it. [This one, too]
Let every new man in your life know that you've got a black belt in karate. [Um...what? Or--now here's an idea--only allow men in your life who don't require such a warning?]
Make friends with your hormones. They're what make you colorful and unpredictable. If other people have a hard time with that, that's their problem.
When you hear your mother's words coming out of your mouth, shut your mouth. Unless your mother was really wise.
When in doubt, say no.
You're under no obligation to tell the truth when asked the number of your sexual partners.
Men love a woman who's good in bed.
No matter how much they fight it, all men need a woman to organize their lives and their closets and tell them what kind of hair products to use. [I can't tell if this is a sarcastic, bitter, man comment, or a man-bashing-female-bonding comment. In any case, clearly, the joke is lost on me]
Consider yourself a sculptor and your man a block of marble. Chip away until you have created someone you can live with. He'll thank you. Later. [See above...once again, one hopes this is meant as a joke. But mixed in with sincere advice, who can tell??]
Always remember: Inside the biggest, burliest, most macho man lives an ego as delicate and fragile as a baby chick making its first venture outside the egg. [um?]
Laugh at a man at your own peril.
The only women who look good first thing in the morning are the women who don't know how to put on makeup. [I'm not even sure what this means]
When splitting a dinner check with girlfriends, it's perfectly acceptable to take out a calculator.
If you drop your girlfriends as soon as you have a boyfriend, you will live to regret your decision. [True]
Food eaten while preparing other food has no calories.
When consumed for its antioxidant properties, dark chocolate has less fat than broccoli.
It's a medical fact that some women gain weight although they eat only salads. [Gah, the obSESSion with food, weight gain, and justification! As if we have nothing else to think about]
It's another medical fact that too much lettuce can lead to depression.
Women who never binge have no souls.
Only a masochist weighs herself the day after a binge.
Ditto anyone who looks at herself naked in a three-way mirror. [Seriously? Still?]
Even Angelina Jolie has some part of her body she hates. [STILL? Can we move on?]
Falling in love is a sure way to lose 5 pounds.
Getting dumped is a sure way to gain 10. [Guess not]
Nothing is sweeter than finding out that the cute boy who dumped you in the 12th grade lives in his mother's basement. [Mm, yes, living with vengeance in the past is SO attractive....]
Except going to your high school reunion and seeing that the prom queen shops at Lane Bryant. [even better: living in the past, with vengeance, while obsessing about weight and bashing other women!]
Black really does make you look thinner. [OK, true.]
So what's the deal with these rules? Where did they come from, and what on earth are readers expected to do with them? This Sunday Cheryl printed some feedback from readers (all men, interestingly), which is what reminded me that I, too, had been both confused and annoyed when I read them last week. Advice isn't always helpful--given the constraints of a column, sometimes it can't be--but when it actually tends toward harmful, well, that's frustrating, and sad.
Advice columnists are in a unique position to revise social norms, to encourage people to be better and wiser than they were, and to see relationships and society in new ways. It's frustrating--a waste of space, even--to see those column inches devoted to mixed messages and stale stereotypes.