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October 30, 2005

Dating advice from Maureen Dowd

Remind me why anyone should take dating advice from Maureen Dowd. This is the woman who regularly uses her New York Times column for content that belongs in an F4M classified ad. Asking Maureen Dowd for perspective on intimate relationships is like asking Judy Miller for advice on journalistic ethics.

Nevertheless, an excerpt from Dowd's forthcoming book, "Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide," appears in today's New York Times.

Be warned, as Amanda says, Dowd's essay is embarassing.

Dowd's ovarching thesis is that feminism cheated women and broke the sexual marketplace. Feminism tricked women into thinking we could "get away" with being smart, confident, and financially independent without decreasing our marriagability. Dowd recalls that there was a lot of heady talk in the late sixties. One thing lead to another, and pretty soon women felt entitled to be loved for who they were.

Dowd thinks she's finally gotten the last laugh on those ugly, slutty, Birkenstock-wearing feminists from college. She and her mom knew all along that the feminists were kidding themselves. It's just a Fact of Nature that men hate self-actualized women. Always have. Always will. (Details are sketchy, but apparently Science has established that it has something to do with dopamine and ev psych.)

Dowd writes:

Decades after the feminist movement promised equality with men, it was becoming increasingly apparent that many women would have to brush up on the venerable tricks of the trade: an absurdly charming little laugh, a pert toss of the head, an air of saucy triumph, dewy eyes and a full knowledge of music, drawing, elegant note writing and geography. It would once more be considered captivating to lie on a chaise longue, pass a lacy handkerchief across the eyelids and complain of a case of springtime giddiness.

Apart from a few sketchy studies mentioned in passing, Dowd doesn't substantiate her gloomy impressions with evidence. She prefers to fill out the essay with hand picked quotes.

Here are some gems:

"Now dating etiquette has reverted. Young women no longer care about using the check to assert their equality. They care about using it to assess their sexuality.

Going Dutch is an archaic feminist relic. Young women talk about it with disbelief and disdain. "It's a scuzzy 70's thing, like platform shoes on men," one told me."
"One of my girlfriends, a TV producer in New York, told me much the same thing: "If you offer [to pay], and they accept, then it's over.""
"Kate White, the editor of Cosmopolitan, told me that she sees a distinct shift in what her readers want these days. "Women now don't want to be in the grind," she said. "The baby boomers made the grind seem unappealing.""

Dowd's bitter takehome message is that women have to play by The Rules, whether feminism endorses them or not--because otherwise, they'll end up as barren old maids in corner offices. Feminism has confused women, Dowd thinks: Those women's libbers convinced us that, at least in the abstract, women ought to be able to enjoy sex, power, and money without alienating men. They gave us the (probably correct) idea that it's degrading to hide your personality in order to manipulate some poor sucker into marriage. Therefore, Dowd concludes, it must be feminists' fault for creating so many uppity women who can't get and keep a man.


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Being smart, confident and financially independent certainly didn't hurt my wife's marriagability... and our 10th anniversary is in two weeks...

I think that is the major problem for people in the gender-game, this drive to generalize and categorize without leaving room for a difference of opinion, a kind of sexual "Orientalism."

But then again, I confess that much of what passes for "sexual politics" often leaves me thinking "what's the point?"

mojo sends

While I hate to make commentaries on cultures as a whole I'm in South Korea where women actively promote themselves as very loving and compassionate etc one told me she wears high heels becuase men like high heels etc. While it's certianly sexy to find women who do seem to want to actively please people of the male gender the actuality of it is it makes boring relationshops full of various romantic cliches. Still in a recent poll 56% of foriegn men said they'd marry another South Korean women if given a shot although interestingly 80% of foriegn women said they wouldn't marry a South Korean man again. Hence, that kinda blaise I'll do anything does still work for a majority I gather.

Maybe I'm giving her too much credit, but I thought the ultimate thrust of her piece was sadness that the backlash is bringing us back to a "mate by the rules" inflexible scenario, much as she was sad that the feminism of her generation was uniform in its insistence on what a feminist woman had to be. Even though she felt unable to fully identify with what she (probably incorrectly) saw as unfeminine feminism, I don't think she actually wants backlash. I think what she wants is the freedom to be girly and high powered, without having to embrace all the subservience that comes with the package of the 1950s femininity. I'm no fan of hers normally (and she should have known better than to cite that crap NYT story about Ivy league girls), but I read the piece more as a lament than a celebration.

There's nothing unfeminist about dressing provocatively, flirting, or otherwise trying to make oneself sexually attractive to men (or women). What's anti-feminist are the sexist social norms or rules often associated with courtship--for example, assumption that attractiveness must be a very high priority for all normal women at all times.

Binky, I think you're right about Dowd's sadness about the backlash. It's her response that I find extremely frustrating. Suppose she's right about the empirical details (smart women can't get married, etc).

The next question is what to do about this sad putative state of affairs. Dowd sees it as an irresolvable conundrum that women just have to put up with because the patriarchy and male chavinism are immutable facts of life for which men bear no particular responsibility.

The alternative would be to challenge the assumptions that are denying women their dignity, and to advise individual women to seek out men who aren't threatened by personality and intelligence.

I think one reading of Dowd today is as a personal anecdote - she got where she is by doing what she did, remorseful or not.

It is a strange world where I often find myself defending Dowd. Here, her point has been completely missed. The reaction is more telling than the text of the stimulus or the response.. .

Dowd's life is one case study which constitutes evidence of the hardest kind. Others, similar, are all around. As a former feminist male who has seen it play out with feminists I know, many of whom are very successful, I know she is on to something.

Here is a bankable guarantee: Come thirty years from now, a different tune will be sung. I know a number of women who can sing it right now, each of whom once considered themselves, with as much justification as any, to be as enlightened in their time as those here feel they are now. But, they found the experience was otherwise.

Why is it called "going Dutch."

Maybe Dowd assumes that she's unlucky in love because of her feminist careerism. Yet, in the essay she goes out of her way to say that she never practiced what the feminists were preaching. She says she always trusted the time-tested advice of "How to Get and Keep a Man."

Some men are indimidated by successful women. Big deal. Everyone gets intimidated sometimes. Dowd seems to think that all men are deeply and intractably averse to any woman who doesn't follow some archaic dating script. I see no evidence that Dowd's problems are especially common, let alone universal.

Shorter MoDo: I can't get any cock because I'm too wonderful for any man to like me!

In other news, the terrorists hate us because they hate freedom.

so, I am not the only one who thinks Modo's book is just an extended essay of 'why hot babe like me doesn't marry'?

Dowd's argument almost exactly retraces Midge Decter's complaints against feminism in her 1970s polemics The Liberated Woman and Other Americans and (especially) The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women's Liberation. I didn't read the Dowd excerpt--there are limits--so I wonder if she cited Decter. I expect not, given Decter's crocodile reputation and unfashionable status as Madame Neocon.

Also, when it comes to male-female relations, Dowd's always been light on doing research, preferring to dip into her back of anecdotes.

"I didn't read the Dowd excerpt--there are limits"

I'll say. I tried for long enough to get the gist and stopped. And thanks for nailing the Midge Decter connection.

Okay, basically in both the hetero and homo world there's a butch-femme spectrum. I would say Ms Dowd is a non-matriarchal (for lack of a better word--I'm making this up as I go)power femme.

Power femmes always want to get all dressed up, put lots of war paint on face, nails, long, long nails, much with the hair. It's not about men particularly.

I say non-matriarchal because she doesn't appear to have the other attribute that a power femme has or risks feeling empty, bitter and manipulative: love, joy, and a sense of abundance.

The next question is what to do about this sad putative state of affairs

And here is where the generational thing kicks in. For Dowd (what, in her mid fifties) kind of shrugs (or, writes a personal anecdote book, whatever) while the next generations get fired up.

If Dowd is lamenting that feminism doesn't "allow" women to be cute or flirty, she's reacting to a cartoonish version painted by anti-feminists. I have few problems reconciling being a girlie girl with being a feminist. It might be generational, but Dowd's assessment is completely contrary to any experience I've had with dating. Playing hard-to-get and following The Rules is a surefire way to get a reputation as a stuck-up person who has no idea how to have fun. Not really a good way to make friends, much less any romantic attachments. I met all men I've dated by being out there and being bold. Sitting around being demure may be an excellent way to "snag" a man who is scared shitless of a woman with her own mind, but I wouldn't know because I'm frankly rather die than be saddled with such a man.

Mudkitty: All American English epithets with "Dutch" in them (going Dutch, Dutch book, Dutch oven) are actually references to Germans, and stem from the time in the 19th century when immigration from Germany was high.

I believe my source for this is the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, but it is at the office, so I can’t check. I also don’t feel like looking for other sources via Google, so you’ll have to check it yourself.

Just wondering outloud.

Modo is working in press world and her column often uses pop culture imagery to convey political drama.

Isn't she fixing political event into pop culture mode to readers? (ie. she herself is taking part casting social roles)

When did she has this epiphany about women, roles, society, and life?

... hey maybe somebody has too much time and will do nexis search on her columns and square it with her book main thesis ...

Hey if she want the world to take her seriously. She better actually starts thinking seriously instead of collecting annecdotes and trying to pass it as actuall idea.

I've seen it written that attractive women tend to be promoted into better, more powerful jobs than unattractive women do. Is this compatible with the claim that women with more power are less attractive? Probably, but maybe there is some tension.

Personally I'm kinda tired of this "older professional lady who hasn't found somebody to settle down with" schtick and how this is supposed to say something about our society and the state of relations between the sexes today.

The way I see it this is mostly a big city thing (LA/SF/NY/DC, etc.)where most people must earn top bracket salaries in order to live a decent life and who choose to be in what they see as the cultural vanguard. It seems to attract the kind of people who while smart, intellgent, ambitious and creative are also self-absorbed, highly judgmental, condescending and elitist (and usually blind to it). If it weren't for the hype surrounding "Sex and the City" and "chicklit" all this bitching coming from certain quarters about "men and relationships" would be barely audible.

>I've seen it written that attractive women tend to be promoted into better, more powerful jobs than unattractive women do.

Not just women, but men--there was also a study recently, I think it was a British study, showing that uglier children were treated with much, much more disdain and even contempt by their parents than attractive parents. The researchers themselves were shocked. I found it heartbreaking.

swAtKinD's post, for some reason, reminds me of this exchange from Steve Martin's play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile:" the attractive young woman in the play is going on about her relationship with her man, and in the middle of her monologue, the crabby little old man in the corner, after staring at her for a few minutes, says in a disgusted tone:

"Aah, sex. Sex! SEEEEEEX! (beat) Oh, I'm sorry, I was just thinking out loud."

Once again I am so very glad I'm a lesbian and don't even exist in her disgusting little imaginary world.

"Sitting around being demure may be an excellent way to "snag" a man who is scared shitless of a woman with her own mind, but I wouldn't know because I'm frankly rather die than be saddled with such a man."

Hallelujah. Can't understand all this stuff about how we mustn't be too smart/successful/etc otherwise men won't like us. For a start, if a man's intimidated by me, that's his loss, not mine. Second, where does that leave the idea that we might want to exercise some discrimination in choosing as well as being chosen? Men aren't a single homogenous stereotyped mass, they're all as different as we are. "Men don't like smart/autonomous women" is as dismissive to men as it is to us.

Not surprisingly, the second comment lashes out at Asian women for preserving their femininity.

Asians are the most successfull immigrant class in the U.S. They have the highest level of educational attainment, highest incomes and they are best at maintaining the integrity of the family.

I was married to one of these supposedly backward, submissive Filipino women. She died a year ago. She was extraordinarily beautiful and feminine, she was about to embark on a successful career as a blues and jazz singer, and she was training manager of an international corporate law firm.

The problem for white women isn't any of the crap you've listed. The problem is that white culture fails to teach women how to be women. Feminism is trying to address a real problem, but its analysis of the problem is ass-backward and insane.

Asian women are the model you should be looking to emulate. The predictable jab at Asian women is... jealousy. Study and learn, girls. You can overcome your ignorance, but some humility and willingness to dump the stupid feminist indoctrination is required.

When reading Dowd, always remember that she is, in the end, a catty b*tch. Sometimes she speaks truth, and I've loved her mockery of the Bush administration, but in the end, there's not much else there.
Very likely the only reason that she doesn't have the man of her dreams are that, after she's eliminated 99% of the male population as not being 'worth' a NYT Columnist, the remaining 1% didn't want her.

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