The Problem With Women’s Self “Help” Books

10 May

In recent years many so-called women’s “self-help” books have risen to popularity on the Amazon best-sellers list. Women will lay down their hard-earned dollars to learn “Why Men Love Bitches” and how to “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”

Within these “helpful” books, women will learn valuable life skills, namely how to ensure that they remain  faithful abiders of patriarchal social norms; ie. how to be chaste enough, how to be “feminine” and “delicate” enough, and, when required, how to be manipulative enough.

The women who buy these books may even subconsciously realize that they are being cheated. They don’t want to hear the truth — they don’t want to be told that the best way to get the right man for you, is to be yourself. Or that men and women are really not all that different, and want a lot of the same things. Instead, they would rather read about how “Men are from Mars” and how differently their brains are wired. To comprehend what a man really means when he says he’ll call you, you need to read a self-help book, because if he doesn’t call you, it’s your fault — and it’s your loss.

No need to spend your money, ladies. In a few short paragraphs, I will summarize the three biggest lies points of argument in all of these formulaic “help” guides:

1. You Need a Man to Protect You

If your man isn’t macho enough, you are clearly not going for the right kind of men! Real men are protective to the point of annoyance. Everyone knows that women are trophies, and if he doesn’t guard you like the prize that you are, he’s clearly “Just Not That Into You.” You obviously need to develop your confidence!

I’m sorry, random dude I don’t know who thinks he can psycho-analyse me, but perhaps the real issue that I have even more confidence — the confidence to think of myself as worth much more than a trophy, but a capable human being who knows how to stand up for herself.

In Steve Harvey’s “Act Like a Lady,” he recounts with childlike reverence  an utterly disturbing instance wherein his father physically harmed, and threatened to kill some debt collector or whatever because he had vaguely “insulted his wife.” He also recalls being asked from a young age to escort his mother as she ran various errands to “protect” her, when in reality all he was really doing was accompanying  her, more for his own protection than hers. He was spoon fed patriarchal norms from a young age, which influenced his warped view of reality.

In the real world, mothers protect children, and when necessary, wives protect husbands. Marriage should ideally be a partnership, where the views of both partners are equally respected. If I were Harvey’s mother, I would let the rude debt collector have it, using brains and not brawn, and I would be horrified, and frankly, pissed off, if any man tried to fight my battles for me. I expect my husband to be smarter than that.

I will not pretend to need him when I don’t, or expect him to pay for all my dinners, or ask him to help me to walk my dog because I’m scared to leave the house at night. I will not clap with glee when he fixes a broken shelf, or pretend that I don’t know how to change my own oil. This is the 21st century.

So no, Sherry Argov, I refuse to demean myself by “acting like a prize.”

2. “Good” Girls Need “Good” Men to Protect Them From the “Bad” Ones

This philosophy is based on the idea that there are two kinds of women: “good” girls and “bad” girls (note the infantilization of femininity here), otherwise known as the “Madonna/whole complex.”

“Good” girls are naive, stupid, innocent, and sexually inexperienced. They often get taken advantage of by “bad” men — hence why you need a self-help book! “Bad” girls are knowledgeable, intimidating, confident, and, well, slutty. The “good” men don’t want them.

Argov proposes that you can blend these two figures into the perfect woman who can keep her man on his toes, never knowing what to expect, by offering him the best of both worlds. What kind of man he is, be he good or bad, is of no consequence.

The underlying message in these self-help books is that women need men, but men don’t need women. Women are there for men’s sexual pleasure, and can never display sexual agency of their own. You can either be the Madonna, who finds the good man to protect her in exchange for exclusive rights to her body, or you can be the whore, who gets used time and time again. Therefore, it is important to find a man to whom you can give these exclusive rights. Your body will be his property. In both of these scenarios, it is clear that neither the Madonna nor the whore is in control. Women are helpless objects of desire. It is not the woman’s position to assert her own sexuality.

According to this way of thinking, a woman can be sexy, but never sexual.

3. You Must Never, Under Any Circumstances, Tell a Man What You Really Think

“Good girls” are mysterious, whereas “bad girls” are obvious. If you like him, keep him guessing! Men are hunters, and the fun is in the chase.

My main issue with this way of thinking is that there is a very fine line between manipulative mind games and emotional abuse. Honesty is always the best policy. Dishonesty will not make him want you more. There is nothing wrong with a confident woman telling a man what she wants from him. In fact, it’s sexy.

On the other hand, the implication given by these women’s “help” books is that if men are hunters, women are prey. I, as a woman, refuse to accept that. There’s nothing fun or sexy or desirable about being prey. I’m not prey. I’m a fully fledged human being, and if I want to be the chaser, not the chased, I will be. If I don’t want to be, I’ll tell the man in question exactly what I think. The Madonna/whore complex, is a myth. Women are more complex than that, and each and every one of us has a unique and individual attitude towards sex, love, and dating. We all have our own comfort levels, and we should express these feelings to the men in our lives. There is no need to try to find Argov’s ridiculous balance of “nice girl” with an inner “bitch” that will keep him crawling back for more, not knowing what to expect from you. There is no need to tease him, meanwhile keeping him waiting for sex, lest he think you actually like him. Harvey even advises some 90-day “probationary period” wherein a man should earn his “promotion” into your bedroom. Gross. I’m worth more than your Christmas bonus.

So ladies, if you want to hop into bed after the first date — power to you! If you’re waiting for a ring on your finger, go for it! Who cares what weirdos like Harvey, Argov, Pease, or Behrendt think about your life choices.

To summarize: I can protect, provide, and even profess for myself. I am not a bonus, a prize, or prey. I do not need a man in my life, but if I find one that I like, I’ll tell him. If I want to talk to him, I’ll call him. If he asks me where things are going, I will tell him exactly what I want out of the relationship. But hey! Maybe I’m old-fashioned.


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