Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gentlemen Prefer Grinning Automatons.

Recently linked in the comments, another case of Someone Is Wrong On The Internet. Fisking stuff that's obviously wrong is strangely fulfilling to me not just because I get to swear at a more successful writer and make them look silly, but because it's a way to clarify my own views. In making the step from "this is wrong because it makes me angry and it's wrongity wrong wrong," to "this is wrong because X, Y, and also Z," I'm able to work out beliefs I might not otherwise have examined. It's also good practice in critical thinking, in identifying the overarching fallacies of sexism, and in providing just a bit of counter-evidence for the people who say "but sexism is dead now!"

It's also entertaining.

So. Why You're Not Married. (Because you have a personality. Men hate personalities.)

You want to get married. It's taken a while to admit it. Saying it out loud -- even in your mind -- feels kind of desperate, kind of unfeminist, kind of definitely not you, or at least not any you that you recognize.
I don't know if I want to get married. It seems to me that marriage doesn't necessarily make a huge difference--if you didn't have a close and committed relationship before, this isn't going to help, and if you had a close and committed relationship before, well, what are you hoping to accomplish? Tax and other legal benefits mostly. So maybe it's really up to H&R Block if I'm ever going to get married.

(Sidenote: I've always liked the idea of a wedding, however. I have a longstanding fantasy of going to one of those Vegas quickie-novelty-wedding places and hiring Reverend Presley to do the whole ceremony dealie even though we're not signing papers, just for giggles.)

There's also the issue that my current relationship can't get fully legally sanctioned even in Massachusetts.

But look at me here approaching the issue rationally. I ought to have figured this out while crying into a bridesmaid dress:
Then, something happened. Another birthday, maybe. A breakup. Your brother's wedding. [...] You started to hate the bride -- she was so effing happy -- and for the first time ever you began to have feelings about the fact that you're not married.
Something this article never gets too clear on: am I starting with a boyfriend? Is this a "can't get a man to look at me twice" problem or a "can't get my man to commit" problem? Those seem like two very different things. And trying to accomplish both steps at once, trying to get a date so you can marry him, doesn't seem like a good idea to me. Particularly if you're using marriage as shorthand for "happy and intimate marriage" rather than "I literally just want to be married to something."

Also, not to sound like Holly-Two-Shoes here, but I've never been to a wedding where I hated the bride! I mean, I don't go to weddings of people I don't like, and when I like a person, it's nice that they're happy! Maybe with age I'll learn the womanly art of bitterness.

It basically comes down to this: I've been married three times. Yes, three. To a very nice MBA at 19; a very nice minister's son at 32 (and pregnant); and at 40, to a very nice liar and cheater who was just like my dad, if my dad had gone to Harvard instead of doing multiple stints in federal prison. I was, for some reason, born knowing how to get married.
"I'm great at quitting smoking; I've done it ten times!"

I know how to get married too. If all I wanted out of life was a marriage certificate with my name on one line and someone who could fog a mirror on the other, I could've been married years ago. But this is so irrelevant to my goals that it's meaningless. It's like having the recipe for sewage lasagna; it doesn't matter if I know how, because I'm not dumb enough to actually execute such a pointless plan.

I don't know how to marry someone awesome who will stay in love with me and whom I will stay in love with. But it's pretty clear that neither does she.

But I won't lie. The problem is not men, it's you. Sure, there are lame men out there, but they're not really standing in your way. Because the fact is -- if whatever you're doing right now was going to get you married, you'd already have a ring on it. So without further ado, let's look at the top six reasons why you're not married.
There's a weird little grain of truth buried here: the problem is never an entire gender. If your problem is with "men" or "women" in general and as a group, then the problem is indeed on your end.

That said, we haven't exactly established that I'm trying to get a ring on it at all costs. So the fact that what I'm doing right now hasn't resulted in a ring is what we call "a feature, not a bug."

1. You're a Bitch.
[...]The deal is: most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them. I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy, which is like living with the single-cell protozoa version of a husband. Here's what my son wants out of life: macaroni and cheese, a video game, and Kim Kardashian. Have you ever seen Kim Kardashian angry? I didn't think so. You've seen Kim Kardashian smile, wiggle, and make a sex tape. Female anger terrifies men. I know it seems unfair that you have to work around a man's fear and insecurity in order to get married -- but actually, it's perfect, since working around a man's fear and insecurity is big part of what you'll be doing as a wife.

So now I know how to marry a 13-year-old. ...Ew.

Or really I just know how to get a 13-year-old to jerk off to me, since I doubt that loving partnership is really part of the kid's designs on Ms. Kardashian.

And holy fucking hell to "working around a man's fear and insecurity." I'm not going to marry someone I have to work around. Work with, certainly; everyone has some fear and insecurity. But that's something to comfort or confront, not avoid by never taking any risk of upsetting them. To "work around" someone implies that they themselves cannot be dealt with, that they're a child to be pampered or a tyrant to be tiptoed around. I have a little more respect for men than that.

Also: there's few things I hate worse than someone playing the "I know it's unpleasant and you don't want it to be true, but reality is cruel" card when saying something that isn't true. There are situations where "suck it up and deal, that's life" is true, but there are also a lot more where it's used as a smokescreen for things that really aren't right.

2. You're Shallow.
When it comes to choosing a husband, only one thing really, truly matters: character. So it stands to reason that a man's character should be at the top of the list of things you are looking for, right? But if you're not married, I already know it isn't. Because if you were looking for a man of character, you would have found one by now. Men of character are, by definition, willing to commit.

Apparently being "of character" is a static and binary thing. You're of character or you aren't, fellas, and it's stamped on the packaging. And if you are of character, you'll marry basically the first woman who talks to you.

3. You're a Slut.
[...]That's due in part to this thing called oxytocin -- a bonding hormone that is released when a woman a) nurses her baby and b) has an orgasm -- that will totally mess up your casual-sex game. It's why you can be f**k-buddying with some dude who isn't even all that great and the next thing you know, you're totally strung out on him. And you have no idea how it happened. Oxytocin, that's how it happened. And since nature can't discriminate between marriage material and Charlie Sheen, you're going to have to start being way more selective than you are right now.

Oh god, the oxytocin thing. Oxytocin is a magical hormone that makes a lady instantly fall in love with anyone who's around when she has an orgasm, which is why my true and deepest and first love is that pillow I had in sixth grade. (The creepiest permutation of oxytocin lore is the threat that you can "run out" if you have too many orgasms with people who aren't your true love. No, that doesn't make any sense.)

Facetiousness aside, you know what really gets me about this sort of thing? If it were true, you wouldn't have to be told about it. Falling in love after sex would be like getting thirsty on a hot day--blatant and predictable. "Welp, now I'm in love with you" would be as everyday as "welp, now I want a nap." When someone tells you something about your own nature and it comes as a surprise, skepticism is in order.

I dunno if "nature" can distinguish between marriage material and Charlie sheen, but I can. But wait... I'm made of nature!

4. You're a Liar.
It usually goes something like this: you meet a guy who is cute and likes you, but he's not really available for a relationship. He has some condition that absolutely precludes his availability, like he's married, or he gets around town on a skateboard. Or maybe he just comes right out and says something cryptic and open to interpretation like, "I'm not really available for a relationship right now."
You know if you tell him the truth -- that you're ready for marriage -- he will stop calling. Usually that day. And you don't want that. So you just tell him how perfect this is because you only want to have sex for fun! You love having fun sex! And you don't want to get in a relationship at all! You swear!

I don't exactly disagree with this section. It's pretty much an exercise in constructing an imaginary woman who is comically stupid, then telling her that she's stupid. It's not wrong, but it's so obvious that it's not exactly something I needed to hear from a MARRIAGE EXPERT, either.

"I know what you're like: you're eating your toes. 'They're delicious!' you say, gnawing on some distal phalanges. 'I'll grow more!' 'Toes are great to eat!' Well, thank God I'm here with my great wisdom to set you straight."

Either that, or this section is just her way to justify to herself the existence of women who claim they're only having sex for fun--clearly all liars, since there is only one Woman and we are but her appendages, and Woman is ever-hungry for enagement rings to stuff down her chthonic maw.

5. You're Selfish.
[...] A good wife, even a halfway decent one, does not spend most of her day thinking about herself. She has too much s**t to do, especially after having kids. This is why you see a lot of celebrity women getting husbands after they adopt. The kids put the woman on notice: Bitch, hello! It's not all about you anymore! After a year or two of thinking about someone other than herself, suddenly, Brad Pitt or Harrison Ford comes along and decides to significantly other her. Which is also to say -- if what you really want is a baby, go get you one. Your husband will be along shortly. Motherhood has a way of weeding out the lotharios.

Don't you call me a bitch, bitch, especially not by way of my hypothetical nonexistent children. Is this even an article or do you just want a fight? I'll take you down.

If marriage and kids require the complete ablation of the self, I'm more confused than ever why I would even want these. Wait... if it doesn't matter what I want, how can I want marriage or kids? This is like those Internet Submissives who claim they're so submissive they won't admit to deciding to be submissive.

6. You're Not Good Enough.
Oh, I don't think that. You do. [...]Here is what you need to know: You are enough right this minute. Period. Not understanding this is a major obstacle to getting married, since women who don't know their own worth make terrible wives. Why? You can fake it for a while, but ultimately you won't love your spouse any better than you love yourself. Smart men know this.

How fucking heartwarming. Articles like this always try to go heartwarming in the homestretch after being reprehensible the entire rest of the time. Except in this case, the contradiction with the rest of the article is a little more blunt than usual.

Wait... I'm good enough right now, but I don't believe that, and not believing that means that I'm not good enough!

The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when they don't deserve it. Because most of the time, your messy, farting, macaroni-and-cheese eating man will not be doing what you want him to.
No. I'm no marriage expert, but I think marriage is a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone when they deserve it. Just because someone farts or eats mac and cheese (huh?) doesn't mean they don't deserve love. But if they don't deserve it in other ways, that's not a marriage, that's volunteer social work. This whole article seems to be setting up marriage as something that has shit-all to offer women, but that they should want because... because... you better shut up, men don't like women who take things to their logical conclusions!

But as you give him love anyway -- because you have made up your mind to transform yourself into a person who is practicing being kind, deep, virtuous, truthful, giving, and most of all, accepting of your own dear self -- you will find that you will experience the very thing you wanted all along:

Yeah, well, if I wanted to pour all my love into a totally indifferent lump just to get the experience of loving something, I woulda gotten a Pet Rock.

The funny thing is, for all the disrespect this article shows to women--you're nothing without a man, but you're kinda nothing with him too--it's even harsher on men. Women are mostly stupid and their only hope in life is an upgrade from miserable spinster to martyr wife, but men are beyond hope. Men's lumpen, selfish, macaroni-smeared nature is taken for granted, then framed as something women have to accomodate, not hold them accountable for. It's an insult that lets them off the hook, but it's a pretty grave insult nonetheless.

This article also stands as an illustration of the nasty devolution that the "traditional marriage" paradigm seems to have suffered. It's supposed to be "she keeps house and raises children and is sweet and sexy, he supports and leads the family"--which is a lousy deal to be locked into, but at least it's a deal. But too often it seems to have mutated into "she keeps house and raises children and is sweet and sexy, he... keeps her around." I'm no fan of traditional masculinity, but traditional femininity in a vacuum, washing the dishes not of a patriarch but of a clueless macaroni-eater, is even sadder.

If I lived in that world, I'd say that the reason I'm not married is because men aren't worth my time. But I don't. I live in a world where men are people and some of them are pretty awesome. The reason I'm not married is simply that I'm happy unmarried, and while I guess I could be happy married too, ain't exactly any rush.


  1. This whole article seems to be setting up marriage as something that has shit-all to offer women, but that they should want because... because... you better shut up, men don't like women who take things to their logical conclusions!


    Also, re: "working around" men: in addition to never showing anger, a few different "how to get/keep a man" books (some humorous, some not) have said to praise the shit out of a guy whenever he does the tiniest little nice gesture - because men have big egos, you know, and you have to cater to them. Um, yeah...I think those guys have big egos because the last girl already did that. "Oh my god, honey, you put the toilet seat down! YOU ARE A HERO AMONG MEN! I need your cock in my mouth!" sounds like a fabulous way to build a disgusting, infantilized, arrogant monster. Letting a guy think he never ever makes you angry isn't quite as bad, but will still give him a distorted view of himself.

    And re: the thing where women must not actually care about "character" or they'd be married by now...how many men with "character" does the author suppose are out there? Not very many, it seems; by her own admission, men are lumps of whiny sloppy ego who need to be coddled all the time. So maybe - just maybe - these hypothetical marriage-hungry women just haven't found a good guy yet.

    My boy has character. He doesn't panic when I cry, become resentful if I'm angry at him, or expect a ticker-tape parade for wiping his own butt. He'll admit when he's wrong but has the backbone to stand up for himself on those odd times when I'm maybe overreacting a bit. This type of guy does exist. Just, y'know, sometimes you have to wait 37 years to find him. :D

  2. I suppose the McMillan Plan is an even better deal for men, since apparently now all we have to do is eat mac and cheese and fart.

  3. I saw it, I shivered, I knew it needed fisking, I ran away,... But you did it! Thank you. (Hope it was more fun than washing the macaroni dishes.)

  4. This article also stands as an illustration of the nasty devolution that the "traditional marriage" paradigm seems to have suffered.
    If you proved that the author is stupid, does the said devolution still remains or it can be safely dismissed? I don't agree with the premise that the traditional marriage paradigm has suffered any damage, that is except being mouthed by some silly marriage experts.

  5. Anon - I'm in no position to declare how actual marriages have or haven't changed.

    All I meant is there seems to be some kind of water shift in silly marriage experts from making the silly statement "she should keep house and he should support her" to making the silly statement "she should keep house, just because she's a lady."

  6. My favorite part is the part about how we've only seen Kim Kardashian smile, wiggle and make a sex tape. If I thought my only relationship option was someone who only wanted me to smile, wiggle, and fuck, I'd invest in a vibrator and a cuddlebuddy.

    Although the oxytocin thing is true for me, to some degree. I feel more emotionally connected to someone and immediately after fucking them, which I believe is connected to hormones. (I start wanting to say "I love you" to fuckbuddies. It's terrible.) My reaction is to not make romantic decisions while high off oxytocin, but instead to wait the two or so hours before it goes away and then assess my situation.

  7. Ozy: But I do the same thing, and I'm a cissexual boy. Honestly, I think it's because sex is a nice way to get closer to someone, so if I do it a lot with someone I already like enough to be long-term f.b.s with in the first place, it may not take mushy feelings long to follow. And that's okay, by my lights.

  8. there is only one Woman and we are but her appendages, and Woman is ever-hungry for enagement rings to stuff down her chthonic maw.

    This is made of win.

    There are many things about me that are not stereotypically masculine, but it never before occurred to me that "hardly ever eats mac and cheese" was one of them.

  9. Thank you. I read that stupid article after someone linked it, and was hoping you'd take it on. "Cthonic maw," LOL.

    I always feel like addressing the reader as "you," and telling them what their life is like, is the biggest copout used by hack writers. You see it a lot in magazine writing. Lazy journalists think they're creating instant rapport with the reader by using "you" constantly and making weird guesses about what your life is like. "I know you're pretending you don't want to get married -- we've all been there!" Bitch, you're not my psychic friend. Don't tell me where I've been.

    That part about men all being scared of women's anger really falls under the heading of "if it were true, you'd already know it." McMillan writes "the truth is you're pissed. At your mom. At the military-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin." Well, everyone's mad at some person in their life, or will be eventually. And people with strong political opinions tend to be angry at their political opponents. So, you're saying that women with political views are never married? That doesn't fit the reality I know.

    Also I don't think it's true that no one has ever seen Kim Kardashian angry. I haven't watched her TV show in a while, but I seem to recall she got into arguments with her sisters over various family dramas. Even realty TV is a lot more real than the regressive stereotypes McMillan is peddling.

  10. I mean, what if a particular guy is "pissed...at the military-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin," and he wants a woman who feels the same way? What if I DO want to get married, but part of my marriage goal is to snag a man who shares my beliefs and interests? I suppose McMillan would say I'm being a picky bitch and guys like that don't exist. As it happens, I've already found one (my current boyfriend), so I don't know how she'd reply to that.

  11. I <3 you Holly, but I'm pretty sure the original article was satire.

  12. Anon - http://www.askmen.com/celebs/interview_500/508b_tracy-mcmillan-interview.html

    "I think people see in it what they want to see or what they relate to. I'm glad she responded; I think it's great. Because it's really about creating a conversation about relationships. My piece had a little bit of satire in it. Obviously, it's a little over the top, but the point is that marriage is about giving and receiving love. "

    In other words--"I really meant the parts that are right, and the parts that are wrong are satire! AREN'T I A PROVOCATEUR." And the rest of the interview definitely sounds like she's standing behind what she said.

    It's really a pretty down-to-earth, sober message, written in a provocative way.I actually have a lot of hope. Women write me and say, "You changed my life."

    Also it's not really funny.

  13. Anon @3:04-- I didn't mean anything gendered by that at all: it's far more likely that 'has overactive oxytocin' is not a sex-linked trait than that it is, especially given straight cis boys's tendency, well-documented on this very blog, to be MADE OF SCHMOOP.

    And the difference is that I acquire mushy feelings for people whom, after the oxytocin high goes away, I actively loathe. Trainwreck ahoy! :)

  14. *smears macaroni and cheese on my chest*

    LOVE ME!

  15. You had me at "sewage lasagna."

  16. "...and Woman is ever-hungry for enagement rings to stuff down her chthonic maw."

    This is made of soooo much epicness, my head may asplode =P

  17. I, for one, am not especially terrified of female anger. I may not want a woman to be angry at me, but I don't particularly want anyone to be angry at me. People get mad sometimes; if I fucked up, I'll apologize and we'll deal with it.

    And shouldn't people want to marry someone who's nice to them? Why does she write that like it's a dig against men? If someone being shitty to you makes you want to marry them, maybe you have issues....

  18. @Ozy/Anon I get schmoopy over people I've hooked up with too, I think it's fairly common.

    I just get annoyed with the Oxytocin explanation. Whether it's an important mechanism of bonding or not, people always talk about it like their mysterious mind-control hormones attacked and betrayed them. Even if it's physiological, it's still you! You yourself get schmoopy, oxytocin is just how it works. You might as well say that you're not cold in the winter, it's just your nerves relaying the sensation of being cold to your brain.

  19. I was married by Elvis in The Little White Chapel. It is exactly as kitschy and ridiculous and awesome as you think it is.

    That is all.

  20. "Ozy: But I do the same thing, and I'm a cissexual boy"

    Well, it could also be the oxytocin talkin' with you, Anon. Men secrete oxytocin, too. We ARE the same species, you know...

    - Gillian

  21. Goddamn you're awesome. ;) Thank you for writing such eloquent, funny, insightful and entertaining things! Please don't stop. Ever.

  22. Emily H., I totally agree about how irritating it is when a patronizing stranger pretends to be my friend while telling me that I am a bitch/slut/frigid/ugly/whatever.

    These articles always make me feel depressed when I read them - I can't believe there are women who actually think, "Yes! This writer totally understands me! I am going to transform my life!" Even if I was desperate to get married, reading an article telling me how worthless I am would not exactly inspire me.


  23. Holly, you say all the things I want to think but can't find words for. :)

  24. I just bought a nine-pack of mac & cheese last week.

    Apparently, I am lumpen.


  25. -if you didn't have a close and committed relationship before, this isn't going to help, and if you had a close and committed relationship before, well, what are you hoping to accomplish?

    That is indeed true. But then again, marriage has a symbolic value not to be despised. It's like the symbol of the "wedding" that you felt attracted to, even if for giggles: it 'has some meaning'. What meaning is of course up to the consumer; but that it has some meaning is more or less assured by how strongly human beings feel like ascribing meanings to thngs.

    We're often still interested in nobility -- kings and queens and knights and dames and counts and earls and whatnot -- long after the people dignified with these titles actually stopped mattering. It's not simply a question of what we're actually getting from it; but a question of how we feel about it.

    Maybe the best formulation is: what gets you dreamy? Space exploration, à la Star Trek? Gnosticism and hermetic knowledge, the pursuit of the Absolute? Mirrors and forking paths, à la Jorge Luis Borges -- the pursuit of Mystery? Or is it maybe owning and riding a horse, or learning to speak flawless Italian, or cooking the best cupcakes?

    Ken Wilber used to call such things an Athman Project -- a substitute "deep interest" on earth that replaces what is ultimately our deep desire to be immortal. For some people, that is marriage.

  26. Also, WTF is with the phrase 'female anger'? Is there genderqueer anger too?