Thursday, 19 February 2009

Let's we trap us some menfolk, Maude!

I’m sitting here trying to determine whether this MSN UK article “10 things a girl shouldn’t do on a first date” is for serious, or just a really subtle, potentially brilliant joke. As I read on, I am horrified to realize that it’s most likely the former, and worse, written by two women.

The article, which follows the typical, Cosmo-mag-type, formula of “how you can fix your broken self so some man might want you” (screw independence and self-acceptance), starts to annoy from the outset with the title. I know we’re all supposed to sustain men’s illusion that behind closed doors, women pretty much just have naked pillow fights and braid each other’s hair. But you’re not talking about girls in this article, since I don’t believe many 12-year-olds have their own flats where they can host first dates. You’re talking about women. You can let go of the perpetual youth image that we seem to feel so obligated to propagate for men’s benefit, and go ahead and call yourself a woman. It’s ok.

The piece starts with some warnings off overly mushy behaviour, like serving champagne and eating by candlelight, in the former instance because it might scream ‘I like to party!’ While there are some loon-indicative behaviours that anyone, man or woman, should avoid on a first date, I start to itch when confronted with this notion that women should behave ourselves to trap a man, when in the meantime, the man in question is across the table doing and being whatever he pleases. I have a friend who loves champagne. She has it with steak at fancy dinners, or with popcorn in front of the TV, and if she wants to introduce a potential partner to her champagne appreciation, or share a bottle that she particularly likes, then why the hell not? Is he going to run off over a little champagne? Well then we didn’t want him anyway.

The article also mentions that we shouldn’t drink too much, but that we should make sure and drink something. And if you don’t drink or don’t want to on that night for some reason, well, choke it back anyway. Who cares about personal choice? You’ve got you a man to wrangle!

The crazy then comes out in full effect when the writers suggest that we should refuse to let the man do the washing up if he offers:
One key objective in cooking for a date is to make you look like a capable, efficient hostess who hasn’t slaved too keenly over a hot stove all day. It must look as though you have whipped up a delicious spread without skipping a beat, AND without making a massive pile of dirty pots and pans. You are not auditioning as his housekeeper! Incidentally, clear up mess and conceal the work you’ve put into the meal BEFORE he arrives.
The “you are not auditioning as his housekeeper” seems a bit misplaced there, since apparently I am auditioning to be his lean, mean, cooking, cleaning, perfect, 1950s housewife machine. That is, by their own admission, "one key objective". Even though you aren’t coming to the table with flour in your hair and wearing a grease-soaked apron, any idiot who has just sat down to a fine, three-course meal knows that it took some doing, so if he wants to help out by washing up, I’m damn sure going to let him.

The kicker, though, is the admonition to brush up on your current affairs edumacation:
WHAT?! You expect me to recite ten members of Barack Obama’s team? Well no. But you are hardly going to be whispering sweet nothings all evening, so you’re going to have to hold a conversation with your Dish, and it will help to know something about what’s been going on in the world. You don’t have to be fluent in the Sub Prime Mortgage Lending Crisis but scan the headlines. Check out the news on MSN. Most men want a woman they can talk to. In our experience, men absorb current events as if by osmosis.
So let me see if I have this right: if I weren’t trying to get a man, I could continue in my obvious ignorance (since women’s small, pink brains can’t grasp big, manly topics like politics or the economy, and have no interest in them anyway). But since men are by default clever and intellectually curious, and women are by default stoopid stoopid stoopid, I should run out for an FT and try to learn something fancy.

Then, as no such rulebook would be complete without a statement on women’s eating, the article concludes with an instruction that starts out looking like “eat what you want” but halfway through turns into “yeah, not so much”. We must serve ourselves a ‘normal portion’ and it must include carbs. Fill your plate even if you know you can’t finish it, because then you can pretend that you really intended to finish it but since this is your first meal ever, you have no idea what your appetite is like. If you can finish it, though, do. But (!), don’t eat too much dessert because then you’ll look like a piggy-wiggy, and you don't want to scare your victim off with images of you five years later and 200 pounds heavier.

So basically: want a man? Be a neurotic housewife. Ah, such inspiring advice for women everywhere.

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