Monday, 24 August 2009

Why can't you be more like Cinderella?

The Nation newspaper has (in this past Sunday's edition) solicited the wisdom, such as it is, of writer Chris Brodber in a feature vomitously called "Being right for Mr. Right", aimed at setting us lady folk on the right path of behaviour for bagging us a prince before we all shrivel up and die, bringing to nought our sole purpose here on this planet. I'm sorry I don't have a link to share, because really, the entire thing is worth a read. Chris seems to be of the "behave like a lady" school of thought, which, given the inclusions of the words 'behave' and 'lady', I tend to find problematic. I think 'lady' is the term men use for women who behave to their satisfaction, and it's rarely a part of my lexicon. But by no means should you take my word for it. I've quoted some of Chris's words for you below. No cut and paste here. Purely by the sweat of my brow do I bring you these little kernels of truth, nuggets of wisdom, and other metaphors featuring objects that, ironically, are associated with poo:

Many women will settle for just being a 'woman'. Here's news for you! Men need much more than just a woman. We need refined, we need elegant, gentle, confident, captivating, intelligent.

So if you thought you were going to get by on merely being a woman, Chris has news for you (!!!). You need to be more than just a lowly woman. To wit, the above qualities. Because we all know that mere women are by default unrefined, boorish, insecure and stupid. I'd like to think that Chris is just having some language and semantics problems here, but reading further leads me to think otherwise. And notice the fixation with elegance and refinement, usually read: 'women who skulk around in satin negligee, bat their eyelashes till their eyes bleed and never have much to say about anything'. I exaggerate of course, but I'm wary of men who place too much importance on being 'elegant'. No one ever asks men to be elegant. We should all treat each other and ourselves with respect, but the notion that women in particular should be all soft and conciliatory is one that has for years impeded our equal access to jobs, athletic competition, economic security and basic human rights. 'Elegant' is great, but often what it really means is 'well-behaved and nice to look at.'

And P.S. seductive is overrated. 'Ms. Right Now' usually is seeking to appear 'voluptuous', and often she's promiscuous. Remember: hot and sexy is never Cinderella.

And herein lies Chris's problem: the blonde, blue-eyed, docile, enslaved but obliging Cinderella is his model for female behaviour. Cinderella, who scurried back home and waited for some man to come and put a shoe on her foot so he could claim her as his own. God forbid she had her period that day and was retaining some water. Because that fairy tale would have had a whole different ending. Let me hit you with some knowledge, Chris, of the kind best expressed in non-Standard English: ain't nobody round here trying to be no Cinderella, ok? Cinderella had a fairy godmother and a whole side-street dumpster worth of miscellaneous vermin to fix her up, and even then, she had to sit on her Size 0 behind and wait for a man wielding a shoe. We're self-rescuing princesses around here, and we're hot and sexy. (Chris seems to think 'hot' and 'sexy' synonymous with 'whore of Babylon'.) And if meeting Mr. Right requires that we get dressed by birds to transform our perfectly acceptable selves into something that only appears more 'regal', trip over gourds and submit to random, unannounced shoe fittings, then Mr. Right can get the hell on because we've got shit doing. How about you leave your shoe and when I have some time I'll send someone to check your foot out?

And I left the best part for last. Voluptuous = promiscuous. If you have some curves, you're sleeping around. This is clearly science.

Even by the broader definition of the term, it's a judgment: a woman who seems to enjoy the sensual (I'm not so sure how a woman seems that way except by a very narrow-minded definition) is probably sleeping around. This is a hop, skip and a jump away from the 'she wanted it' rape defence. Women are allowed to be sexual beings, and to 'appear' to enjoy sex, and are even allowed to sleep with more than one man in a lifetime. True story.

A good man wants a gem. You know the saying.. "Behind every successful man is a good woman." A man needs a woman that makes him feel alive, relevant and like he has won the greatest prize. She must be capable, knowing how to suggest, 'Honey, probably we could do it this way'.

I swear to you I am not making this up. So here we are again with this 'woman behind a man' dynamic. I know the word 'behind' here means '(at) the source of', but I don't think people get that. How I really think it should read is 'Next to many successful people are partners who have worked equally hard right alongside them', which, when you consider it, isn't really earth-shattering news. The notion that the indicator of a couple's or a family's success is the success of the man is one that gives me hives. And Chris's perfect woman, like Cinderella, is some prize to be won, like a pig in a raffle. She's there to make him feel lucky.

And the writer defines 'capable', that is the capability of that woman, in terms of her man: how good is she at making suggestions to him? Someone should have told me that my man-convincing skills were the ultimate test of capability. I would have worked on that every day and twice on Sundays.

But that was just the preamble. I haven't even gotten to the actual instructions. (Yes, instructions.) Here are a few:

Don't bleed his pocket
Don't request the yacht and the anchor too. If you go out, you can offer to foot the bill sometimes. We men have antennae up for these things. A woman who is using a man may herself end up being used.

Since by nature women are gold-digging she-beasts, right out of the gates, we have to be cautioned against giving into our baser nature of 'bleeding' a man dry. Don't foot the bill because you're actually concerned with equity and independence. Do so because if you don't, his gold-digger radar will go crazy and he'll run off, leaving you alone and manless. I'm going to leave the 'end up being used' thing alone because I'm assuming that's not the old 'fair exchange, money for sex' argument. That is way too cheap even for this.

Avoid early marriage discussions.
Don't bring up marriage after the first few dates. [...] Let us guys bring up the issue. [...](Keep in mind it's not a good sign if it hasn't been mentioned after a year of dating.)

I keep resisting the urge to type LAWL all through this entry. Yes, it is a bad idea for anyone, man or woman, to come on too strong at the start of a relationship: it may smell of desperation, depending on who the two people involved are. Some people are both perfectly happy with marrying within weeks of meeting, although it's nothing I would advocate. But desperation is not, as Chris would have us believe, a uniquely female characteristic. In fact, I'd wager that of all the dangerous, glorified stalking that is depicted as comedy in films, and all the actual stalking that takes place in real life, most of the stalkers are men, and the victims women. And no, women do not have to hand over control of a significant life decision by waiting for men to bring up marriage. (What's with all the waiting, again? Oh right. Cinderella. Slipper. Got it.) And again, no, if your partner hasn't brought up marriage after a year it doesn't mean he's going to slip out in the night and never return. Some women like the surprise proposal, and that's fine. But your goals as a woman are important too. I see so many women caught in that purgatory between refusing to bring up marriage lest the man startle and scurry off, and really wanting to get on with the business of career timing and family and reproduction and these small matters. Having a vagina does not condemn you to having important decisions made for you. 'Equal partner' means something, it's not just PC gibberish.

Don't disrespect him.
Strong doesn't mean rude and crude. Strong actually is calm and collected. If you're tearing him down with outbursts and criticisms, you really aren't helping, most of all not yourself.

Or, "resist the natural urge to be a screaming, nagging banshee. Men's egos are delicate." Listen, ordinarily I would agree that no one should be disrespecting anyone in a relationship. Constant criticism is oppressive and exhausting, and the language and tone we use to communicate dissatisfaction in a relationship are key. However, I'm wary of the word 'disrespect' when used in terms of male/female relationships. It usually connotes the idea that the man is in a position that is by default to be respected, and that the woman is in a (lesser) position that is by default to be respectful. I hear it applied to all kinds of perceived slights as the reason for unacceptable behaviour, e.g. "she was talking to another man right in front of me, disrespecting me", or "she disrespecting me asking me to wear a condom, as if I got something". The masculinity we have created in the Caribbean is one where a man is, at all costs, to be shielded from any harsh word or injury to his maleness. When a man expresses dissatisfaction frankly, it is directness. When a woman does the same, she is being harsh, critical, disrespectful, emasculating. Stop the madness. It's possible that the woman you're involved with is in fact being unkind and needs to take a step back and reframe her position. And it's also possible that your vision is blocked by the large ego staring back at you, and you need to get over yourself, embrace some humility, and meet in the middle.

Brodber also mentions persistent phone calls, crowding and appearing untrustworthy as kisses of death in 'being right for Mr. Right', and he's not necessarily wrong in these, but he is wrong in presenting them as behaviour peculiar to women. The article is insulting, condescending, and frankly, tired. I find it difficult to believe that the Nation could come up with nothing more edgy or pioneering than 'how to get a man'. Haven't we been rewriting this same article for the last twenty years? And yes, there's a lot that's assumed here: the focus is on male/female heterosexual relationships whose goal is marriage, but I suspect the writer might be a reverend with traditionally Christian views, and even if he weren't, I wouldn't hold my breath expecting a major newspaper in Barbados to include anything other than cis-gendered, heteronormative perspectives. At least not without waving a big flag that says "Look at us! We're talking about the gayness!" But I do expect us to at least begin the long trek away from these narrow, unexplored representations of men, women and relationships, ones that reinforce the same harmful norms and roles we're meant to be discouraging.


  1. I am happy that someone else thought this article was not worthy of lining garbage bags! I have come to realise that "Easy" in the title of the magazine really is synonomous with least effort. Several of the feature stories seem to be warmed over from Essence/Oprah and other leading news mags.

  2. Great article. And thanks for the Cinderella analogy! I was just in a disagreement with a friend of mine over whether The Little Mermaid (eugh) was a positive role model for young girls (double eugh) and his response was that you could find a negative message in *any* kids movie, if you tried hard enough!

    Um... with Disney, you don't even have to try.

  3. This post makes me think not of Cinderella, but of Sleeping Beauty.

    I KNEW there was a reason why I loved Maleficent more than Aurora--she's single, she has her own business and clearly enjoys her work. And she takes crap from NO ONE.

    Now THAT is a positive role model for young girls!

  4. This is similar to the Steve Harvey’s book ‘act like a lady, think like a man’. It’s very popular and I have some of the same issue with its instructions on how to please a man through thinking in terms of sexual lust and commitment fears. Moreover, I have issues with most love guides because they almost always are geared toward men’s pleasure; the focus of most is not how to gain a healthy relationship but how to please and not scare off a man. I mean when is the last time you saw a popular relationship guide for men that wasn’t geared towards men’s pleasure, i.e. how to avoid x, y, and z with women. I guess I just have issues with the fact that men are told they are perfect as is and that women need to adjust themselves to be worthy of a man’s company. Also, all these things portray mean as horny, easily scared animals…. And for some reason that’s ok too. I just think they are odd, it’s like reading a hunting guide…plus how long can any woman keep up the charade suggested in any of these texts

  5. (here via Hathor Legacy)

    The masculinity we have created in the Caribbean is one where a man is, at all costs, to be shielded from any harsh word or injury to his maleness. When a man expresses dissatisfaction frankly, it is directness. When a woman does the same, she is being harsh, critical, disrespectful, emasculating.

    It's not just Barbados. That sounds exactly like the (white) Middle-American Suburban Christian Conservativism that I was raised in and rebelled against, from one side of the USA to the other.

    I'm not sure if that's reassuring or not, though: "It isn't just us" can be comforting, but "sexism is a constant" sure isn't. 8(

    And the retro-Mars/Venus nonsense, especially the "Be a pretty passive princess" shtick is getting pushed pretty hard up here, in tandem with the "boys need to be given free rein because Men Are Simultaneously Strong Warriors Who Need To Protect Women - never ask, from what? - AND Fragile Blossoms Whose Tender Egos Must Not Be Crushed" and the only heartening thing I've found is bloggers and posts like this calling it all out.

    PS: sorry if it double-posted, I got an error message.

  6. Thanks for all the great comments above. The 'hunting guide' analogy is quite right.

    And @Bellatrys: you're right of course. I've lived in the US and UK, and it is in parts a pretty consistent construction of masculinity throughout. Although it seems that now, Black women in the West are finding men so scarce, we're being instructed to be even more concerned with getting and keeping them. (Look at all the fuss they made over the fact that Michelle Obama found a good one. That inspired manuals galore on what she did right and what we're comparatively doing wrong.) I suppose that's what motivated Steve Harvey's bestselling nonsense: the problem must be with us, because god knows it couldn't possibly be with them.

    1. How to get a man:
      1) Find one you consider attractive and who seems like you can get along with.
      2) Suggest hanging out and / or compliment him, in whatever order works for you.
      3)Ask casually and confidently if he'd like to go on a date, keeping in mind that if he's not interested it's totally fine, because it has to do with whether you're a good match for each other, rather than whether you're a good catch.
      4) If he responds positively to your advances, enjoy! If he runs away from your forwardness, congratulations on having screened out an undesirable man with maximum efficiency. Now, find another man you find appealing, and start again at step 1.


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