Every few years some enterprising publisher knocks off the world’s most famous “how to change yourself to get a man to love you” book, The Rules (which itself knocks off Fascinating Womanhood). We know what condescending “rules” these books teach: men are simple, men are visual creatures, don’t nag them or they turn into little boys, men like to “chase.” The #1 rule is generally a version of be “Put away your penis!”, as Patti Stanger might say.
The 2011 incarnation is The Man Whisperer: A Gentle, Results-Oriented Approach To Communication, a book about “a new method of communication” called (duh) Man Whispering. Penned by “dating experts” Donna Sozio and Samantha Brett, I want to say it’s like The Rules on steroids, but really it’s like The Rules after a few too many Cosmos: Whoever wrote this must have been drunk. Did I say Cosmos? Scratch that. Four Lokos.
So, I bravely fished The Man Whisperer out of the The Frisky’s “books to donate” pile and got reading. Here’s what I learned:
- Why are you single? Feminism. According to the authors, “While women were achieving what they wanted in their careers, many made the mistake of thinking that insisting on equality was also the way to get what they wanted in their romantic lives.” But if you “acted more masculine” and did brazen things like “ask men out, have sex when we wanted to, wear the pants, and rule the roost,” you also might notice the other half of the bed is empty. Why is that? Because you were a ball-buster, missy. Men want women to be complementary, not equals. “The best part of romantic partnerships are not ones that are equal [!] but complementary,” the authors write. You may think you are deserving of “equal pay, equal opportunities, and equal respect … [but] …’equality‘ in romantic relationships is measured in much harder-to-quantify notions of love, mutual respect and happiness.” Love, mutual respect and happiness are harder to quantify? And why is “equality” in scare quotes?
- But, of course, the authors describe themselves as feminists. “We are both bona fide feminists,” they write, “and know that you can absolutely be a feminist and still reap the benefits of whispering.” I don’t know, that sounds like fake feminism to me.
- So what is “man whispering,” anyway? It means communicating in a “feminine” way that does not threaten your man’s manhood — or upset traditional gender roles — too much. You must adhere to the following rules: “Don’t Make Any Demands,” “Give Him One Problem To Solve And Then Zip It,” “Use Persuasive Nonverbal Communication,” “Soften Your Demeanor,” and “Let Him Call The Shots.” The best way to be non-threatening to your man is to “whisper” vis-a-vis insinuation.
Instead of communicating directly with your man, he will pick up on your insinuations, ascertain what it is you desire, and give you what you want — all without you nagging like a shrill harpy bitch. Then he’ll pat himself on the back for calling the shots. Well done, manhood! You don’t need equality — excuse me, “equality” — when you can use “persuasive nonverbal communication” to convey to your man that you won’t “yell, nag or punish him.” (Because if there’s one thing we know about men it’s that they’re excellent at reading our minds!) A big part of “man whispering” is the advice to “zip it.” Figuratively, “whispering” in a non-threatening way is not enough; you literally have to stop talking.
- But, fellow feminists, you should not too be skeptical of this “whispering” stuff! It may sound like he is wearing the pants in the relationship. But even as you let him “call the shots,” you are really the one in charge: “Man Whispering lets your man feel like he’s calling the shots because you’re letting him,” the authoresses write. Behold, a weird sexist offshoot of feminism’s societal advances: the idea that men are big dumb animals that must be tamed, poked and prodded. Man whispering taps into this sort of gender essentialism (i.e., assuming there are essential characteristics to being female or female) by assuming your guy is motivated by his ego and his ego alone. If a man cannot come with a solution to a problem — his or yours — alone, you cannot tell him an answer. Instead, you have to puff up his ego while letting him think he is Mr. Fix It. Why wouldn’t you take credit for your own ideas? I quote from the section on “Zipping It” rules, specifically “Don’t offer a solution without his asking for your advice”:
“Remember a man thinks he’s the ‘fixer.’ He needs to be the one processing the information and then coming up with a solution. It needs to be his brilliant idea. He needs to figure out what he’s doing to do about it. The minute you trump his instinct, he thinks you’ve lost faith in him. Which is why we whisper solutions to men: so they think they came up with them.”
Apparently, men’s egos are so fragile that they are threatened by your problem-solving abilities, ladies!
The counterpoint to all this, of course, is male pickup artists who teach guys that all women want to be needed and cared for and teach little “tricks” to manipulate a woman into attraction. The authors are adamant they don’t advise manipulation, however. Instead they prefer to call it “help[ing] and inspir[ing] men to do what they are designed to do: come up with solutions, solve problems, provide, and give generously to show their love.”
Look, The Man Whisperer gals, I understand that relationships are happier when the sole form of communication is not nagging. I have been in a loving, extremely happy relationship for almost two years and I can attest that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. There is a difference between “Sweetie, the towel has to be hung back up or else I’ll turn into a popsicle when I get out of the shower!” versus “I am so damn sick and tired of telling you not to leave wet towels on the bed!” Point taken.
However, game-playing like man whispering hurts women in the long run. First of all, it encourages women to behave in what are so-called “feminine” ways by walking softly, speaking softly, and tiptoeing around the male ego. It doesn’t just discourage you from nagging; it literally discourages you from clearly communicating at the risk of toppling your partner’s fragile ego. The authoresses call that being “complementary” and even post a handy flowchart on how to manage your “beta self” and your “alpha self.” Frankly, that is likely how some abusive relationships begin.
And second of all, “man whispering” assumes sexism doesn’t exist anymore (some people, but not me, call that idea “post-feminism”) so we women should not want — nay, do not not need — the messy stuff that goes along with being equals. Let me explain: The one area that the authoresses and I agree on is that feminist advances of the past 60 decades have caused enormous turmoil in personal relationships and family life. Women are taking charge of their financial lives and fighting for their legal and reproductive rights. From middle-class women moving into the workforce during World War Two, the invention of the birth control pill, to the criminalization of domestic abuse and the legalization of abortion, and so on, the marriage-as-property-ownership model is fraying by the decade. Of course the tension between traditional relationships (with essentialist gender roles) and more progressive relationships (equality) exists. No one, not even feminists, deny that.
But the answer is not, and never will be, to revert back to the traditional model. Books like Fascinating Womanhood (to be fair, a Christian-inspired book), The Rules and The Man Whisperer conveniently forget that the various “waves” of women’s liberation sought to change hundreds and hundreds of years of gender relations. (It should be clear by now the ideas in this book are pretty f**king offensive to men, too. “He can’t match your female-speak,” they write. “When you are speaking ‘woman’ … it comes out to him as Swahili.” “Don’t expect him to remember much.” “He needs you to spell out your feelings.” Gosh, ladies, just how low can you lower your expectations?) To them, the problem is not that the societal structure that pays women less than men provides inadequate affordable childcare opportunities, privileges men over involvement in their kids’ lives while penalizing women, requires when to work a “second shift” of housework upon arriving home, and does not allow us to be stewards of our own reproductive lives. The problem, ladies, is you getting all uppity.
I suspect I will get some kind of email or comment from The Man Whisperer‘s authors alleging that I have characterized their book and their philosophy wrong. (Of course, having a fake feminist philosophy that can be so easily “misinterpreted” does not speak well for them either). Or they’ll just be happy for the attention they’ve gotten by me writing about their book. I sincerely feel for couples who have difficulty communicating with each other, or women who are stuck in a rut of being single. It’s a shame the “self-help” available to them is flooded with such bad advice.