Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Rules of Rape Culture: On Self-Help and Self-Blaming

The neglectful blogger returns!  So for the extremely small number of readers that have remained, I finished the MLIS and have now embarked upon the PhD in Library and Information Science.  Right now, I'm in a tiny limbo for another week or so until the PhD classes start.  Since I'm just taking Storytelling and International Children's Literature in the first part of the summer, I have been cramming all the extracurricular reading I can manage into the nooks and crannies.  My current read is Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land:  My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture, and chapter 2 horrified me.

A little confession:  I kind of hate self-help as a genre.  For the most part to me the books seem disingenuous and creepy.  I know that some people claim they worked for them, and I am genuinely glad that they were helped.  But I still hate the whole lot of it.  I particularly hate the "find-a-man," marriage section and their seeming need to time warp back to the 1950s to "help" people with relationships.  When I was in high school, a book called The Rules came out.  I never read it; I was then in the throes of my I'm-going-to-hell-because-I-like-girls thing.  The Rules was about as far from my interests as you could have gotten at that point.  I truthfully don't know if girls I went to school with read the thing, but I think I remember some talking about it my senior year.  Regardless of my memory, my age group would have at least known about and been cognizant of the book.

Like I said, I never read it.  In fact, I can say with certainty that until I started chapter 2 of Lamb-Shapiro's books, I knew next to zero about the content.  I knew it was gaggingly old-fashioned and led women to believe that they could control men and relationships with weird rules.  What I didn't know is that it is completely crazy and suggests crap straight out of a 1952 Ladies Home Journal.  In the book and seminars (which are still apparently a thing), women are counseled to play the ever-popular hard-to-get and manipulate the men they are dating at the same time.  Some advice from the book, quoted by Lamb-Shapiro:

  • Don't sound cynical or depressed...act as if you were born happy.
  • Be quiet...Sometimes men want to drive in silence...Don't ruin his concentration.
  • Hide self-help books, Prozac, bathrobes, and apparently anything that might let him in on the secret that you aren't a Stepford girlfriend before he comes over.
They also tell women how many times a week the man should be allowed to see her (only once a week the first month and only a very little more as the relationship progresses).  He is supposed to be driven crazy by the lack of access to you.  Right now, some of you are saying, well, even though this advice seems a bit archaic and icky around the edges, it doesn't seem to deserve the blog title.  

I'm getting to that.

So, in Lamb-Shapiro's book, she is attending a Rules seminar, and a woman stands up to give her "success story."  You know, to be the after image.  She supposedly followed the book and purchased the private sessions with the authors for a makeover and consultation (which incidentally includes advice on plastic surgery), and BAM! she lands her a man.  She mentions that there are a few problems during the engagement, but she just kept throwing the Rules at him hoping to fix it.  They married, and she finds out he's a touch on the abusive and angry side.  The authors, who of course have written The Rules for Marriage, help her once again, and she once again throws Rules at him trying to fix the relationship.  Luckily, she got out of the marriage before it escalated, but her explanation is that she did not follow the Rules closely enough.

Pause.  Read that again.  This woman blamed her abusive marriage on the fact that she did not follow some arcane and ridiculous self-help book closely enough.  The book explicitly states, "Abuse doesn't happen in a Rules relationship because when you play hard to get and he works like hell to get you, he thinks you're the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world, even if you're not.  He treats you like a precious jewel."  In another part of the book, they claim, "It's good when men get upset; it means they care about you.  If they're not angry, they're indifferent, and if they're indifferent, they've got one foot out the door."  Women are counseled to be sexually distant and not talking about "your needs" unless asked.  What we have here is a recipe for a dangerous relationship.

I am perfectly aware that the self-help genre in general thrives because it makes users believe that if what they're peddling doesn't work, it's because they didn't try hard enough.  That's bad enough when you're talking  How to Be More Positive, but when you're making people believe it is their supposed bad direction following that caused a spouse to abuse them?  The brakes need to be put on, folks.  

In a related vein, during the seminar one of the authors is discussing "allowing" the man to see you.  She says that she limited her now-husband to the recommended number of times in the book.  He wasn't "allowed" to talk to her more than five minutes a day, but now that they're married he can talk to her all he wants.  "But he gave me rings, he bought me a house; he owns me now, so it's okay."  

This, people, this sort of derivative drivel out of the stone ages is what's driving rape culture.  People are brought up hearing this sort of "advice" and believe it.  Women aren't supposed to make their sexual voices heard, so they don't.  They believe that being raped or in an abusive relationship is the end result of their own lack of ability to be a "proper woman" of some sort.  Can we please agree that this is not the way to create a functional society?

The Rules may not be relevant in itself anymore, but the advice it gives is still here.  The seminars they offer still get paid for and attended.  Yet more women are being set up as victims and told they cannot be the main character in their own lives.  This is not okay.