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Lisa McInerney: The New Rules for women are best ignored

The terrifying ‘How to land a man’ books have dressed their old claptrap up in the language of the interweb – and are a good guide of what NOT to do in the world of dating.

Lisa McInerney

“Men love to buy and sell companies as well as extreme sports like mountain climbing and bungee jumping, while women love to talk about their dates and watch romantic comedies.”

YOU CAN STOP laughing now, because this is not a line from Harry Enfield’s updated Women: Know Your Limits sketch. It’s a line from the very first page of Not Your Mother’s Rules: The New Secrets For Dating, the latest book from The Rules stable, and it’s here to make heartless harridans out of our womenfolk and confused loners out of our men.

Guys, if you’ve not heard of this movement, hold on to your 1950s lapels because this is something else. The Rules is a strict behavioural system straight women must follow to bag themselves a husband. It works on the assumption that bagging oneself a husband is a woman’s ultimate aim in life, and that all men are exactly the same so once she has the correct know-how (which is coincidentally found in a copy of The Rules), she’ll be flying it.

The tenets of The Rules are as follows:

Don’t show interest in him. Men love to be “the aggressor” and showing even the slightest flicker of curiosity will negate his position of power and make him disrespect you. Best to pretend instead that your skin crawls at the mere mention of his name.

In fact, don’t show interest in anything. Women are supposed to be mysterious. What that means is that a “Rules Girl” cannot show any joie de vivre whatsoever. No opinions. No awareness of manly pursuits like sports and politics. No lust for life. No lust for lust. Rules Girls must be nothing but a featureless blob of head-nodding indifference. Men don’t want life partners: they want blank slates they can scribble all over!

“An embarrassment of commandments”

But because “Be a damn robot in a dress” is only seven words long and therefore not lucrative stuff, the authors, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, have fleshed out their philosophy with a host of daft nuggets for women to pick over. Things like: “Always end phone calls first” and “Dye your hair blonde, you filthy ginge.” Basically, the book gave singletons an embarrassment of commandments to turn them into cold-shouldered, empty-headed ice queens incapable of making eye contact.

But times have changed, and the internet has grown swiftly from something that lived in fat loners’ basements to a massive cultural necessity that – gasp! – women understand and utilise! Ergo, Fein and Schneider decided that bringing out a new collection of rules was a matter of urgency, lest all of these 21st Century geeks die alone surrounded by cats and/or sticky tissues.

And lo, Not Your Mother’s Rules was born, the same old claptrap dressed up in the language of the interweb. Updated rules include not to Friend him on Facebook, not to Follow him on Twitter, and to employ a strict mathematical formula when deducing the appropriate time he must wait before you text him back. Now, instead of ignoring your mark across a restaurant table like a sullen shamus, you can save yourself the hassle of leaving the house and give him the silent treatment online! Success!

It’s really difficult not to take the proverbial out of The Rules and the desperately sad saps who think that acting dead-eyed will pave the way to cuddles on tap. The system is so laughable that it can be difficult to accept that it’s been a massive commercial success (and a global one at that. Because, according to the authors, “guys are the same all over the world!”). And yet it has been, and Not Your Mother’s Rules will sell well too, even if a proportion of those sales is people reading the thing as a delicious horror story.

“Doesn’t it sound utterly terrifying?”

Even more disturbing is the fact that Not Your Mother’s Rules, like The Rules before it, doesn’t hide its sexism under a bushel. On the very first page it tells the reader that “men and women are different… [even though] …you were raised to think that men and women are equal and that women can do anything they want.”

Immediately, the picture is painted in stark monochrome: women are prizes to be won and men are so backwards that they may well be their own missing link. In Fein and Schneider’s world, men are there to be manipulated into opening their homes and wallets, and it serves them right because they’re nothing but brutes who’d crawl over a mountain of fresh corpses for a sniff of something younger and prettier.

Can you imagine inhabiting the same sphere as these Rules Girls? Doesn’t it sound utterly terrifying?

Well, it’s alright, because I think I’ve cracked it. The Rules and Not Your Mother’s Rules and The Rules For Rules Followers Who Don’t Play By The Rules or whatever chunk of horseburger is going to come from Fein and Schneider next… exist purely to keep their readers sad, single, and buying stupid self-help books.

“Sobbing All By Myself at uncomfortable bouncers”

Following The Rules could only win a reader one kind of husband, and that kind of husband is the kind no one in her right mind would want. If, in your area, there isn’t an available double-breasted Neanderthal who doesn’t mind being made feel like pond scum, following The Rules can only lead to stereotypical one-woman ice-cream parties or sobbing All By Myself at uncomfortable bouncers at half three in the morning. It’s a no-brainer, ladies; no matter how desperate you are (and why allow yourself to feel desperate in the first place?), you’re not going to build a fulfilling relationship by using body language that suggests you’d rather drink Dettol than be anywhere close to him.

The intention is clearly to create a situation where terrified thirtysomethings, made vulnerable by their failure to pick up a moneyed masochist, go straight back to Amazon.com and BUY MORE RULES BOOKS! It’s genius, really. If that’s truly the aim of Fein and Schneider, you can’t fault their business model. You can, however, fault them for being truly terrible people.

As for the rest of us, acting like human beings, treating others with respect, and showing interest in the people we are interested in is probably the right way to do it, so please carry on.

Read previous columns on TheJournal.ie by Lisa McInerney >

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Lisa McInerney

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