ASSIMILATING TO MALE RULES OF LOVE
The commercial spirit of intimate life is woven with a second cultural tendency—for women to assimilate to male rules of love. On one hand, cool modern advice books address women. Two-thirds are written by women and all of them address problems women have. Nearly all picture women on the covers. Further, even if authors don’t claim to be feminist at the outset, they refer to “progress,” “struggle,” “independence," “equality”—code words for
core ideas of “feminism.” Many portray women as victims who need to be freed from oppressive situations in love or work.
Curiously, though, such books simultaneously recycle the feeling rules that once applied to middle-class men of the 1950s. In doing $0, they illustrate a pattern common to many stratification systems—of the “bottom” emulating the top in order to gain access to greater respect, authority, and power. Insofar as imitation represents in part a magical solution to redistribution of respect and power, however, female emulation of male emotional folkways is useless. In addition, it means that women are encouraged to be cooler while men are not urged to become warmer. In this sense, advice books conserve the already capitalized male culture. They conserve the damage capitalism did to manhood instead of critiquing it, in the tradition set out a century ago by Charlotte Gilman.
In recycling male rules of love, modern advice books for women assert that it’s a “feminine” practice to subordinate the importance of love, to delay falling in love until after consolidating a career, to separate love from sex, and for married women to have occasional affairs.
For one thing, these books propose that love should play an altogether less central role than it has had in the lives of women, and that women should rid themselves of ideas about the importance of love, “de-culturize“ themselves in Bourdieu’s terms, to unlearn the idea that “love to man is a thing apart, ’tis woman’s whole existence.” Love should also occur later in life than before. In the 1950s it was middle-class men who waited until they were occupationally prepared to Tall in love and settle down.” Love that occurred earlier was “too early." Now this delay in the timing of love, and the emotion management needed to delay, are recommended to women as well. Wait, advice books for women now caution, until your late twenties or thirties, when you are trained in a career, until you are ready to fall in love.
Just as love has been more easily separated from sex for men, so these advice books of the 1980s suggest, love can be separated from sex for women. In Having It All, Helen Gurley Brown tells readers how to avoid getting “too” emotionally involved with the married men at the office they sleep with. In the past, if premarital and extramarital sex were not actually affirmed for men, they were understood as a manly flaw. Now, as Dowling’s Chicago woman suggests, they are a womanly flaw too.
Thus, in the lesser role of love, in the separation of love from sex, in the delay in the “right time" to fall in love, and in the feminization of adultery, advice books of the 1980s propose to women the emotional rules that were part of the gendered cultural capital of white middle-class men of the 1950s. We’ve moved from living according to two emotional codes—one for men and another for women—to a unisex code based on the old code for men. We’ve also moved from a wanner code to a cooler one, aspects of which both fit with and exacerbate a move to lighter family bonds.
Many authors of advice books conceive of their books as feminist, but they are in reality an abduction of feminism. Many advice books see their readers as patients. But, could it be that it’s the commercial spirit of intimate life that’s really sick?