EXCEPTIONS AND COUNTERTRENDS
A look at advice books for men would surely offer a more cheerful picture, since while women have been moving toward a male norm, some men have moved the other way. But since the traditional male culture that progressive men are challenging is still associated with power and authority, I believe women’s move in the direction of traditional male culture is far stronger than men’s move in the opposite direction.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the books pushing a procommercial spirit seemed to be winning. In the 1990s, with the renewal of “family values”—a phrase that means all things to all people—the anticommercial ones seemed to gain ground. Hitting the best-seller list were such books as Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,^ which exaggerates the differences between men and women but offers practical tips on “inter-species” communication and commitment. In A WWorth, Marianne Williamson proclaims women to be queens and goddesses, weirdly combining a moral social mobility—“the purpose of life as a woman is to ascend to the throne and rule with heart”-7—a call for family and community, and a paradigm of distrust. While women are asked in a general way to love “our communities, our families, our friends,” in the end the only love they can really count on, says Williamson, is God’s.28
Meanwhile, a smaller-sales stream of books has continued the commercial spirit without a communal gloss. Joyce Vedral’s Get Rid oj Him, Susan Rabin’s How to Attract Anyone, Anytime, Anyplace, an extension of her “flirtation seminars,” press forward the psychological frontier of commercialism.29 They complement the increasingly popular mail-order videocassettes on marital sex, often authoritatively introduced by Ph. D. psychologists in the spirit of a science class. While such videos legitimate the importance of female sexual pleasure, they also make an emotionally depleted clinical matter of it.
Both the countertrend and the continued drum beat of the commercial spirit of intimate life pose the question: Will the anticoni me rcial books toss out feminism? Or will they stop the abduction of feminism, only to flatten and commercialize it? Or will they integrate it with a paradigm of trust?
In The Second Shift, I have argued that American families are strained by the
fact that they serve as a shock absorber of a stalled gender revolution. The
move of masses of women into the paid workforce has constituted a revolution. But the slower shift in ideas of “manhood,” the resistance to sharing work at home, the rigid schedules at w’ork make for a “stall” in this gender revolution.80 ft is a stall in the change of institutional arrangements of which men are the principal keepers. But if we are at the same time undergoing a cultural cooling, then we are faced with another, almost opposite, problem. It isn’t simply that men are changing too slowly, but that, without quite realizing it, women are also changing in the opposite direction—in the sense of assimilating to old-time male rules—too fast. Instead of humanizing men, we are capitalizing women. If the concept of the stalled revolution raises the question of how to be equal, the concept of the commercial spirit of intimate life raises the question: Equal what
With an American divorce rate of 50 percent, and with 60 percent of marriages formed in the 1980s projected to end, two-thirds of them involving children, many young women today are 1 lie single mothers of tomorrow. Given this, we have to ask, isn Tt it useful for women to know’ how to meet their emotional needs on their own? Isn’t it useful to have a defended “me” hoping to meet a defended “you”? Even if The Cinderella Complex is selling defective psychic armor—these days, sadly enough, we have to ask if we don’t need it. Even defective armor, if it helps us get around in a cool world, can be useful. But after we’ve asked whether being cool is useful, we have to ask whether being cool is good. Is it the best wre can do? If we think it’s not, then we have to ask the question those advice books do not ask—how can we rewire the broader conditions that make us need the tough armor they provide? On that we could really use good advice.