There’s an article in The Atlantic right now bemoaning the fact that journalists keep writing the same dumb articles for women. The author lists some of them including:
How to be great i.e. keep your man happy in bed. Cosmo is probably the most obvious big-name perpetrator here, but others exist as well. Beyond the fact that there are so many versions of this article that we could live ’till eternity and never finish reading them all (even though, oddly, they all say much the same thing), shouldn’t we have moved on from expectations of women “serving” men and men as the passive recipients of such service?
How to look 10 pounds thinner instantly… Come on. This is just marketing. Must we fulfill the trope that all women want to look 10 pounds thinner, without really doing much to actually make that happen, in order to maybe sell some pants and shirts and dresses and shoes?
How to change yourself to date the person you think you want to date… Can we stop insisting on manipulations like these to attract someone? It’s confusing for men and also women. Be yourself. Be yourself. Be yourself.
How to “make him” do something. Whether it’s marry you, pick up his socks, or just be a completely different person, the definitive fact is you’re not going to change anyone, not substantially and perhaps not even minimally, nor do you particularly want another person to change you. This is an exercise in futility, and not worth the paper it’s printed on, even if it’s nonpaper on the Internet.
I suppose I should be slapping the author on the back and saying “Yes! Foolishness!” because we do make fun of articles like this all the time. We are so smart! We have figured out that the ideas detailed in them are not largely successful! Also–we’re a weird little ladysite for weirdos. We mostly sit around making fun of everything. Each other. Clothing worn by strangers. Potatoes on our desks. Whatever.
Still, here’s the thing–I read the articles the author is describing. I do not read them ironically, because it is very hard to be ironic when you’re alone, weeping. I read them seriously.
Terrible confession: I have been in relationships where I’ve thought “Yes, I will make lemon chicken! Then this man will marry me! Glamour says so!” Spoiler: This does not work, or, at least, did not work for me. But it feels good for a second, following these magazines’ advice. Following their advice feels good because it gives you the illusion of control over a universe that cannot be controlled.
And the universe cannot be controlled. These articles are the equivalent of standing on a runaway train and having someone (some odd horse rider alongside, who happens to be clutching an Olivetti typewriter, I think) shout “I’ve heard it will slow down if you jump up and down!” Dude. You’d jump up and down.
Perhaps one of the reason we’re so indignant about articles about “how to make a man do something” existing in the world is because we do not want to admit how out of control of everything we are, or how hopeful we are that we can change that unchangeable fact. We’re brought up on a certain fairy tale culture that dictates that good things will happen to good people (and however outsiders regard them, everyone still sees themselves as the hero of their own story) and that if good things do not happen, well, then you will cast a fucking magic spell. You will bake a chicken with lemon and someone will love you.That’s how it works.
It doesn’t work that way, of course, but I can’t help but feel that false hope is still better than no hope at all, because it is the difference between doing something and doing nothing.
We were made to bargain. Not just when we’re undergoing the stages of grief, but all the time. If there is something we want that we can’t get, we still believe in magic spells. We need to believe that if we are clever, and hardworking and resourceful, we can take control of our world and bend it to our own desires. Anything else would be too heartbreaking. And these articles let us believe that for about ten minutes.
Basically, I’m saying that Cosmopolitan magazine exists because it appeals to the most primal instinct in all of us.
I suppose, if you believe that false hope is wrong, you could say that these articles merely offer some temporary distraction from ultimate misery. But, dude. None of us are making it out of this alive. If magazines–for men or women–were honest, every article would be entitled “Death: Its Horrid Inevitability. ONE DAY CLOSER.”
Taking this into account, it’s always been my view that the fact that we do anything but huddle in caves weeping for our entire lives–that we, say, made civilization–is a tribute to the power of false hope. We’re all going to die and be dead, and largely forgotten within a few generations at most, but we still plot and scheme, and we generally try to take the wheel on this crazy runaway train.
And you can say that that’s fine, but that those efforts shouldn’t revolve around how to “lose ten pounds quick!” But, oh, sure they should. They should revolve around whatever people want, and think will make them happy, because it will motivate them do something rather than nothing. Now, admittedly, we also do greater things, like build the Sistine Chapel, and maybe there should be more “Ladies: How To Paint God On Ceilings!” articles (ED NOTE: Trend piece?). But let’s be real: Michelangelo was probably doing that to get laid. That was just Michelangelo’s lemon chicken.
Who knows? Perhaps the woman who decides to follow the lose ten pounds quick advice will, though a series of zany mishaps, end up accidentally making something fantastic and beneficial to society as a whole.
I think, as a general rule, at TheGloss, we assume you’re an unhinged neurotic who has long ago sacrificed any semblance of normalcy in dealing with anything. We don’t try to sell you articles on how to make men love you because, well, we really don’t know, and because we are too odd to write them in a straightforward way. We always try, and then there are like, seven Schopenhauer jokes and a personal anecdote, and we end up writing something entitled “Philosophers I Have Seriously Considered Banging (Also Some Figures From Greek Myths/Star Wars) Also Vote If Young Schopenhauer Was Hot. Crowdsourcing, Bitches! (Answer: He Was)”.
That does not make straightforward articles that give you the sense that you can take control of your life bad. It does make them false, most of the time. But hell. The universe is so unpredictable – who knows? Maybe the train will slow down if you jump up and down. Maybe there is a man out there whose whole heart melts in the presence of lemon chicken. Maybe the ladymag’s advice will cause you to lose ten pounds by Friday, and, you know, live forever. To borrow a line from one of my favorite playwrights, James Goldman, “In a world where carpenters get resurrected, anything is possible.”
Or you can just read all those articles, and shake your head, and think about how you’ve outsmarted them all.