The Rules Girls are back--and more annoying than ever, at least as far as their remarks
in New York Magazine's recent "Sex" issue goes. Even after Penn satirized them and Teller's program "BullSh&t," they continue to sound like that simply can't stop themselves from attacking other women who disagree with them. When we were all on Oprah together, I certainly found that to be the case. As you can see from this piece in People, we didn't emerge as BFFs, but it was a fascinating experience.
In 1996, I appeared on Oprah debating with these two "girls" who had written a book titled The Rules (I call them "girls" because that's what they called themselves. They are exactly my age. We all graduated from high school in 1975.) So, we all came of age at the same time. They also grew up hearing "I Will Follow Him." Not only that, we were from the same basic neighborhood: Brooklyn, Long Island -- we were fast talking, nasal-voiced broads. Anyhow, since it was already my fourth time on Oprah and I sort of knew what to expect, I thought we'd be able to find common ground even though we had obvious differences. What I found instead was pay dirt. On Oprah's stage I faced a blonde and a brunette; the brunette did not speak. And I don't want to sound nasty, but the blonde was as blonde as I am. We argued on television like a bunch of women from the Bronx yelling at each other through tenement windows and over clotheslines. They wanted to know, as the blonde put it, "why you have such a problem with our book, Dr. Barreca." (She made the word "doctor" sound like "blood-sucking vampire.") I replied,
I have a problem with your book because it assumes that men are morons and that women are capable of infinite manipulation; you tell women that the only way to get a man to marry them is to withhold sex as long as possible. You say, 'Never laugh out loud in front of a man. Save the laughter for your girlfriends.' And 'No matter how hot the sex gets, you must remain cool.' What I want to know is, if you can't laugh out loud, and you can't have hot sex, why on earth would you want a husband?
Why, in other words, should any of us do battle with these stereotypes? Why not just becomes one of The Rules girls? If we believed what they told us, we wouldn't have to get our hands dirty, and we'd never be late for work. Oh, right, we probably wouldn't be going out to work, either.
Oh, right: Because when you cave, you are buying, however subtly, into the idea that it is easier to please the master than to learn mastery -- that you are getting what you need by the privilege of your sex rather than by the right of your humanity. You have to be nice to the guy who pumps your gas, checks your oil or buys you a house and pays your bills. That whole "bending and breaking and remaking the rules"? That's, pffft, out the window; you can't afford that luxury anymore. He's "providing" for you because he's happy with your company. If he becomes unhappy with you or if the placenta stuff around your eyes gives birth to new wrinkles and that tummy panel finally blows so that you inflate like a pontoon, he has every right to kick you out of his house and refuse to pay your bills. You are there, not by right, but by privilege.
Of course, that might just be my girlish way of looking at things... my way, and the way of most sane adult American women. It turns out that, except for The Rules girls, we're all pretty much alike. We worry about the same stuff: that we're too needy, too loud, too messy emotionally, too fat, too noisy, too nosey, too loving and too unlovable; we worry we're too bitchy, too judgmental, too jealous, too easy, too much, too crazy, too messy, too greedy, too passive.
It's not that we're too much, my friends, it's that the world is not enough. There's room enough. We just need to carve that room out for ourselves, map it, and claim it.
Let's examine what else we've been told all these years about what "Girls" and "Rules" should be and let's examine their usefulness, shall we? We'll see that we can dump 'em -- most of them at least -- without a need to recycle or donate.
And let's cast our gaze outward rather than inward. Let's look at the what the world expects of us and let's see what expectations need to change to accommodate our lives and ambitions -- let's not waste more time figuring out how better to contort ourselves, like exotic gymnasts, into unnatural positions that might please the world. Let's get busy: This world of ours still needs work and the real change will happen when we start challenging the rules -- after we've had a whole lot of plain old silly fun laughing at them.