22 July 2009

Whose standards need to change?

I've read a couple of posts about the upcoming Katherine Heigl engine, The Ugly Truth. It got me to thinking about the premise and some advice I've been given in my own life.

One of my education professors once said to me, "Go for older men. You intimidate boys your own age. You're too smart for them." I was a little hurt by his statement because it was presented as a "this is why you'll be alone for the rest of your life" analysis. I was also mildly insulted on behalf of "men [my] own age", but it wasn't the first time I'd been told to aim higher (read: older). A number of older friends had already told me that I was wasting time on boys in my own demographic.

I think I stuck to my guns, but it's true that I've never had much luck with guys my own age. In fact, every guy I've dated has been incrementally older than the last. I don't think that necessarily fulfils the prophecy of my professor and friends.

May-December romances abound in movies and in real life. Usually, the man is older (since it is a huge joke for an older woman to be considered attractive); and whether that's because of an iteration of what my professor told me, or because younger men in this culture are socialized to spread their seed while they can is probably up for debate. Younger women are still socialized to settle down and raise a family, even though they can still get what they want out of a career and social life. There still seems to be something abhorrent about unmarried women in their 30s.

As an unmarried woman who just entered her 30s, I'll admit that there was a time when it sounded OLD to not have a husband and be starting a family. But when I review my 20s, I'm pretty glad that I didn't settle for what I could have had (although, I was dangerously close a couple of times). But the message I often got was about fitting in with a partner's needs and wants. I was told to accept things and suck it up, without reciprocation.

Enter Hollywood. In it's latest schmaltz, The Ugly Truth, we're told that Heigl needs to learn what a man wants in order to have a successful relationship. Of course, all men want the same thing.

Here's my question: If these men are so vastly different from her beliefs and expectations, why would she want them? This isn't the first movie to introduce this premise, either. Even an old fave of mine, Grease, trumpets the same moral: once Sandy sheds her "good girl" image and falls in step with Danny's much cooler crowd, then they can be together. (Yeah, yeah; Danny makes his effort too, by lettering in track, but it's quickly tossed aside when Sandy shows up in skin-tight polyester.)

It's insulting.

Insulting to women because we can expect better. We can find life partners (of any gender, depending on your sexuality) without resorting to trickery, gimmicks, or subterfuge. And I firmly believe that a relationship that employs such tactics to get off the ground is a relationship based on a lie. I don't recall being at any weddings recently where the friends and family of the couple told hilarious stories about how the bride tricked the groom into thinking that she was some kind of sex goddess by keeping her hair long, and throwing double-entendres into the conversation, or how she pretended to like soccer until the ring was on her finger, but she secretly hates it and is only waiting for the ink to dry on the marriage certificate before getting the HD disconnected so he can never watch it again. Yet, these are strategies that we're supposed to believe work? And I guess I mean believe in the sense that I've also been led to believe that, during my summer coma, a prince on a horse is going to ride up, cut his way through my overgrown hanging plants, and whisk me away to a life of leisure and luxury: I'm not actually meant to believe in that literal interpretation, but it normalizes the underlying premise.

You know, it's a premise that's insulting to men, too, because they're painted as pretty ignorant, boorish, and vapid. Yup, my boyfriend likes hockey and sex, but I think he'd be pretty chapped about being painted as so one-dimensional that he only wanted a flesh-and-blood blow-up doll and someone to bring him a sandwich during play-offs. Most guys I know would likely joke about wanting that, but quickly stress that it's not what they want long-term.

Which brings me back to the age component. Was my professor (who taught psychology, by the way) trying to tell me that men "my age" (I was 24 at the time) hadn't learned that the blow-up doll wasn't satisfying long-term? Was he saying that their young egos were too fragile to brook oppositional thoughts from a mere woman?

I still call bullshit. I think that it's time for men to do some adapting and accept that women are not going to be the soothing, placating sandwich-makers of yore. I'm sure there will still be women willing to do that for a long time to come. As for me, watching women jump through sexist manufactured hoops in hopes of landing a husband is no longer entertaining.


Tricky said...

I have felt that in the last few years more than ever that the 'Gender Divide' is widening. I'm not sure whose fault it is. The thing that gets to me is that these differences between women and men are old as fuck - read Plato's 'Symposium', seriously. It's scary as hell. The values are different, but the woman as Other is plain.

I like that you mentioned the impact on men - with media being the way it is, raising kids to be irresponsible idiots, and the placid, ubiquitous boys-will-be-boys attitude, young men have a long road ahead.

Kim said...

Standards are "shallow". Our society is getting so obsessed with these that they forget to take time to breathe and make sure that they are happy. They worry about these standards and trying to be so-called perfect, rather than just enjoying the now and who they are, and who is around them. Who really cares if you have long hair or short hair? Are a size 2 or size 20. Are younger/older than your partner, does that really matter? No. What matters is being happy. In order to have a happy (and healthy) relationship you must be happy with yourself.
Okay, so I've only had one boyfriend in my entire life and have been with him since I was 16, so I'm not the perfect person to give advice, but what we have always done is live in the now. I did the depressed teen thing for a while (long while actually, from grade 7 through 11 now that I think of it). It was only when I started accepting me for being me. Not caring what others thought. Accepting my flaws with my strengths, that I was able to be happy and get in a relationship. Seriously. I was bossed around as a kid. I followed the others. When I was abruptly forced to fend for myself. To think for myself. I started to find what I liked, what I thought and who I was.
I used to be told "you should date other people so you know" but my reaction always was, why? I am enjoying the now. I am happy now. Why should I get rid of what makes me happy to try something else. I don't see it as settling but rather as adapting and growing together. Yea sometimes life sucks, or choices we make lead to hard times. By enjoying the things we have and making sure that we individually are happy first, then we make it work. We adapt. Life always throws things at you and changes happen, but for a relationship to work you have to enjoy the little things, not get stressed out about the other little things (who really cares if the dishes aren't done if you are comfy together on the couch? They can be done tomorrow). No one is perfect, no one can predict the future (although winning lotto numbers would be nice). Who cares about that stuff. In a relationship it is about being happy together, in order to be happy together, one must be happy alone.
If you have to change yourself to attract someone or to be with someone, then how will that work out in the end? You wont be happy. You are who you are, with your strengths, your weaknesses, your quirks and your flaws. So what? Accept them. They are there. They've probably been there for most of your life. You cannot change who you are. Live with yourself and be happy with yourself, then you can be happy with someone else; someone who accepts you for who you are. Someone you can confide in.
How can I tell I'm not "settling"? Because I'm still happy. We aren't trying to change one another. We share and talk about everything. Those little things are still there. The smiles for no reason. The happy feeling of just looking over at him. Him touching me gently as he walks by my desk chair. The wanting to look amazing for him when we go out for supper or to a movie. Yes we disagree, but we listen to one another and compromise.
"Whose standards need to change?" Society's standard that you have to please someone else, is what needs to change. You have to please yourself first. Be happy with you and who you are.
This movie isn't even out yet, but I bet at the end of it, after she tries to change to be more attractive to guys and if he tries to change to be more attractive to girls (which I think might happen from the looks of some of the commercials) they fall in love with each other for being who they are. their quirks and their flaws. Like Grease - Danny loves Sandy for who she is, not because she changes to wearing leather or smoking. Sandy loves Danny because of who he is and not because he tries to change and does track. They originally fall in love when they are truly themselves, in the summer. Happy with who they are. It is the fall, when they try to fit in with society, and become unhappy with who they are; their relationship suffers. Think about it. :P