June 18, 2019

Throw Out Your Copy of "The Rules"

“It was the worst of times; just trust me on this. It was a time when almost every single movie ended with a wedding, no iota of nuance to be found anywhere, even if the woman in the movie had just spent 83 minutes prior making a case as to why she didn’t want to be or shouldn’t be married. It was a time when even subversive-seeming characters on “Sex and the City” could only be happy when they finally found husbands (except, of course, for Samantha, who was too much of a derelict to acquiesce and too old to have kids so what’s the point?). It was a time when the Learning Annex featured seminars on how to find a husband in 30 days, and no kidding this seminar came with a CD to listen to while you slept. The ’90s woman, confused by how her ambition was supposed to be compatible with her want for a family, nodded her head emphatically, her Rachel shimmering around her face.

Because it was also a time when we were supposed to be newly empowered. We were ’90s women. The battles had been fought; we owned property and voted. We worked and talked endlessly about things like balance. The women’s magazines encouraged us to take initiative, to ask the guy out. We were on the pill. Colleges were giving out condoms, not just to the men but to the women. There were so many mixed messages, and the women I knew were at war to maintain their independence but also still traditional enough to think about the families they’d been engineered to want. Had we alienated the men with all our independence?

This is how “The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right” found us. In 1995, on Valentine’s Day no less, presented as an ivory-and-gold colored self-help book for the heteronormative, covered with soft paintings of roses and ribbons (ribbons!) and a diamond ring right smack in the middle, almost like a warning: You were not entering subtle territory. The books authors, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, promised a generation of women who were at war with themselves (not all of us, but enough of us) that we could find the husbands we dreamed of if only we could control ourselves for a few months (a year tops), sublimate our desires and follow 35 simple rules for attracting and securing a man.”

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