In a CNN reprint of an Oprah.com article, dating advisor Patti Novak engages in the increasingly popular slap-down style of self-help. Asked by single women who don’t know why they are single, Novak offers solutions with a common refrain: It’s all your fault.
Not surprisingly, this nasty assumption leads her — like many of the blaming gurus that attract a mostly female audience — to some bizarre gender stereotyping. According to the Oprah story, she thinks millions of women are clueless about love. “Somewhere along the line, and I’m really not sure [when],” she’s quoted as saying, “we lost our common sense.”
It’s hard to get riled up about this accusatory pablum. But some of her more specific advice did strike a particularly sour note. In a passage about what Novak calls “the pickle jar effect,” she describes the pitfalls of being a self-reliant, independent woman. “We are so successful today, women. We’re fabulous. We work hard. We make good money. We parent. Sometimes what happens when we spend a lot of time alone, we forget to let them open the damn pickle jar,” Novak explains. “The one thing I don’t think is ever going to change on this planet is men still need to feel like men. So let them open it.”
So men feel like men when they are deceived by their lovers and partners? They need to feel important by opening containers of briny vegetables? But the pickle-jar politics do not stop there.
Novak then recommends that if the man’s not in the room, women should feel free to open their own pickle jar. (Phew!) But if the man is around, ask him to open it. “And know that you are the smarter, clever one for doing it.” Perhaps if I pretend that he can decide who I’ll vote for, I’ll be a frickin’ genius! Novak then adds more salt to the pickle theory: Women should allow men to pick the movies, to make them seem more in charge.
This distorted worldview of male-female relationships is ubiquitous in the self-help dating industry: Women are just a little too big for the guy’s britches and the guy, an insecure egotist, needs a fake “honey do” list to make him feel important. (Though honestly I do expect a heck of a lot more from Oprah.) What’s obvious is that these formulas for harmony between the sexes request that women, no matter their empowerment in the workplace or their personality, should dumb themselves down to placate their lovers. But the sour assumptions that pickle-jar politics makes about men’s inherent psychological limitations is even more offensive.
So here’s my question: When are antifeminists like Novak going to stop being so mean and condescending to men?