"He's Just Not That Into You" author, living the dream

But could a woman peddling emasculating generalizations about a man's singlehood become a media superstar?

By Rebecca Traister

Published February 17, 2009 6:42PM (EST)

We've already had the "He's Just Not That Into You" debate here at Broadsheet, but I still managed to be irked by this Q&A with the "HJNTIY"  guru Greg Behrendt, in which he explains his juggernaut career (including a short-lived talk show, stand-up work, a relationship book with his wife and a stint as a pseudo couples counselor on SoapNet): "It's like this gift bag. Suddenly if you're a person in the world that has an opinion, people offer you stuff. And so, you know, I got offered a talk show, and, you know, they were just adventures you had to take. I don't know how you turn down a talk show."

No one's arguing that he was supposed to turn down what he was offered, but I find it slightly poignant that he believes that he was "offered stuff" simply because he was a person in the world who had an opinion, without noting that that opinion was a catch-all, non-specific, arguably punishing generalization about women who pine for men who don't want them.

People writing about the "HJNTIY" phenomenon (still No. 2 at the box office, by the way) often make the point that the powerful phrase could have been, "You're just not that into him." But it wasn't, and the Behrendt media rocketship helps to demonstrate why.

Imagine a world in which a person had an opinion that a problem with modern dating could be boiled down to women just not wanting men enough -- maybe "she just doesn't find you attractive," "she's not going to call you," "she doesn't want to go home with you" or something like that. Then imagine that that person was a woman, and imagine her getting a talk show and a couples counseling deal and a book and a movie, all based on whatever vaguely emasculating generalization she'd happen to score with.

I do understand there are lots of people who think the "HJNTIY" phrase is empowering to women, and they will disagree here. But Behrendt's comments about how his career just happened because he had an opinion in the world seem to me to shine a light on the fact that that opinion took off in large part because of the shared cultural fantasy that it is always women who wonder and wait by the phone and moon and analyze and want to be wanted and wonder why they're not. There is no female romantic action here, no question of desire or motivation or the possibility of rejection or female agency.

Asked if he ever wonders why people should be listening to him, Behrendt says, "I also think, in the broader sense, everybody has a purpose, and ... I guess I was supposed to say that sentence at that time."

So if anyone else out there has a sentence they want to get off their chest, but especially if it's about how women should just pull themselves together and stop being so damn crazy, get ready to ride the American Dream Train all the way to movie theaters!

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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