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Be Manly but Not Too Manly? 311 Sexist Pieces of Advice for Men

If you're a man who wants to attract women, don't own a cat or play video games. This review challenges an author's rigid definitions of who's dateable.

If you were to read a book, written by men, giving straight women advice on how to turn themselves into acceptable romantic partners -- a book consistently advising women to adhere to a rigid, narrow window of traditional gender roles if they hope to find and keep a man -- what would be your reaction?

Would your feminist sensibilities be horrified? Would you be writing angry letters to the publisher, or posting angry rants about it on the Internet? Would you mock it as a hilariously campy example of '50s and '60s social propaganda... and be shocked to realize it had actually been published this year?

So what would you think of a book written by women, giving straight men advice on how to turn themselves into acceptable romantic partners... which consistently advises men to adhere to a rigid, narrow window of traditional gender roles if they hope to find and keep a woman?

If you're a feminist, you're familiar with how social programming guilt-trips and fear-mongers women into rigid and sexist gender roles. It's not like it's hard to find examples of it. It's freaking everywhere. But I think we're less familiar with how social programming guilt-trips and fear-mongers men into rigid and sexist gender roles. Our feminist sensibilities aren't on as much of a hair trigger for male gender-role propaganda. And when this propaganda is subtle, I think we often overlook it.

But we have a magnificently un-subtle version of it in a new book: Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won't Be Dating or Having Sex. Based on the website of the same name, Undateable is an advice book, funny and snarky but with a sincere intent, about common failings straight men have in the dating department: things men wear and say and do that, without realizing it, make them entirely unacceptable to the opposite sex.

Now, I will admit: Parts of this book are superficially funny, and a fair amount of its advice I agree with. Or rather, since one of my main objections to the book is “Who the hell cares what these women or anyone else thinks, who died and made them the arbiter of manhood?”, it might be more accurate to say: A fair number of these authors' preferences are ones I share. (I don't like sandals with socks, either.) But I find a huge amount of this book utterly baffling. Many of its “Don'ts” seem entirely neutral, random to the point of being surreal. Don't own a van? Don't play video games? Don't be lactose intolerant? It's as if the authors were advising men, for the sweet love of Jesus, whatever else they do, if they want women to date them and have sex with them, don't eat green beans. And for me, many of the “Don'ts” in this book are actually positive “Do's.” Making the whole exercise even more perplexing. (I like colored sheets, and body piercings, and guys who go to Star Trek conventions. So sue me.)

Much more to the point, though: Taken together, these 311 pieces of advice on how to forge yourself into a dateable guy paint a picture of acceptable manhood -- not idealized manhood, not even desirable manhood, just base-level tolerable manhood -- that is so rigid, and so narrow, it rivals anything any woman has ever read in any stupid, shallow, “20 Tips On Catching a Man” women's magazine. It's so narrow, Odysseus himself couldn't navigate through it. It's so rigid, it'd make the manufacturers of Viagra jealous.

The primary thrust of this book is that men ought to be manly -- but not too manly. They can't be girly or sissy... but they can't be macho gorillas, either. They have to find a perfect, razor-thin window of perfect masculinity. And they somehow have to not be self-conscious or anxious while doing it... since that's not very manly.

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