February 5th, 2006
Over the past fortnight I’ve had several calls from journalists working for women’s magazines writing relationship stories ‘with a difference’.
Actually the stories aren’t all that different and what they all have in common is a theme of ‘it’s okay to be a certain way, your man will still love you’. The features are all aimed at telling the reader it’s great to be smart, perhaps a little chubby, or have a career – because your man wants you to be that way.
Or does he?
That’s what journalists have been asking me. Their stories obviously need backing up with ‘facts’ and so, having been asked to write pieces where guys green light our lives, they’ve been looking to people like me for supporting statistics. They’ve not been too certain that men do really want women to be smart/curvy/career-minded, but they’ve got to write this since their editor told them to.
Which is interesting since there’s not a huge amount of evidence outside of the self-help market to say this is so. And even within the self-help market it’s confusing with some books advocating that guys will love you whatever you’re like, and others insisting in order to get a man you must downplay any achievements and pretend to be someone other than yourself.
Research has looked at this area, but not all of it has found men are delighted to have smarter partners or those who’re overweight. And even where research has indicated men aren’t so critical about appearance, women then tend to be overly negative about their looks, shape or achievements.
So I’ve not been able to share many statistics that truly support men or women being thrilled about female partners in straight relationships being smart, curvy or higher achievers.
But where there has been research on the self-help market it’s looked at the underlying problem messages. Because they aren’t saying ‘it’s great to be you’ or ‘enjoy yourself’ or ‘celebrate your uniqueness’. What they are actually saying is ‘you can only be what you think your man wants you to be’.
Which presents a number of problems. Firstly it’s pretty limiting for women. After all you’re not really allowed to be smart, creative, innovative, or just slob out if you feel like it. You can only do these things if you’re sure it’s okay with your guy. But you can’t ask him, you have to work out his views by guesswork (or reading magazine features that say he thinks it’s fine for you to be you).
Secondly it’s limiting for men since it assumes they all want the same things in a partner and prefer her to be something she isn’t. These features don’t offer women the option to develop their own confidence, nor do they let couples decide for themselves what they want.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to please a partner or make each other happy. But there is a problem when you’re encouraged to believe the only way you can do this is making yourself into something that just isn’t you – and maybe your partner doesn’t even want.
I’ve shared this with journalists, but I’ve not got very far since they’ve been adamant they’re writing very liberal and innovative pieces that ‘put women first’.Tweet