Bodaciously Bad Advice: Standardized Testing?
In Bodaciously Bad Advice, a new regularly updated feature at Scarleteen, I look at some of the dating advice articles from glamour magazines and around the web. I find that most of these advice articles are heterocentric and endorse many gender stereotypes, in addition to just being really crappy dating advice. In deconstructing the articles, I hope to help you, the reader, see them for what they really are and learn to apply these skills of critical observation and thinking to other areas. I’ll be joined in this project by some of our wonderfully talented staff writers here at Scarleteen, and Heather herself will make appearances from time to time. As a disclaimer, my posts will contain a healthy dose of sarcasm.
For our first post, we have Dating Test: Find Out if He’s for Real, an article over at Yahoo! Personals that was republished from Cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan wants help all us ladies find out if our men are the “real deal” or just some two-bit good-fur-nuthins. Or as they put it:
You just need to put your potential partner through a few simple tests that will slyly force him to reveal any unacceptable attributes.
And really, let’s not think of it as testing them like you would test cosmetics on a guinea pig, but the same way you test-drive a car. We’re just testing them to see if they’re speedometer is cracked, if they’re lemons, and whether or not that funky odor will come out if we roll down the windows a bit.
The first test is the jealousy test.
For example, go to a crowded club and hit the dance floor. Be sure to expand your orbit so that it appears as if you're dancing with some of the random guys around you. A reasonably jealous type might shoot the other Y-chromosome owners dirty looks but stop short of shooting off his mouth. A sure sign that his jealousy is a liability: He starts rolling up his sleeves for some Sopranos-style action.
Wait, what? So I’m supposed to find out if “my man” is the jealous type by setting up some elaborate Scooby-Doo-type scheme? Gee, I dunno, Shaggy, but somehow that just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Maybe I’m a little Polyanna-ish, but I always thought honesty and conversation were the best ways to find out problems in the relationship, not trickery and frottage with random strangers on a dance floor.
Keith, 25, admits to revealing his caveman tendencies accidentally in a case of mistaken flirtation.
ARG! GRRR! Me big strong CAVEman! Me pee on woman to show she's mine! Me support ginormous gender stereotypes.... Okay, seriously, when are these glamour magazines going to let go of that ages old joke about men being unevolved australopithecines? I don't really have much more to add to that because I hope anyone reading this already realizes that all humans should be treated with equity and respect and that stereotypes of any kind are bad.
So after we test him for jealousy issues, we have to test whether or not he's a Scrooge in disguise. The importance of this test is revealed in the following line:
So unless you covet cubic zirconia, it would benefit you now to find out just how stingy your beau is.
Ah! Because us women LOVE diamonds and are completely materialistic, we have to see if he's going to buy us a nice diamond ring when we get engaged (because, of course, everyone gets engaged and married as that's the whole point of dating, right?) or if we get stuck with some plastic thing he pulled out of a crackerjack box. After all, it's the amount of money he's willing to spend on us, not the thought or anything cheesy and Hallmark-y like that.
On the other hand, I do think it's important to leave at least 20% as a tip. If you can't leave that much, then don't go out to eat. Really. Eating out is a luxury, not a necessity, but for the people who work at the restaurants, most of their salary comes from the tips they make, which they then have to split with several other people (the bartender, the busboy, the host).
Next comes the “commitment” test, because, you know, us ladies can’t WAIT to get married, and all guys are like wild horses that need to be tamed into marriage. (Oh, that was the plot of the movie The Bachelor, wasn’t it?)
True, few guys will lunge at the chance to seal off their romantic options by getting into an exclusive relationship. But to find out if a man is resigned to never surrendering his bachelor status, you have to do some sleuthing. The best way? Expose him to commitment-phobe kryptonite: a couple in a serious relationship.
…Or, you can have a nice talk about the trajectory of the relationship as you both see it. Oh, crap, that’s right. We aren’t supposed to communicate in our relationships, but divine the other’s thoughts from tea leaves or something.
And finally, the cheater test. Or, as Cosmopolitan puts it, the “trustworthy” test.
When spreading their seed was vital to the survival of the human species, men had an excuse for wandering. And though most modern guys recognize that the perpetuation of the population doesn't depend on them alone, there are still a few who just can't seem to extinguish the urge to go through the motions. To find out if your man is one of the evolved, do this…
Oh goody! We're back to the caveman jokes! And I was worried that they had a limit of one per article.
Since a really slick cheater, however, will know better than to spill his fidelity theories, it may be necessary to toss your guy into the deep end. Take him to the type of restaurant that tends to have an attractive waitresses. If you suspect he's more concerned with ogling the wait staff than with finding out how your day was, you may be dealing with a chronic swivel-head.
Which type of restaurant is that? Do they advertise for it on the sidewalk in front? “Tonight’s Special: Pecan Crusted Salmon on a bed of wild rice pilaf. Also, Cindy, our hot new waitress.” But I see we’re back again to avoiding conversation and acting as amateur sleuths of the Scooby-Doo variety. Come on! Can’t we all just talk about our issues rather than arranging sting operations?
Looking beyond the words: What’s really being said?
So, what are we hearing here? Well, for one thing, men are slimeballs, pigs, apes, and various other “lower” animals (there’s also a very anthropocentric view here), in addition to being unintelligent, and women are devious, plotting, marriage-hungry, materialistic, and controlling. But there are further implications here. Cosmopolitan seems to think men and women just don’t see eye-to-eye on most issues. If they did see eye-to-eye, tests like these wouldn't be needed because we could TALK about our problems.
The bigger picture: Putting it into perspective
Each day we receive over 3,000 advertising messages on average. If we factor in how many times a day we receive messages about social norms and roles, the number would be in the tens of thousands. We get these messages not just from TV and advertising, but from the things we read, the conversations we hear and engage in, our friends, families, coworkers, and classmates. When we receive messages like the ones this Cosmopolitan article is sending out, it can effect how we view the world and thus how we treat others in it.
These messages are not only what's being said out loud, but also what's being left out. For example, what's left out of this article is any mention of nonheterosexual relationships. What's being left out is the awareness that abuse exists and some of the behaviors suggested by the magazine can lead to abuse (like controlling what your partner spends their money on and inciting jealousy in your partner). What's left out is that no one relationship model works for everybody, and marriage is not a given for everybody or every relationship. Having these very important issues left out of the conversation means that the relationship ideal presented by Cosmopolitan is very limited and supports the status quo. It intentionally ignores a large section of the population for the sake of selling magazines.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Devising “tests” like these to use on your partner is manipulative and only leads to distrust and feelings of being used and betrayed. If you can’t talk to your partner about how you are feeling and about the relationship, or if you find you are consumed by feelings of worry over whether or not your partner is cheating, then it might be time to step back from relationships completely and work on yourself and reevaluating your perceptions of how relationships should be.