Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where Nice Guys meet That Guys meet PUAs

Found this gem via Facebook: "A Girl You Should Date," advice, presumably, to the young man who fancies himself an intellectual. To a sort of Nice Guy crossed with That Guy. And the author's a woman (or so the name Rosemarie Urquico implies)! And it's possibly a response to a mildly misogynistic essay! It's intended as kind of... feminist, and has been interpreted that way by various Facebook friends-and-acquaintances, but "girl" is used where "woman" might have sufficed! Where have we seen this before?

"A Girl You Should Date" contains so much wrong that I'm not sure where to begin, so I'll begin with the beginning:

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books."

It is of course mutually exclusive to care about clothes and to read books. That's why students in literature PhD programs, male and female alike, tend to be so badly/carelessly dressed. Except, wait a moment... This is, as WWPD readers know, a case of too-brilliant-to-bathe, but with a slight twist. It's about penalizing women for having stereotypically feminine interests. Meanwhile, is dude going to notice the woman, reading or otherwise, if she's not good-looking? Dude may think he's noticing the Nabokov, but it's really the carefully applied highlighter makeup. Regardless, it gets irritating how "clothes" are this stand-in for materialism, when the same men who take such pride in their indifference to matters sartorial almost inevitably turn out to be interested in something just as pointless (expensive wine, food, electronics, sports...). The problem with "clothes" isn't that they're not books, but that this is a non-book interest associated with women and gay men.

Then there's the fetishization of books-as-objects: 

"You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow." 

I know the love of books' smell is meant to be this great big stand-in for an interest in books' content, but it always strikes me as one step away from being one of those people who buy books by the foot at Strand. I'm like way into texts, and that's the case whether it's a PDF, a microfilm, a crisp new hardcover, or one of those yellowed tomes that Bisou likes to munch on when she runs behind that one chair. (And I do wish she'd leave Les eaux mêlées well enough alone, and not mix them further still with whichever mix of wet and dry feed is passing through her digestive tract.) 

But the main ick factor comes from the premise, which is that until proven otherwise, women are vapid airheads. Vapid, money-grubbing airheads: "It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries." No need to go to Zales!

The whole thing reeks of male entitlement, of this idea too many men have of themselves (like dude on NJ Transit recently who wouldn't shut up from the moment he got on, telling his friends what a great intellectual he is, how he loves curling up with a good book, how he hopes to read "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" sometime soon, and held forth so continuously and at such high volume that those of us trying to, you know, read books on the trip were out of luck.) that they are Great Minds. Minds brought down by the horrid, moronic females they're forced to interact with on account of their sexual orientation being what it is. 

So they look for women who are exceptions or, rather, who give off the vibe of "different." They feel special if they hit on the (conventionally-attractive) brunette, not the blonde, the skinny, flat-chested young woman rather than the D-cup. (Fact: having large breasts makes it physically impossible to read great literature.) The "manic pixieretort is apt. This is about many things, none of which is finding an intellectually-compatible mate. 


Britta said...

Oh man. The people who hit on me when I'm trying to read in a public place always turn out to be pretentious assholes, or worse (note: do NOT read Carl Schmitt in public). Also, maybe there are people who read books in order to be hit on, but...it's really annoying if you're trying to read and someone starts talking to you. And as we know from Mauss, no gift is ever free, so if they buy you a cup of coffee, that's even worse.

Phoebe said...

See, I'm torn about this. On the one hand, it's not necessarily a terrible thing to notice cues given off other than straight-up hot-or-not, that is, everything from choice of clothing to choice of reading material. And sometimes, no doubt, people meet the loves of their lives in coffee shops. Assuming pretentious dudes back off (and I'm well aware they don't always!), this is the price one pays for working in an environment that permits talking. I mean, if I remember correctly how it went at a place called Classics Café, customers male and female alike were in this kind of half-reading, half-people-watching mode, which could easily segue into something more.

On the other... you're right that there's something particularly unsettling about the kind of guy who thinks that if he hits on a serious-looking woman with a book, in a coffee shop, he's doing something more profound and important than, you know, hitting on a woman. Part of what's unsettling is that the sort of man who does this, aside from the likelihood of pretentiousness, also (often) thinks he's doing the woman a favor, that he's somehow found the diamond-in-the-rough hot-librarian-type, a woman not accustomed to male attention and bound to appreciate him in ways the busty chick at the bar will not.

Sigivald said...

I do wonder what people who trot out the "date a woman who reads!" line think about women who voraciously read... the "wrong" sort of things.

If her space is overflowing with bottom-market romance novels and fashion magazines, she's obviously a reader. But is that supposed to mark her as "an intellectual"?

Fetishism of book as object, indeed.

(Much like the picture making the rounds of FB a while ago involving John Waters and Not Having Sex With People Who Don't Own Books.

Spare me, people.)

CW said...

Do bookish young men really need to be told that bookish young women might be interesting? Based on my experience and that of my male college friends, I rather doubt it.

Phoebe said...


I totally agree that it's insane (yet popular) to think reading a book is inherently more serious than consuming culture via any other medium. With this essay, though, I think enough author names were dropped that we can safely assume the "girl" is sniffing at yellowed Great Literature.


The implied premise is that men (all of whom are Great Minds) are going after good-looking airheads, and that if they're willing to overlook such massive physical flaws as A-cups or glasses, they could meet wife material. Part of that premise, but not all, rings true. What rings true is... like Britta says, that the sort of guy hitting on a woman who's reading often fancies himself a Great Mind. There are more and less misogynistic pick-up approaches, but the one this essay implies is a kind of, 'Oh, how cute, you're sitting there with your little book!'

Britta said...

Yeah, maybe I was a little harsh, but I resent what seems to me the underlying assumption that the reason a woman is reading is to titillate a smart man, and that the reason a woman is smart, or intellectual, is for a man's benefit. Not always, but often, the interruption assumes that the woman has been flipping the pages secretly hoping a man will come talk to her, rather than actually reading the text.

Nicholas said...

What struck me the most is how both essays assume that a "girl who reads" will try to turn her life into her favorite book, which in the context of both seems to imply that the favorite book of a "girl who reads" will be about meeting the perfect man who just gets her, you know? I can't imagine how that would apply to a woman whose favorite book was Anna Karenina. Or any one of the excellent books that no person in their right mind should want their life to be like.

Phoebe said...


I think the key distinction is a pick-up (which happens between normal people all the time) and the kind of man whose thing is being on the prowl. I remember when I was first blog-pointed to a notorious "game" blog, being struck by how these men presume that every woman at the supermarket, in the coffee shop, etc. is looking for a man, assuming the man has the right line. What about the many, many, many adult women in monogamous relationships? What about lesbians? What about women who are indeed single, straight, and looking, but would not in a million years find dude physically attractive? PUA men, like men on sitcoms, exist in this world in which it's the rare attractive 30-ish woman who isn't three minutes of convincing away from a fling with just anybody.


True! (Should I be concerned that my favorite for much of high school was Portnoy's Complaint?) It also, more broadly, assumes that to read means to read (conventional, narrative) fiction. What about a woman whose favorite is some work of political theory, philosophy, etc.?

It's a twist, at least, because way back when, women who read romantic novels were thought to be a menace to society, because they'd all want to be like Madame Bovary who, in turn, screwed herself over by reading too many of those. In this essay, romantic novels are meant to be the inspiration for a long and happy marriage!