Today, boys and girls, we have another of my occasional guest columns, this time from a reader we'll call "Mike From Canada." Within the contours of Mike's reasoning you'll see a fleshed-out portrait of "vanity taxes" in action, and also get some sense of the ongoing male skepticism/suspicion and, yes, latent anger with respect to women (and their motives), sex, romance, materialism, and the little fandango we still must dance despite the supposed progress we've made in recent decades thanks to "frank talk between the sexes," offerings like Mars/Venus, and the myriad "relationships clinics" pitched by the gurus of SHAMland. In and of themselves these are not new phenomena, of course, but the fact of their continuing existence (as well as the author's obvious passion in discussing them) is, I think, a key point in its own right. This stuff won't go away.
To me, the saddest part is what Mike implies about sex itself: that basically it's still something we (men) want and women are trying to defend against or at least "make a good bargain for." This, almost 40 years after Erica Jong and her scandalously delicious "zipless fuck."
I wanted to thank you for your article on vanity taxes and the SHAMblog follow-up "On diamond desire, Lexus love, and related social diseases." Both articles struck a real chord with me, mainly because of a particular woman I worked with for three years.
First, she was a status seeker of the worst sort: the kind of person your vanity-tax blogs were written for. She wanted to go to the 7-star hotel in Dubai for one night just for the bragging rights. She wanted to drink a $1500 bottle of wine in a restaurant "just for the experience." (When I pointed out she was unlikely to be able to tell it apart from, say, a $50 bottle, she insisted that the "total experience" would be worth it.) One day she actually came right out and told me that she "wanted the latest and greatest gadgets so people would be jealous."
She wasn't a bad person...just shallow when it came to possessions. Anyhow, you get the picture. But it was the discussion about women and jewelry that really got me thinking. It started with her waving a piece of jewelry under my nose one day and saying with a smirk: "You guys don't get it. Husbands who buy nice things like this for their wives get nice rewards." Naturally this irked the hell out of me. I replied, "So you're telling me that basically you're all prostitutes, and if we buy you shiny things you'll spread your legs?"
That started some serious stammering and back-pedaling. "That's not what I'm saying." "You're putting words in my mouth." "You're bringing it down to the lowest common denominator." I kept asking her to explain what she really meant. A sample attempt on her part: The jewelry is not direct payment for sex, per se, but "it makes the woman feel good about herself" and thus she is "more likely to be in the mood." Oh, I get it now.
It must have caused some serious cognitive dissonance because she kept bringing it up over the next few weeks, finally culminating in her telling me that she had discussed it with her (woman) friend and they agreed that not only was I wrong, but I was missing out on the concept of "ROMANCE." She wrote it just that way, too: block letters on the white-board in my cubicle.
Anyhow, she never did properly explain her concept of "romance" to my satisfaction, but the whole incident got me thinking, especially since I still hear variations of the sex-in-exchange-for-[fill in the blank] approach at work. Working among university-educated women, we men still get questioned, "Have you complimented your wife lately?" or "When was the last time you bought your wife flowers?" The boss recently bragged that he has flowers delivered to his wife on a random day every week. Silly me, with the rise of feminism I thought men and women were equal and to be treated as such, not that women's egos were so fragile that they required a steady stream of flattery and trinkets just to get through life.
Seems to me that the female concept of "romance" is generally a one-way street: a man flattering her, a man doing her favors, a man buying her something. Women are not expected to be "romantic." I grant you that there's an evolutionary link to it. In the distant past, a woman would want a man to show that he was a good provider and could take care of her. Hence, little favors and gifts bought a man a chance to mate: an attractive return on one's investment for sure. But what I find patently unfair is that in modern times, many women expect to be treated as complete equals in the workplace yet quickly revert to old-fashioned "romance" once you step outside work.
Which is it, ladies: equality or not?
* It's a play on a song title that many of you may not be familiar with, but I couldn't resist.