In 1995, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schnieder wrote a self-help book entitled The Rules, a set of dating rules designed to help single women ‘capture the heart of Mr. Right’. The basic idea behind it is that, in order to attract men, women must be ‘Creatures Unlike Any Other’: elusive, mysterious, and, above all, hard to get. Fein and Schnieder recently decided that, because of our increasing dependence on social networking and texting, The Rules needed updating. The follow up to The Rules, tentatively titled The New Rules, was released a few weeks ago and includes most of the original rules but with new additions, like ‘don’t text him back immediately’, ‘write fewer words than he does’ and ‘never double text’.
When The Rules was first released, it generated a lot of controversy. It was accused of being anti-feminist and outdated. A lot of critics thought that it encouraged women to play games with men and pointed out the fact that one of the authors was divorced and the other had never married. Alex Witchel, writing for the New York Times, accused Fein and Schnieder of trying to “legislate human behaviour.” One second year student at York feels similarly, arguing that “women should be allowed to make the first move too!”
Nevertheless, The Rules was enormously successful, selling two million copies in 27 languages and spawning six follow-up books, including The New Rules. The Rules were allegedly tried by Blake Lively and Beyonce on Leonardo DiCaprio and Jay Z respectively. In response to accusations that The Rules are anti-feminist, Fein says that: “We are feminists, but men and women are biologically different. We say go ahead and run a marathon and buy a condo and start a new business, just don’t chase guys. It’s not good or bad, it just doesn’t work.”
Another second year student, who disagrees with The Rules, believes that it is essentially telling girls to not have a personality. Certain rules, like “ignore him on weekends,” “don’t reveal too much about yourself” and “don’t talk too much” seem quite restrictive. How are two people supposed to get to know each other if one of them refuses to speak in an attempt to be a creature of mystery? Rules like this seem to be telling girls that if they want a guy to like them, they have to conceal massive parts of their personality for no real reason.
However, Fein argues that the different rules are about self-esteem and self-respect, and this intent can certainly be seen in certain rules, such as “don’t lose your friends because you’re so obsessed with a guy,” “don’t date indefinitely without commitment,” and “don’t answer texts or calls after 10pm asking for a last minute date.” The idea behind the latter rule is that if a man contacts a woman late at night, he expects her to be constantly available and the woman will never get the stable relationship she wants, just a series of booty calls and drunken hook ups.
The Rules also teach girls how to deal with rejection and how to not let their lives revolve around guys. Being a ‘Creature Unlike Any Other’, is not just about ignoring guys until they fancy you. It’s “about confidence and self-esteem no matter what else is going on in your life. It’s about dating with dignity and not being desperate.” The Rules attempts to teach women to not be “anxious or jealous or negative or cynical,” and to “believe in love, even after a bad breakup.” If the books really do succeed in empowering women and raising their self-esteem, can they really be as bad as critics claim?
I still haven’t personally decided whether or not I believe in The Rules. My friends are divided on the issue; some fiercely oppose the idea that women should do nothing and wait to be approached by men, one commenting that “the book should never, ever be taken seriously,” while others have been taken in and have resolved to be less available and more mysterious. While I like to think that society has evolved enough to enable women to make the first move, any rule book which teaches girls to have confidence and self-respect can’t be that oppressive. Perhaps The Rules shouldn’t be followed to the letter but taken with a pinch of salt.