Commentary: Why Is So Much Relationship Advice So Bad?

The narrative that women need to change is misguided.

Posted: 10/04/2013 04:54 PM EDT

It’s 2013, but if you were to pick up a recent issue of the New York Post or a new book by one of the New Jersey housewives, you might think you took a ride in a time machine and ended up in 1953.

For every step of progress women have made in their professional lives, it seems the personal lives of women take several steps back. The idea that women should simply think like men or be submissive and give into the desires of their boyfriends or husbands is setting women back decades.

The New York Post recently ran a story about a woman who literally makes sandwiches for her boyfriend in the hopes that he will eventually put a ring on it. Not only does this “I’m 124 sandwiches away from an engagement ring” story seem like the worst kind of trolling, it makes a relationship seem transactional.

It is evidence of a played-out narrative that women are single or not in long-term partnerships because they aren’t catering to their men enough. It’s never the male behavior that needs to change, or a little bit of balance between two equal partners that is suggested by the mainstream media. It is a constant narrative that women are the problem and need to change.

That sentiment is repeated in a new memoir by real housewife Melissa Gorga. In the book, her husband actually advocates for marital rape, because, you know, women secretly want it all the time and couldn’t possibly mean it when they say no.  It’s the “no means yes” message that has been parroted for generations and lead to countless sexual assaults. 

Joe Gorga, Melissa’s husband, writes in one chapter, “Men, I know you think your woman isn't the type who wants to be taken. But trust me, she is. Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says "no," turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated. Women don't realize how easy men are. Just give us what we want.”

Just so we are perfectly clear: this is rape. And this is also the opposite of how a healthy relationship should be. Best-selling books that advise women to “think like a man” or countless magazine articles and blog posts meant to shame women for being single only make relationships less healthy when people do actually find someone. 

Are we still so misguided that options for women are be single or marry the Joe Gorgas of the world? Of course not.

Thinking like this perpetuates the subjugation and violence that far too many people experience in intimate relationships. Both men and women internalize these wrong messages making emotional and physical abuse commonplace. Samhita Mukhopadhyay author of the feminist dating manifesto Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life, said this “think like a man” dating advice targeted at women contributes to unhealthy and often abusive relationships.

”Intimate partner violence is scaffolded by a culture that believes men and women have innate and distinct characteristics that lead them to behave in certain ways. Unfortunately, the most popular books on dating perpetuate these same ideas about gender and romance,” says Mukhopadhyay

“This suggests a strong relationship between dating advice that relies on old adages about 'men being from Mars and women being from Venus' and really problematic behavior from men toward women because ladies, 'that’s just the way he is.' Dating advice like Steve Harvey’s sets up a paradigm in which women are blamed for their relationship problems because they don’t understand the men they are trying to love. It may not be directly causing the violence, but it sets up a cultural framework that allows for it to happen,” Mukhopadhyay says.

This cultural framework can only be shattered if men and women both stop repeating and internalizing all of the wrong lessons of a bygone era. No one in a relationship is there to simply serve the other person. It’s a partnership that requires both people to give and take. It’s time to start talking about intimate relationships like adults.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Simon Watson/Getty Images)

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