Carol Tavris' The Mismeasure Women Men Women Essay

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Carol Tavris' "The Mismeasure Women" men women define intimacy experience love differently. In ways differences affect nature relationships capacity maintain personal commitments? You refer cultural messages cultural scripts men women expected act.

Women as love's victims:

Conceptualizing women and intimacy in the modern age

Both men and women may be capable of romantic love, but love between a man and a woman has been conceptualized as fundamentally different throughout the ages, according to Carol Tavris in her book The Mismeasure of Women. Tavris notes in classical literature, men have tended to be seen as the more self-sacrificing gender, capable of grand, dramatic gestures for love like Sydney Carton or Lancelot while women have functioned as objects -- often objects unworthy of the love of their lovers and husbands (Tavris 246). Of course, most of these works about great male lovers were authored by men: women were portrayed as cold, indifferent, and incapable of deeper emotions while men were portrayed as more passionate as well as more capable and intelligent (including capable of articulating noble sentiments in great love poetry). Even the love of men for men was idealized, as the friendship of men was believed to be pure, while the friendship of women for women was portrayed as transient, gossipy, and fleeting.

This cultural concept has been almost entirely inverted, however. Now, the ideal of the calm, stoic and passionless man is celebrated. In books like Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, women are portrayed as the more garrulous, talkative, and emotionally-driven of the two genders. Of course, this stereotype is just as frequently used against women as previous concepts. Why won't you leave men alone is the unspoken subtext, and let 'men be men.' Female friendship has also been increasingly idealized vs. male friendship (which has uncomfortable overtures of homoeroticism, in the eyes of mass American culture). Sex in the City is a notable example of this phenomenon. Women are described as more 'relationship-driven' than 'task-oriented,' in contrast to men. Difference feminists such as Carol Gillian postulated that women even had different moral trajectories of growth than their male counterparts, because of their fundamentally relationship-driven system of ethics.

Although theorists such as Gillian tend to view women's relationship-driven qualities as innate, based upon their roles as caregivers as well as due to biological factors, the inversion of previous cultural scripts is startling. In earlier views of intimacy, women were made to be wooed, not woo. If a woman was too forward and too interested in marriage, this was seen as unseemly, even slatternly. Now, women are expected to be the pursuers. Women are supposed to be more desirous of marriage and want to 'snare' a man. When there are dire reports about a decline in the marriage rate, this is viewed as being particularly negative for women, not for men. The underlying message is that a woman is incomplete without a relationship and many women, regardless of how successful they may be in other spheres of their life, internalize this message.

Suddenly, in our culture, women have become 'Intimacy Experts' who are in charge of the relationship, versus their male counterparts. Interestingly enough this has come about as more and more the 'work' one does in the public sphere is valued, versus the home life of the private sphere increasingly dominated by women (Tarvis 272). During the Industrial Revolution, the ability to do 'paying' work was viewed as more and more important, and the fact that women did unpaid work in the domestic sphere made them less important and gave them less of a voice. Making women 'Intimacy Experts' was a demotion, as the significance of demonstrating one's love and fidelity became less of a praiseworthy cultural priority.

Thus viewing women as relationship-driven, even if it did invert old misogynistic stereotypes did not bolster women's position in American society. It only invested women with more responsibility for making the relationship 'work.' If the relationship fails, it is deemed to be the woman's fault, not the male's because she is supposed to be the one 'good at love.' It is she who is supposed to be reading self-help books, trying to fix things, and helping the emotionally stunted male learns to love (something that Romeo and Don Juan never had a problem with in previous eras).

Notice how this neatly absolves men from the responsibility of working on the relationship -- if women are not happy, it is their responsibility to accommodate male styles of communication and to figure men out. The majority of relationship articles and books are directed towards women: they are found in women's magazines and the packaging of relationship self-help books is almost invariable feminine in terms of the coloring and images on the cover. The entire genre of 'chick lit' could be said to support this idea, given that it revolves around women and their troublesome relationships with men. There is no corresponding contemporary genre of relationship-driven literature for men.

This focus on male-female differences rather than empowering women by acknowledging their differences from men in a positive fashion instead seems to reinforce social inequalities by ignoring them. If women are not the equals of men in the workplace, it is because women are 'relationship-driven' rather than 'task-driven' and competitive. If women seem more competent at household tasks, it is not because of socialization, but because women are innately caregivers and such a role is anathema to men. This conceptualization of gender roles, of course, ignores the growing role many men are playing in many households as fathers. If men are incapable of giving women 'what women want,' then it becomes the woman's responsibility to shift her expectations, rather than to demand a form of reciprocity that gives her some sense of emotional security. She is instructed to be content with what she has, rather than to question it.

This polarization of the genders into the feeling vs. The thinking sex clearly has had some measurable statistical impact -- otherwise 85% of Valentine's cards would not be purchased by women (Tavris 249). Women seem to be very literally buying into the romantic ideal that for a man to show he cares he must obey certain formulaic customs, such as getting a Valentine's Day card, sending flowers, or buying an engagement ring of a certain value. Men are presumed to be the reluctant participants in these romantic holidays and institutions, dragged by their girlfriends into going along. The idea that a man is 'snared' and that a woman 'wins' when she finds a husband yet again reinforces the idea that marriage is justifiably less desirable for men and also deservedly more work for women. (The fact that married men tend to live longer than their single counterparts is conveniently ignored). This makes any complaints a women might have about an unequal distribution of labor in marriage seem less justified -- along the lines of the idea that 'she wanted it, therefore she must bear the burden.'

Of course, the highly commodity-based notion of love expressed in these expectations demonstrates the degree to which this is a cultural construction. Why is buying an engagement ring, a box of chocolates, or flowers on Valentine's Day a relationship-driven expression of love that is uniquely designed to satisfy a woman? It is because the cultural script has been written that certain material things are innately 'feminine' and women should want them as 'proof' of male affection.

Women's magazines reinforce the concept that men do not talk or get their girlfriends the 'correct' romantic things without prompting. This seems to be supported even by many couple's therapists who frequently note that men view 'doing things' together (like watching television) as a satisfactory way of participating in the relationship, versus women who demand face-to-face communication (Tavris 252). Deborah…[continue]

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