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Russell Frank: A Hymn to Him – For Her

by on June 03, 2011 5:50 AM

The June issue of Woman's Day dropped through my mail slot the other day. I thought the postman must have mis-delivered it, but nope, it was addressed to me. I can't explain it, just as I can't explain why a new issue of Architectural Digest (subtitle: "Lifestyles of the Beige People") landed in my front hall every month for the past year.

My daughter Sylvie, visiting from NYC, teased me about my taste in magazines. Then she noticed that this was "The Man Issue" of Woman's Day (featuring a very manly-looking sandwich on the cover) and wondered if the theme somehow accounted for my having received it. I couldn't see how, though.

"The Man Issue" features Father's Day gift suggestions (a book about ESPN, a beef jerky variety pack, a pizza slicer in the shape of the Starship Enterprise, etc.), "The Ultimate Grilling Guide," "10 Symptoms He Shouldn't Ignore," "How to Raise a Good Man," and our favorite, "Think Like a Man."

According to the writer of "Think Like a Man," women worry obsessively, fear workplace clashes and nitpick their looks. Men do not. Nor are we perfectionists. And we ask for what we want.

The article doesn't just assert these fundamental differences between the sexes; it substantiates them via the useful phrase "research shows":

"Research shows that at any given time the rate of generalized anxiety in men is 33 percent. In women, it's a whopping 66 percent." "Research shows that women value protecting relationships more than men do." "Men are happy with 'good enough' and research shows that they're on to something."

"If you want to boost your well-being," Woman's Day tells its readers, "take a cue from the guys."

In a magazine that preys on women's feelings of inadequacy, this was the unkindest cut of all. Elsewhere in the June issue and, I gather, throughout the other 11 issues in the publishing year, readers are offered a never-ending stream of guides and tips aimed at helping them become great wives, great mothers, great cooks, great seamstresses and great homemakers, all while staying slim and trim, of course.

Even the way women have been tying their shoes their whole lives is wrong: They should be using a sailor's reef knot instead of that easily undone granny knot. Not to worry, though. Four photos accompanied by a four-step set of instructions will place you on the right shoe-lacing path.

Doubtless the magazine sees itself as empowering women through these helpful hints, but the arrival of a new set every month underscores how daunting a task self-improvement actually is. Each role – mother, wife, homemaker, etc. – is so multi-faceted that there is simply no end to the skills and strategies and regimens one needs to cultivate. One's only hope, presumably, is to keep reading the magazine, keep following the instructions.

The rhetoric is that of the recipe. Just as one is told to "Heat oven" or "Whisk together the ketchup and wing sauce," one should "Make a splash in a daring bikini," "Help him get healthier," "Walk off the weight," "Fight fat in children," "Challenge your brain with this Sudoku puzzle." A parade of experts attests to the wisdom of every recommended course of action.

Then along comes "Think Like a Man," which tells women that the very quest for perfection that the magazine dangles before them is itself a fundamental flaw in women that they might be able to overcome if they could only be more like men.

This vision of femininity would be instantly recognizable to Professor Henry Higgins. "Men are so pleasant, so easy to please; whenever you are with them, you're always at ease," Higgins intones. "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

The first thing women would do if they were to behave more like men is stop reading Woman's Day – which is what I was ready to do, except I was barbecuing that evening and well, there was that "Ultimate Grilling Guide." So I sneaked a peek and wound up concocting a "smoky spice rub" for the salmon and following the recommendations on grilling time.

Being a guy, though, I never let my anxiety about the meal exceed 33 percent. After my stint at the barbecue I was sweaty and smudgy from the heat and the charcoal, but I didn't nitpick my looks. I concluded the grilled peppers were good enough when I served them. And when I wanted another beer, I asked for another beer and by God, I got one.

The salmon was sublime. If we hadn't already committed to a strawberry-rhubarb crisp we might have made the grilled banana split as well. Tonight I'm thinking of making the grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper and ricotta sandwiches for an easy summer supper.

I can hardly wait to see what's in the July issue.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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