the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
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Red Bull and relaxation
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April 5 2013
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Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
by Hannah Sotnick
Throughout the many cold, depressing months of winter in New York, I often find myself curled up in bed with Nutella and Netflix, my mind lingering on every past almost-relationship. I start questioning what I did wrong, how things might have panned out differently. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention, or waited longer to get to know the guy. Like a lot of women, I’m all too ready to blame myself for relationships gone wrong, and today’s self-help industry only reinforces this notion of women’s culpability.
But is it correct? Should self-help books only urge women, instead of men, to change in order to create a lasting and meaningful relationship? Maybe not.
Carlos J. Lee, a self-published author featured on Amazon.com, is one guy out of hundreds ready to give women all the secrets to the perfect relationship. His book, Bitch Are You Retarded? (think He’s Just Not That Into You, only less feel-good and significatly less politically correct) is eager to help women differentiate between a man who loves her and a man who is in love with her. According to Lee, the difference is crucial, and ultimately makes or breaks a relationship.
On reading the title, I was shocked and ready, like a lot of reviewers, to express my anger. The book’s subtitle continues, Stop Being a Dumbass! Either He Loves You, Is in Love with You, or You’re Just Something to Do for Now. Either Way, Learn the Difference, and When to Walk Away. In an interview with feminist blog Jezebel, Lee claims that the offensive title was only meant to grab women’s attention. But what kind of attention is it receiving? In the Amazon customer reviews, Lee is referred to as “egotistical and condescending.” Because of its title, people see Bitch Are You Retarded? as patronizing and insensitive. Readers are eager to point out how inappropriate it is to lay all of the responsibility on women. Laura Beck, Lee’s Jezebel interviewer, asked, “Why not publish material that, rather than accepts the status quo, works to help men change?” In response, Lee explained that women buy and talk about books more frequently than men, thereby making them an easier clientele to target.
In her book, Self-Help Books: Why Americans Keep Reading Them, Sandra K. Dolby reasons that the “feminization” of self-help books comes from the idea that they favor “the soft over the hard, the emotional over the logical, the therapeutic and verbal over the stoic and reticent.” Women tend to be more willing than men to look to outside help for ways to improve their relationships.
However, this leaves a lot of room for the self-help industry, a market that is estimated to make over $1 billion a year, to take advantage of its readers. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Micki McGee, the author of Self Help, Inc., explains why self-help books keep flying off the shelves. “They remain an incredibly successful marketplace product because they claim they’re going to solve the problems in your life, but your life is lived in a context where the problems are going to be ever-changing and constant.”
Which brings us back to Lee, who claims to be an expert in the relationship department and is all too willing to dole out advice. But what makes him worthy of our time? How does he distinguish himself as someone women should listen to? His explanation: He’s been a “dog.” He writes that because he has “used and manipulated so many women for personal gain and [his] own sexual physical pleasure,” he is in a position to “answer all of your questions about your man and men in general.” Lee claims that his experience in promiscuity has led to comprehensive knowledge of how men work, and how women should.
Nonetheless, simple generalizations do not a good book make. A.L. Kennedy, a novelist interviewed by The Independent, warns readers of the problems with self-help books: “They all want us to understand how other people work. But you can’t understand how other people work because other people aren’t always comprehensible. And neither are you.” Highlighting an issue brought up by many reviewers, Kennedy is emphasizing our individuality—our actions cannot be that easily explained.
Bitch Are You Retarded? is a classic example of sweeping generalizations that are based on personal experience rather than psychological research. Two professors from Fort Lewis College, Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld, warn that books based on “personal biases” and “one size fits all” strategies should not be trusted. In an article for Scientific American Mind, Arkowitz and Lilienfeld explain that the hyperbole created by an author’s “expansive promises” can create “false hope” in readers, thus evoking dramatic expectations—and when things go awry, readers tend to blame themselves. Lee’s straightforward approach to telling women what is wrong with their relationships might work in a homogeneous world, but people need a more flexible way of looking at their relationships. As Christine Whelan explains in a City Journal interview, “Idealized examples of how advice works [will only lead] real people to wonder why they keep failing.”
Lee’s book is more of a rant than a viable source of helpful information—which brings us to the question of how the book was released to the public in the first place. The answer: self-publishing. Although sold on Amazon and the iTunes bookstore, it has not yet reached any brick-and-mortar shelves. Holly Brady, a director of Stanford Publishing Courses, explains that there isn’t any “quality control” in the self-publishing department, making these books hard to trust. Bitch Are You Retarded? is not based on any psychological evidence, and, as usual, asks women, not men, to change their habits. Overall, the book is a perfect example of a self-help book not to read.
As my English professor pointed out in our reading of Freud, a deduction of patterns is not the equivalent of truth. It’s much better to focus on the unique aspects of each relationship than assume everything can be fixed after reading a 137-page book on your Kindle.
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