More on gender today, this time inspired by my reading of two extremely different volumes: Núria Gómez Gabriel and Estela Ortiz’s Love Me, Tinder: Una Mirada Crítica a lo que Ellos Ofrecen (2020) and Antonio Bolinche’s El Síndrome de las Supermujeres (2020). Gómez Gabriel and Ortiz dissect with verve but rather superficially men’s written self-presentations on Tinder (not the photos) to categorize them under a series of labels (the romantic, the alpha male, the pick-up artist and so on). Their essays on each label are accompanied by a selection of, apparently, truthful quotations corresponding to men’s self-presentation on Tinder Spain. I don’t know if their ‘critical look’ missed the interesting guys but I must say that I was simply appalled by the very bad writing the men use to make themselves attractive to women. Out of I don’t know how many dozen bios I was only interested in a guy who showed a little bit of wit. The rest varied between the awfully corny and the sexist offensive. I noticed, incidentally, that none described himself as a man but as a boy, though I am aware that ‘chico’ is being used in Spanish to mean a man up to 50. I must clarify that I am not a Tinder user and, after reading this book, I’m really glad I need not use a dating app. Not just because of the men (I found the volume very much in need of a critical companion volume about the women) but because how poorly I would fit its relentless culture.
The other volume, by psychologist Antonio Bolinches, felt much closer to my own life experience and that of many career women. Bolinches, who specialises in couple therapy and, generally, in treating individuals in need of counselling for their love life, develops in this book on the basis of his extensive clinical practice a thesis that every career woman knows out of experience. It is obvious, he writes, that whereas women have changed very much in the way they approach their biography, wishing to make the most of the opportunities life presents, heterosexual men have not substantially changed. Faced with the new romantic discourse brought about by feminism some have reacted by adapting well, others are navigating women’s new demands as well as they can, and a minority is in regression maintaining sexist positions with no future.
The problem, Bolinche argues, is that the number of men who have adequately adapted is far inferior to that of the men who are still disoriented or plainly angry and lost. And since the number of women who have pulled themselves up by their feminist bootstraps is quite big, there are simply not enough suitably adjusted men for all. This means that, inevitably, many ‘superwomen’, that is to say, women who are attractive, intelligent, sensitive and in good jobs are failing to attract any men, or are only attracting men they cannot really like, much less love. Don’t we all know this… We all have women friends whom we would gladly marry were we lesbians but that can attract no man or only attract men who don’t really deserve them. I don’t know, in contrast, of any minimally appealing man who remains partnerless.
It is, in any case, quite interesting to see these ideas explored by a man who is very critical of current heterosexual masculinity. Bolinches has repeatedly insisted, for instance, that there is a serious problem with men’s lack of maturity (he has published a book called Peter Pan Can Grow), which according to him lags about ten years behind women’s. He blames the castrating superwomen, a tiny subset of the superwoman category, for being too impatient, noting that this impatience is a sign of immaturity that actually makes them underserving of the title superwoman. Yet, on the whole, he is quite clear that the problem is not caused by the superwomen. Simply, men are not up to the task of meeting the superwomen’s demands because they are not even trying. This is unsurprising. As Bolinche knows and every feminist knows, there are always women willing enough to accept men without making firm demands about gender equality in their relationships. Not every woman can be a superwoman of the type Bolinches describes but we can all be feminists (i.e. a defender of gender equality) and as long as some women fail to defend our collective rights men will feel no need to change. Read Love Me, Tinder to see the proof.
Allow me to quote an interesting passage from Bolinche’s book (my translation) that sums up the argumentation I am discussing but with the addition of a much relevant twist: “Admirable men have many chances to meet women who want to be with them, whereas admirable women see their chances of finding a suitable partner diminished for two reasons. The first one is that the more admirable they are the harder it is for them to admire a man. The second is that the number of admirable men willing to be with them is lower to the number of admirable women” (27). Speaking of admiration in romantic relationships is not habitual and I would like to stop here for a while. Bolinches derives from his female patients the idea that women need to feel admiration for the man they love but I don’t think this is a generalised feeling. I don’t see how love can prosper without genuinely liking your partner, which usually means you respect them. Admiration is a key factor only exceptionally, I think, even though I would agree that admirable men may elicit love more easily than the less admirable kind. The typical figure of the adoring wife (the great woman behind the great man) corresponds to that situation, though these days we have less and less sympathy for her.
There comes a moment in the life of the superwomen when they realize that they are as admirable as the admirable men they see around them, in their work and social circles. From that realization, there arises the very wrong impression that just as men are loved by women who admire them, they will also be loved by men who admire them. There are, however, very few men of that type for all men have been taught that they deserve a woman’s admiration and just a handful know how to admire without feeling diminished as men. For a wonderful example of the man who admires let me name Martin Ginsburg, the husband of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am sure that there are (many?) others but, in general, as Bolinche notes, though superwomen may be admired from afar very few men will step forward to admire them in the intimacy of the couple just like so many adoring women admire their men. Every woman academic, to cite the example closest to my own experience, finds out eventually that there are no academic husbands as there used to be academic wives. Men can be perfectly supportive of a woman’s career but they are rarely devoted admirers, though, of course, there must be exceptions.
Bolinches has no real solution for the superwomen who find no admirers (I have just realized that ‘admirer’ used to be a synonym for suitor). Here we are in a territory very far from what dating apps like Tinder can offer, for which admiration is a truly alien concept. In the social media you may expect likes but with everyone expecting to collect them, there is very little room for true admiration (and I mean personal, not the impersonal admiration for a remote celebrity). The superwomen Bolinches discusses are not after casual sex or instant hook-ups that can only generate admiration for particular sexual skills, but after love in the sense of lasting companionship. Unable to radically alter men, Bolinches basically says that unhappy superwomen should learn to be as happy with themselves as possible for, as we all know, well-balanced individuals are more attractive than needy ones. The problem with this recipe, which I do subscribe, is that a well-balanced woman tends not to need a man in her life–but perhaps that is the whole point and Tinder can do very well for the occasional fling.
The admirable men, to sum up, are too narcissistic to admire the superwomen they should admire back and prefer the company of adoring partners who are not superwomen. The solution, you might say, lies in behaving like men: be also narcissistic, expect a partner to be adoring rather than admirable. English novelist Fay Weldon used to say that women should learn to do as men do: choose partners of a lower standard and raise them to their level. The problem with her view is that I don’t quite see it working. Bolinches tells the story of a female CEO who needed counselling because she felt attracted to her chauffeur. According to him, she managed to establish a satisfactory relationship with her employee but this is hard for me to believe. A male boss might be happy marrying his personal assistant but I just don’t see a female boss marrying her chaffeur–unless he starts the relationship on the basis of feeling genuine admiration for her. Would that last? I’m not sure…
Bolinches, then, is right to note that admiration does play an important role in the love life of the female achievers he calls superwomen and I would add that, generally speaking, women admire men today less than ever. Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own that “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle”. Take the mirror away, she writes, and “man may die, like the drug fiend deprived of his cocaine”. Woolf was partly deluded, I think, in believing that if woman’s admiration was lost men would be lost, for it seems to be that they prefer, on the whole, men’s admiration. It might well be that soon not even admirable men find adoring partners, for we live in times in which few male icons are still standing. Perhaps the inevitable conclusion is that we can hardly expect men to admire any superwomen when men themselves are no longer so deeply admired. Mutual admiration might appear to be the desirable goal but it seems to me that Woolf’s mirror is broken and the other one has not even been built (though exceptional men like Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, are quite capable of holding it). In fact, we women have managed to progress without it and I wonder whether it is needed at all.
Bolinche remains puzzled by the paradox he himself describes: the more women improve, the worse they are punished with a lack of suitable partners; the more successful a man is, the more he is rewarded with an abundance of adoring women. Ergo: men may admire successful women at a distance but feel too threatened by them to be their loving partners. Nothing surprising here, except Boliche’s candid approach to the matter. Perhaps, just perhaps, things have moved forward too fast (though they seem to progress so slowly) for men to adapt. I am sure that the more recalcitrant men think that women’s advances are reward enough, feeling that admiration is going too far. Perhaps, just perhaps, admiration has nothing to do with love though we know that it is always part of it, not necessarily admiration for personal achievements but for personal qualities. Since women used to be trained to admire men, maybe we can train men to admire us – until one day the admiration can be mutual.
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