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The Rules ultimately tries to provide women with guidelines for getting Prince Charming and other helpful hints for dating. Fein and Schneider construct what many women may see as a convincing argument by relying on a number of fairy tale motifs that encourage women to in a sense become a princess who should be catered to in almost every aspect of a relationship. The Rules is a best-seller not likely because it is well written, but because it has a well targeted audience which is capable of moving large groups of other women to bookstores. These women aren't necessarily desperate, but may believe that marriage should be one of the most important things on their minds. The Rules provides an organized solution to the woes of finding the right guy. Its "solutions," however, are at times extremely demanding and often implausible.
Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider attempt to establish themselves as experts on the subject of dating and marriage early in the book, but what makes these women the authorities on what The Rules are, and how they work? They used them and are married. At least that is the only reason that the text provides. The implication made by Fein and Schneider that they are somehow more knowledgeable about getting the guy and success in marriage than people who have been married decades longer than them or even professionals is, at times, just laughable. The attitude conveyed in much of the support for their arguments seems to simply say "JUST TRUST US!" complete with bold type-face and an exclamation point. This is something that many modern women would look at as just downright silly, but there is a group of women in this world who may be susceptible to believing that "fairy tales do come true.
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Fein and Schneider also have an interesting habit of contradicting themselves even in tone and style. Throughout the book, the authors portray a sense that they are licensed relationship professionals, but in Rule #31: Don't Discuss The Rules With Your Therapist they explicitly encourage women to reject licensed relationship professionals. Fein and Schneider cover their tracks here. They are women. They know that women are prone to talk things out with their therapists. They also know that licensed relationship professionals wouldn't likely approve of a dating method that has been created by two women whose credibility comes from the mere fact that they used these methods and are married. So, while they have contradicted themselves, if that contradiction is overlooked they have also strengthened their intended argument.
Fein and Schneider do not only have contradictions within their tone and style, but even more alarmingly a majority of The Rules' contradictions are plainly written in the text. Take the following examples:
Rule #31 says to be mysterious and use The Rules at the beginning of a romantic relationship. Rule #32 says to use The Rules until the ring is on your finger. Other rules say that The Rules are for life and should be used even throughout married life.
According to Rule #32, men don't lie, but according to a handful of other rules you can expect them to only want you for sex, cheat on you, and break your heart.
Fein and Schneider also make broad assumptions about a man's psyche and have an overall disregard for their emotional wellbeing. The Rules boasts that women should be given poetry, jewelry, expensive birthday gifts, meals, flowers, and the right to not return phone calls. It also explicitly states that women should refrain from throwing him a birthday party, calling him, giving him gifts, or writing him poetry, leaving the man with nearly all the burden. A man who is putting so much into a relationship should at least receive some reciprocation or the woman should not be surprised if he gets frustrated. The Rules was written on how women should treat men, but what if we were to use this book to teach men how to treat women? I know many women who couldn't stand to be treated the way The Rules expects a man to be treated. Could it be said that if these rules can't also apply to men, then they have no bearing at all?
It is contradictions like these that help to drain The Rules' credibility. So, why do women continue to put faith in a self-help book which contradicts itself so glaringly at times? Because the women who overlook these flaws want desperately to believe in The Rules. The Rules provide the assurances that they too can live the fairy tale life.
The authors use cause and effect liberally within The Rules, but it should be noted that they do not often use it realistically. Take this example from Rule #32: Don't Break The Rules: "So the answer to the question, Will he still marry me if I break The Rules?' is, sorry to say, Maybe yes, but most likely, no.' So why take a chance?" (pg 139) The reader is asked to believe that without knowing (and by therefore breaking) The Rules a marriage probably won't happen. I find it an absurd assertion that the millions of happily married women who did not read The Rules must have already known them and probably practiced them, but it is assertions like these that some vulnerable women are willing to believe. After all, The Rules is their "only hope."
According to Fein and Schneider, breaking The Rules is the worst thing a dating woman can do. For nearly every rule, the authors provide an example of a "friend" of theirs who broke The Rules and soon saw their relationships go downhill. What is most unsettling about the stories that Fein and Schneider provide is their assumption of the man's feelings in the relationship. Take this example from Rule #32: Don't Break The Rules:
We know one Rule breaker who is initiating intimacy with her husband. He says he loves her, but he never pinches her bottom in the kitchen and would rather watch the 11 o'clock news alone in his reclining chair than cuddle in bed with his wife. (pg. 142)
It cannot be assumed that the reason the man does not "pinch his wife's bottom" is because she broke The Rules. It could just as easily be argued that he just is not a playful guy or that he respects his wife's privacy. Likewise, maybe the man likes to watch the 11 o'clock news as a part of his routine. Or perhaps he had a long day at work and is interested in relaxing and learning what happened during the day.
Here is yet another example from Rule #32: "Nicole decided to discard The Rules Once when they passed a playground, she suggested that they ride on the see-saw [ ] hoping to make him think about children. Ken found her behavior obvious and boring." (pg. 141) Again, Fein and Schneider are somehow able to peer inside of Ken's mind and tell us exactly what his thoughts on the matter were. Could it be that Ken just thought that Nicole was not mature enough to be in a serious relationship because she is suggesting playing on a playground? Even in Rule #33: Do The Rules and You'll Live Happily Ever After, Fein and Schneider make promises that the right man will send roses after sex, write poetry, and talk to you while he's at work. Once again, they create flimsy cause and effect relationships that are created on broad assumptions. As I see it, the stories all seem just a bit staged and may give some readers the feeling that Fein and Schneider are both more effective writers of fiction than of factual information.
Ultimately, The Rules makes a number of claims and promises that no self-help book should be able to make and goes on to authenticate them with little or no support. Rule # 33: Do The Rules and You'll Live Happily Ever After! is a prime example of The Rules' exploitation of the fairy tale dreams that women grow up learning and is, arguably, also the most unsubstantiated Rule in the entire book. Without providing any support other than Fein and Schneider's "trust us" writing style, The Rules promises that the marriage will not end in divorce and that your mate will never have interest in couples therapy (Fein and Schneider apparently love to undermine the therapy industry). Even more incredible is the downright irresponsible promises that the husband will never abuse you nor will he ever cheat on you. These are claims that could potentially prevent a woman from taking proper precaution should either of these events arise. Ultimately the woman may be far worse off than she would have otherwise been.
Finally, the book's persuasive argument fails to address the dynamic aspect of relationships which literally thousands of events can affect. The Rules allow for the man to take things at his own pace, to be comfortable with a girl because she is not directly pressuring him into something he might not yet be ready for. However, once the man proposes and, ultimately, marries the "woman of his dreams," it is a wonder if the woman's sudden assertion of power (by no longer using The Rules) might catch the new husband off-guard and make him more likely to regret his decision of marriage.
The Rules proves that an argument does not necessarily have to be a strong one to still be effective. It just has to be targeted to the right people. By providing questionable "second-hand" accounts of women who have successfully and, more often, unsuccessfully used The Rules, Fein and Schneider achieve what I believe was exactly their goal - nothing more and nothing less. While The Rules might be considered quite outlandish by a large number of people, it successfully constructs an argument that is just effective enough to capture the minds of women who are susceptible to believing the fairy tale motif. It is through this device that Fein and Schneider have built an empire of other successful self-help books, seminars, therapist-like consultations, and Rules branded merchandise. It seems as though Fein and Schneider's next book should be titled The Rules: Time Tested Secrets to Capturing the Money of Women Around the World.
Fein, Ellen, and Sherrie Schneider. All the Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. 1st ed. New York: Warner Books, 2007. 134-148.