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The Text and My Analysis

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    The English translation of the text is in the appendix. I will offer a summary here.

    The title of the text is: ‘Huwbare mannen gevraagd’ (‘Marriageable men wanted’) with the subtitle: ‘Pas op. Er wordt op je gejaagd. (‘Look out. They are after you’.) The text comes from a monthly publication called Men’s Health. The publication is an international one, and the Dutch version carries the same English name. As far as I can tell, the texts are not translated from English but written by Dutch authors for a Dutch audience. The particular issue (1999) which carried the text I was using for these classes, used the following editorial categories within the table of contents: ‘Fitness and sport’; ‘Relationships’ (the category in which the article under discussion appeared); ‘Psychology’ (an article about stress); ‘Nutrition’; ‘Sex’ (‘How to keep going for longer’); ‘Health’; ‘Career’; ‘Adventure’; and ‘Fashion’. In addition, there are a number of columns which all reflect the topics in the sections just mentioned. The categories and topics would suggest that the target group of Men’s Health are ambitious, health, and body-conscious, fairly youngish men. The notion of ‘success’ is emphasized in many of the articles and columns.

    Content and Context

    As described in the introductory paragraph of the text, the article is about single career women between 35 and 54 whose ‘biological clock is ticking’. As the title states: ‘Marriageable men wanted’. The women are represented on the one hand as aggressive young women who go out in the evenings to engage in ‘mannen vernielen’ (‘male-bashing’), and on the other hand as women who have a problem and need help, as they are incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship with a man, and are thus risking missing out on having a baby.

    The ‘preferred reading’ of the text could be construed as advice or as a warning to men. In the last line of the introductory paragraph this is made explicit as the (male) reader is directly addressed in this warning:

    Kijk uit, er wordt op je gejaagd.

    Look out, they’re after you. (literally: Look out, you’re being hunted).

    Equally, there is a whole paragraph with the heading: ‘The career woman: instructions for use’, in which advice is given. It starts with the following sentence:

    Wat doe je wanneer je verstrikt raakt in een relatie met een vrouw die gehard is in de top van het bedrijfsleven?

    What do you do when you get trapped in a relationship with a career woman who has been hardened in a top position in the business world?

    There are some linguistic, as well as visual features of the text which suggest a half-serious as well as a half amusing undertone in discussing the particular ‘social phenomenon’ of the single career woman. Particularly the descriptions in the first few paragraphs, which describe some of the women in their ‘male-bashing’ exploits seem geared to getting some laughs:

    Allen zijn ze op hun eigen manier even succesvol én …. even single. Nou ja, de meiden komen wel aan hun trekken hoor, dat is het niet. Dorien – 34, topbaan bij een bank – heeft al een paar jaar een relatie met een getrouwde vent. José – 36, manager bij een hotel in Utrecht – heeft een onmogelijke verhouding met een vage schilder met een alcoholprobleem.

    All are in their own way equally successful and …… equally single. Well, the girls don’t go without, you know. Dorien – 34, top job at a bank – has had a relationship with a married bloke for a few years. José – 36, hotel manager in Utrecht – has an impossible relationship with some vague artist with an alcohol problem.

    Similarly, the inset box with a quiz about ‘how to recognize a desperada’ clearly is not meant to be taken seriously, e.g.:

    • Ze heeft geen kinderen maar soms al wel de kinderopvang geregeld - 25 pt.
    • Ze citeert moeiteloos enkele strofen uit ‘Het dagboek van Bridget Jones, 59 kilo’ -10 pt.
    • Zeven van de tien zinnen die ze uitspreekt, begint met één van de drie volgende woorden: onafhankelijkheid, ruimte of respect - 20 pt.
    • She doesn’t have any children but has sometimes already arranged child care 25 points.
    • She quotes with ease whole paragraphs from ‘The diary of Bridget Jones, 59 kilos’ – 10 points.
    • Seven out of her 10 sentences start with one of the three following words: independence, space, or respect – 20 points.)

    On the other hand, the thrust of the rest of the article seems fairly serious and informative. There certainly is a semblance of seriousness in its references to other sources. The dominant information source is that of the female psychologist, Labrijn, who has carried out ‘exhaustive research’ (uitputtend onderzoek) into this phenomenon. She has written a book on the subject and gives therapy to women with ‘this problem’. Furthermore, a documentary film by a Dutch female filmmaker set in New York is cited as proof that this problem is universal.

    Representations and Discourses

    When deconstructing the text, the first paragraph sets the scene and gives the impression that ‘the issue’ of single career women is widespread. They are characterized as a homogeneous group:

    Ze verdienen geld als water en hebben alles wat hun hart begeert, behalve een man. Steeds meer hoogopgeleide carrière-vrouwen tussen de 35 en 54 raken in paniek omdat zich maar geen potentiële vader voor hun kind aandient. Ze zijn soms cynisch, vaak hard en altijd veeleisend...

    They earn money like water and have everything to their heart’s desire, except a man. More and more well-educated women between 35 and 54 are starting to panic because a potential father for their child has not yet turned up. They are sometimes cynical, often hard-nosed, and always demanding…

    The group characteristics are defined as:

    Leuke, goed geklede, vlot gebekte meiden zijn het en ze hebben het helemaal voor elkaar.

    Great, well-dressed girls they are, with the gift of the gab and they’ve really made it.

    What it means to have ‘really made it’ is further defined in terms of possessions and appearances:

    Designkleren, dakterras of balkon, vlot karretje onder de cellulitis-vrij getrainde billen, make-up van Clarins en Roc, koelkast met zalm en champagne en natuurlijk die job met uitdagende perspectieven.

    Designer clothes, roof garden, nice trendy car under their cellulite-free trained buttocks, make-up from Clarins en Roc, fridge with salmon and champagne, and of course that job with challenging prospects.

    Moreover, this group of women is represented as sexually aggressive:

    Als de meiden uitgaan is zij [Suzanne] het die roept ‘Kom vanavond gaan we mannen vernielen!’, een kreet die een gevleugeld begrip is geworden in het groepje. Sarren, flirten, beetje zoenen, en net als hij denkt dat-ie jou heeft, toch weer afwijzen – aan veel meer komen ze niet toe.

    When the girls go out, [Suzanne] is the one who shouts ‘Come on, tonight we’re going to destroy men!’, which has become a battle cry in their little group. Provoking, flirting, a bit of snogging, and just when he thinks he has got it in the bag, drop him. Much more than that they don’t get around to.

    Initiating sexual advances seems to be the male prerogative.

    Welke man heeft er geen avonden gespendeerd aan vrouwen waarin je een vermogen aan aandacht, humor en dineetjes investeert met nul komma nul aan (seksueel) rendement?

    What man has not spent evenings with women, investing a fortune in attentiveness, humour, and dinners with zero point zero (sexual) gain [profit]?.

    The expected conventions of behaviour, it is clear, is for the man to take the woman out to dinner and bestow his attention and charm on her, with a clear expectation that this favour will be returned in sexual kind. The discourses on which the text draws are very similar to the ones which the Men’s Health publication displays; discourses of success and status defined through possessions, a job, a toned body, and money. The latter is important; the quote above is located within a capitalist discourse, e.g. ‘investing’, ‘fortune’, and ‘profit’.

    These discourses of success take on a natural common-sense assumption when applied to men. However, when applied to women, these discourses take on a negative connotation; it seems subversive and abnormal for women to have ‘a top position in the business world’. Indeed the rest of the article makes clear that success is not a natural state of affairs, but it is a ‘problem’ for women. The first example of this is in the form of a woman in a documentary film, Laura Slutsky (!), who as a single career woman has ‘developed strategies for being successful’, which have led her to be ‘confrontational and critical’ in her relationships. Laura was told by her psychiatrist that ‘her game was power’. She might win the battle with this, but she would lose the war.’ Again, power and success are highlighted as problems. By describing Laura in relation to her psychiatrist, her desire to be powerful and successful is constructed in terms of an ‘illness’ or ‘madness’ (cf. Foucault, 1965). Moreover, the unnatural and aggressive aspect of this is emphasized by locating power in yet a different strand of meaning: that of fighting and war.

    Another shift in tone then takes place. A discourse of psychological analysis is constructed as the female psychologist, Labrijn, is quoted, explaining that women’s desire for success is occasioned through their ‘jeugdervaringen’ (childhood experiences). Frequently, the father is absent, and because of this fatherly neglect women overcompensate by building ‘a strong male ego’ for themselves in terms of ‘wanting to achieve a successful position in society’. But building up this strong outer protective layer

    snijdt haar ook af van haar zachte kant. Haar creativiteit, haar vermogen evenwichtige relaties met mannen aan te gaan.

    has cut her off from her soft side, her creativity, her ability to have stable relationships with men.

    Labrijn continues:

    Afhankelijk kunnen zijn is het taboe van de succesvolle vrouw.

    Being able to be dependent is the taboo of the successful career woman.

    Softness, creativity, being dependent are then constructed as ‘natural’ characteristics of women.

    Another shift of personal self-development takes place as the psychologist describes therapy sessions in which women are trained in ‘alternative behaviour’. Together with her clients, she explores the behaviour that women themselves want to change. Moreover, Labrijn gives some practical tips to men who are in a relationship with a career woman. These reflect the discourse of self-development; on the one hand, the shared responsibility is emphasised, and on the other, the importance of the man to protect himself and his own individuality:

    Zoek en vecht samen uit wat wel en niet goed voelt in de relatie, ook als je voor jezelf geen pasklare antwoorden hebt. En blijf bij jezelf.

    Work out together what does and doesn’t feel good in the relationship, even if you have no ready-made answers. And stick to your own convictions.

    The final paragraph represents yet a different strand of discourse, which seems to be almost diametrically opposite to the discourses of the independent successful career woman. Instead, an intensely traditional image is presented; evidence of the successful results of the therapy sessions is given in the form of the marriage and birth announcements Labrijn receives from her ex-clients. Moreover, she herself points to how happy she is now since she has been in a ‘really good relationship’ for the past 5 years. Moreover, she also had her first child, she says ‘beaming’. The last few sentences set the article within a wider context. Labrijn explains women of her age have been part of the generation which was conscious of feminism, and even though, she said, this was a phase that was necessary, it had led to a particular attitude towards men:

    In die tweede feministische golf werden mannen individueel verantwoordelijk gemaakt voor allerlei maatschappelijke misstanden, voor de ongelijkheid. Dat heeft de attitude van je afzetten tegen mannen bevorderd en onze generatie heeft daar last van. Ik denk dat er nu wel ruimte is voor een andere houding.

    During the second feminist wave, men were held individually responsible for all kinds of social injustice, for inequalities. That encouraged the attitude of contempt for men, and our generation suffers from that. I think now the time is right for a different attitude.

    Feminism is represented here for its contempt against men. It would seem then, that the final discourse which emerges is that of anti-feminism. This final discourse, allows us, I would suggest, to read the whole article in the light of an anti-feminist perspective or at least a perspective of fear of successful women, as success seems to be a male attribute.

    The women in the text are represented in many different and conflicting ways. Through the range of representations and different discourses a picture is created where the discourses of power, success and sexual aggression are ‘natural’ for men, but unnatural for women, to the point that they are seen as ‘ill’ or at least as ‘unhappy’ when they display these male characteristics. What is natural for women is to be soft, creative and dependent, and to find happiness in a stable relationship and motherhood.

    A discourse of self-development, both in terms of changing one’s behaviour and gaining insight into oneself is also reflected in the text. Part of this discourse is the discourse of shared responsibility, (‘work out together what does and doesn’t work’) and a discourse of individuality, at least when it applies to the male: ‘stick with your own convictions’.

    This page titled The Text and My Analysis is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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