Every now and again, we start to believe that mainstream attitudes towards relationships and sex are getting better. We see this especially with the recent evolution of a certain type of glossy women’s magazine, like Glamour, Cosmopolitan and InStyle. The same magazines that once rammed weight loss tips and cosmetics down our throats are now publishing more and more articles about body positivity, feminism, and racism (at least online). This is great for journalism, and of course great for women.
Cosmo has even poked fun at its own infamous sex tips, which have come to symbolize an outdated, almost comical idea of womanhood.
But bad habits are hard to break. Just a few days ago, Glamour published a list titled “13 Little Things That Can Make a Man Fall Hard for You.” The piece quickly went viral, mostly because it included relationship tips that would make any sane partner run for the hills. But also because it essentially encourages women to change everything about themselves in the hopes of pleasing their man. Not simply retro, it is a throwback to the days when subservience was viewed as the height of desirability and domesticity. A lovely, peaceful time when women were encouraged to cater to what they thought their partners wanted, rather than, you know, talking to them about it; or god forbid, factoring their own desires into the picture.
After a wave of Internet backlash, Glamour removed the original piece and left an editor’s note in its place, acknowledging that “the list read like a 1950s marriage handbook—and nobody wants to go back there.” For those who missed the original list we’ve reproduced some of their original tips below, mixed in with ones that we’ve made up.
- Look at his interests on Facebook for tips on how to connect with him. Imagine how surprised he’ll be when he realizes that Die Hard is your favorite movie too!
- Try to get your hands on bacon-scented perfume and spray yourself with it before you meet your special man.
- Sit side-by-side while he watches his favorite TV show. It may not feel like quality time to you, but it’s the best time to him.
- If he’s watching his favorite team play, be sure to have comfort food ready just in case his team loses. Bonus points: Call up his mom to find out exactly what he needs when he feels sad.
- Make him a snack after sex. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal—a simple grilled cheese or milk and cookies will do.
- Make a big deal out of his favorite meal. Does he like hot dogs cut up into his boxed mac-and-cheese? Serve it on a fancy tray in bed to really see him smile.
- Stock the fridge with his favorite drinks. Bonus points: Bring him back to his fraternity days by handing him a cold one as he steps out of the shower.
- When you’re about to have sex, put a steak on the grill so that he associates the scent of steak with you.
- Brag about him to your friends, family, the stranger on the street corner—whomever. Proclamations of pride will make his chest puff out and his heart swell.
- Find out his mom’s special trick for making him feel better when he was sick as a child, and surprise him by pulling those move on him when he least expects it.
- Let him eat pizza off of your naked body, especially after a hard day at work. It might be messy, but you’ll be combining his favorite things.
The fake tips aren’t far off from the real ones—for the curious the original Glamour tips are 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9—and that’s exactly what made this list, and others of its ilk, so terrifying. You can’t make someone fall in love with you (or stay in love with you), and the notion that a woman is responsible for keeping her partner happy at any cost is so problematic it’s almost absurd. If the relationship does break down, is that her fault as well?
On the surface, these sorts of tips seem harmless—at worst, eye roll worthy. Do we really need to tell women they should have autonomy in their love life? But there’s a dark side here, too. Glamour may not have set out to perpetuate disempowering stereotypes—although its honestly unclear what they were setting out to do in this case—but a list like this ultimately does reinforce the idea that women and girls are only worth the value assigned to them by the people around them.
Lists like “13 Little Things” do a disservice to the proud, if complicated, feminist legacy of women’s magazines, a genre that gave brilliant writers and thinkers like Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath, and Gloria Steinem a platform when male-lead publications inexplicably turned up their noses. But more importantly, as long as such pieces are allowed to live on as a legitimate and lucrative form of content, cultural attitudes about a woman’s secondary place—whether that be in the home or the workplace—are likely to survive as well.