This book came out in 1994. Third-wave feminism was really kicking into things; punk, individualism, and e-zines were the order of the day. There was therefore, according to Newton’s Third law, an equal and opposite social reaction, here exemplified by Dr Laura. The first chapter is about “Stupid attachment”, with a subtitle of “Is a woman just a wo- wo- wo on a man?”
When I was a child, I learned the rules very quickly: girl things were bad, and boy things were good. Girl things were dolls, playing house, bright pink, barbies, passive toys. Boy things were action figures, video games, Lego, things that moved or that you could make do things. Girls were meant to be boy-crazy and fashion-focused, the entire purpose of their life finding a mate. Boys were meant to have dreams and aspirations, to grow up to be doctors or lawyers or what have you. Girls were for babies, and boys were for everything else.
Thankfully, I was raised feminist, so I was raised to believe those things were wrong. I was taught that people still believed those things, but that was a problem we needed to solve. I played with boy toys, dressed as a tomboy, told everyone I was going to grow up to be a lawyer or maybe the President. I read books featuring strong female protagonists, and I learned to see the ways in which our culture is unkind to women.
Of course, I don’t hate women. Maybe that’s why I grew up to be an activist, focused on dismantling the patriarchal structures that built the above rules. Dr Laura, when faced with the same evidence, takes a… different tactic:
Contrary to much of the feminist cant, there are many things we can learn from men’s perspective about life and personal identity. […] Generally, aspirations and lofty intentions don’t dovetail with women’s concept of femininity, because the determination to make your life extraordinary is not a typical part of female thinking. […] Since women do not typically define self-esteem and purpose in terms of personal accomplishments, the ways they have gone about getting some sense of identity, value, and meaning in their lives have primarily been through relationships.
This is what Dr Laura means when she rails against victimhood: that nothing can be a result of structural inequality or inbuilt patriarchy, as though every woman wakes up one day and decides to be shallow and vain. “You know what would be fun, Martha? Defining my entire sense of self-worth by my ability to attract a boyfriend. What a lark!”
It can’t be, you know, say, Capitalism. It’s not like there’s any money to be made teaching people that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them that they need to fix with more beauty products and diet pills.
She has an answer to my complaint, of course. Even way back in the 90s, they knew about the patriarchy. (I’m teasing, of course. Everyone knows Feminism started in 1989.)
While I’m not going to deny the realities of the male power structure, I do want to reprimand you sternly about passing the buck. […] Obviously, it can be done. If, if, if, you’re not lazy or cowardly.
Hear that? If you’re not successful, it’s because you’re lazy and/or cowardly. No other reason. And that’s not a denial of the reality of patriarchy. That’s just truth. Obviously.
As proof of how messed up women are when they define themselves by their relationships, she relates the tale of a caller who “baby-trapped” a man only to find it backfire. Here, she’s clearly conflating issues: that’s a stupid, selfish, immature thing to do to someone, and it has nothing to do with how you define your sense of worth. People do stupid, horrible things when they define their sense of worth by their careers, too. But more of those people are men, and this book is about how garbage women are, so obviously we can’t talk about those things.
The next section utterly confounds me. I can’t understand the logic here. It begins:
Are you obsessed with your weight, your thighs, your breasts, the thinness of your hair?
It then relates the tale of a caller who called in unable to stop obsessing over her hair, which was falling out. When Dr Laura probed, the caller revealed she was in a very stressful degree program, which was clearly triggering some anxiety (obsessive fixation is not an uncommon anxiety reaction, or so I understand). Dr Laura’s remedy was to “be more positive in her attitude and have more fun in her life”, which isn’t exactly helpful here (“smile more, it’ll cure your depression”) but isn’t the worst advice ever for someone trying to run a pop culture self-help show instead of a clinic to dispense.
This is where it gets weird:
Obsessing about imperfections makes for low self-evaluation, obviously.
Doesn’t that tend to go the other way around?
And just like water seeks its own level, equal self-evaluations match up in men and women, too.
There are legions of women who stay with men who are drug or alcohol abusers […] By continuing the relationship, you — out of cowardice and self-denial — short-circuit your progress toward “purpose”
What? I didn’t skip much here, readers; she seems to have jumped from “anxiety mixed with low self-esteem leads to obsessing over flaws” to “women seek out abusive boyfriends and stay with them out of cowardice”. I think she’s trying to imply that if you hate yourself, you look for someone who will abuse you almost intentionally, so you can “get what you deserve”? But I don’t understand how the caller nervous about her hair has anything to do with this.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The thesis of this chapter — of this book — is clear: Dr Laura hates women. No matter what you do, you don’t win. Try to define yourself by a man? See the above quotes. Try to define yourself by having children?
She used a phrase remarkable for its poignancy: “So, I took the female escape route and got married and made babies right out of high school.”
If I had tried to make my son my sole purpose in life, I’d probably have psychologically destroyed him with my overwhelming demand that he either fulfill my dreams or display such excellence that my craving for reflected identity would be satisfied.
(Note that earlier, when talking about the father in Dead Poets Society, she seemed to be forgiving of men doing this:
I held [the mother] more responsible for the boy’s death than the father!
The father was all caught up in his competitive macho behavior of using his son as his ego extension. After all, could being a doctor be considered such a bad thing to wish on someone?
It’s only women who can do no right.)
But she also rails against people who aren’t sure what they want in life:
The moral of this story is to not get stuck in looking for the right thing to do, the outstanding thing that will make you special. It is the process of doing, of committing yourself to something that makes the difference in your enjoyment of life and your satisfaction with self.
As long as that something isn’t marriage or babies. Or your looks. Or dating women.
In essence, you can only live one kind of life that Dr Laura will accept as valid. And that life looks an awful lot like her idea of masculinity:
Women seem to like more to whine about problems than to solve them. Men, more typically, want to solve problems rather than talk on and on about them. Men are being maligned because they are not behaving like women: talk, talk, talk, whine, whimper, analyze, reanalyze, etc. Ugh. […]
I sincerely believe that if women studied male lessons in concepts of assertion, courage, destiny, purpose, honor, dreams, endeavor, perseverance, goal orientation, etc, they would have a more fulfilling life[sic], pick better men with whom to be intimate, and have better relationships with them.
I feel like that grammatical error is telling: in Dr Laura’s eyes, all women are interchangeable, all are living the same singular life, and all need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in order to fix that one life and be more masculine.