The Pampering Trap

An extremely pervasive idea exists in society— that women are to be pampered, especially by the men in their lives. Everywhere you look, adverts for flowers, chocolates and jewellery encourage men to ‘pamper her’, ‘spoil her’, ‘indulge her’, and even on International Women’s Day yesterday, which originated in 1909 to promote gender equality, my Facebook feed was full of friends and acquaintances talking about what they, or someone else had done for IWD, which usually boiled down to (you guessed it) giving/receiving flowers, chocolates or cards, stripping the day of all political meaning.

spoilhervalentines

From Pajamagrams

Indulge-Her-1

From indulge-her.com

pamperinginajar

But what exactly is wrong with pampering? Isn’t it simply showing your loved one how much you love them? Well, yes and no. First, let’s look at the definition of ‘pampering’ so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘pamper’ as follows:
a. to treat with extreme or excessive care and attention
b. to gratify, humour.

And here are the synonyms—cocker, coddle, cosset, dandle, indulge, mollycoddle, nurse, baby, spoil, wet-nurse.

Finally, who are most often the objects of pampering? Babies… children… puppies… and women, of course.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the act of pampering or being pampered per se. But when it is tied up inextricably in the arena of gender roles within a romantic relationship, then we have a problem. You see, despite advertisers’ overwhelming efforts to convince women otherwise, being locked into the role of the pampered is markedly disempowering. It presupposes a fragility and helplessness on our part, and our happiness depends, not on our own actions, but on what is done to us. In short, we are once again the object, not the subject, and heterosexual relationships are sold to us as ‘Man and his cherished possession’. The word ‘humour’ in the definition is also telling of the power imbalance inherent in the act. All throughout history, women have been expected to obey and follow their husbands’ desires, and men encouraged to ‘humour’ their wives’ supposedly unreasonable but adorable whims.

Sadly, whenever women rebel against the perception that they need to be treated like precious gems or delicate glass, and proclaim themselves to be independent of men, that too is treated as a caprice, declared by a woman who doesn’t quite know her own mind. The sentiment is neatly summed up in this comic I found bobbing around Facebook:

pamper

By Tatsuya Ishida

Haha, get it? Women don’t really want to be strong and independent, we just say we do! We do want a man to just take care of us, but we won’t admit it! Hahaha! Haha!

Ugh.

Two points need to be made, I think.

Firstly, yes, many straight women today do seem to desire being looked after and ‘spoilt’ by their man. And many women do enjoy the feeling of being kept and provided for, even in a submissive capacity. But does that mean that women have a natural and biological desire for this? Or could all the messages she’s heard in her life, both subtle and explicit, telling her that a man shows his love by showering her with gifts, by giving her flowers, by being overly protective of her—in short, by treating her ‘like a porcelain doll’—have anything to do with it? I believe that it isn’t the pampering itself that women desire, but what it means. And what it means, we are told, is that he loves her.

Secondly, the sentiment portrayed by the comic above is often thrown in women’s (especially feminists’) faces. So you want to be independent? Great, I’ll slam the door in your face then! I’d help you with those heavy bags, but aren’t you a strong, independent woman? Not feeling well? Don’t expect my sympathy, I thought you were an independent woman!

It’s ridiculous that this even needs to be said, but when feminists object to women being placed on a pedestal and treated like we’re weak and ineffectual, it doesn’t mean that we want to be treated badly. We still expect you to be a decent human being. And being a feminist doesn’t mean we think women are, or should be, invincible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t need help or care when we’re ill. It just means that we’re human, no more and no less than that.

So please, let’s all love and respect each other like fully-grown human beings, and stop the damaging narrative surrounding relationships between women and men.

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23 thoughts on “The Pampering Trap

  1. Great Post. One of the biggest promoters of the “women need to be pampered” sexist myth is, of course, consumer capitalism. How will various companies sell all their chocolates, flowers, and–for the upper classes, those “cars especially designed for women” (pink upholstery, etc), if they don’t bombard our public environments and TV screens with huge amounts of advertising telling men that they need to buy x products for women (and reinforcing men’s stereotypes about what women want) and conditioning women to associate these products with “love”? It’s bad enough that Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are have become veritable potlatches for all kinds of “romantic” products–but International Women’s Day? Outrageous. It IS a political holiday and we must keep putting out the the word on this and not have it become just another vehicle for sexist stereotypes. Again, thanks for the post.

    • Thank you! I absolutely agree. And this commercialisation has gone so far now that it’s not just, ‘his buying you gifts means that he loves you’, but more ‘his buying you gifts is the neutral position, his NOT buying you gifts means he doesn’t love you’.

      Yes, we must never stop fighting!

  2. Great post, but what I think is wrong isn`t that men pamper (for lack of better word) us but that we don`t seem to be as willing – or as brought up to – to do it back.

    On our wedding day my husband usually gives me a present. And I give him a present. We`d been married for quite a few years before I realized that not all my women friends did this – they received something and gave nothing back. Same goes for Valentine`s. My husband and I “surprise” each other with something nice on that very special day where various shops think we should tell each other how much we love each other. But apparently a lot of women feel they should have presents and not give anything in return. Why?

    I expect my husband to hold the door for me if he enters first – and I will do the same for him when I enter the door before him. He will carry more of our shopping and suitcases than I will because he is stronger than I am, but these days I am carrying the heavier load since his back is painful.

    I don`t expect him to do something for me that I wouldn`t do for him but I do expect him to be nice to me since he loves me. As I try to be nice to him since I love him.

    So I don`t mind the commercials telling men to pamper the women they love (and since English isn`t my first language, I have no idea if “pamper” sends out the wrong message – in my language it`s a neutral word). What I do mind is the lack of commercials asking us women to pamper our men. Those commercials wouldn`t even have to have men in their underwear to make me happy.

  3. You’ve managed to explain something that I’ve never really understood for myself; I knew I hated being “looked after” guys offering to pay for me and holding the door or carrying my school bag for me just makes me angry, and whenever I’m asked why I stammer to explain that it offends some part of me and makes me feel like someone insufficient because I’m female. Now I’ll actually be able to explain my own feelings somewhat more eloquently ;)

    • Yes! Must defend sinfest! It’s also super awesome because you can see his development as a feminist–in the early days of the strip, objectification was really normalized. However, as various characters go through feminist awakenings, the way the strip is drawn changes–female characters stop being sexualized as though that doesn’t mean anything. It’s totally a great place to go for a daily five seconds of feminist pick-me-up.

  4. Great post. As a trans* girl, I also have fantasies about being pampered. But it’s only because my self-esteem is so abysmal that it’s tempting to think of myself as cared for excessively by a man in order to feel validated. I feel that way despite being opposed to sexist norms and my desire to be myself. There is so much in our culture that erases our womanhood that these stereotypes, as much as we are morally averse to them, can be appealing sometimes.

  5. I loved this so much. As a wife and a stay at home mom I am not a fan of pampering, in fact I discourage it. You want to do something nice for me stop saying things like “while I’m working” or “my money” do say things like “what is your opinion on [something important going on in the world]” or “What do you think about [major family or life decision that should have equal input from both of us]” Also chip in around the house willingly and without being asked because being a wife and stay at home mom is not the same thing as being a maid. That being said, my husband is pretty good at all of the above. To quote a famous campaign slogan that was supposed to promote women but was basically misogyny and patriarchy in disguise “He’s come a long way baby”

  6. My first boyfriend insisted on “pampering” me as much as possible. This usually meant buying me things he couldn’t afford and then obsessed over not being able to afford for days afterwards. At first I thought this behavior was sweet and cute–as you said, I had been taught that such things are the way men show affection. But after awhile, it became tiring. I felt as though I was never taken seriously. Being put on a pedestal felt really awful for me, especially whenever I’d say things like “I don’t really mind if you do ___” or “Don’t listen to me right now, I’m tired and not making sense” and his response would inevitably be, “What? You don’t want me to wait on you hand and foot and take everything you say seriously? Haha! Are you really a woman?”

    My more recent paramour was better behaved than his predecessor, but he suffered (and still suffers) from White Knight Syndrome. He is constantly looking for someone to save, usually of the female gender. As such when he was around I never got to carry anything heavy, do any chores, or exert myself in any way. Hell, he would even try to help me make my own bed. Even though I knew he meant well, it made me feel weak and ineffectual. It was also exhausting because I then had to demand to do things which I had previously done as a matter of course. I hated it and I still hate the idea of being subjected to it if I ever start dating again. Here’s a thought, boys: If I need help, I will ask for it. Until then–please mind your own business.

    • I know how you feel; one of my very first flings was with this boy who tried to baby me in every way possible. He was constantly ‘taking me’ everywhere and doing everything for me. In my youth and innocence I thought it was nice of him at first, but then I realised how useless I was becoming; whenever I wanted to do anything, my first thought was to ‘ask Tony*’. I’m glad it didn’t work out! I want a partner, not another parent!

      *name changed

      • Ugh, yeah, I know how that feels. Suddenly you find yourself thinking in terms of “how can I ask this other person to do things for me?” instead of “How can I do this myself?” I hate that feeling. I also get the whole “babying” thing–hell, my first bf even literally CALLED me a baby from time to time. He often would talk to me as though I was 4. It was pretty weird.

  7. First of all..great point. This is something I’ve missed.
    Secondly, great post.

    I like being taken care of, but my boyfriend LOVES to be taken care of. He’s an older man (I am not sure if that explains anything) but he was married for 30 years (which does). Being with me, he likes having someone treat him in a more loving way, than say, his ex-wife did (or didn’t). Our society tends to tell us that women need to be treated like kittens, in order to get our love. Seeing this from a mile away on Valentine’s day, I get disgusted. What about the men? Do they get anything on V-Day?

  8. I’m not sure if it’s a function of having been not-partnered for a lot longer than I’ve been partnered, or of having always been a very masculine, one-of-the-guys type of girl/woman, but I have never experienced this.

    I like the post, I’ve definitely seen the cultural tropes you’re talking about — particularly the “I thought you wanted to be equal!!” bait and switch. (Depressingly enough, I’ve actually had guys I know say I was unusual because I *really wanted to be treated exactly like another guy*. Like I was tough enough for them. At the time I was flattered, but now I wonder how the guys who say that treat the women in their acquaintance who *don’t* pass the test?)

    So I definitely get what you’re talking about, in the abstract, and think it’s right on, but in the more immediate, emotional sense I can’t relate to it. It’s like another one of the many things I encounter in a day that make me go, “oh I must not really be a woman then.”

    (Again, that’s not to criticize you, or your post, just to add another looking-in-from-the-outside voice, like mxe354 above).

  9. From a Spiritual perspective, though, that “provider-energy,” where a man takes care of a woman, is just that–provider energy. It’s OK for a woman to create and generate her own provider-energy. In fact, according to Loral Langemeier, “a man is not a plan,” and to some extent, I agree. If I rely on a male for my provider-energy, I have to choose him. If I generate my own provider energy (make my own money,” I own myself. However, it is OK to RECEIVE someone else’s provider energy…that is okay, too. So, the problem comes in when we “luxuriate” in it. And slack off. Because every woman needs her own money…freedom. Every woman has male energy too. And, let’s not forget, every man has feminine, nurturing energy. I talk more about how to be in control of your life on my blog, at http://www.awakenedbystephanie.com.

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