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.
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:
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!
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.