Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“Follow Your Heart” . . . the Birth Of The Rationalization Hamster

I have a little girl, and I fear for her.

I rarely bring my kids into this discussion, but this is germane.  I allow my daughter to indulge in a fair amount of status-building participation in popular culture (i.e. Disney) without letting her descend into a mindless obsessiveness that leads to feelings of entitlement and an inflated sense of self-worth that comes with, say, the Bratz dolls.  Instead I put up with Selena Gomez songs and Wizards of Waverly Place.  I can deal.

But while I’ve understood how Disney and other popular culture machines feed the pre-adolescent female mind with all sorts of chewy things that will later shape their reproductive journeys, I was going through old Barbie paraphernalia when I came across something that caught my eye.

The exact character and phrasing are unimportant.  But I was watching one of their sub-par animated Barbie features, and a line came up that struck me.  The gist of the message was that the Princess should, above all else, “follow her heart”.  Even when it seemed like the stupidest, dumbest, most idiotic move on her part, the one that put her and her little woodland creature friends in horrible peril, the Princess should always “follow her heart” because that will lead to her true happiness . . . or at least away from unhappiness.  After all, if you “followed your heart” you can’t very well complain about the consequences, can you?  Your heart was driving.  What's a girl to do?

Now, I’m not slapping Mattel or even Disney, since I see their advancement of this ideal far more as taking advantage of existing cultural memes, as opposed to consciously shaping future consumer behavior at the pre-conscious level.  In fact, as a marketer myself I steal liberally from their campaigns, because their techniques and fundamentals range from sound to brilliant.  But they aren't sitting around wringing their hands diabolically wondering what they can do to mess up the social fabric.  I've worked in a lot of marketing departments, and as good as Mattel and Disney are, even they aren’t that devious.  You don't set out to change or shape the culture, you just take advantage of which way the winds are blowing, because marketers are lazy.  They simply go where the money is. 

For boys, that means echoing traditional male tropes that feed masculine self-perceptions that, alas, often reach their peak participation level in the sandbox and never get to move beyond.  Memes like “Build!” and “Dig!” and “Compete!”, but above all else, the ultimate masculine trope: “Complete Your Mission.”

“Complete Your Mission” is the thing every little boy, gay or straight, incorporates as a fundamental element of his identification with masculinity.  Men get things done.  It is one of our essential defining characteristics.  Want proof?  Back to children’s television, where Bob the Builder enjoys far, far more popularity than mediocre stop-motion animation with crappy voiceovers deserves to.  But you can’t fault Bob’s essential message: “Can we build it?  Yes, we can!”  Not just the creative ideal, but the determination to see a project through to its conclusion – “completing the mission” – is first and foremost. My sons were addicted to Bob.

Men do it all the time: in times of personal confusion or chaos, throwing yourself into your work or a large-scale project is better than therapy for most men.  No matter how much of an utter loser you feel like, by completing your mission (whatever that might be) you are invoking a defining characteristic of a man.  Men get things done.

But women feel things.  “Follow Your Heart” is the feminine equivalent of “Complete Your Mission.”  “Follow Your Heart” is the moral compass and default decision-maker in this meme.  Without understanding how dangerous this vaguely-worded, purposefully-ambiguous statement can be to a developing young woman, we pump it into their brains at every commercial break: “Follow Your Heart”.  

And that’s how the Rationalization Hamster is born.

“Follow Your Heart” is crappy advice, actually.  For one thing, how do you know which of the conflicting chorus of inner voices do you designate “your heart” – and how do you differentiate it from “your stomach” or “your gonads”?  For a girl who is just realizing the powerful range of her emotions, asking her to “follow her heart” and actually know what that means is just dumb.  Little girls don’t have “hearts” to follow.  They have a very limited emotional range which they have just started getting a handle on when they start hearing this crap.  But by using “Follow Your Heart” as a touchstone for all of their other experiences, they empower their own justifications for pretty much any old crazy thing they feel like doing. 

Add to that the sense of entitlement implicit with the other popular little girl meme, “You Can Do Anything! (And We Expect You To Do Everything!)”, and you have a recipe for a lifetime of unrealistic ideals, frustrated goals and impossible dreams.  “You Can Do Anything!” and “Follow Your Heart!” conspire in the minds of our little girls to give them the moral leeway to indulge in any kind of bad behavior they wish and feel all the justification they need.

Leave your husband for a big-dicked pool boy?  “I was following my heart!”

Leave your husband for an affluent corporate alpha shark?  “I was following my heart!”

Leave your husband for . . . well, pretty much any reason save the truly compelling ones of abuse and neglect . . . “I was following my heart!” 

EPL is all about this, the Rationalization Hamster writ large.  Wife isn’t happy.  She doesn’t know why, but she isn’t happy, and her marriage is about the biggest thing in her life, so if she’s not happy (and does it really even matter why she’s not happy?) then it is obviously her husband’s fault, because her heart never lies.

Never.

“Follow Your Heart” is a thinly-veiled excuse for selfish action without personal consequence.  It provides the ethical underpinnings for any Hamster-inspired caper, from why she keeps going back to the same gym class with that particular instructor, to why she feels justified in asking for a six-figure settlement in the divorce.  “Follow Your Heart” gives her tacit permission to use her own judgment to decide what’s best for everyone, regardless of the objective facts of the situation.  It’s inherently solipsistic, and encourages a self-centered approach to life that leads to a deep sense of female entitlement.

Note it doesn’t say “follow your conscience”, like Jiminy Cricket told Pinocchio, or “let  reason be your guide”, or “follow the path of wisdom” or even “What would Xena do?” . . . it is a directive to allow your emotions, and your emotions alone, to dictate your course of action. 

And emotions are notoriously treacherous things.  Rarely do they lead us in the right direction, and when they do, it’s often by accident.

I’m not saying that “follow your heart” shouldn’t be in there, somewhere, but when I’m speaking to my little girl, I don’t use those terms.  I tell her “to thine own self be true”, which is a little different.  It emphasize her entire self, not the vague and inexact “heart”.  That doesn’t make her any less of a little girl, or any less empowered than her little friends.  On the contrary, I’m hoping it keeps her grounded through the upcoming estrogen rush of adolescence.  “To think own self be true” implies (at least in my household) plenty of accountability and responsibility.  “Follow Your Heart” just doesn’t.  Just the contrary, it’s about as big an invitation as is possible to avoid the moral consequences of accountability and responsibility in the decision making process.  “Follow Your Heart” means never being truly Wrong.

And if you’re not truly Wrong, then it can’t be your fault.  Can it?

And that, gentlemen, is how Rationalization Hamsters are born..

Maybe not the biggest burning issue in the Manosphere, but it’s something you should be aware of. 

After all, we don’t tell our boys “Follow Your Dick!” do we?

They pretty much pick that up on their own.  

3 comments:

  1. Yes.

    Women are all about evading responsibility for ANYTHING. They generally don't do the "yeah I was wrong, sorry about that, don't know what I was thinking" thing. They can't lower themselves to that. Even just trying to imagine a woman saying that feels weird.

    That's why they buy in to everything irrational (horoscopes, The Secret etc), including the "follow your heart" maxim; they want to minimize the role of free will in their lives because then everything is permissible.

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  2. This is a fantastic post. If only this weren't "Women's Day" I would broadcast the url right away, but I'm not interested in screechy FB fights at the moment.

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