Friday, January 27, 2006

Manipulative Women & Men Who Envy Them

Not long ago, a man of science informed me that women are naturally more manipulative than men. And sure, I imagine that women without more direct means of persuasion (physical force or financial power) might be obliged to be resourceful. It seems only sensible that a woman (without an army or hefty pocketbook) might rely more heavily upon her wits.

However, as it happens, I had the honor of chatting with a few devilish villains recently, and some were put out by women's perceived superiority in the area of manipulation. They were absolutely begging recognition.

Count Dracula, for one, believes that he has set the standard for subliminal seduction, and doesn't wish to be associated with mere brutes or overblown machinery of war. The wicked cads of Richardson's Clarissa and Hardy's Tess, cry out for notice, demanding that they've used many a devious and underhanded trick to trap an innocent damsel.

Austen's Wickham, while a lightweight in this company, insists that his manipulative charms have caused Elizabeth Bennett and her family a great deal of grief, and if he had been less effective, Pride and Prejudice would have amounted to no more than a measly short-story.

I asked them why they believe women receive more credit as shrewd and masterful manipulators, and the Count acknowledged that Lady MacBeth has been a hard act to follow (and no one here volunteered to go head-to-head with her).

Then someone suggested (I'm not sure who - it may have been a subliminal message) that female villains tend manipulate an ally (or henchman) to do their dirty work (as in Double Indemnity) while male villains tend to manipulate their victims directly. After this, a dispute ensued over whether manipulating a powerful ally or a vulnerable victim is a more cunning achievement.

I left while I still could.

16 repartee:

Blogger Golgotha_Tramp wrote...

What about the old double attack? Look at poison Ivy. Manipulates big, strong Bain to do her dirty work while pulling the old 'shake your coconuts' trick to Batman so he can't stop him. Scratch that it's a three way assault as she tries to turn Robin against Batman by planting the seeds for a rivalry tussel.

I apologise for going for the easy option of comics but it's 4.00pm on a Friday and I'm tired. I will note that all the male manipulators follow the characteristics of Females though, not very strong (in Wicham's case strong in the sense of power, in Dracula's case he is prone to weakness and cannot draw attention to himself for fear of discovery) but are attractive and alluring, I think these men like most women understand that the power of the mind can never be beaten by brute force.

1/27/2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger MikeChau wrote...

My wife is very manipulative...I dunno how she does it but there are times I say to myself...How did she do that make me hold her bags? Get her food,buy her tampons?

1/27/2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

"I think these men like most women understand that the power of the mind can never be beaten by brute force."

golgotha - yes! I love this line! And I wonder whom we "admire" more - the charmers/seducers or the slayers/terminators. I have to admit it's really refreshing in Buffy when she just knocks a bloke down - straight away - when he misbehaves. ;)

mikechau - Hmmm, or maybe you're just a very sweet husband! :P

1/27/2006 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Holly wrote...

"My wife is very manipulative...I dunno how she does it but there are times I say to myself...How did she do that make me hold her bags? Get her food,buy her tampons?"

I'm hoping that's a joke, that you're being a bit ironic in suggesting that it's manipulative to ask one's spouse to be nice to one in small and basic ways, especially if one is willing to be nice back. (I hope your wife is.)

I think it was fairly astute of the unidentified someone to suggest that those who have more power are able to exercise it directly, while those who lack power must enlist someone to help them in order to get anything done.

I also think you were smart to leave the conversation when you did, Frankengirl, though I'm a bit surprised you didn't marshall Anne Elliot's defense of women's perceived loyalty when she says that she will not allow books to prove anything about women's bad character, since most books are written by men.

1/28/2006 11:44 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Yes, Holly, I got out in the nick of time - ;)

I’m so glad you mention the fact that – since the majority of books have been written by men, we are constantly perceiving women through male eyes. (This can be said of advertising and other media as well, and of course, that famous text, the Bible.) In terms of manipulation, it should be noted that we are constantly being “manipulated” by images of women portrayed on billboards, commercials, etc. And surely, our perceptions of issues are “manipulated” by politicians who are primarily male. So, yes, to say that women are more manipulative is, well, just plain silly! (I’m putting it kindly)

1/28/2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl!
That question you pose is really interesting! hmm..I think that unethical manipulation of any sort is wrong, regardless of who is being targeted.
As for Hardy's Tess, some critics have called her a manipulator rather than a victim (she is able to manipulate Angel and literally kill Alec). But Tess is not wholly evil for she was indeed abused by others. But this only shows that power struggles are hard to define. A victim could also be a manipulator.

1/29/2006 10:23 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, MysticGypsy! Yes, “power struggles” is a fascinating way of looking at it! Golgotha also mentioned a “double-attack.”

I believe you’re both telling me, quite rightly (but please correct me, if I’m wrong!) that situations are rarely clear-cut or static. Power shifts. Prey may learn a trick or two from their predator, and subsequently, lines blur between the manipulator and the manipulated. I think, in real life, there have been many cases of victims becoming victimizers, creating a powerful cycle, difficult to break.

As for TESS, well, there seems to be a literary fascination with the “fallen woman,” the damsel-in-distress, and it may be worth investigating the root of this. Taking a cue from Holly, I'll ask if male writers (particularly in Hardy’s time) were more like to view women as sexual objects and thus, women become (by default, at the start) temptresses by merely existing! Jeesh! That’s rough on a girl who just wants to go about her own business!

Blame-the-victim is dangerous when it comes to crimes against women (such as rape or domestic violence), but I believe you intended to stay within the context of Tess’ story, and since I suspect you’re far better-read on that novel than I - I happily leave you to enlighten me further, if you're so inclined!!! - ;)

1/30/2006 9:13 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

(unrelated digression) One of my favorite professors told me to use exclamation points rarely and wisely: only when absolutely required, or they'll lose all significance, all potency. Well, I apologize to her now because, apparently, I'm infatuated with exclamation points!!!

1/30/2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger UltimateWriter wrote...

I don't know why but I'm left holding her purse a lot more often than I would like. If that's not manipulation I don't know what is.

1/30/2006 11:55 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hey there, UW. By “holding her purse,” I assume you mean “footing the bill.” Please correct me if I’ve mangled the lingo - :)

I completely support going “dutch,” if possible. (Personally, I wouldn’t want any real or perceived “debts,” either way.) But if a man wants to take a woman somewhere she can’t afford, then shouldn’t he pay the difference? And if one person makes significantly more than another, doesn’t it make sense that contributions should fall into equitable percentages? All this is very technical, however, and highly unromantic, which is why, I expect, men get stuck with the bill more often than women. Most people don’t want to sit down (on early dates) and detail their financial accounts (although that may be very wise! - ;) And since men, in general, make higher salaries than women (yes, the salary gap still exists, ugh!), I expect some assume/expect you to pay. This situation is regrettable for *both* sexes (and understandably frustrating for those who don’t make high salaries).

But I’m not sure where any “manipulation” comes into play? Social pressures, societal expectations and some arithmetic, maybe, but manipulation?

Hmmm, am I missing your point? (And if by "holding her purse," you actually mean "holding her purse," then you've lost me altogether - lol!)

1/30/2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger actonbell wrote...

Ha! Great post, very creative, and I enjoyed it.
In real life, I've known manipulators of both genders, and seen them everywhere I've gone. Manipulating people is not something I respect, but makes for some interesting novels.

As for the mention of Hardy's Tess: It seems to me that Hardy's novels all seem to have a common theme of how society will make life hard for anyone who happens to be different, or unusual. I never thought about Tess as being manipulative, before--I thought of her as being a victim of society for being unusually beautiful and POOR. Her beauty made her desireable, while her lack of money meant that she was not in control of her future. I feel that she was preyed upon, and that made her desperate enough to kill in order to escape. She did not escape.

1/30/2006 6:28 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl
Yes, I did indeed limit myself to discussion of Tess in that post. In matters of rape and sexual abuse, there is a perpetrator and a victim (or survivor) since abuse is a result of not having consent from the other.
The mystery in Tess though is that Hardy deliberately makes the matter of her rape both elusive and evasive. We don't really know what exactly happened that night in the woods. We don't even know if Tess did give her consent after all. This is why I believe Tess of the d'Urbervilles continues to hold fascination. Primarily because of this uncertainty, we can draw so many explanations, which are only possibilities, not solutions.

The reason Tess can be considered as a manipulator is when one assumes that she did in fact consent to Alec's wishes and instead sought to allure and trap men. One could read Tess's beauty in two ways: that it made her a victim or that is made her a powerful (for example, a manipulator). Tess was able to not only attract Angel, but also able to destroy Alec (both psychologically and physically) and to some extent, even Angel. Even though she was a "fallen" woman, she does not let that stop her from trying to find happiness. It is her resolve to appreciate and indulge in her sexuality and strive for more than what was deemed as her station in life, which makes her powerful.

Another way to read Tess (which I have drawn some comfort in) is to see her as a survivor who lives beyond death than a mere victim who cannot escape it. Why should she live in such a corrupt and pitiless world as she had lived in? What had she to live for? In this sense, death becomes an escape for her. An escape into a better, eternal world of beauty governed by God. Although she did not die of her own accord, she was powerful in finally being able to revenge on Alec and in this way, procure her freedom, even if it was death.

1/30/2006 7:46 PM  
Blogger UltimateWriter wrote...

Yeah that too, but I mean LITERALLY holding her purse. I'm the guy standing outside of the shop physically holding the purse with a constipated yet introspective look on my face.

1/31/2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger Golgotha_Tramp wrote...

See my B/F ends up filling my bag with his stuff. Men should have manbags. Once he has his keys, his phone, his wallet his diary, his glasses and spare set of contact lenses he only has two options laden his pockets or give it to me to put in my bag. Then he wants stuff every five minutes, just get a manbag!

1/31/2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

actonbell – I, too, prefer to meet manipulators in novels, rather than RL - ;)

mysticgypsy – I'm enjoying your reflections on TESS. I agree with you about the complexities therein – which mirror the fascinating complexities of human nature. You bring up larger issues of what constitutes “innocence” and “guilt” in the subtle and not-so-subtle, but often complicated negotiations between two people.

Both of you mention Tess’ beauty as a potential liability. This interests me so much because our society “esteems” beauty so highly, and yet, for many women (i.e. Marilyn Monroe) beauty can be a blessing and a curse. Using beauty as power seems an act of desperation (when one feels they have nothing else) and/or a dangerous game. (And if beauty is truly powerful, why do we have a senate full of drab, old guys, hehe)

1/31/2006 10:49 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

ultimatewriter – Thanks for clearing that up! The image you draw of yourself (holding the purse) gave me a good laugh! But I’m afraid it still doesn’t seem quite the stuff of Lady MacBeth – :) Are you really being played for a fool (yes, I do realize you feel foolish with the purse!)? Btw, READ Golgotha’s comment!

Golgotha – haha! So is your b/f manipulating you, or is this just part of the give/take of relationships?

I had no clue purse-carrying could be such precarious terrain! But maybe this is due to the fact that I don't really carry a purse. :D

1/31/2006 11:29 AM  

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