My approach to literary criticism has gone through several phases. When I was young (and dumb), I was very smug. About books. I hadn’t written anything myself, of course (still haven’t published anything), but just assumed I was talented, knew I was (very) intelligent, and figured my opinion mattered. That people would care what I thought. Should care, because clearly I was much brighter and more insightful and headed for greater greatness than they were.
At some point I realized that this outlook was arrogant, stupid, and wrong.
After this, I went through a period where I was more generous, at least outwardly. I’ll call this my “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” phase. During this time, I realized that just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that it is fundamentally bad or wrong, that literary appreciation is subjective and personal, and that we are all entitled to our own beliefs and opinions. I also realized that writing is very difficult, much more difficult than I ever could have imagined, and that writing and publishing a book of any quality requires an exceptional amount of patience, dedication, bravery, and hard work. Writers deserve our admiration and appreciation.
Then I read The Manual by Steve Santagati (obnoxiously subtitled “A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate–and What Women Can Do to Come Out on Top”). I’ve decided to come out of retirement.
First of all, you need an ego the size of the Empire State Building to even set out to write such a book, no matter what its contents or quality of prose. Also, this would seem like a very difficult topic to give universal advice about, no matter how experienced, sensitive, or bright you were. Fortunately for us, Santagati has ego for days, and an indefatigable sense of self-importance. Also, he is completely undeterred by any lack of experience, sensitivity, or brightness.
Second, and maybe this should have been first, and this certainly isn’t surprising at all, but this book is extremely offensive. To women, of course, but even to men. Maybe even more to men. To bad boys, good boys, and everyone in between, there is something deeply offensive to everyone.
Third, at best, all Santagati has accomplished here is to offer some insights into how he thinks (about sex), dates (i.e. tries to figure out the quickest, least complicated, least commitment-requiring way to have sex with you), and mates (S-E-X). He certainly doesn’t represent my perspective on any of these topics, and I think/hope I speak for most men on this point.
Santagati has a fixation/fetish with high heels. He can’t seem to let it go. When trying to get a man’s attention, Santagati recommends the “classic example” of “a girl wearing high heels in a bikini. Cheesy, and not particularly functional in the sands of Miami and L.A., but men notice for sure.” Right, because the only thing wrong with this scenario is that it is “cheesy” and “not functional.”
He also, throughout the book, gives very detailed tips on how to do your hair, how to dress, how to take care of your skin, and how to do your makeup. What does he know about all this stuff? Oh, he was in modeling for several years (which he mentions many, many times). Man card revoked.
There is a whole chapter dedicated to “bums.” And he calls them “bums.” And he uses the term no less than 500 times. So much wrong with this chapter I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know if I should be more upset by the objectification or the completely inauthentic “man term” for what is admittedly one of the most beautiful parts of a woman’s body. To give you a taste, I quote the first two sentences of the chapter: “We love your bum! We love your round bum, your little bum, your big bum, your flat bum, your cute bum.” Oh, and he mentions heels again. I’m not kidding.
There is a chapter on exercise, which is rife with unhelpful tips and mixed messages. Basically, he agrees that of course it’s more important to be beautiful on the inside, but if you’re not super hot on the outside, no guy is going to want to “check under your hood and take you for a spin.”
In another chapter, and I’m not sure why this upset me so much, but he recommended some “easy, smart conversation starters you’ll both find sexy.” And what were they? “Ask him out-of-the-ordinary questions about: his first car, his favorite concerts, his favorite sports teams, small dogs vs. big dogs.” Smart and sexy? I don’t think so. Unlike Steve, I won’t pretend to speak for everyone, but if you were to ask me about my favorite sports teams or what size of dog I preferred, that conversation would be over.
Wondering where to pick up a man? Santagati has some recommendations. First on the list? Construction stores. Because every woman knows how desirable the guys wandering the aisles of Home Depot in the middle of the day are. He has some useful tips on how to seem helpless and get the man’s attention, including offering to pay him, inviting him to your house to help with the project, and flirtatiously suggesting he use your shower afterwards. Sounds like the formula for needing a restraining order to me, but then I am not the professional advice expert.
He also recommends the gym. He does mention that their used to be a stigma about that, mostly that guys were going to gyms just to ogle and harass women. Thankfully, according to Steve, those days are over (from the picture on the cover and the content of the book, you can tell he knows what he’s talking about. I have no difficulty picturing him chatting up a woman on a treadmill or offering to give you some hands-on lifting tips).
How about online dating? He goes there too. The key to a good profile? A killer question. He recommends: “What would you rather be able to do, fly or be invisible? Why?” My guess is that Steve would choose to be invisible. I will resist the urge to expound.
Most of this so far has been more obviously offensive to women. But I promised offense on all sides. Wondering about the secret to really have the control in a relationship? Make note of your man’s four fundamental weaknesses: hair, penis size, career, and height. Feel like you need regain some equilibrium? Just mock him on each of the areas where mocking applies. Very healthy.
Is it obvious yet that I didn’t love the book?
But I am trying not to be purely negative. Some useful insights into why Santagati has given the advice that he has. He firmly believes that “women want to be just as naughty as men. However society says that women shouldn’t let go. It’s a big no-no. So she needs an ‘excuse’ to be naughty.” That has not been my experience. Maybe I have always just been around the “wrong” kind of women.
He also thinks any man who would ever give in and settle down, getting married and having kids, is a sucker. He thinks relationships are primarily about mind games, deception, and manipulation. Any commitment a woman gets from a man comes through teasing and coercion. You have to trick him into sticking around for any period of time. I think that’s just sad. But it also explains a lot about the book.
He did suggest that “[o]verthinking is the root of all evil in a relationship” and that ”[w]omen engage in overthinking at every opportunity.” I don’t completely disagree with that.
I used to think that anyone that could write a book deserved my admiration and respect. But then Snooki wrote a book. And now this. I will be offering my criticisms on a book-by-book basis going forward.