Yes, Feminists Can Read The Rules and Watch Ally McBeal

by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider

The Rules and The Rules II

When The Rules first came out in 1995, we were asked on TV if The Rules was pro-feminism. Yes, of course, we replied. Feminism is about equal pay for equal work, about being treated the same as men intellectually and monetarily. We explained that men and women are equal, but not the same romantically and emotionally. Men love a challenge, women love security. Men like the hunt, the chase. So, to be successful with a man, a woman must let him pursue her. But we also pointed out that we do The Rules for self-esteem, to set boundaries with men so that we don't get hurt or treated last-minute... and we do The Rules, frankly, because they work!

Three years later, in light of the new millennium, a number of articles and TV shows have raised the same question. Is The Rules--playing hard to get, not going dutch on a date, etc.--feminist? Is Ally McBeal--an Ivy League lawyer who wears short skirts and wants to get married more than anything--a good role model for feminism? Some articles have brought up the issue, insinuating that The Rules and Ally are silly compared to the serious feminist causes of the seventies, political rallies and bra-burning.

We disagree. We believe there is nothing incompatible between feminism and wanting to be married. As we say in The Rules II, "We're not telling women they're nothing without a man. It's just that many women feel that if they didn't marry a nice guy, they're missing something... Can they be happy without a husband? Sure..."

Feminism in the seventies was about fighting for equal rights and equal pay, and to be treated with respect in the work place--no more "boys club" atmosphere, and we are grateful for Gloria Steinem and other pioneers who paved the way for economic equality, etc. As a result, we were able to write two books and create a company without the help of a man. But for those of us who wanted to make the same money as men but also wanted love and marriage, we also needed The Rules. With all due respect, feminism has not changed men or the nature of romantic relationships, and that's why we'll still need The Rules in the year 2000 and beyond. Just because The Rules suggests wearing extra mascara on dates and Ally McBeal obsesses about her ex-boyfriend at work doesn't mean either is silly and not feminist, just human.

The Rules is about self-esteem, being realistic and human. Like it or not, appearance does count and men are attracted to feminine-looking women. Although we suggest looking and being the best you can, we never tell women to vacuum or take Home Economics while waiting to be rescued by a man emotionally and financially that would be anti-feminist. On the contrary, we encourage women to pursue their career goals, hobbies, friendships, passions while not pursuing men. Our readers are doctors, lawyers, MBAs as well as school teachers and secretaries. They are feminists. The Rules helps them not go overboard with their feelings for men so that they can focus on their careers and interests

Similarly, for all of Ally's musings about men, she is still a competent lawyer. She uses her brain, she wins cases, she has ethics, she won't put up with bad behavior she leaves a law firm after being pinched on the behind. And she's a Rules girl. (When her friends throw a copy of The Rules in the garbage, claiming the book is silly, she smartly picks it up and says, "Yeah, but it works!") Ally doesn't chase men, she doesn't let her feelings interfere with getting her job done or having friends. Ally is practical she wants to save the world, but she wants to get married first. We think that's OK, that's still being a feminist.

Copyright 1998 by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider