One of the most vile phrases I have ever heard is “high maintenance” in reference to a woman. Not just because it’s a term better suited to automobiles (something else hetero men like to climb into and control). Not just because it puts a value on the amount of work men have to do to gain sexual access to a piece of talking meat. And not just because it seems like a good 90% of men insist on having a “high maintenance” woman when they don’t have to, just so they have something to complain about. (More on some of this later.)
But mainly because you know who’s high maintenance? MEN. And you know why they don’t get called on it? Because our society has deemed the amount of maintenance hetero women expend on men and relationships with men to be “normal duty.”
An expensive piece of tail
The image I have of a “high maintenance” woman (from the perspective of men who complain about them) is a heterosexual woman who accepts that her sexuality is a commodity and attempts to “charge” men the highest prices possible for access to it. She makes them take her out to more dates before giving them sex, compared to other women. She waits for them to impress her with gifts and fancy dinners. Is she even attracted to men, or sexually alive? Who knows? It doesn’t matter to the men who complain about her. She can lie back and think of diamonds when she finally decides they’ve earned a throw.
This is a pure transaction, nothing more, nothing less. The man’s attitude is that of a shopper, looking at inanimate objects and trying to decide if it’s worth paying extra for the model that comes with the huge boobs.
The expense of a piece of male tail
But while men who buy into the idea of women as sex meat for sale to the highest bidder complain about having to work to earn tail, no one ever talks about the expense of hooking up with a man. Please note that not all of these “expenses” are the direct fault of the man in question: we have such a sick and twisted double standard that even in a relationship with a really progressive, feminist man, a woman can still carry a lot of extra, useless burdens.
- She’s supposed to make him feel good about himself; he’s supposed to make her feel pretty. We’ve all been programmed for who knows how many centuries to think that “Honey, you’re so smart” and “Honey, you look so pretty” are equivalent. They’re not. The sad fact is, neither boys nor girls are trained to expect men to dig deeper and express what really makes them care about a woman. And some men really aren’t looking for anything deeper than beauty. As a woman who would like to receive compliments on her impressive intellect, sense of humor or strength of character, I find it extremely disheartening to instead get fumbling reassurances about my not-so-impressive looks. And men seem to be deeply confused by me because when I honestly acknowledge I’m not the best-looking woman around, they interpret that as low self-esteem (what has a woman to esteem but her looks), and yet my frank talk about my intelligence is interpreted as obnoxiously arrogant (interesting, considering I pattern that talk after the talk of men who are not considered to be arrogant).
- Their needs come first. Now, there are a lot of men who don’t operate this way – who, for example, don’t think twice about relocating to where the wife or long-term girlfriend has gotten a great job offer… but their families and friends are almost sure to ring in with opinions of what a manipulative spell-casting witch she must be to make him relocate like that. Conversely, if he got a great job offer elsewhere but she wanted to stay near the grandparents so the family has trustworthy baby-sitters available, she is a selfish, demanding “high-maintenance” woman. While this is not the man’s fault (unless he buys into that double standard himself, of course), it is one of the stresses and therefore “costs” of being a woman who forms relationships with men.
- They don’t initiate relationship maintenance. This is a very, very “invisible” problem because we’ve all been trained from birth that women initiate communication and want to discuss problems while men avoid communication and hope for the best. We’ve all been taught this is innate monkey behavior – to be fair, I don’t think men even feel it’s permitted for them to initiate talks when they feel a relationship slipping away (and I’m not sure most women would react positively, either – that’s how skewed the whole mess is). If she doesn’t initiate talks, she must not really care. If he doesn’t, well, that’s just because he’s male. If you’re a woman like me who somehow missed all this programming and tends to wait for him to initiate the talks to prove he really cares, you’ll find you’re in for a shockingly long wait.
Those are just the costs of entering a relationship with a man who respects and values women. If the man has inherited any degree of the sexism of his culture – and let’s face it, most men and women have, and don’t even realize it – a woman has additional burdens:
- She’s expected to accede to his desires. When he wants to have sex, buy something or go out, she must accede to his demands or else he will receive sympathy from everyone around about her “henpecking” and encouragement to dump her ass or find a nice cozy piece on the side. If she wants to have sex, buy something or go out, there are no penalties for him to refuse her. In fact, if she’s always asking him for things he doesn’t want, that too gives him material to gain sympathy from friends and family.
- She’s expected to be more forgiving. Women are counseled to give second chances and overlook misdeeds more often than men are. We need to understand that men are inferior when it comes to being moral, sensible or sensitive, even though they are our superiors in all other ways and naturally better suited to running the world. (This is a neat bit of doublethink I never mastered.)
- She’s expected to make sacrifices and do more than half the housework/child rearing even while working full time. A lot of men still think they’re making a Great Noble Sacrifice if they “babysit” or do the dishes once a week. As Eames on L&O: Criminal Intent once said: “Newsflash: it’s not baby-sitting if they’re your kids.” Many men still receive accolades and sympathy for doing even a quarter of the tasks for the whole couple.
- Her requests/demands are seen as frivolous tests of the man’s love rather than genuine needs or wants. Whether she’s asking for a working dishwasher, help at home that would allow her to work overtime and earn more/get a promotion, or a ludicrous collection of diamonds, a man who’s inherited the culture’s sexism tends to interpret her desires as a test she’s made up just to annoy him. She’s not fully human like he is, and therefore can’t really have passions or dreams. She’s just faking it to see how high she can make him jump.
And so on, and so forth. Please: never, ever tolerate someone using the term “high maintenance” to describe a woman. Please at the very least look appalled (like you would if someone offered to tell you a good racist joke) and instruct them never to use that term around you again.