Every week, blogger and columnist Sahar Shiralian explores a different aspect of popular culture through a feminist lens.Patti Stanger, the notorious matchmaker of filthy rich but socially inept men (and sometimes women), is quite the polemical feminist figure. Indeed, her place in feminist literature remains nebulous. With countless reality TV shows like “America’s Next Top Model,” “The Bachelor,” “Rock of Love,” and “Flavor of Love” dominating every channel, the reality television trend is apparently insistent on undoing progressive feminist ideologies and movements. I must admit that I watch almost all of these shows as indulgent guilty pleasures during study breaks or while on the treadmill. My verdict is in: “Millionaire Matchmaker” is certainly the most fascinating. Within the feminist community, I’ve heard much ranting and raging against the outspoken star matchmaker Patti Stanger, a seemingly ubiquitous advocate for superficiality and the strict adherence of traditional gender roles in the media. Although Patti holds questionable principles and her program indeed features many instances of objectification, I like to think she is more complex than a mere figurehead of reactionary notions. If one probes deeper, he or she will discover that her views are surprisingly nuanced and raise questions about the difficulty of reconciling stubborn human nature and feminism.
The premise of the show is familiar to most and enough to arouse a dismissive reaction to Patti’s opinions. Powerful and financially successful men come to Patti in hopes of finding love with a beautiful trophy wife. She instantly asks them who their “celebrity crush” is, whether they prefer blonds or brunettes, and lastly, what values they desire in a woman. Once the checklist process is over, she arranges a “mixer” that is comprised of a bevy of beauties waiting for a millionaire. Let’s be frank: these middle-aged men are incredibly horny and are perhaps salivating over the wide-eyed, hopeful twenty-somethings. The most disturbing aspect of the show is that these men are insufferably egoistic, vapid, and sexually inappropriate. Last week, a millionaire’s first question to a young woman that he had never met before was whether she had ever had sex on a sailboat!
Patti’s selection and screening process leaves much to be desired. These men are not chivalric gentleman or even the friendly boy next door who will at least treat you like a human being. Instead, they ask for palettes of girls that fit their aesthetic categories and indulge in cultural fetishizations. One millionaire was insistent on finding an Asian wife because he believed Asian women were more submissive and better homemakers; another asked for a Latin girl because they were “feisty.” Patti may state that she does not run an escort service, but the setting is indeed reminiscent of a bordello where men may pick women who suit their fancies like fruits in a grove! The objectification of women on this show is its most egregious crime, and is perhaps Patti’s most damaging shortcoming.
Patti’s greatest flaw is her treatment of her fellow females. When selecting potential mates for her millionaire mixers, she subjugates women to a rigorous physical scan. If you are not dressed in a curve-hugging cocktail dress, towering high in six-inch stilettos, or more importantly, happen to commit the crime of having curly or red hair, you are instantly undesirable. Patti adheres to a strict beauty checklist that prioritizes the importance of pin straight hair and tight clothing. She even encourages women to change their looks and wardrobes completely. Sadly, many women immediately color their hair and buy new clothes, abandoning their former selves and developing new insecurities. Thus, the ancient notion that women are merely ornaments of beauty rears its ugly head weekly on “Millionaire Matchmaker” – women are inculcated with the fact that beauty and youth are everything. Moreover, only one image of beauty is forwarded. I may not be a professional matchmaker, but I can assure most women that our Cinderella airbrushed masks have to come off someday. Our partners will inevitably see us au naturel in sweats, with our hair up in a messy bun, and will see our blemishes sans make up. If a relationship is founded on straightened hair and that perfect shade of eyeliner, it will surely fail.
I really want to join fellow feminists in their outrage against Patti. She upholds traditional stereotypes and gender roles (only men must pay for and plan dates, women must use feminine wiles and not emasculate men, etc.), is traditionally “feminine,” and espouses materialism. Unfortunately, I cannot join the movement against Patti because I have a fondness for her, and believe she is simply operating under a difficult system: the reality of the modern dating world. Patti strives to reconcile feminism, female independence, and gender equality with the demands of her male clients. Like it or not, she has a firm understanding of human nature, and much of what she says is true. Men are undoubtedly visual creatures, and she is abiding by that fact in order to gain monetary success. Although she has taken steps to allay the heteronormative image of her show by featuring “millionairesses” and gay millionaires, Patti should take more responsibility in the feminist community and improve the quality of advice she doles out to her young female viewers. I implore her to move beyond what I like to call “cave man logic and sexuality;” many of the rules she religiously follows can indeed be modernized and restructured.
Furthermore, Patti is not strictly a reactionary anti-feminist whose effigy needs to be burned. For example, she constantly castigates many of her male clients for their ageism and superficiality, and urges men to choose women who are great conversationalists and will challenge them intellectually. Her infamous slogan “the penis does the picking” carries feminist undertones because she is pushing men to look beyond the physical surface. She also believes in the importance of having a career and education. Patti’s strong personality is also respectable and incongruous with the images of femininity she reinforces; she is an aggressive, blunt, savvy, single, and successful woman who manages her own business. She is inarguably a complicated feminist figure and an interesting amalgam of modern notions and old world logic. Patti is far from being a perfect feminist role model, but I like to think of her as a “lipstick feminist” who is slowing improving her ways.
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