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Myths and her
Paris’s obsession with Helen resulted in the eventual destruction of his kingdom, Troy. Diane Kruger and Orlando Bloom in a still from the 2004 blockbuster

According to Freud and those who have followed, a number of men suffer from what they call the Madonna-whore complex. Such men feel that there are two types of women: the saintly Madonna who is willing to cook, clean and be the loving wife; and the whore, who makes the ideal mistress but is too much fun in bed — and therefore dirty — to ever take home.

Sounds familiar?

It should.

Through the ages, women have had to live with many labels, myths and misconceptions. While most have been busted in the past 30 years or so, there are some that still have their proponents. Do they then have their merits? t2 takes a closer look…

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…

They sparkle. They ensnare. Much like the women who wear them. Ever since screen goddess Marilyn Monroe sang “A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” women have been flaunting their rocks like they are going out of style.

Except that they aren’t. From ancient monarchs to the modern woman, a diamond has had an allure — drawn from its parent planet Venus, maybe? — that very few women can resist. Whether it is the all-important engagement ring or the fruit of one month’s pay, every gal’s gotta have at least one. The bigger the better, of course.

So this saying looks like it is going to be around forever — which is the same duration a diamond is supposed to last, according to industry giant DeBeers that does its best to promote the gem as the clear winner for every woman, on any occasion.

“A woman’s relationship with a diamond is something that cannot be easily rivalled,” feels homemaker Savita Singh. And though a lot more options for trendy and beautiful jewellery are available today, it is the diamond that many women still swear by. “Platinum is what has caught my fancy of late. Diamond and platinum make a heady combination,” says young professional Asmita Ghosh.

t2 says: Women are still dazzled by diamonds, but a growing number of women today are willing to postpone buying one — at least a sizeable one — to get enough dough for a down-payment on a flat instead. But if she can get both, nothing like it.

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…
This is a tricky one. For we all know that the Real Man of today is strong, sensitive and a wizard in the… kitchen. So is the way to a woman’s heart through her stomach? Possibly.

But this saying was born well before the metrosexual conquered the kadhai. In 1814, American statesman John Adams wrote in a letter: “The shortest road to men’s hearts is down their throats.” The saying was modified when Miss Mulock observed in John Halifax, Gentleman (1857) that “the stomach was the way to an Englishman’s heart”.

So it followed that generations of women have believed that the way to score with a man is to rustle up a scrumptious meal for him. “My grandmother still regales us with stories of how my granddad consented to marry her after he tasted the fish curry she had cooked when they first met,” smiles 29-year-old engineer Debleena Choudhury.

While in that era much of a woman’s power lay in how she ran her home, what of the woman of today, for whom the world is her oyster — which requires little to no cooking but is reputed to arouse all kinds of appetites? “Although my husband appreciates it whenever I cook a meal for him, small things — like buying him a surprise gift, coming home early from work and spending quality time together — are what have made our relationship work,” says college teacher Nandini Rao.

t2 says: A well-cooked meal will always help you score Brownie points, but today, even terrible cooks can be happily married.

Frailty thy name is woman — Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That woman’s vows are writ in sand — To Woman, Lord Byron. When my love swears that she is made of truth I do believe her, though I know she lies — Shakespeare, Sonnet 138
From the time of Eve and Adam, the woman has been painted as “morally weak” and fickle, by nature. If Hamlet condemns womenfolk as frail — largely in reference to mother Gertrude’s swift marriage to another man after the sudden death of his father, in Sonnet 138, the bard repeatedly says that a woman’s words are not to be taken at face value. There have been countless references to a woman’s “frailty” — of nature, of morals, of constitution. She’ll carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleeding, warns Billy Joel. She’s always a woman to me, he goes on, regardless of this flakiness, or perhaps because of it. Thankfully, women today — most of them at least — refuse to be cast in this mould. “Men and women lie equally. Men give in to lying to get out of a situation. Most women indulge in white lies, rather than lying to deceive,” feels psychologist Prerna Puri.

t2 says: Look at Hillary or Sonia; Oprah or Mayawati. Look at your mother. Hardly frail of body or soul. But when shopping for clothes, shoes, bags, every woman is fickle, and would like to stay that way.

Gentlemen prefer blondes
Anita Loos’s 1925 novel Gentleman Prefer Blondes gave rise to the 1953 eponymous film starring Marilyn Monroe — the prototype for the blonde bimbo. Men have had a soft spot for blondes, for their beauty, but more importantly, for their “airhead” image that has allegedly boosted many a male ego. Little wonder then that Gentlemen Marry Brunettes — the sequel to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — wasn’t as big a box-office success. Today some men still go weak in the knees when they spot a blonde — L’Orealed or otherwise.

t2 says: Though men have learnt to spout all the politically correct lines, there are few who can resist the spiritual blonde who comes in the form of the eyelash-batting flirt entering beauty pageants and such.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife — Pride and Prejudice
The opening line of Jane classic reflects not only society’s expectations from the man, but also the woman. If Bingley and Darcy — single, rich men — needed wives, then the Bennet family had girls enough for them to choose from. It was, in fact, the perfect — and only — business plan to deliver the family from impending poverty.

In 1922, an advertisement appeared in a Geneva newspaper which read: “Two royal princesses, sisters aged 23 and 26, desire friendship, and eventually marriage, after mutual tests, with English or American gentlemen, who must be young, wealthy and handsome, especially not upstarts or newly rich.”

And not much has changed. In her book How To Get A Rich Man, Donna Spangler gives women a step-by-step outline on how to catch a gentleman of means. A 2007 survey conducted in China resulted in 45 per cent of women saying they would prefer to marry a rich man to having a good job.

“If men can advertise for fair and good-looking brides in matrimonial columns, why can’t women state their preference for financially stable men?” asks advertising professional Rohini Dasgupta.

t2 says: Women still look for financially secure partners. Nowadays, men do too.

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world — William Ross Wallace. Women hold up half the sky — Mao Tse Tung
This is no myth. The power of women — as the mother, as the giver of life — has long been celebrated.

Chinese philosopher Mao Tse Tung went a step further when he said that womankind was responsible for holding up half the sky, prompting Beatles legend John Lennon to write the song Woman (for the Other Half Of The Sky), dedicated to wife Yoko Ono.

Many works of art have celebrated the power of the mother, including those depicting Mother Mary. And since new technology makes it possible for women to conceive without a man at all, perhaps this one is more true now than ever.

t2 says: You go, girl!

Behind every successful man there is a woman
Through the ages, monarchs, heads of state, business honchos and even the average man have relied on their women — mothers, wives, daughters — for that much needed support and advice. Women have often steered man’s destiny. Women have also equally been convicted of bringing down their men — Marie Antoinette, Helen of Troy, Monica Lewinsky. Which one is true?

t2 says: Probably both. Just like behind every successful woman there may be lurking a supportive man. Or an MCP jerk. Must all wisdom take the form of feel-good generalisations?

La Belle Dame Sans Merci Hath Thee in Thrall — John Keats
The woman Keats is talking about may be far more complex, or may not be a woman at all, but we’ll borrow the image. This is one step up from the dumb blonde. This is the smart seductress — the femme fatale who seduces men without any qualms and enslaves them.

History and lore invoke Cleopatra, Delilah and Salome and many other can’t-live-with-them-can’t-live-without-them creatures. They wielded power over men, often betraying them once they won them over. On celluloid, Greta Garbo was the original temptress. Then followed Marilyn Monroe. The contemporary equivalent often comes with the added tag of home-breaker.

“Angelina Jolie not only managed to wean away Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston, she also seems to wield tremendous power over him,” feels Antara Goswami, a college student.

t2 says: Too hot to handle is so boringly predictable.

(What other myths about women would you like to see busted? Tell t2@abpmail.com)

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