A Class Feminists Might Abhor - March 5, 2000
Mon Mar 6 09:09:21 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
March 5, 2000
A Class Feminists Might Abhor
Issue in Depth The New York Times: Your Money
By ABBY ELLIN
heryl Marks has a good job and close friends. She travels often. She's
healthy. What's missing? A relationship. And though she never defined
herself by her marital status, after turning 31 last year, she decided to
So Marks, director of treasury and cash management for the Children's
Television Workshop, did what so many other New Yorkers do: She signed up
for a class, in this case one taught by Marilyn Graman, a
psychotherapist, on how to land a husband.
While feminists might bridle at the course objective and the curriculum,
Marks found herself studying alongside Wall Street brokers, advertising
executives, physicians, computer experts -- women who have a firm handle
on the career thing but need a little help on the home front.
"Women in the corporate world confuse softness and tenderness with
weakness," said Graman, 53, a widow. "My goal is to teach softness as
power." She half-jokingly refers to her program as the Marilyn Graman
Finishing School for Feminists.
Last week, Graman began her latest class, "Marriage Works," a six-month,
276-hour course intended to lead businesswomen down the aisle. The cost
Part therapy session, part personal pep rally, the course is broken down
into modules about aspects of the mating game: 40 hours to study why
participants might have a "relationship block"; 26 hours to talk with a
"guidess," a paid relationship coach cum cheerleader who has already
reaped the fruits of a Graman course; and 11 hours to discuss color,
furniture placement and feng shui, the Asian art of energy flow.
The course also devotes 9 hours to learning to move gracefully, 8 to
wardrobe and 3.5 to the art of gracious gift receiving.
The finale is a field trip to a bridal shop, where women try on dresses
and visualize their wedding day. "If you see it, you can have it," said
Graman, who leads similar workshops in Dallas and San Francisco. So far,
eight women, ages 25 to 65, have signed up for the Manhattan course.
You can just about guess what the editor of Ms. magazine thinks of all
this. "I worry when women say women have to be soft again," said Gloria
Jacobs, the editor. "Women are different from men, but does that mean
we're all soft and nurturing? That's ridiculous. The goal is to have the
freedom to be who you are."
In fact, Jacobs finds the whole concept of Graman's finishing school
rather annoying. "Everyone wants relationships; that's human nature," she
said. 'But what I don't get is the idea that you can buy a relationship,
or that if you spend enough money you'll be able to communicate with
another human being if you have the right clothes or the right furniture.
"Why aren't men being encouraged to do this?" Jacobs asked. "Why does
marriage have to be the end result here?"
On a snowy afternoon in mid-February, Marks is in her 600-square-foot
Upper West Side apartment with Graman, Robin Lennon, an interior
designer, and Debra Cox, an image consultant. Today's lesson: making your
home more man-friendly.
"What kind of thoughts do you want him to have when he walks in the
door?" Graman asked. "This is a Rorschach test. When a man walks into a
woman's house, he wants to feel that he has a space in her world. That he
Gazing at her penguin collection, photographs of herself in exotic
locales, a Nordic Track and the bicycle leaning against her sofa, Marks
replied, "I want to be comfortable here, and I want a man to be, too.
"I work a lot, but I don't want to give that impression," she said. "I
want playfulness in the apartment. I also don't want it to look like a
Walking from room to room, Lennon deconstructed the apartment with a firm
but gentle hand. Too many tchotchkes. Not enough light. Dump the boom
box. Scatter pillows on the bed. Spritz perfume on the sheets. Get rid of
clutter; it keeps men at bay. Paint the walls in soft, sexy colors:
salmon or peach or rose.
And the bike? "Do you use it?" Lennon asked.
Not in months, Marks said.
"If you want someone to think you're athletic, it's good," Lennon said.
"Otherwise, could we put it in storage?" Marks nodded meekly.
Next, the wardrobe. Since November, Marks had been out with 23 different
men whom she met online and through dating services. Mostly, they met
after work when she was still in professional garb.
"You need to have clothes that reflect all the sides of you," Cox said as
she went through Marks's closet, which was filled with corporate suits
but lacking less formal attire. "You want to be professional,
approachable, and feminine. You don't want men to think you're a man."
She held up a dark blue wool skirt and jacket. "This is fine for the work
world, but in the dating arena you want something a little more
approachable and feminine," she said.
"A dark suit says, 'I'm one of the guys,"' Graman added. "A buttoned-up
jacket screams 'I'm unapproachable."'
Cox then plucked a silk lavender suit from the closet. Her face
"What a difference!" she said. "You look sexy and young."
Marks admired her reflection in the mirror. She clipped on a pair of
dangly silver earrings she had borrowed from Graman. The women oohed and
aahed. Marks smiled. Then she scribbled in a little notebook. There was a
lot to remember.
If all this all seems a little dated, a little Cosmo, no one is forcing
women to enroll. According to Marks, her office colleagues constantly ask
for relationship advice and want her to conduct a seminar based on her
Graman said the women in her course must first be happy with themselves;
she lives by the motto "the rose is itself and the bee comes." She does
not advise women to change themselves or to deceive their men.
In the '70s, she said, she was the stereotypical angry feminist. But
"there was a softness that was missing in me," she said. "I wasn't
getting everything I wanted that way, and it was time to stop being angry
"Of course, the feminist movement needed to happen. In order to make
change, you need to go far to the other side. Women had to stop being
like women in order to be successful, and now we're coming somewhere in
the center. We're learning how powerful it can be to be soft and tender."
Some women have worked with her and discovered that they do not want to
be married. Others have ended bad relationships. And contrary to popular
perception, she stressed, Manhattan is teeming with men who are eager to
tie the knot.
"They're not the enemy," she said. "I see a lot of men in business who
are longing for a wife, for someone by their side. When the house is
empty, they feel lonely. That's why I have no doubt that I can help a
woman find a man, because I know there are men out there that want to
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