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«by Sarah Kathryn Knudson A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Sociology ...»

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Cosmo Girls, Cheetah Boys and Creatures Unlike Any Other:

Relationship Advice and Social Change in North America

by

Sarah Kathryn Knudson

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Department of Sociology

University of Toronto

© Copyright by Sarah Knudson 2012

Cosmo Girls, Cheetah Boys and Creatures Unlike Any Other:

Relationship Advice and Social Change in North America Sarah Kathryn Knudson Doctor of Philosophy Department of Sociology University of Toronto 2012

ABSTRACT

Over the past fifty years, numerous cultural and structural changes have profoundly altered how heterosexual women and men in North America envision and live out their intimate lives. As key social structures where individuals typically sought guidance about their relationships have lost cultural potency, and insecurities about social and economic structures have grown, people have turned increasingly to alternative sources of advice, of which self-help books are a readily available option. In three interrelated studies, this dissertation considers one of North America’s most popular and lucrative book genres—relationship advice—and its readers. On a textual level, it examines connections between ideological shifts in advice and macro-level changes;

with regard to audiences, it asks what generates particular modes of self-help reading. All studies then consider the implications of ideological shifts and modes of reading for the creation or maintenance of social boundaries and attendant inequalities.

While prior theoretical and empirical work on relationship advice products and audiences has considered time-limited samples of women’s texts, and research in reception studies has emphasized the importance of gender in generating modes of reading, this dissertation ii contributes new insight by looking longitudinally at bestselling advice books, offering the first detailed look at books for men, and considering the influence of variables beyond gender in channeling readers toward particular modes of reading. Findings demonstrate strong coupling between ideological trends in advice and broader social changes, and an interlocking effect of readers’ biographical, demographic and psychological factors on modes of reading. Analyses of texts and readers also reveal how the genre reinforces social inequalities. Paper 1 corrects presumptions about advice book content by identifying new ideological trends, Paper 2 develops a conceptual and theoretical vocabulary for understanding constructions of ideal masculinity, namely through identification of a process of “masculinizing” intimacy, and Paper 3 newly identifies two modes of reading—targeted and habitual—and generates theoretical insight broadly applicable to reception studies.

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I am an avid long distance runner, so can really appreciate the analogies that people make between running a marathon and writing a dissertation. Both require tremendous preparation, patience and stamina, and while both may look like solo performances, their success depends on the input and support of many people.

First, I would like to thank those in the Department of Sociology who nurtured my development as a researcher. To my committee members—Shyon Baumann, Judy Taylor and Bonnie Erickson—thank you for your thorough and constructive feedback, and your encouragement throughout. For the financial support that made it possible to live comfortably and focus on my studies during graduate school, I am deeply grateful to the Government of Ontario, Massey College and the University of Toronto.

I also owe much thanks to my cohort, who—although we scattered during the later years of our programme—offered moral support and comic relief during our research practicum. To Naoko Shida and Jing Shen, classmates and dear friends, I am deeply grateful for your warmth and your wisdom through the ups and downs of grad school.

To the community at Massey College, you will always be my academic home. You have broadened my horizons, challenged me, entertained me, and been a powerful ally on a sometimes solitary journey. John Fraser, thank you for your consummate hospitality and faith in the potential of the Junior Fellowship. To Rochelle Côté, my friend in sociology, Massey, and many of the finer things in life, your mentorship and commitment to work-life balance have made the past few years go by in a flash. To my cohort mates Emily Graham and Alexa Sulzenko, your constant encouragement and sense of fun has carried us all far. Thanks for many great nights at the opera, and for staying grounded through MDRP sessions. Noam Miller and Michael Valpy, thanks for your companionship and helping hands through years of “artistic” endeavors (such as yoga and Handel cantata performances). You exemplify the best of academic life by being inventive and eccentric. To everyone who attended my Junior Fellow Lecture on “Sexpert Advice,” including my long-time Quadrangle Society mentor, Bob Johnstone, I am indebted to you for your feedback, private testimonies about your own self-help experiences and reassurance iv that I was indeed studying something interesting. I am also grateful to the College for providing study space in the womb-like atmosphere of the basement carrels.





Several long-time friends have also offered valuable support and inspiration along the way. Jenn Yiokaris, Andrew Carricato, Rosemary Gallo and Steve MacDonald—thanks for your enduring friendship since the very start of university. You sensed ten years ago that I would write a dissertation on a topic like this, so thanks for channeling me in this direction and offering a sense of continuity during a decade of change. To Karl Baldauf and Ryan Hicks—my ultimate Saturday night Buddies—thanks for showing me Toronto life at its very best. To Chuck Holt, who during my very first week of grad school said, “Why would you even have to think twice about writing a dissertation on sex advice?” And to my tremendous partner, Bryan, thanks for being with me in many places and through many months as I wrote this dissertation. You have given me the rare combination of space to work and the reassurance of your constant love and support.

Many people that I met only briefly also offered tremendous insight over the course of this project. I owe huge thanks to acquaintances who e-mailed me articles of interest, strangers on airplanes who shared anecdotes, and my students at U. of T. who infused lectures with fresh ideas and challenging questions. My research participants, in particular, were generous with their time, and I thank them for speaking candidly about such an intimate aspect of their lives.

To my sister, Elizabeth, thank you for nurturing my creativity and exposing me to some excellent self-help (including a certain book you found on your roommate’s bookshelf years ago). To my dad, thank you for leading by example as a diligent and innovative researcher, and for offering support in so many forms. To my mom, thanks for fostering the reading culture at home that channeled me toward this research topic, and for passing on many, many books and articles of interest. Together, your love has done much to build my faith in my abilities, and you have always encouraged me to do what I truly enjoy. You always remind me of the things that matter most in life, and of how blessed I am to have all of them.

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CHAPTER 1: Introduction………………………………………………………………………..1 THEORETICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL CONTRIBUTIONS…………………….7 Macro-Level Social Change and Change in Relationship Advice………………...8 Masculinity, the Life Course and Advice on Gender Identity and Intimacy…….10 Modes of Active Reception: The Case of Relationship Advice and Links to Broader Consumption Theorizing………………………………………………..11 OVERVIEW OF THE DISSERTATION………………………………………………..12 OVERALL GOAL OF THE DISSERTATION…………………………………………13 CHAPTER 2: What a Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs: Examining Cultural Change and Ideas About Gender Equality in Relationship Self-Help Books, 1960-2009…………………………..16 INTRODUCTION: The Case for Studying Relationship Self-Help…………………….16 Self-Help Amidst the “Chaos” of Contemporary Love………………………….17 DATA AND METHOD………………………………………………………………….21 FINDINGS……………………………………………………………………………….22 Schema 1 (1960s and 1970s): Openness and Joy: New Frontiers in Intimate Life ……………………………………………………………………………………22 Schema 2 (1980s to mid-1990s): Be Your Own Prince!: Cautionary Tales of Being Burned…………………………………………………………………….24 Schema 3 (late 1990s to late 2000s): Cheetah Boys and Creatures Unlike Any Other: The Return of Romance…Among Equal Partners……………………….26 DISCUSSION: The Dialectic of Cultural Change and Advice Book Content………..…30 CONCLUSION: Between the Lines and Beyond the Books…………………………….35 vi CHAPTER 3: Getting Laid and Finding God: Constructions of Masculinity in Relationship Advice for Heterosexual Men……………………………………………………………………38 INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………….38 The “Crisis of Masculinity” and the Four Basic Rules of American Manhood…40 DATA AND METHOD………………………………………………………………….42 FINDINGS……………………………………………………………………………….44 Balancing Heart and Spine: Authors’ Selective Rejection of Traditional Masculinity………………………………………………………………………45 “Don’t Stuff It, Man”: No Sissy Stuff and the Sturdy Oak Meet Relational Heroism…………………………………………………………………………..45 “In Our Specialness We Find Success”: From Being a Big Wheel and Giving ’Em Hell to Tempering Ambition……………………………………………………..49 DISCUSSION……………………………………………………………………………51 CHAPTER 4: Crash Courses and Lifelong Journeys: Modes of Reading Non-Fiction Advice in a North American Audience……………………………………………………………………….58 INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………….58 Readers’ Reading and Contextual Influences: Insights from the Sociology of Culture and Reception……………………………………………………………60 RESEARCH DESIGN…………………………………………………………………...63 FINDINGS……………………………………………………………………………….65 A Heterogeneous Audience……………………………………………………...66 “It’s Like Taking a University Course”: Advice Reading and the Targeted Consumer………………………………………………………………………...67 “It’s Just, I Guess, Sort of a Lifestyle”: Habitual Consumption of Advice Books ……………………………………………………………………………………72 Challenging Advice: Cultural Dissonance and Habitual Readers’ Subsidiary Reading Modes…………………………………………………………………..77 DISCUSSION……………………………………………………………………………79

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OVERVIEW OF THEMES AND CONTRIBUTIONS…………………………………83 Using Relationship Self-Help to Illuminate Changing Gender Roles, Social Structures and Ideologies………………………………………………………...83 Persistent Tensions Between Progressive and Traditional Messages in Relationship Advice…………………………………………………………..….85 Texts and Audiences Over the Life Course………………………………..…….87 Self-Help’s Western Roots and Diversifying Audiences: Exploring and Managing Tensions………………………………………………………………………….88 Relationship Self-Help as a Window into Modes of Reading………………..….89 LIMITATIONS………………………………………………………………………..…90 FUTURE DIRECTIONS……………………………………………………………..….93 WORKS CITED………………………………………………………………………....95

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Appendix I: Chapter 2 Book Sample…………………………………………………………...115 Appendix II: Chapter 3 Book Sample…………………………………………………………..120 Appendix III: Chapter 4 Respondent Characteristics………………………………………..…123

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