Book Review: Playing with your usual gender stereotypes

By Mary Hildebrandt

You could compare the expectations of a book to those of a first date. Even the most hardened of women does not entirely give up dreaming of the next time we might find The One instead of the usual insipid small talk and opinions. Perhaps it won’t just be another short-lived bit of fun, but something genuine. However, as exemplified in Playing with Matches: Misadventures in Dating by Amy Cameron, princes might turn into frogs, but they’re usually more predictable and you mutter how you should have seen it coming.

Much of what is constructed as humour in this book is derived from what is the core of the chick-lit genre: the story of the confused, late twenties/early-thirty-something woman stumbling and fumbling through life, work and relationships. Cameron opening scene recalls those of this familiar character’s past incarnations à la Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw: “single women at the baby shower-hunched in the corner drinking Bloody Marys, ignoring a chorus of women cooing over a Winnie-the-Pooh breastfeeding pillow.” Try as she might to live up to society’s expectations of her, she is ultimately doomed to failure. In a cute, self-deprecating manner to make us all sympathize and laugh with her, of course.

If you’re not seduced by bonding through antagonizing men, married women or facing insurmountable expectations to find a man and settle down, Cameron has the answers. You might find them through the girly musings over “picking a new outfit, shaving legs, straightening hair, applying a fresh coat of Viva Glam”. Evidently, if women aren’t victims of society, they surely must be victims of fashion. Halfway through the book you find yourself hoping these real life stories might feature some wacky woman wreaking havoc on a hapless man with her own weird quirks or deplorable manners. Who cares about cookie-cutter nice girls? Dispense with them and bring on the strong woman character not seemingly just along for the ride with these vastly more interesting and confident male characters. Strong women like this must exist somewhere, but perhaps their personalities are too strong for chick-lit. Playing with Matches also vies for the diary/scrapbook look by peppering the text with illustrations circa the 1950s, cookie fortunes to illustrate morals of the stories, photographs with playful captions as well as ironic charts such as “The Hierarchy of Needs” and “Facial, pedicure, manicure & wax”.

For a book purporting to “capture wonderfully… the absurdity of dating in the 21st century” it certainly succeeds. It is absurd that women can only be seen as interesting by resigning themselves to victim hood. Broadcasting your insecurities and rehashing gender stereotypes now qualifies as the “glittering wit and subtle insights” promised in the inside cover. You can’t let your guard down and put too much trust in first impressions. However, as stated in the book’s “Pearls of Wisdom” section, dating is “about seeing if there’s a fit, so never feel bad if there isn’t one.” Similarly, for the girl who just wants to eat ice cream in her pajamas, reaffirm that men are from mars and cry about your inept dating skills and inability to cope, Playing with Matches is resoundingly for you.

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