December 2010

Heather Clitheroe

scarlet woman of self-help

What's a Canooter to Do?: Jenny McCarthy's “Love, Lust & Faking It”

It's difficult to say what is more perplexing about Love, Lust, and Faking It: The Naked Truth about Sex, Lies, and True Romance: the strange references to nuns and a strict Catholic upbringing, or Jenny McCarthy's repeated references to canooters. Canooters, it seems, are vaginas, and if you happen to have one, Jenny McCarthy has some advice for it. Or for you. Or the both of you, depending on how you look at it.

And that really does seem to be the theme of the book: canooters that are dealing with cheating boyfriends, canooters that have crabs (ew! crabs!), canooters that are blown to bits by having babies (so that's why you should use birth control!), and canooters that are all worked up into a frenzy by using too much progesterone cream. Canooters, we learn, can frequently get themselves into a pickle.

Let me state, for the record, that I have a canooter. It's probably average, as canooters go, and I'm okay with that. It's not married. Neither am I. So together, we read Love, Lust & Faking It, hoping that the so-called “naked truth about sex, lies, and true romance” would illuminate the baffling and complex world of dating and relationships. To some extent, yes. McCarthy divides the book according to those three themes, and we begin our merry journey down the path that is her “advice.”

Love. It consists of masturbation (self-love), break-ups (lost love), partner abuse (bad love), dating (looking for love), and counselling (love on the rocks?). The section on masturbation includes the contents of a Mormon pamphlet on self-abuse that McCarthy says made her “laugh her head off.” It was a little cute, true, but not terribly informative, given that the overall theme of the book would seem to indicate that you should do it. Though there is a brief discussion of McCarthy's childhood adventures with masturbation, there seems to be little of substance, nothing instructional, and little in the way of helpful advice. The canooter, it seems, must figure it out for itself.

The chapter on abusive relationships is similarly disappointing. McCarthy recounts a bad relationship as a seventh grader, and then moves on to briefly talk about two high-profile domestic violence cases. A majority of women, she says, "are attracted to the bad guy. Hopefully most women will outgrow these types of relationships, but if they don't, the consequences could be deadly." A majority? Really? Though McCarthy provides a list of things abusive partners apparently say, she does not seem to take a strong stand against domestic violence: "BUT, I highly suggest that if anything in this chapter rings a bell, please go see a therapist to help decipher if the problems in your relationship merit counselling -- or if you just need to get away from the asshole you're with." No mention of the troubling problem of men and women caught up in abusive or violent relationships, when to call the police, how to escape a bad relationship, services and resources for struggling families, of economic supports for women and children -- or lack thereof. No, no. Girlfriend, just listen to Jenny, okay? Hopefully, you'll just outgrow this. Promise?

And this is where the tone of the book becomes apparent. McCarthy appears to be a huge and enthusiastic proponent of a therapeutic technique called “The Work.” It's mentioned throughout the book, and there's an extensive interview between McCarthy and Katie Byron, the creator of the technique. As best I could tell -- and as best McCarthy can explain it to me and my canooter -- it's got something to do with realizing that all conflicts are essentially your problem, and that all suffering seems to come from stressful thoughts. Placing guilt and blame on somebody else? Just causes more suffering. If you do “The Work,” McCarthy says, "you will find that it's always about you and you alone." And I suppose that may be true if, say, you're having trouble communicating your canooter's needs to a partner... but how, exactly, does that fit in to the chapter on abuse?

Perhaps McCarthy had some sense of the growing unease readers might feel, because the second section, “Lust,” shifts to a faster pace. There's a discussion of the common fantasies of women. McCarthy's study group? Twitter. It's not that you expect McCarthy to try to solicit feedback and responses from a controlled group of research participants, or focus groups, or roundtable discussions. You don't expect that from a book like this. But you do find yourself wishing that she'd gone a little further than asking for 140 character answers from the massed ether.

McCarthy's chapter on sexual harassment is as lacking. It gives no real information or answers -- just a charming tale of a questionable nude photo shoot as a young woman. The chapter on STDs (“STDs: The Gift That Keeps on Giving”) is almost exclusively about her fear of getting crabs as a college student. No discussion of the other diseases a canooter can pick up... not even a mention of HPV. No recommendations for regular testing or screening, if a canooter is, well, experiencing life to the fullest. It's troubling, because McCarthy could actually engage in some advocacy and education with her reading audience, and fails to do so. Perhaps it goes back to The Work?

There is an obligatory chapter on threesomes, another on prostitution, fetishes ("Hahahaha. Seriously, this crap is real. Hahahahaha, gross," says McCarthy), astrological compatibility, and a list of alternative names for the canooter (“Mrs. Sphincter's next-door neighbour?” Really?). There is a longish discussion of the dangers of progesterone creams, which can wreak havoc on the “ultimate” booty call. The chapter on Brad Pitt -- well, it didn't offer my canooter advice on how to hit that, though frankly, I'd say he's largely unavailable these days.

What makes this book at all worth reading, I think -- besides the angry letter McCarthy's vibrator writes to her -- is the occasional revealing glimpses of what her life is like. And I say that without sarcasm, because there are several stories that left me with a marked feeling of pity and sympathy for her. Not because her canooter is hairy (so she says). But because in the stories of breast augmentation, nude photo shoots, and her parents' reaction to appearing in Playboy, there is a larger sense of what popular culture is doing to women: what it is telling them to do, and that McCarthy is somehow caught up in it, unable to escape. By her own account, McCarthy is pleased with her career and her success. But there is something desperately sad about the constant references to nuns and growing up in a Polish Catholic family, about the tone of a book that resorts to silly names for anatomy, and about a life philosophy that ruthlessly tries to imply that the things that happen to you and your reactions to them are essentially your fault. There is something desperately sad about finding these revelations in the section called “Faking It.” Faking what, I wonder?

Is this what the book is about? No, not really. But even my canooter agreed that there was a glimmer of something just underneath the surface -- a subtext of what happens when you turn to a life of reality TV and high profile media. And when you finish reading the book -- when you finish with McCarthy's tale of how she has turned to Buddhism to try to find peace and acceptance in her life -- you're left with a vague, nauseous feeling. A feeling that if you want to be like Jenny McCarthy, you're buying into a view of the world that is tough, jaded, and incredibly cynical. It's a fleeting feeling, though. Give a moment, and then you'll be back to laughing about the silly things you can do with your canooter. Hahahahahah. Seriously. I'm not making this up. Hahahahaha.