Fascinating Womanhood: wounded pride


Picking up from where we left off last week, we’re about halfway through the chapter “Masculine Pride.” Helen has spent a lot of time explaining exactly what she means by “masculine pride” and went into a lot of detail on what men are proud of and all the ways we women constantly destroy them, by doing things like having a job or having interests he doesn’t share. Next she’s going to explain to us how the entire world seems designed to break and humiliate men and all the ways women are responsible to make up for how terrible the world is.

This will soon be clear (if it’s not already), but the kind of behavior and reactions Helen is about to describe as completely normal, natural, inescapable, and unchangeable are what most of society classifies as immaturity. She describes things like withdrawal and pain avoidance, which are normal human responses. We all struggle with hurt feelings and humiliation, and to some extent, we all know that it’s a part of life. We learn to process it, confront it if necessary, but ultimately move on.

However, that’s not what Helen describes.

She begins by outlying how men have grown up in a world hell-bent on making sure they are fragile and weak. Their families mock teenage boys for their youthful beards: “their mothers may have viewed it with disdain.” So, men have grown up where families show endless disdain for their burgeoning “masculinity.” Then, it’s the working world, which is “brutal,” “sadistic,” and “undermining.” Which, granted, it certainly can be all of the above. And, finally, his wife “wounds his pride” by showing “indifference” (previously described as being busy or preoccupied). All of this, she argues, leads to a very specific set of reactions that men cannot help but have. These responses, she says, are always how a man responds to his environment.

Reaction #1: Humiliation

This happens because you, his wife, has touched “the most sensitive part of his nature.” A woman who shows indifference becomes “repugnant,” and Helen is not surprised when “he reacts by being explosive.” This is one of those times when Helen’s language deeply concerns me. Her word choice has been far too consistent for phrasings like this to be accidental. Over the course of this book (and we’re almost halfway through it), Helen has deliberately chosen to use words like “violent” and “explosive” to describe how men react to wives that displease them. Almost always, these words are accompanied by “no wonder” and “unsurprisingly.” Given all the threats she makes to her readers, it deeply bothers me that she also threatens us with our husbands’ overt and physical violence.

His “explosive” reaction to finding you “repugnant” is followed by–

Reaction #2: Reserve

And she makes it clear she doesn’t mean shy. Reserve, she says, is “a wall to protect himself.” And the only possible way we could ever hope to get around this wall is making sure he is:

absolutely certain that his ideas will be met with appreciation . . . the slightest hint of misunderstanding will shatter the illusion and drive him behind his wall of reserve again . . . If [you] indicate that [you] are not the least bit interested, he will wince as if struck by a lash . . . If the girl acts indifferent at such a crisis, she has a heart of stone.

Such is the case with every man . . . He will quickly resume [his reserve] unless he can bask in the full glow of an all-comprehending sympathy . . . the higher the caliber of the man, the more he tends to draw into himself when his pride is hurt . . .

If you detect this reserve in your husband, take measure to eliminate it. If you don’t, he may be tempted to seek the company of another woman.

So, in order for you husband not to view you as “repugnant” or react “explosively,” he must be absolutely certain that you worship the ground he walks on. If you’re confused, or bored, or distracted, you are whipping him with a lash and he’ll cheat on you. This, Helen says, is the inescapable reality of manhood, especially for men of “higher caliber.” She goes on, in the next reactions, to tell us that they’ll also become dishonest, resort to blame-shifting, and start constantly fishing for affirmation.

This is what I meant when I said Helen describes immaturity as a universal, unchanging male constant. Yes, all sorts of people have the kinds of reactions Helen has laid out here. We are all capable of getting our feelings hurt, and doing what we can to protect ourselves. Yes, we are all quite capable of throwing people under the bus and lying our asses off to keep ourselves out of trouble. I’ve even done the whole “fishing-for-compliments-by-belittling-myself” thing. We’re human. We do some ugly, pathetic things.

However, this is not behavior Helen describes as immature, or wrong, or anything. This is not only appropriate, she even says that this should be what we expect from men of higher caliber.

I know I’m reviewing Helen’s book, but this is one of those times when I start thinking “surely this is crazy. Nobody thinks like this anymore.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. These sorts of attitudes about men are not only common, they are the dominant narrative concerning men and masculinity in fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Men in these circles are consistently painted as base animals. They cannot help themselves. Their reactions are completely and totally outside of their control, and the only arbiters left, the only barrier between themselves and debasement, are chaste, virtuous women. It’s our responsibility, women, to restrain the beast. Men can’t do it on their own. They need us. We commonly see this crop up in any sort of Modesty Rules discussion– “women, we need your help to keep ourselves pure! We can’t help it when we lust after women who are immodestly dressed! It’s just how we are! We’re visual!”

But do women get any sort of the same consideration?

You cannot pour your heart out to him. You must withhold feelings and confessions which would wound his sensitive pride.”

And that is how Helen finishes this chapter. She has quite efficiently done everything she possibly can to make sure that women are permanently silenced. While we sit in rapt attention, hanging on our husbands’ every word, we also have to make sure that we never say or do anything that could possibly be interpreted as a slight to his pride.

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  • I can’t believe more men don’t denounce this drivel. It’s disgusting, abhorrent, and far more insulting to “masculine pride” than than some occasional lack of interest on a woman’s part. Holy moley.

    • Nea

      I can see the appeal to a certain kind of man. A guy who is already insecure, immature, controlling and abusive is going to love this book like pie, because it says that he “can’t help” being like that, that he is the epitome of masculinity, and that he is perfectly justified in exploding for the slightest of reasons.

      Much like Debi Pearl, Helen has her husband’s worst traits and redefined them as markers of particularly strong manhood.

  • Caleigh

    all I could think reading through this post was, “what did her husband think of all of this?!” if she was even married that is.

  • This reminds me of a disagreement I got into some months back on a blog run by a woman on a mission to teach these principles to other women (as, of course, she is not permitted to instruct men). You can probably guess, but I’ll not link it up or name it. In any case, one chap commenting on a post all about the fragile male ego was especially proud of an acronym he used with his wife in order to prevent his humiliation by any sophisticated criticism from her: KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. And no one–not him, not the woman running the blog, no one–could understand my concern with calling one’s wife stupid as a matter of course. Couldn’t he at least have his KISS with, say, “Keep It Simple, Sweetheart”?

    Then someone pointed out that Eve was the one who was solely to blame for all of humanity’s problems in the first place, and I booked on outta there.

  • krwordgazer

    This whole section is really peculiar. Both men and women need to feel that the relationship is a safe place to share their deepest fears and highest dreams, and it’s true that if the same are met with indifference, the one who shared will be wounded and withdraw. But she makes it seem as if only men are like this, and then she paints them as even more fragile– as if it’s not just their deepest fears and highest dreams, but any idea at all that they cannot bear indifference towards. But women are supposed to suppress their own deepest feelings and not share them lest the man’s pride be wounded. So not only is it completely a lopsided relationship, but it seems contradictory to the whole the-man-is-the-strong-one argument. Does he really want to be married to the strong, silent type? I thought that’s what the woman was supposed to want…

  • Carol

    Oh well, I suppose everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, even Helen; but no one is entitled to have that opinion taken seriously.

    Who published this drivel? I can’t imagine it being picked up by any credible publishing house.

    • Sadly, no. It was originally published by Pacific Press (not really credible), but as soon as it started selling well Bantam bought the rights to it. They’ve updated it and re-printed it four times, most recently in 2007.

      • Carol

        It is a sad commentary on American society when a book like this sells well. We the People have become We the Sheeple.

        It is not only people in the ecclesiastical subculture that want Authority figures to relieve them of their personal responsibilities, secular people are looking for the same in their political candidates.

        Harry Truman said, “A person who is fundamentally honest doesn’t need a code of ethics. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are all the ethical code anybody needs.”

        Religious or secular, the Conservatives want to keep the Ten Commandments and toss the Sermon on the Mount and the Liberals want to keep the Sermon on the Mount and toss the Ten Commandments and both want a dogmatic ideological leadership that spares them the responsibility and risk of error that making their own ethical decisions demands.

  • I’m convinced that most of these issues come from a lack of Christian men truly finding their identity in Christ, of finding their worth in God. A lot of Christian men (and nonChristian) nowadays ARE insecure, immature, and will use any excuse they can to not face their own issues. (A lot of women are, too). I really think a lot of stuff like conservative insistence on gender roles and complementarianism comes from men who NEED women to worship them and give them satisfaction and worth that only God can give to them. So they use women as this sort of prop for their own insecurities.

    Women can do this, too, though. I myself had a huge battle in leaning on men for my worth, security, and identity. A lot of it was painted in this weird, spiritual language until I truly realized that it was WRONG. That God isn’t asking men and women to try and find their identity and worth in someone of the opposite sex, but from Him. He is the source of our Love. If we aren’t truly living in God’s love, then we can’t love anyone correctly. The church has twisted this stuff a lot in the last 50 or so years, making marriage and gender roles a kind of idolatry.

    Interestingly enough, I once went to a church where a new pastor began preaching complementarianism from the pulpit as “gospel truth.” They began having classes on it and everything. It made me uncomfortable, because I could see how insecure he was, and how he was starting to make something that wasn’t the gospel part of the gospel (always a bad idea). I’m fine if you’re a complementarian, but if you’re forcing it on others as the only way to truly serve God, then that’s wrong. Then one day at church, he actually confessed that he was idolizing marriage, and worshiping his wife, and demanding things from her that she could never completely fulfill. I remember thinking, “FINALLY. Someone gets it. Complementarianism often stems from insecurity.” I’d seen it all along. But I left that church pretty soon after that just because I couldn’t take the indoctrination of rigid gender roles, etc., anymore.

  • NuttShell

    What is Helen’s educational and professional background that she feels she is expert enough to write something like this? She doesn’t have a very high opinion of men and forget focusing on what God wants them to be like. The men she knows are most likely that way because the church has focused on teaching an entitlement mentality instead of being a servant like Jesus demonstrated.

    • She doesn’t have any more (or less) qualifications than most of the women who write books and get huge speaking engagements in Christian culture. Most of the “big names” have no qualifications, either. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has a degree in Piano. Beth Moore has a bachelor’s in Political Science . . . one exception is Mary Kassian, who’s a professor in “women’s studies” at Southern Baptist but that’s a joke, but her education is in “Rehabilitation Medicine” from U of Alberta.

  • So, let me get this right. A man, a husband should feel justified in his abuse of his wife because;

    1. His ego is bruised by her indifference.
    2. His ego is bruised by her lack of understanding.
    3. His ego is bruised by the big bad world of work (his).
    4. His ego is simply bruised.

    Her indifference of course might be caused by her own hurt feelings, her exhaustion, her last round with his explosive temper, her work or any number of other influences. Her lack of understanding might be caused by his inability to communicate effectively.

    I will not go on. Having escaped many years ago from an abusive relationship, Helen’s views are absolute nonsense. Helen should spend some time in a shelter for abused women.

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  • ultramontane

    Your abandoning your beliefs not because of intellectual examination and deep study but because it interferes with your desires. You don’t want to feel guilty for things you want to do. Most people leave Christianity not because they don’t think its true, rather because it interferes with their desires. Of course, I think protestantism is deeply flawed and leads eventually to athiesm as full truth resides in the Catholic Church. I was raised in an agnostic environment and surrounded by the atheistic liberal culture but luckily after years of study and searching for truth was led to the catholic church.

    On the topic, what is said in fascinating woman is absolutely true. This is what men really want whether women want to accept it or not. An insult is never forgiven and men are sensitive about many things because so much is expected of them in terms of being a man. I will never forget the women who have teased me about any personality trait, masculine virtue, or physical attribute. It shows their opinion of me and it scars the ego. It is like a man teasing a woman about her beauty or ability with children. Men have a natural instinct to want to be dominant and admired and teasing can easily cross over into something offensive. Feminists basically don’t like anything that men truly desire in their nature and that is why most men are unhappy in marriage today. A woman is admired for her feminine qualities, a man could care less about her career other then extra money to spend.