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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