Fascinating Womanhood Review: feminine nature


What happens when the average red-blooded man comes in contact with an obviously able, intellectual, and competent woman, manifestly independent of any help a man can give, and capable of meeting him or defeating him on his own ground? He simply doesn’t feel like a man any longer. In the presence of such strength and ability in a mere woman he feels like a futile, ineffectual imitation of a man. It is one of the most uncomfortable and humiliating sensations a man can experience, so that the woman who arouses it becomes repugnant to him.

When a man is in the presence of a tender, trustful, dependent woman, he immediately feels a sublime expansion of his power to protect and shelter this frail and delicate creature. In the presence of such weakness, he feels stronger, more competent, bigger, manlier than ever. This feeling of strength and power is one of the most enjoyable he can experience. The apparent need of the woman for care and protection, instead of arousing contempt for her lack of ability, appeals to the very noblest feelings within him.

I don’t usually quote this much from the book (mostly because that would get boring pretty fast, but also because I can only legally reproduce so much of it for a critical review), but I thought it was important for all of you to see this, in the full, horrible, stark reality of Helen’s world. In this world, the most important thing that must be maintained at all costs is that men feel powerful. And not only must they feel powerful, they must be powerful, except that is only possible when a woman is incompetent.

I wish I could say it doesn’t get any worse.

The next section of the chapter is one of Helen’s lists– all the “characteristics” of a feminine nature:

  • weakness– physically weak, incapable of solving physical problems.
  • submissiveness– defined earlier in the book as “never having needs.”
  • dependence– “because her whole purpose in life is home-oriented.”
  • tenderness– “crying [over books, dead animals], were it ever so stupid.”
  • fearfulness– “men will, in fact, sometimes take women into danger, just to see how fearful women are.”

The last one– fearfulness– pisses me off. My abuser would do this over and over again— deliberately put me into a situation that made me feel incredibly unsafe, or do something that was life-threatening and ridiculously stupid (like doing donuts in an iced-over parking lot, or nearly breaking my neck on a jet ski), and then get an incredible kick out of my reaction. He thought my legitimate fear was hysterical, and it made him feel big and bad by comparison. According to Helen, however, men— all men, not just abusers– do this. “He does it because you are so afraid, and he is so unafraid.”

Helen goes on to tell us how to “awaken” our feminine natures, and it’s as easy as 1-2-3. First, we get rid of any “strength, ability, competence, or fearlessness.” Then we stop doing anything around the house that could possibly fall inside a “masculine” job– and if we have to do it, we must do it incredibly badly (“do it in a feminine manner” and feminine = incompetent) or our husbands will “never come to our rescue.”

Then there’s this:

Don’t compete with men for advancement on a job, higher pay, or greater honors. Don’t compete with them for scholastic honors in men’s subjects. It may be all right to win over a man in English or social studies, but you’re in trouble if you compete with men in math, chemistry, or science. Don’t appear to know more than a man does in world events, the space program, science, or industry.

I just . . . can’t even handle this chapter.

Partly because I know more than my husband about the space program. It’s what happens when you’re obsessed with something like space exploration since your earliest memory, like me. Except, in Helen’s world, the fact that I have been a Trekkie and a NASA geek since I was four is wrong. Something that is so deeply a part of me– my love of space, and the stars, and of space launches and Mars missions– must be removed, because it threatens men.

I know this sounds crazy. I know this sounds like something from the 50s. Except it is exactly what I grew up with, and it is entrenched so deeply in our culture that when you remind a woman that she’s a woman she does worse in math and science evaluations. And it’s because women like Helen Andelin, and Debbie Pearl, and Mary Pride, and Phyllis Schlafly, and Mary Kassian, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Grace Driscoll, and Danah Gresh have all been screaming about this since the 60s. Being strong, and capable, and competent, is anti-feminine and anti-God.

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  • I’m sorry, this book is the most lunatic thing I’ve heard recently. And, like you, I came from a hyper-complementarian religious group. All of the delicate flower stuff. I’m so glad to be around competent women! They teach me a lot! Not just about math and science, (my wife can dance circles around me in those subjects), but about my self. I don’t know how you keep reading that book. I think I would have had to see how long it could float out on Lake Erie.

    • I was in a ladies’ Bible study group that revered a woman who would respond,”Yes, dear?” to her husband regardless of how he addressed her. I happened to like that family a lot, but still….

      • Oh, even that can be the response of a competent woman…it all depends on your phrasing.

        My husband is not only not diminished by the fact that I can repair a leaky toilet and he can’t, he revels in my competence. I overheard him bragging about my plumbing skills to someone else–made me feel good about myself.

    • This “total womanhood” crap was invented in the ’70s as a counter-revolution to the growing feminist movement. We can see how well that worked out. Frankly, any man who needs a woman to be weak so he can feel strong doesn’t deserve to breed. Let him keep on finding nothing but women who are “repugnant” to him, and let his breed die out.

  • I have no words for what a huge pile of steaming crap that is, and how badly that book, and any other that repeats even a “sanitized, modern” version of that crap, needs to be burned. That’s all I can say.

    Hang in there hon, and keep recognizing the lies. Keep recognizing them. Keep searching them out, and keep calling them what they are- BULLSHIT.

    Beyond them, you WILL find truth. Just keep searching. God reveals himself. I know this because I’ve walked this road too, and it took me over a decade to even WANT to see God again. Finding him, that’s an ongoing delight, because he is SO different from all those pre-concieved, pre-absorbed, pre-taught bs notions I was wading through.

    You’ll find your own path, and he’ll meet you there. I am a Christian today in spite of the church I grew up in. Church=/= God. Teachers=/= God. Writers=/=God.

    Love. Laughter. Beauty. Unexpected moments of incredible clarity… THAT is where you’ll find God.

    Most of all, take care of you.

    Ps Dannah Gresh? Isn’t that the Secret Keeper lady?
    I haven’t found that in her writing, but I haven’t read her stuff extensively, either. In fact I rarely read “Christian” writing, especially for women, because Elizabeth George once wrote about the necessity of applying makeup daily… I laughed, put the book down, and didn’t pick up another Christian book until Staci Elrige’s Captivating, which I loved, but also has flaws.

    • Gresh has written a lot of books on “femininity” that are essentially sending the same exact message as this tripe.

    • I had a Christian male friend suggest that I could be “prettier” to other Christian men if I were quieter.

  • I’ll be in the corner, seething quietly to myself.

    • I’ll be there with ya. We’ll set up our own little Seething Corner. As a bonus, any cats in the vicinity will probably gravitate to us.

  • It seems like there are at least a couple of fundamental issues underlying the problems you have pointed out in this blog post that occurred to me while I was reading. One has to do with how men are taught to see themselves as competent and valuable. The other has to do with some presuppositions about certain “feminine” traits representing “weakness”, when they don’t necessarily do anything of the sort. In whatever manner we were created in the image of God, scripture is pretty clear that both male and female were created in that image. Which means that traits traditionally considered “masculine” and “feminine” are all traits that reflect different aspects of God’s nature. The “weakness” of certain traits is nothing more than a cultural judgment of the relative value of one trait vs. another.

  • What a depressing review. Putting things into boxes and telling women to make themselves less than on all levels is so twisted. Thanks for calling it out!

  • “What happens when the average red-blooded man comes in contact with an obviously able, intellectual, and competent woman, manifestly independent of any help a man can give, and capable of meeting him or defeating him on his own ground?”

    Hmm. Pretty sure I am red-blooded and male, last I checked. And “average” is probably a decent way to describe me. I remember coming in contact with just such a woman as described here.

    I fell madly and completely in love with her, and even went so far as to marry her and have kids. I find her competence, intelligence, and independence to be a huge turn on. She doesn’t “need” me in the sense of being incapable of functioning without me. But she chose me, wants me, and loves me.

    So I am calling total BS on this whole idea. The kind of man who can’t handle a strong woman seems to me to be the sort that needs power and control to feel like a man. That doesn’t sound very manly to me.

    • This is a wonderful response. I’m glad that you found your wife’s strength and intelligence attractive!

    • It doesn’t sound very good at all to me either, much less manly. I’m so glad you found each other. The world needs more of you and it needs you to keep talking! <3

    • thornbloom

      I’m not a man, but I have to say if any sweetheart suddenly became teary over small difficulties, afraid of things I wasn’t afraid of, expressed feelings of incompetence, and was suddenly unable to do basic household repairs she’d been capable of before, I wouldn’t feel vigorous and confident it was my turn to shine. I’d feel like tearing apart the doctor’s offices in town until I got her in front of a good neurologist, because she’s obviously suffering from some terrible degenerative condition and something must be done quickly.

      So far the book sounds like an essay on what a tragedy it is Stepford Wives aren’t real, and the author supposes she’ll have to do her best to make them.

  • This has probably been said before, but reading this I kept thinking: Isn’t it the women who give birth? Who face months of discomfort during pregnancy, and then hours and hours of pain and blood, by themselves (even if they have supportive husbands, doctors, etc, it’s the individual woman who must give birth!) Childbirth is arguably the *most* “feminine” of actions and you certainly can’t argue that it’s merely a social construct. And yet who would–or could–describe it as weak? or submissive? or dependent? or fearful?

    • Bam. There is nothing more I could say except yes, a hundred times yes.

  • The thing is that if you are a competent woman, not being that person is like committing suicide. You have to completely sublimate everything that you are and be someone else. A person can only do that for so long without completely despairing.

    Also, any man who feels ineffectual and humiliated in the face of female strength is, in fact, a weak and futile imitation of, not just a man, but a person.

  • Kelley

    “You’re in trouble if you compete with men in math, chemistry, or science.”
    I’m a chemistry student about to head into a PhD program. Yes, it’s a competitive environment, but all the men I work with are supportive of me when I do well. I’ve never known a man to be intimidated when I explain a reaction or even tutor them. They don’t care about my gender; they care about what I offer in science.

    • I believe much of this prejudice is within the fundamentalist Christian (and dare I say just plain Christian) culture. Many men who have been raised in the 80’s by feminist mothers ( my husband is one ) don’t feel threatened by a woman’s success. It’s merely within these biblically defined rolls of man as “head” that we see woman being demoted to her lesser self.

    • Aibird

      Sadly, there’s still some areas of science that are fairly sexist. Physics being fairly notable for it. There was an interesting study done where the researchers had the exact same application but just changed the name. The application with the female sounding name was rated lower and less likely to be accepted across the board. This was sent to numerous physics departments across the country. Also notable — it didn’t matter the gender of the reviewer either. This inherent sexism is sadly still mostly ingrained in academic circles, especially physics.

      As for my own experience in the field of physics, I found it depended on the students and the university. Sometimes I’d end up the “token woman,” where if I did well, I was lauded as being exceptional, but if I did badly, I was torn apart. The guys in the class were not held on such a high pedestal, and it didn’t matter as much how awesome or how badly they did — they were respected and their opinion valued far more than mine. It took me three years before professors were willing to take my comments seriously, and I had to prove myself capable over and over again. One of the questions I’d often ask my male peers was: Do you feel your opinion is respected? (The answer was always yes, and they’d act surprised that I’d even ask that question.)

      It was very frustrating. That was just undergraduate courses, so it’s possible graduate studies aren’t as bad. We’ll see once I get accepted.

  • Peggy Y

    I find especially repugnant that the only way a person (man, in this case) can feel competent is if he surrounds himself with others who are, or portray themselves to be, incompetent. I would rather be surrounded with lots of competence, thankyouverymuch!

  • evangelicalexpat, it’s the same logic by which becoming a prima ballerina is soft and girlie rather than an incredibly demanding field of athletics.

  • While reading the latest crap in the book, I started wondering about the children who are homeschooled. Are the girls taught differently than the boys? If the P/QF adherents believe it is not feminine for a woman to be intelligent, strong, and capable, then why even bother to educate them when it comes to advanced studies, such as physics or calculus? Anyone out there a homeschool survivor who can help me out with this? Honestly, this chapter is so bizarre it is amazing that anyone actually believes this stuff. The men I know don’t want clingy, whiny women. They admire intelligence and strength. It’s actually quite sexy.

    • I would like to say here that in our family…and we were fundamentalists for exactly 5 years, (god help us)…and my children were schooled using A.C.E. ( a very ignorantly fundamentalist curriculum) that I NEVER…NEVER once discouraged my girls from enjoying or succeeding in the STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) subjects. Even though our church discouraged it, we thought it was so very smart of our girls to enjoy and like these subjects. I now have a child who is GPA 3.89 with straight A’s in math (IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL NOW) and a science junky in the 7th grade. Maybe because we weren’t always fundies….maybe because it was simply subjects in school they enjoyed and I don’t like to discourage my kids from enjoying school subjects…..I don’t know. But not all homeschooling families discourage this kind of learning for their girls.

  • Margaret

    So, so thankful that I grew up in a household where my parents believed in “teamwork.” Everybody worked together to get things done. It didn’t matter who we were or what gender we were, each of us was valued and encouraged to do our best in whatever we were doing. I didn’t know what I was good at, but I knew I had “potential,” and the hope that some day I would figure it out.

  • Thank you for reviewing Fascinating Womanhood. I would like to share a story about my experience in a Bible study. Over ten years ago, we were assigned a book by Elizabeth George titled A Woman After God’s Own Heart. My classmates and I were instructed to learn how to be submissive and quiet women of God, as Elizabeth George suggested by speaking less, eating less and all the rest of the womanly behaviors that made us appear to be “better Christian women”. Needless to say, some of us were quite critical towards the ideals of the book, but stayed with an open mind. To this day, I still see hints of “be seen and not heard” in the Christian church culture here in Chicago. I have complained about it with specific examples to other Christian friends, including some who happen to be clergy and I got mixed responses. The less outwardly conservative a church is, it seems like the “rule” to “be seen and not heard” is more of an unspoken because it is better to keep the peace at all costs – which is equally as toxic as when they aggressively push the “be seen and not heard” nonsense at my old fundamentalist church.

  • Mr. Captain, my beloved husband, is one of the most self-confident and capable men I have ever met. He can make wrought iron gewgaws, build stuff out of wood, hit a squirrel’s eye at distance with any firearm in his hand, fix just about anything on a vehicle of any sort, and deal with a drugged and freaked-out cat. He can also French seam, cook, arrange flowers, and cradle a sick creature in his arms. He’s told me many times that it was my independence and capability that drew him to me. Can he drag a partner’s weight along behind him? Yes, he certainly can, and he had been for most of his life. But is it his desired way to go through life? No, it isn’t. I could–and can–quite happily handle myself in any direction, and he is so secure and self-confident in his own skin that he not only could “tolerate” this very “unfeminine” behavior but wanted it in a partner. And I will never, ever go back to that old model or put up with a man wanting me to be less so he could be more. But my Evil Ex, Biff, the preacher–he was a lot like your abuser, so much so that sometimes I wonder if we were married to the same guy!

    I’ve really got to wonder what kind of insecure, emotionally crippled men are getting drawn to this brand of Christianity, that they require women to deny their competence and capability to feel comfortable around them. I cannot think of a single man I knew in church when I was Christian who was really a confident or truly emotionally whole person–most had serious anger management issues and problems with impulse control–and relied upon women to prop them up. Hurting a fragile male ego was the crime that could never be redressed enough. I see these sorts of men today in especially conservative Christianity, and wonder what an amazing world it’d be if they could let go of their insecurity and fear. They’re denying the power and abilities of half the human race by acting this way, and it isn’t even working–if abuse statistics are anything to go by, deep down they know that their insecurities are not really assuaged by making women into infants and dolls to make them feel bigger.

  • this is so abusive, and it is so important that courageous folks like you expose this darkness to the light of day.

    • Scott_In_OH

      This can’t be said strongly enough. This book is taking sadistic, abusive behavior, extolling it as admirable masculinity, and telling women they should be happy it’s happening to them. It’s horrifying.

  • So the big takeaway from this book so far is “It’s easy to have a happy marriage, ladies – you just have to commit soul-suicide!”?

    I’ll have to be sure to tell my husband I’m repugnant to him because I’m better at math and far more conversant with the sciences than he is, and I don’t hide it. I’ll also have to break it to my stepfather that he’s totally unmanned by my mother’s amazing intelligence and personal strength and really wants her to act like a simpering ninny. They (along with many of my male friends) seem to be strangely unaware of how undermined they should feel in the presence of capable, smart, assertive women. It breaks my heart to think that women and girls are being brainwashed with this wasteful, destructive theory of “womanhood”. My son, at least, will be raised to know better.

  • Betta Splendens

    Not only is it ridiculous that all women are “naturally” emotional, weak, and dependent – and if they are, why do they have to work so hard to “awaken” it? – but it is also extremely ridiculous to assume that all emotion is weakness.

    I happen to be a very emotional person myself. I cry at beautiful music, the ends of tragic movies and books, and whenever something bad happens in my family. I feel an extremely powerful joy whenever I manage to learn something new, whenever I get a faster time on my 5Ks or master a new sonatina on the piano. I am still very young at present and am still in school, but someday I would like to be an opera singer, a conductor, or a composer maybe – all of which I definitely have talent at. And guess what? All of those jobs require, or at least strongly favor, emotional people. An audience watching an opera will not be moved if the singer is not. An orchestra or choir will not follow a conductor who is not 100% passionate about the music. And, even though not all music is inherently emotional, it certainly helps if you are a composer to be able to really FEEL all the different things you must put in your songs. In fact it is the opera singer who will not cry, the conductor who feels nothing, the composer who only writes notes instead of songs, who is weak.

    My emotions do not set me up well for some jobs, that much is certain. But just because I am emotional does not mean all women are, and there are plenty of women who would be quite competent in those jobs which require a logical mind and even keel. However, I AM EMOTIONAL, and I am proud of it, and I am NOT dependent or weak or fearful!!!!

    End of rant.

    • “Why do they have to work so hard to awaken it?”

      Oh haven’t you heard? We’ve all been brainwashed by the Feminists(tm).

  • Growing up my father was traveling across a great distance and home one weekend a month. If my mother hadn’t been up to the task of raising three children, paying the bills and other stuff all by herself we’d have been up a creek without a paddle. Dad left that job and became a teacher, Mom had to go to work (school secretary). Consequently I have never been intimidated by a wife who wanted to work and isn’t afraid to give me a piece of her mind. It has made the last 35 years very exciting.

  • For my own sanity, I am choosing to believe that this is an elaborate prank. Because when I try to wrap my mind around this, my brain starts to break.

  • I’m just so confused by the idea that a strong, capable, intelligent woman would WANT a man who is so insecure that her competence leaves him feeling “futile” and “humiliated.” In my experience, most women like this demand and expect more from the men we choose to share our lives with.

    Helen can keep these sad, easily-threatened men ALLLLL to herself. I’ll be over here with men who are EXCITED at the idea of interacting with me, who not only don’t find it repugnant but who actually love being around competent, independent women.

  • Right now, my husband is recovering from surgery for kidney cancer … right on the heels of surgery for thyroid cancer. His long-term prognosis is excellent, but his activities are limited right now. He gets tired easily, and he’s not allowed to lift more than 10 pounds.

    So not a lot of room right now for me to be weak, dependent, and helpless. No, I’m the one toting around our 26-pound toddler (in the Ergobaby, so my arms are free to carry the groceries as well). I’m the one bringing in the firewood. I’m the one out shoveling, at 8 p.m. (after said toddler is tucked in), in –11 wind chills.

    • If it wasn’t for my smart intelligent, articulate, assertive wife, I’d be dead. About 8 years ago, I had an auto immune liver disease. I needed a liver transplant. However, due to the disease my ability to reason and speak up for myself was limited. My wife became my advocate and therefore saved my life. She helped navigate my doctor’s appointments, helping choose the doctors and the hospital.

  • This is shrinking women to the dwindled state their men are in. Wrong approach!

    It reminds me of another fundamentalist society; the culture the writer of “Not Without My Daughter” found herself in. Women were repressed and restricted, but the men had the maturation level of pre-school children. She described one birthday party where the grown men in the house ran wild and opened all the presents!

  • Christina Nordlander

    This book sounds like an abomination. I can’t even believe it exists.

    Just let me chime in with most married people in these comments: my husband isn’t a weak little manchild who’s afraid of intelligent and competent women. Frankly, I can’t see why a woman would *want* a man like that.

  • Came here from Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog at Patheos.

    Thanks for doing this. I had an aunt in the ’70s who was so into “Fascinating Womanhood” that she gave copies of it to all her sisters and we nieces got “Fascinating Girlhood.” There’s a companion volume for men called “Man of Velvet, Man of Steel,” or maybe that’s reversed.

    Her goal was to make sure we wouldn’t succumb to feminism’s “lies.” She failed, miserably. And yes, she is miserable.

  • centaurie

    He thought my legitimate fear was hysterical, and it made him feel big and bad by comparison. According to Helen, however, men– all men, not just abusers– do this. “He does it because you are so afraid, and he is so unafraid.”

    Because Real Men ™ are “competent” and “powerful” because they make people/women they perceive as weaker (and inferior, even?) feel even more humilitiated and bellitled??? Who wants to be in their pressence much less spend their life with them? <__>

  • AJ

    These quotes are not only insulting to women… But men also. I found them humiliating, embarrassing, and derogatory. Men are animals, who need a pat on the head like a little family dog to make them feel better. Actually, as a commercial Fishing Captain, and Humanitarian NGO, I don’t know many men who fear a competent and bright woman. Really? What I fear is the opposite. The only thing I don’t like is belligerence or arrogance, in either sex, regardless how bright and intelligent one may be.

  • Any version of “manhood” that can only be sustained in the presence of foolishness, incompetence, and fear isn’t one I would expect anyone, male or female, to want around.

    Anyway, I’m another tourist from Slacktivist, and another married man astonished that anyone could feel so confident in writing and publishing something so detached from reality. My wife’s brilliant, tough, accomplished, and self-sufficient–which means, among other things, that I can be certain she’s my partner because she wants me, rather than because she’s so handicapped by her frailty and need.

  • confused.

    hi, i am enjoying your review and your whole site, Samantha. i guess it’s like – isn’t it true that if you totally adore another person, practically efface yourself to hold them up on a pedestal, become the wind beneath their wings and be content to remain yourself in the shadow- they will love you? they will appreciate that? you will have given them something great and wonderful? i mean, i know it would be totally hard to do, but if we love someone, should we not try? i’m struggling with this…i know it would be hard, but is it not worth it to pump someone up even if it is not the reality – just for the sake of making them feel awesome?

    • Honestly? No. I would not like to be on the receiving end of that. I would feel a mixture of pity and creeped out. It wouldn’t make me love them (though it might make me worry about them) because there wouldn’t be anyone there to love – they would have taken away everything that made them THEM in order to just be a prop for me.

      It’s wonderful to support and help the one you love, but you shouldn’t lose yourself doing so – and it should be mutual! Your beloved should also want to support YOU, make you happy, and help you achieve your own goals! And if they don’t – if all that support and adoration only goes one way – then that’s not really a healthy relationship.

    • I’m only speaking from my experience, but this is my gut reaction to the scenario you’ve described: the only kind of person who needs this in order to love you is an abuser. I don’t think there’s any way what you’ve described could be healthy, or balanced, and the person doing all of the “effacing” is going to be burned out at some point. It’s not equitable.

      Relationships need to be supported by all the people in them, not just one person who starts treating their own needs/wishes/dreams as if they don’t matter.

      What you’ve described, to me at least, isn’t the same thing as simply being encouraging, or taking the time to build your partner up. I fully support my partner– and, occasionally, supporting him means that I don’t get exactly what I would prefer. But, he also supports me and doesn’t always get exactly what he wants. The key is that the support and encouragement have to go both ways.

      That’s not what Helen is teaching.

  • Really? I would think that upon seeing those qualities in a woman, a man would promptly sigh with relief at the prospect of encountering someone who doesn’t need to be babied or rescued, and then relax for the first time in a long while.

  • Pebbs

    I think Deborah, Huldah, Naomi, Phoebe, and Junia would like to have some terse words with our subculture.
    Thank you for your writing, by the way. I can relate in a lot of ways, and it’s encouraging to be working out some of the same ideas alongside you. My husband and I have very recently jumped the fence from fundamentalism to progressive Christianity. It’s been scary and strange, but exhilarating. The moments when I stop and think, “Hold up. That’s profoundly misogynistic. And I was taught it by people I trusted!” are… just strange. I don’t have words to describe it yet.

  • Lambie Nicolle Sinclair

    Your review of this book is tainted by your abusive past.