You may have noticed a while back on Helen’s chart that one of the “Human Qualities” that every “fascinating woman” should have is “childlikeness.” The first time I saw that particular item, I about gagged. I had no idea where Helen could be going with that– telling women that they need to be “childlike” just seems . . . well, creepy and gross.
However, in the last two years since I picked this book up again, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and one of the things I’ve found is that “childlikeness” is a trait American culture values in women. Women are infantalized in a million ways every day, and we idolize youthful women. But it’s more than just our physical appearance, or our age. Our culture values girlishness, childlikeness, and youthfulness in our personalities, our character, our behavior . . . There’s a reason why “virgin” has also traditionally meant “young girl.”
Helen starts out with a brief introduction, claiming that cultivating “childlikeness” will make your marriage fun, balance out the “angelic qualities” so you don’t become “cloysome,” and, somehow, childlikeness is supposed to make sure we don’t become a doormat. How being like a child helps you avoid being a person that can be easily overruled is beyond me, but let’s see where she goes with it.
Her first chapter on childlikeness covers how women are supposed to model how little girls get angry.
Childlike anger is the cute, pert, saucy anger of a little child . . . when such a child is teased, she doesn’t respond with some hideous sarcasm. Instead, she stamps he foot and shakes her curls and pouts. She gets adorably angry at herself because her efforts to respond are impotent . . .
A scene such as this invariably makes us smile with amusement . . . This is much the same feeling a woman inspires in a man when she expresses anger in a childlike way. Her ridiculous exaggeration of manner makes him suddenly want to laugh; makes him feel, in contrast, stronger, more sensible, and more of a man.
She uses the word saucy throughout this chapter, and, once again, I find myself identifying with what she’s describing. I’ve always been a little bit what my mother describes as “sassy.” And, I am one of those people that when I am pissed it always seems to communicate the way she describes.
In the first few weeks of being married, my partner did something that infuriated me. I actually started waving my arms around and stomped my foot before literally flouncing away to rage-clean my house. I don’t even remember what he’d done to make me so angry, but the fact that his reaction to me being angry was to laugh — you can imagine that didn’t help his case that much.
What I’ve found over the last year– not a very long time to be married, I admit– is that this “childlike” (ew) reaction isn’t helpful. It doesn’t accomplish anything. Helen makes the argument that women need to have “childlike anger” for the simple– and only– reason that it will prevent us from “building resentment.” We don’t express our anger like a child in order to communicate effectively– nope. We do it to “vent.” That’s it. Not to nurture a healthy marriage, not to have the root problem addressed. What has been helpful for my marriage? Looking my partner in the eye and saying I have a problem with that or I don’t like it when you do this.
But honesty is too much of a stretch for Helen:
Learn childlike mannerisms by studying the antics of little girls. Stomp your foot, lift your chin high, square your shoulders, pout, put both hands on your hips, open you eyes wide, mumble under your breath, or turn and walk briskly away, then pause and look back over your shoulder. Or, beat your firsts on your husband’s chest.
You may have to be an actress to succeed, if only a ham actress. But, remember, you’ll be launching an acting career that will save you pain, tension, frustration, a damaged relationship, and perhaps even a marriage. Is any acting career of greater importance? No, so turn on the drama.
She goes on to give us a bunch of different ways we can be childlike when we’re angry, including things like calling our husbands “hairy beasts” and using threats like “I’ll never speak to you again!” (which she refers to as an “exaggeration”).
She does, eventually, get to a section she labels “How to Overcome Anger,” which, perhaps unsurprisingly has nothing to do with open communication and treating a woman’s feelings as legitimate and worth solving. No, we just have to “learn to be forgiving, understanding, and patient.”
There isn’t a single part of this chapter where Helen encourages women to be honest, to work out the problems we have by having an actual conversation with our partners. No– we “act” like a child.