Feminism

Fascinating Womanhood Review: childlikeness

venetian girl

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.

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  • That’s an amazing picture of how a woman could seek to manipulate her husband – but I doubt she would get much out of it. I ran into an example of how a current-day woman can use scripture to create (in my view) a narrow and burdensome role for women. It really got to me, so I wrote a response. By now the original author has opened up and shared some of the struggles in her life and I really give her credit for that. But she still seems to feel that her view of motherhood (specifically) is encouraging which I find amazing. Here’s the link – I hope you don’t mind me sharing. http://leakingmommybrains.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-myth-of-proverbs-31-mom.html

    • Peggy Trivilino

      Hi Rachel==I read that post and couldn’t trust myself to leave a civil comment. Judgmental self-righteousness pushes sll my buttons. My immediate impression of Alison’s post was of her defensiveness and guilt. She seemed to have a desperate need to convince herself of the truth of what she was saying. All things considered, Alison strikes me as a rather sad woman who has no sense of self, no inner locus of intent. She has latched on to an ideal and the rules which dictate how that ideal can be achieved, in order to assign herself an identity.

      Alison’s post in anachronistic set piece, applicable only to stay-at-home mothers who have economic security, perfect health, and perfect children Her words are extremely unhelpful and could cause a great deal of harm’. However, as unhelpful as Alison’s ideas are, Helen Andelin’s book-length farrago of nonsense is infinitely worse.

      • I managed to have some back-and-forth discussion with her and was somewhat encouraged when she shared some of the struggles in her own life. Given her own health struggles I would say that she is, indeed, clinging to an ideal which is not just toxic for her readers but possibly also for her. She did allow some comments on her site that said that her post was very judgmental. She didn’t seem to have a response to those charges, though.

        I think that the danger of the piece and the site in general is that it’s so accessible. Happy and smiley, with heart shaped bullet points, and the condemnation is passed out with a beautiful smile and a pat on the head. I guess that’s how it often goes, but I hadn’t seen such a blatant example and it was a shock to me.

  • Elmo

    Yes, by all means, shake your curls, stomp your feet, and be so cute when you’re angry that I don’t have to take any of it seriously because, after all, your feelings don’t really count anyway.

    • Nea

      Bingo, Elmo. Your hubby will feel like a Manly Man – but he won’t feel like he has to do anything that would stop the amusing antics.

  • Lizzy L

    These instructions are absolutely loathsome. And this is a book directed at ADULTS?!

    • Betta Splendens

      sarcasm/ “No, silly, not at ADULTS, at WOMEN! Didn’t you know that, you silly childlike feminine creature? Women and children are almost the same thing anyway!” *Pats head*

      Ugh.

      • I’ve actually had a dude literally pat me in the head when I disagreed with him that calling men “bitch” and “sissy” was sexist.

        • That would be infuriating.

        • Nea

          PLEASE tell me you punched him and said “Oh. I thought it was inappropriate touch day.”

          • Oh, I wish I had. I was just so… well, SHOCKED that he did that. I just got up and left.

        • Nea

          Sorry, don’t know why it repeated. I’d delete if I could.

    • Jackie

      I ran across this in the 70’s for cryin’ out loud. And she’s still being taken seriously? What I really got a kick out of in the magazine articles was how at least some MEN viewed her philosophy. Didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

  • Interesting Read, thank you.
    Can you imagine if for Men to get things from women they acted like a little kid. No, because being a responsible, intelligent man is inherently respected.

  • What a load of BS if I ever read any. This is just a prescription for how to make your husband resent you & potentially even drive him to cheat on you b/c he won’t respect you. Some people never cease to amaze me. Thanks for speaking out against this nonsense.

    • Courtney

      A woman can not “drive a man to cheat on her.” Nor can a man drive a woman to cheat on him. When one person in a relationship cheats on the other, it’s because he or she is making that choice. An unhappy relationship, or even “bad behavior” on the part of their partner, is not a valid reason to cheat (nor do I think there is such a reason). On the other hand, I don’t consider an open relationship (where everyone involved is aware and consenting of “affairs”) to be cheating.

      Aside from that, I agree with the rest of your comment. 🙂

  • Ugh, what the hell??? I’m sorry, but the behavior that she is advocating is not just childish… it’s abuse. Beat your fists on his chest? Tell him you’ll never talk to him again? Mumble and then walk away? I’m assuming that she does not intend for you to follow through with anything or to hit him hard enough to hurt, but damn, we teach CHILDREN not to act like this, because it is abusive behavior. She says “emulate little girls?” What she means is emulate a spoiled brat (of any gender) that has never learned social interaction or ethics or boundaries! And then she lumps onto that the infuriating response from the man to just “smile and feel more of a man”, which is also hideously abusive, because a partner should take his/her partner’s concerns seriously, not use them to demean each other and feel superior! Good lord, there’s just nothing redeeming in this. In this situation, either the woman is abusing the man or the man is abusing the woman. There’s absolutely no other scenario, unless both of them are aware that it is fake and in jest and only do it when there is NOT an actual serious problem, which is not what she seems to be implying. She is implying that this is a solution for real anger, which is horrifying.

    • Courtney

      Yes when I read this I couldn’t help but think about how this behavior is so unlike what I was like as a little girl.

  • I guess that behavior is cute (and ineffective) in my 3 year old daughter. But even my older daughters have outgrown that. And thank GOD my adult wife doesn’t act like that. Gah! Glad to be living in the 21st century where (most western) women feel free to discuss their desires like adults – and are expected to do so, rather than resort to childish tantrums.

  • I didn’t express my anger in a “childlike” way (as Helen calls it) when I WAS a child, so I’m certainly not going to behave like a Shirley Temple character or Darla from the “Little Rascals” now that I’m an adult! I don’t always like the way I react to anger (my parents modeled some rotten ways to argue and express anger during my childhood), but at least my expressed anger, while louder and less controlled than I’d like, is honest and clear. If I turned myself into this outdated stereotype of a “saucy” little girl whenever I felt angry with my husband, he wouldn’t laugh; on the contrary, he’d be disturbed and disgusted. I’d laugh at this book’s so-called advice if I didn’t know there are women out there who are trying to force themselves into its frighteningly convoluted and narrow confines because they believe it’s God’s will for them to do so.

  • I agree with you, Tonina, when you say that you’d laugh at this book if you didn’t know there are women trying to force themselves into this behavior because they believe it is God’s will for them. I also agree with those who say this is manipulative and demeaning behavior. It sounds like Helen never advises open and honest adult conversation between partners. The last time my husband made me angry, I simply told him in a calm voice, “When you did thus and so it made me angry because…” No argument, no shouting, no beating him on the chest, no pouting, etc. My husband understood and has made amends.

    I simply can’t understand what Biblical teaching that wouldn’t espouse open and honest communication between two adults. What Bible verse could she be pointing to that says that wives need to be childlike, or manipulative, or deferential or empty-headed to be a godly wife? It is so ludicrous that it is absurd.

  • monica

    I work with children all day. Young children. Here are some “adorable” ways the girls (and boys) express their anger:
    -Biting
    -Snatching toys
    -Laying down on the floor and crying
    -Screaming
    -Hitting, pushing, kicking, etc.
    I guess they haven’t learned “proper childlike anger” yet. 😛

    This is even more “wtf” than usual.

  • This is so creepy and odd! I’m pretty disturbed. What year was this book written and do people actually still read it?

    • Jackie

      Sometime in the sixties and you can buy a new copy at WalMart. Used at Abe’s books for a buck. I suspect you can go even cheaper on Amazon. Who’d want to?

  • Peggy Trivilino

    I have read every post dealing with Mrs. Andelin’s book and I have concluded that either, (1) she was one seriously effed up woman, or (2) she didn’t believe a word of what she was writing–she just wanted to gin up a controversy and sell a lot of books.

  • I am unfamiliar with this book, so I have a serious question – was this written in the Victorian age? because this sounds exactly like women were expected to behave around then.

    • Apparently the first edition was 1963…also unsurprising, but still appalling.

      • The version I have was revised and updated in 1992, so still a while ago, but there are some significant changes from the 1963 version.

        • The mentality seems to be intact, though…did you cover the changes at some point? I’ve not read all the posts, when you started it I was not in a mental health place to be able to handle something that depressing heh.

  • froder

    Quite apart from the obvious objections to this book (it’s unspeakably patronising, treats women as subhuman, etc), it also seems to be encouraging women to be really, really annoying. If my girlfriend or any one of my female friends behaved like this, I’d worry she’d suffered a blow to the head, or that it was some kind of elaborate wind-up.

  • I’ve seen the “childlike” sentiment echoed in other places that advocate for traditional gender roles. One place I saw it encouraged women to put on an artificial sense of wonder whenever their guy took them on a date. It almost seemed to be almost advocating more for a parent/child role rather than talking about what two adults should be doing.

  • I can’t even imagine a mature, responsible, considerate adult man thinking this kind of behavior is anything but excruciating. It’d be like living with a little Shirley Temple doll or something. But then, I guess the target audience of men this author is looking at prefer their women childlike so they don’t have to take them seriously or treat them as equals. You can’t treat a child like an equal. Children don’t have rights in most of Christianity. They don’t have a say. Their anger is funny because adults don’t consider children’s anger worth giving full consideration to it. This sure ain’t the first time I’ve noticed Christian men infantilizing and dismissing women in their culture, but it’s about the worst of the lot–and written by a woman! What is her effin PROBLEM?

    I cringe to imagine how these parents deal with their children. That kind of attitude seems insulting even to children. Laughing at a child who is angry or upset about something doesn’t seem very respectful. Is that really how parents handle things? Do they really raise their kids to throw fits like this and call it adorable? I don’t have kids but WOW, it explains a lot.

  • Jackie

    I’m new to your blog, so I’m kind of dipping in here and there. I’ve got news for Helen pulling the “cute” temper tantrum didn’t cut any ice with either mom or dad past the age of about two. I’ve got two sisters and none of us got away with that nonsense. Dad was a logger and I suspect that if mom had ever tried any of Helen’s suggestions on him, he would have been checking the backyard for empty pods.

    • Peggy Trivilino

      Hi Jackie–please pardon my ignorance, but . . . . empty pods of what? (I hate not knowing stuff) thank you–