Today I am announcing the beginning of a new project that I mentioned a while back. I’m pretty excited about this, and I hope this journey we’re all about to embark on is entertaining, thoughtful, illuminating, and discussion-generating.
This means I’ll have two regularly running features for now– the Learning the Words guest post series (which is still ongoing and open for submissions), and now my series on Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womahood.
The format of this series will be similar to Libby Anne’s on Debi Pearl’s Created to be his Help Meet— where I got my inspiration. I will be reading through the book again and posting my thoughts to portions of it. I might speak about a few pages or a whole chapter, depending on what I run into that requires a response. These reactions are going to vary from a serious and thoughtful deconstruction of the explicit and implicit messages of the book, as well as poking fun at some of its more ridiculous moments (of which there are many). There are going to be a few jaw-dropping WTF moments, too. She makes some rather spectacular statements throughout this book.
Fascinating Womanhood is similar to Created to be his Help Meet in many ways. It’s a marriage-advice book predicated on the complementarian model of submission and headship. Helen was a Mormon, but there’s nothing in the book itself that makes that apparent (I say that because in my interview with Christianity Today, I mentioned this book and a commenter came back with “Andelin was a Mormon, so obviously the book will be twisted”). Its target market is the same market as Debi’s book, especially since most of the book’s content focuses on helping struggling Christian marriages. She is more strongly anti-feminist than Debi, and her book is not as widely read. However, the ideas in the book are extremely common in pretty much any conservative evangelical environment, and the ideas that Helen presents are the natural outcome of unrestrained complementarian teaching. Helen’s book, unlike Debi’s, however, is entirely focused on teaching women how to make their men love them– and her argument is dangerous, for reasons you’ll see pretty quickly as we get into this series.
Here’s the description from the back of the book:
How to Make Your Marriage a Lifelong Love Affair
What makes a woman fascinating to her husband? What is happiness in marriage for a woman? These are just two of the questions Helen Andelin answers in the bestselling classic that has already brought new happiness and life to millions of marriages.
Fascinating Womanhood offers timeless wisdom, practical advice, and old-fashioned values to meet the needs and challenges of today’s fascinating woman. Inside you’ll learn:
What traits today’s men find irresistible in a woman
How to awaken a man’s deepest feelings of love
Eight rules for a successful relationship
How to rekindle your love life
How to bring out the best in your man—and reap the rewards
Plus special advice for the working woman—and much more!
Fascinating Womanhood offers guidance for a new generation of women—happy, fulfilled, adored and cherished—who want to rediscover the magic of their own feminine selves.
This bestselling classic has already brought new happiness and life to millions of marriages, and now Andelin offers timeless wisdom, practical advice, and old-fashioned values for today’s fascinating woman. Learn how to awaken a man’s deepest feelings of love, eight rules for a successful relationship, how to rekindle your love life, and more.
In many ways, this book is the seminal gender essentialist’s guidebook. If you want to see all the “feminine” stereotypes about women in one place, this book is the place to go.
The web page for this book and the accompanying ministry that grew out of it is worth its own post, and it is illuminating about the ideology behind this book, so it might be worth reading over, if you’re into self-flagellation and stuff. From what I can tell, it went inactive in 2007, but there is a note on the home page that you can still take the online eight-week course as of Spring 2013. It continues to be a popular seller on Amazon, and in Christian book stores, with well over 2 million copies sold. I’m not sure what the community looks like today, but Time magazine did an interview with Helen in 1975, and she said that the program had over 11,000 “teachers” leading studies on the book around the country. It was a book I grew up familiar with– it was beloved and dog-eared by many of the women in my church, and it was a required textbook in at least one class of Marriage and Family at my fundamentalist college.
The Barnes & Noble reviews are almost exclusively glowing– all along the lines of “this book saved my marriage! we’re like a couple of newlyweds!”
There are 244 Amazon reviews, most of them 4 or 5 stars, with the same sort of praise, although many of the 5-star reviews include some sort of caveat about “needs the language updated” or that there were parts of the book worth ignoring, but that the overall message is worth listening to. Of the 78 1-star reviews, most of them include notes from husbands about being insulted and disgusted by the content, or concern that the message of the books creates co-dependent and abusive relationships.
The reviews on Goodreads are much more mixed, with reactions varying from “comedic” to “frightening and cruel” to “every woman must read this book!”
So, at the very least, we know it’s polarizing.
I’m going to try give my dead-level best to give it a fair shake, but I make no promises. I hope you’ll come along with me as I make my way through this book, and I hope you’ll be a part of the process of helping me– and each other– unpack these sorts of ideas. I’d also like to extend a special invitation to men– the primary and dominating focus of the book is “how to make yourself attractive to men,” so I’d appreciate your brutal honesty and your candor. I’ve already had two men in my life read it– my husband, who was absolutely repulsed, and a friend, who thought it was great, nail-on-the-head advice.
My plan at the moment is to update every Monday, but I’m flexible, and there might be Someone on the IntraWebs who Said Something Stupid and Infuriating. We’ll see.