Browsing Tag



Fascinating Womanhood: The Rights of the Leader

following the leader

Helen really takes the cake in this chapter. Which, if you notice, she pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch on us. In the last chapter, she described one of the masculine roles as the “guide,” but if you notice above, this chapter is called “The Leader.” Which, honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with “guide,” either, but it’s certainly a sight better than Leader. This chapter is quite long, so I’m going to break it down into at least two posts, maybe as many as three. But, let’s get started.

She opens her argument with several reasons why men are supposed to the leaders, and she starts off with this one:

The first commandment given to mankind was given to the woman: “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Evidently our Creator felt it so vitally important that the woman understand this, that He directed the instruction to her.

I’ve already mentioned (twice, now) that it is incredibly bad hermeneutics– almost obviously bad– to make the case that women are required to be subservient to their husbands based purely on the Curse. But, there’s another problem here, because Helen . . .  is lying. It would be generous to admit to some sort of genuine confusion or forgetfulness on her part, but that seems unlikely. Because the first command delivered to mankind? The very first one? It’s in chapter one, not three. And, interestingly enough, the command is given to both the man and the woman equally. There’s nothing in this command that separates the sexes: they are given the exact same responsibility.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1:28

Helen, 0,
The Facts, 1.

After this, she moves into the Ephesians passage. This is one of the Great Complementarian Clobber Verses. My experiences with the uses of this passage have been from those who take a straightforward approach to it– taking it at face value, and usually, quite literally. While I’m sure there are complementarians out there who have done sound research into the historical and cultural background to these verses, I’ve never been exposed to that research when being taught about “husband as the head of the home” (and, as always, if you’ve seen this, please point me in their direction or leave a comment explaining). I think that’s curious, especially since historical and cultural context reveals some interesting things that undermine the traditional complementarian argument.

After Bible-bashing us, she turns to “logic.” She says that since the family is a group of people, and groups of people always need leaders to “maintain order,” that the father should be the leader– and that it is illogical for a woman to lead, because, and this is hysterical, woman are “vacillating and indecisive. Women are just not capable of making decisions, and if we interfere with the decision-making process, the only thing that can result is “hours of deliberation,” and, ain’t nobody got time for that. Also, men make the money, and whoever makes the money should be in control.

That is probably why Mary Kassian wrote this pearl-clutching piece in response to the Pew Research survey that revealed that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in many homes. Oh, noes! If women earn more money, we’re going to become “resentful” and “critical,” and even worse, if a woman makes more money– she is going to become dominant and take over The Sex!

No, really. She said that.

Next, we move into the section Helen titles “Rights of the Leader.” Here, she gives us two primary rights: “To Determine Family Rules” and “To Make Decisions.” She’s deliberately clear about what this entails:

A family is not a democracy, where everyone casts his vote. The family is a theocracy, where the father’s word is law (italics hers).

From what I remember of Debi’s Created to be His Help Meet, she danced around this idea the entire book without explicitly saying this (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). She said everything but this, although this is really the idea it seems Debi was actually going for. Helen is a little bit bolder. She just comes right out and says it.

The family is a theocracy.

Meaning, “Rule of God.”

Just a quick note, in case we’re confused: no man, no father, no husband, is God. Debi got close to conflating husband and God as she wrote, mostly because she emphasizes the need for the wife to submit to her husband in obedience to God– women are to obey God indirectly, through submission to their husbands. This results in Debi occasionally implying that, for a wife, her husband represents God to her.

That’s not what Helen argues, though. Her husband is God.

This is one of those times where her LDS background is showing through, although I’m not familiar enough with LDS theology to really analyze it. Also, while I can understand how her theology is affecting her writing, it is problematic here because this book was, and is, not primarily read by Mormon women, but by Protestant women, and this conflation of God and husband is not a claim that Helen ever backs away from.

She also takes the “Right to Make Decisions” to an extreme that boggled me:

Should Jane take her umbrella and walk to school in the rain, or should her father take her? When the father makes the decision, matters are settled at once. And whether Jane gets her feet wet or not is as important as order in the household . . .

Some of these decisions are minor, such as whether to take the dog on a picnic or leave him home. But even though such a decision is small, it must be made, and often quickly. When the husband the wife don’t agree, someone must decide. The final say belongs to the father . . .

Sometimes a man may seek his wife’s support but is reluctant to explain his reasons. He may think she lacks the knowledge to understand. Or, he may be unable to justify his plans or explain his reasons . . . if this is the case, don’t probe too deeply.



Should Jane walk to school in the rain?

Should we take the dog on the picnic?

These are the kinds of decisions that the father must make in order to avoid “hours of deliberation” because of us vacillating, indecisive women? Really? I grew up watching my parents in a complementarian marriage, as well as observing many other complementarian marriages, and this portrayal is unfair, even to complementarian theology. I don’t even know what to do with this. It all seems to imply that women really aren’t capable of making any kind of decision whatsoever, no matter how ridiculously small. I’ve never met any woman that was this pathetic.

However, the last example is the most troublesome for me, and it is deeply personal.

John*, my ex-fiancé and rapist, and I were planning our wedding for December, exactly a week after I graduated. He would not be finished with college yet (interestingly enough, because he was indecisive and couldn’t settle on either a college to attend or a major to study for years). Because of that, we were planning for me to be the primary breadwinner while he finished his degree, which would be paid for by the work-assistance program he was in.

However, in August, he announced that he was quitting the work-assistance program because working through college was just too stressful. This was a problem, because when a student quit the work assistance program during a semester (which was his intention), he or she becomes completely ineligible to enroll in the program again. In short, if he quit, not only would I be paying for daily life, but his education as well (our school did not qualify for student aid, any kind of student loan, and he had no scholarships).

This resulted in the worst fight we ever had, because I had the audacity to insist that this was a very bad idea– unfeasible and impossible, really, given our circumstances. He broke our engagement a few weeks later, citing, hilariously, that I “was not submissive enough.”

However, if I had followed Helen’s teaching, I would have nodded my head like a “perfect follower” (pg 122), and gone along with all of his ideas and plans, even though he had no justification for them and they would have ended in financial disaster. This is not some hypothetical situation that women rarely ever face, as well. It happens all of the time.

Just because men are men does not make them inherently more qualified to make all decisions in isolation. It is not good for man to be alone, and I’m pretty sure God wasn’t just talking about sex.


Fascinating Womanhood: Appreciating and Admiring Men


Covering two chapters today (good thing, too. There’s like thirty chapters or something). Both are dedicated to women fawning over their men, essentially. I actually almost used a picture of Bella and Edward because of the feelings I have toward these chapters.

Sorrynotosorry if you’re a Twilight fan.

Surprisingly, most of the advice Helen gives in “Appreciate Him” is not bad advice. I’m not overly fond of the gendered way she talks about these ideas (as if women don’t need appreciation, too) but, if you take some of the things she said as “what it means to be a nice person,” then it’s golden. She says women should focus on things like character (which included the attribute kindness, shocker), intelligence, and the little things he does for others.

However, Helen also does have a section labeled “When you Can’t Find Anything to Appreciate,” which she subtly blames on the woman. It’s not possible that a husband is deficient enough as a person to not be worth esteeming– to Helen, even abusers have something worth appreciating.

When you have unwavering faith in his better side, you inspire him to live up to your conception of his ability. You offer him hope that he has not appreciated himself at his true value . . . You can, in fact, transform a man from an apparently stupid, weak, lazy, cowardly, unrighteous man into a determined, energetic, true, and noble one.

This, in the middle of a section dedicated to women who have a hard time appreciating their husbands. Instead of acknowledging that there might be some nuance involved, or that there might be a reason why this is a reality for these women, she essentially blames it on them. This book unceasingly puts all of the burden for the entire marriage onto the woman in every single instance. It’s frustrating.

She also tells us to look for “virtues beneath his faults.” If a man is obnoxious, it’s not because he’s self-centered or anything, no, it’s because he’s not appreciated by his wife. That is what makes him a “difficult man to live with.” A moody man doesn’t have any possible underlying issues like depression, no, it’s because he has high expectations that are not being met by his wife. If he’s neglectful, he’s actually a genius, and you just need to stop worrying your pretty little head about it.

She starts off chapter five, “Admire Him,” with a definition, since she notes that appreciation and admiration are similar ideas. The difference, she says, is that “you appreciate a man for his true worth, and what he does for you, whereas you admire him for his manliness.”

Oh, boy.

There’s a common idea in Christian marriage advice books: women want love, men want respect. But here, Helen says respect simply isn’t good enough. You have to admire him, and what she describes… Боже мой. And you specifically have to admire him for his masculinity, his manliness, and if he doesn’t receive admiration for himself as “a man” (starting from infancy, she argues) he will never be completely whole.

I realize that this book was written a long, long time ago, but I am working with the updated edition. If you go to the goodreads reviews, one of them claims to be from Helen’s granddaughter, who says she’s asked her grandmother to “update her language” and Helen refused. If books like Pride’s The Way Home are any indication, people who believed that masculine and feminine stereotypes are essential, they only dug their trenches deeper– and continue to do so.

One of the most damaging problems I’ve seen as a result of this gigantic push back toward gender stereotypes is that is hurts both women and men. In the gender essentialist system, no one wins, because no one is really allowed to be herself or himself. Men are expected to adhere to a gigantic list of what it means to be manly, and they face retribution and mockery if they do anything that could “revoke his man card.”

I was sitting in a bakery with many of my friends on Friday, and one ordered a chai tea because he thinks it’s delicious. He spent some time overseas, serving in the military, and developed a liking for it. When he ordered it, however, nearly every single man at the table exploded in some kind of “good natured” condemnation. Because tea, a simple beverage choice, isn’t manly enough. They seemed to be largely joking– I know that they have a lot of respect for the man who ordered the chai. But they still used an opportunity to mock and belittle a personal choice based on stereotypes.

And Helen is doing the exact same thing here, only in one sense it’s worse– because she’s telling women that enforcing these stereotypes is absolutely necessary in order for their husbands to feel whole. But what if their husbands don’t fit into those stereotypes? What then?

Her failure in this regard puts him on dangerous ground. When a man’s important needs are not met he may be vulnerable to the attentions of another woman who begins to fill these needs . . .

What he wants you to admire . . . are his manly qualities. If you admire only those traits which are alike in both men and women, he will be disappointed. For example, if you admire him because he is kind and thoughtful . . . he may appreciate your praise but it will do little to stir his feelings for you. It is his masculinity he wants noticed and appreciated, his masculine body, skills, abilities, achievements and dreams.



If you don’t, he’ll cheat on you. If you don’t, he won’t love you.

Got it.

I realize that this might have some small basis in reality– I mean, I see my guy friends get into *ahem* measuring contests nearly every single time I’m around them. If I make a comment about my husband’s amazing shoulders (always been a shoulders-and-arms girl. Swoon), he does perk up a bit– in much the same way I do if he appreciates any physical qualities of mine that he likes.

But, if I thought for one second that he was praising my ass because he thought I wanted my ass praised and not because he actually likes my ass, I’d be frustrated and possibly offended. And if I ever praised a physical quality of Handsome’s that I didn’t actually like, he’d be able to tell, and he’d be hurt.

It’s important to think about why we’re doing these things. Telling our partners we love the way they look: always awesome. If we actually love that about them. And every person is different. Telling women to praise their husbands physicality because of gender stereotypes is shallow and deceptive.

Also, she describes “dreams” and “goals” as being innately masculine. Tough luck, ladies. We don’t get to have dreams and “worthy goals” that we can be “dedicated to.” That’s just for our men.

And when you’re listening to him talk about the things he’s passionate about, remember:

don’t become so wound up in the subject that you form strong opinions which lead to arguments. Follow the conversation, of course, but follow the man. He may display special knowledge about the subject . . . if his attitude shows impatience . . . this may indicate that he has ideas on the subject, ideas that need to be appreciated.

Once again, it’s vitally important that you agree with everything your husband does or says, because anything less could cause an argument, and arguments will always end badly. Men and women are not capable of having an honest, tempered discussion about anything. You’ll just fight about it, so why bother?


“you can safely guess that if [your husband] deliberately talks over your head, he is doing so only to arouse your admiration. You need not be well educated or highly intelligent to follow a man’s discourse . . .

Whether you agree with him or not doesn’t matter. You sit there and admire, not his words, not his ideas, but his manliness.

I know I’m not a man, but as a human being, if my husband sat across the dinner table from me and disagreed with me and never said so, I’d be insulted. Because I would feel that he was doing the exact opposite of respecting me, because he would be refusing to truly engage with me on something I truly valued. I want to be challenged, I want to grow, I want to understand more than just what is inside my own head. I married Handsome because I want his thoughts, his perspective, his opinion, his arguments.

This relates to a conversation I had this weekend. Two friends of mine got into some banter about the girlfriend, once again, being right about something. Another man in the car piped up and said “don’t you know you’re in a relationship with a woman, and the woman is always right?”

Later, in a conversation with said woman, she felt that this comment represented one of the areas that women have power in our culture, that it’s a stereotype that “helps” us. I disagreed, because of what this comment represents: a woman’s argument isn’t valid because it’s based on facts, reasoning, logic, or experience. In fact, it’s probably wrong, but, because she’s a woman, it’s not worth disagreeing about, so you just let the silly, emotional woman “be right.” So you can get laid or something, because that’s the world we operate in, apparently.

That is exactly what Helen has been doing this entire chapter. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with him, if you think he’s wrong, it only matters that he thinks you admire him for things you may not even actually admire him for.


This is the fifth post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: Understanding and Accepting Men

russian woman

One thing I will say for Helen’s writing: she is organized. The book is split into two primary halves based on Angelic and Human qualities, and each quality is broken down into parts in order to be explained efficiently. The Angelic quality “Understands Men” is introduced by chapter three, “Accept Him.”

This chapter does have some solidly good advice, which can be summed up in two words: “don’t nag.” I think most people would agree with that– in general, nobody likes a nag. This was one element of the chapter that I could basically agree with, although I completely disagree with where she goes with it. Don’t be a nag becomes, quite easily never talk to him about things that could create conflict, and, if it is absolutely necessary, be as insipid as possible.

that be great
This is a nag. Don’t be that guy.

Helen does make caveat-like statements all the way through this chapter; don’t be a doormat, don’t deceive yourself into thinking your marriage is perfect when it isn’t, don’t resign yourself to unhappiness. However, sometimes in the same sentence, she contradicts herself. So, while she does make these caveats, she completely overrules any help they might give through everything else she says.

Accepting him, to Helen, is based on a concept I’m the most familiar with as a joke: women marry men expecting they’ll change, men marry women hoping they won’t. Personally, I think this is a ridiculous stereotype that I’ve never seen played out. People have expectations, especially expectations for what their marriage will be like, but Helen completely dismisses this. Women don’t get to have expectations. They are not allowed preferences or wants; in order for a woman to be happy, she must have a husband who loves her, and in order to have a husband to love her, she must do everything she can to cater to him.

She gives a list of the things women try to change about their husbands (which could as easily be read as a list of things that men like to change about their wives) which includes things like spending habits, ignoring the children, and social behavior. The most interesting thing to note about this list is that none of the items she lists are insignificant. They are all things that I would discuss with my husband and have major concerns about if it wasn’t something we could come to an agreement or compromise.

If he would only change, you may say, your life would be better, happier. Review your husband’s faults to see if this is true. If he changed, would your life be more pleasant? Would your eliminate some problems, have more comforts . . . or other benefits?

These questions, Helen goes on to say, are the completely wrong questions. Because you’re the wife: your happiness and personal comfort don’t matter. Talking to him about anything you are concerned about could “create discord,” and “no matter how carefully you word it, he will likely respond with resistance.” And to that I say: what human being doesn’t occasionally respond to any kind of critique without resistance? I want to meet that person.

The discussion that follows this idea, though, is downright disturbing, because she starts using words like unhinged and violent, and she concludes with “isn’t love and harmony in marriage of greater value [than talking to him about your concerns]?” If your husband is doing something you’re uncomfortable with, like spending money unwisely, and you can’t even talk to him about it without him becoming “angry” and “unhinged,” that is a serious problem worth addressing.

Next, she uses one of her historical examples by referencing Leo and Sophia Tolstoy. Tolstoy is well-known for eventually giving up all his wealth and embracing voluntary poverty, even giving away the publishing rights to his books. Understandably, this caused some tension in their marriage; after all, Sophia had married a financially stable Russian noble, and expecting continued financial stability . . . well, at the time financial stability was the primary motivation for women to marry. The fact that her husband completely abandoned the responsibility to support his family for the sake of his ideals . . . if I’d been Sophia, I’d have been just as pissed. She’d supported him all through his literary career– she hand-copied War and Peace seven separate times. And then he pays her back by forcing her, a doctor’s daughter and a Countess, to live in abject poverty.

But that’s not what happened in Helen’s point of view. To her, Sophia tried to “change her husband.” She was selfish, she “longed for wealth and riches.” She claims that it would have been “noble” for her to have “accepted his way of life” to “let him have his freedom.”



When one of my best friends told me she knew someone I should meet, one of my first questions was is he employed? When she said he was an engineer, I was more than ecstatic. It’s not that I would never have considered someone who was unemployed, especially nowadays, but with my health conditions it is difficult for me to support myself. When it turned out that he was more than capable of providing for us, it was a huge comfort for me.

If he ever decided to leave engineering and pursue a dream, I would be supportive– because we would discuss it, and I would know exactly what the plan was. And it wouldn’t be to go live in poverty for no reason except that living in poverty is some sort of “ideal” that I didn’t agree with. Maybe we’ll end up in Nigeria with him being an emergency pilot and me working in a fistula hospital, I have no idea, but it would be a decision we would make together, and my concerns and desires would be just as important as his.

One of Helen’s main arguments through the book is that what women are “used to doing” just doesn’t work. Do it her way, and presto, your husband will love you and your marriage will be fantastic. However, this is what she describes as being normal behavior for women:

You might as well give up trying to improve your husband because it doesn’t work. Hints, carefully worded suggestions, or even pressures won’t change him . . . Sometimes women try to change men by force in the form of demands, ultimatums, or threats. Usually, however, they resort to pushy suggestions, criticism, disapproval, or nagging.


Notice how none of this is open communication. It’s not a wife engaging her husband in a conversation and treating him like a human being. It’s women playing coy, beating around the bush, and expecting passive-aggressive manipulation to work. In this case, I do agree with Helen; passive-aggressive behavior, while it can be effective in the short term, isn’t about building a productive, healthy relationship, but about control. However, she doesn’t go on to say “communicate your concerns,” but, in fact, the exact opposite. One of the more hilarious parts of this chapter is an explanation of how a man’s freedom to make his own decisions is crucially important– and why is this the case? Because God gave man free agency and autonomy, that it is one of the “most fundamental laws.” But do women get free agency? Hell no.

Interestingly, Helen does answer the question “should I ever try to change him?” with “yes.”

At first, I was shocked. Yes? You mean, women actually get some sort of say?

Not really, though, no.

She lists out a specific set of circumstances: when he is blind to a fault that is causing him damage. In this case, it is alright for his wife to point out that flaw to him– but not as a flaw she personally feels is there, but a flaw she supposedly thinks his authority or “the world” could see. “I think you’re just absolutely wonderful, sweetie, but don’t you think showing up two hours late for work everyday could make your boss think you’re lazy?” There’s no way this could come off as anything except disingenuous.

The second circumstance is when is abusive to his children, and she is perfectly clear that she does mean abuse, and not just harsh disciplinary methods. She says that a mother has a moral obligation to remove her children from an abusive situation for their safety, but then she turns right around and says:

Don’t judge him or condemn him for his actions. Be firm but kind, letting him that you are doing it for the protection of the children. Your firm but kind attitude, accentuated by your actions, may humble him and bring him to repentance.

What the.

 This is one of the reasons why I don’t trust Helen– because she has no concept of abuse, abusive patterns, or of the people who are abusers. People who abuse others in the way that Helen describes aren’t doing it because they just don’t know any better– they are abusing the people in their life because of a hugely overblown sense of entitlement, a consuming and absolute need to control, and the willingness to do anything to get what they want. If your husband is abusing your children, leave and never look back. Maybe one day he’ll get counseling and grow into a realization that what he did was evil, but it is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO BRING THAT CHANGE. You need to get out. That’s it. Don’t focus or worry about anything else– getting away from an abuser is hard enough as it is.

She also applies the same advice to husbands who verbally abuse their wives:

Should you try to put a stop to his behavior? No, count this flaw as a human frailty. But, do respond to his mistreatment in the right way: don’t be a doormat. Don’t shrink back and act wounded, or retreat behind your shell. Instead, have some self-dignity. Stand up to him and he will love you more because of it. But take care you do it in the right way.

This . . . this passage is horrifying.

I survived an abusive relationship– it was emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually abusive, in that order. Verbal abuse is supremely dangerous because people who use verbal abuse are good at using their words as weapons to get what they want. Very good. They purposely create triggers, they use “set ups,” they trick and deceive and manipulate. Verbal abusers are ruthless.

And do you know what happened when I “stood up” to my abuser? When I confronted him about how he was treating me and how it made me feel? It escalated to physical abuse. The first time he hit me was when I stood up to him. As our relationship progressed, he deliberately trained me to “cower” and “shrink back” and “retreat.” If I did anything else except almost literally bow down to him, I would be severely punished and degraded.

Sadly, this manner of viewing abuse and abusers continues through the rest of the book.

And she wraps up with this:

Try to understand that any advancement to a better, happier life is difficult. For example, living the Christian religion is not easy. You are taught to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . . a devout Christian does not set aside these goals because they are difficult. The ladies talking over the back fence [about accepting their husbands being too difficult] might as well give up being Christians as to give up accepting their husbands at face value.

In one sense, Helen is right. Living out Christian values like turning the other cheek and loving those who curse you: not easy. Impossibly difficult, at times, and I realize that is true.

However, loving your enemy does not require anyone to remain in an abusive relationship, as Helen continuously maintains. Even when she says “take your children and leave,” she only means physical absence, not cutting off the relationship. She believes that continuing an abusive relationship is the only right thing– in order to “bring him to repentance.”

To compare the two– living out Jesus’ teachings and staying in an abusive relationship– and saying that giving up on one means giving up on the other is insane.


This is the fourth post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: The Ideal Woman


This chapter is titled “The Ideal Woman: From a Man’s Point of View,” making sure, in case we forgot, that women’s lives need to revolve around men, and there’s also plenty of “if you don’t do what I tell you to, your husband will never love you” to go around. This is the chapter where she explains two terms that Helen will be using throughout the book: “angelic qualities,” and “human qualities.” There’s even an amazing little diagram at the end of the chapter:

ideal woman

The qualities listed under “Angelic” are “Understands Men,” “Inner Happiness,” “Character,” and “Domestic Goddess.” Under “Human” are “Femininity,” “Radiates Happiness,” “Has Radiant Health,” and “Childlike.” However, this diagram is just a summation of the ground she’s already covered, so let’s tackle that.

This chapter, like the previous ones, introduces the literary characters that she will continue to reference through the rest of the book, and, just like last time, her presentation of these characters is disingenuous at best. I realize that not every single person has gone through a graduate program in English, but her approach to literature is maddening. She’s essentially proof-texting these women, ripping them out of context and refusing to give us information that would be useful in making any kind of decision. I don’t mind that she’s gone to literature as her examples– the pieces that she’s chosen (Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Dickens’ David Copperfield, Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea) are fantastic works, and reflections of their times. However, she ignores all context, any historically relevant information, and at times, the plot of the novel in order to make her point.

But, before we get into all of that, you should watch this:

Also, I love Anita and Feminist Frequency. So much win.

Yes, ladies and gents, the Ideal Woman is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only worse. They’re lobotomized and infantilized MPDGs. She opens up this chapter by contrasting what men and women tend to appreciate about women.

Women are inclined to appreciate poise, talent, intellectual gifts, and cleverness of personality, whereas men admire girlishness, tenderness, sweetness of character, vivacity, and the ability to understand men.”

This dichotomy becomes increasingly frustrating as we get deeper into the book, but the trait she’s going to focus on in this chapters is girlishness. “Childlikeness” is something she emphasizes is necessary for all women, everywhere, and personally, I find that incredibly creepy. However, it helped when I realized that by “childlike,” she was basically talking about an MPDG, although that term hadn’t been coined when she wrote this and she’d probably deny the connection, mostly because the MPDGs that appear (especially in film) are portrayed as “clever,” and that isn’t a quality men admire.


Anyway, she begins her poor literary analysis by comparing Dora and Agnes from David Copperfield. She argues that Agnes possesed all the Angelic qualities, and Dora possessed all the Human qualities. She even acknowledges that he loved these women at the same time, but instead of working with the tension and conflict that Dickens’ was building into his text using David’s untempered naivety, she simply blames it on the female characters. It’s not David’s fault that he loved Agnes while married to Dora, and loved Dora while married to Agnes– it’s primarily Agnes’ fault for not filling the void in his life:

She was too independent. She was to able to killer her own snakes, too hesitant to lean on David, didn’t appear to need his manly care and protection. She was too unselfish, for David said, “Agnes, ever my guide and best support. If you had been more mindful of yourself, and less of me, when we grew up together, I think my heedless fancy would never have wandered from you.”

She was “too unselfish,” which puzzles me exceedingly, because this is a disconnect from reality. I’ve known men and women who are much too modest, who rarely ever ask for help from their friends, who hate feeling like a burden to their friends in any way, and Agnes shares some of those qualities. However, this quote reinforces Helen’s primary argument: it is the woman’s fault if her husband doesn’t love her. And what she identifies as “too unselfish” is not the same thing, it’s her independence and autonomyIt’s not that Agnes didn’t ask for David’s help when she needed him, it’s that she didn’t need David’s help that was the problem in Helen’s eyes. She could open her own pickle jars, and that’s not feminine, apparently.

She goes through Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea, which I’m not familiar with outside of it being a task-oriented hero tale, so I’m going to simply point out that Deruchette seems to be simply another example of a MPDG:

You may think . . . that Deruchette was a bit insipid. Remember, however, that Hugo was a man, a rugged man who wrote challenging sea stories, speaking more the language of men than women. We can be grateful that he has provided us with a very masculine viewpoint of true femininity.

Remember, ladies: what you or I think is “insipid” (meaning shallow and dull), is actually just girlish femininity that men absolutely lose their minds over. Insipid women inspire heroic men to fight off an octopus.

The last literary example she works with is Amelia from Vanity Fair, which, notably, is the main character, and one of the primary conflicts of her life is that her husband, George Osborne, has an affair with Becky Sharp. An affair, as in, her husband has sex with another women, falls in love with another woman, all while married to her.

Helen, I’m questioning your judgment.

This is the second time she’s held up a woman as a shining beacon of girlish femininity that men will worship and cherish, and the men in their life completely fail to do this. I don’t think that Helen approves of affairs, although she seems to take a similar tack as Pat Robertson and Debi Pearl: the only correct way to respond to adultery is, apparently, to start singing “you ain’t woman enough to take my man.”

Her last example she pulls from real life: Mumtaz, the woman who is entombed in the Taj Mahal (with a passing reference to Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, because, gee, what woman doesn’t want whole empires going to war over the right to break her hymen with his penis?). Here, she brings the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fully to life, because Mumtaz’ single contribution was “influencing her husband” so that his reign was “peaceful.” She claims that his reign saw no wars except brief rebellions, which is false. Again, I’m uncomfortable with how willing Helen is to twist facts and narratives in order to make her arguments.

The main point she drives home through all of these descriptions is that women are supposed to be girlish, childlike, faery-like, “fresh and joyous as  lark.” We’re all supposed to have “gay little laughs” and be “make all kinds of gentle noises, murmuring of unspeakable delight.” Women are to be eternally uplifting and encouraging. We’re not allowed our moments of sadness or introspection, we’re never allowed to express any other emotion except constant happiness. Happiness is a quality she lists under both Angelic and Human, of the internal and radiant varieties.

There’s no place, in Helen’s world, for complex women with depth, with independence. She’s limited to eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, and straying outside of that means that her husband won’t love her. He’ll sense that she is lacking in some way, and go to another woman in order to find true love for himself.


This is the third post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: Introduction

male gaze

That, folks, is what we’re going to be talking about today, and I’m going to start us off with a short explanation of what the male gaze is. It’s a term that gets thrown around a bit without being well-defined, and while I’m positive that most of the people who use this term knows exactly what it means, it’s not a term I grew up hearing about an awful lot, for what are now quite obvious reasons.

It’s a pretty intuitive idea, on the surface. It’s something that, as a woman, I live with every day. While our culture plays a huge part of what constructs my idea of beautiful and sexy, that construct is largely based on what your typical heterosexual male finds beautiful and sexy (thin, but not too thin, voluminous hair that isn’t too poofy, breasts that aren’t too small or too big). Many women– myself included– have made decisions about our clothes, our hair, our makeup, our shoes, based upon what a man would think about it. Often, the simple decisions we make to get ready for our day are heavily influenced by what men want to see– or, at least, what we think and hope they want to see.

Very often, especially in Christian culture where the idea that marriage is the ultimate goal is ubiquitous, the male gaze moves away from just surface-level appearances down to behaviors, personality and character. Will a good Christian man think I’m lady-like enough? Will a good Christian man think that my speech and conversation is pure enough? Will a good Christian man trust my character? Will a good Christian man think I’m principled? Will a good Christian man think I’m kind, gentle, meek, unassuming?

However, once I started really unpacking this idea, I ran into a lot of trouble, because it turns into a huge, gigantic, awful mess pretty quickly.

Here is the quintessential problem with the male gaze:

probably NSFW, TW for violence against women

It only works one way. It’s not a two-way street. There’s no such thing as a “female gaze,” and anytime the roles are reversed the results are completely and utterly ridiculous.

The fundamental and most basic problem with Helen’s book is that it is based on the male gaze; the male gaze is accepted as the natural, accepted way that things are. But, I’ll get to that more in a bit. First, let’s start us off with this gem:

To be loved and cherished is a woman’s heartfelt desire in marriage. This book is written to restore your hope in this desire and to suggest principles to apply in winning a man’s genuine love.

This is the opening statement of the book, and it’s the theme that Helen will keep returning to. Oh, you want your husband to love you? Follow this book, and he will! is the promise she’s making. However, she frequently uses the underside of this promise as a threat: don’t follow this book, and he won’t love you.

This statement, however, wouldn’t be so problematic if it wasn’t in the context of this book. Do I want my husband to love and cherish me? Absolutely. Is it totally and completely within in my power to make my husband love me, as Helen asserts? Hmm— maybe not. Also, if my husband says he loves me and does everything within his power to make me feel cherished, but he never respected my ideas or dismissed my opinions? Not cool. This whole “women want love, men want respect,” dichotomy, like most dichotomies, doesn’t really work out that well when it hits reality. To be honest, I’ve never been entirely sure what that statement meant, even after I read For Women Only.

But, let’s keep going:

Do you feel lost in a sea of darkness? Or, you may be in greater darkness. You may think you are happy, when in reality, you are not. Your marriage may seem happy . . . but you fail to see that there is more. You lack the vision to see how happy a marriage can be, and should be. You are satisfied to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, for you have never tasted the banquet. You think the weeds are pretty, for you have never seen beautiful flowers. You may even be content with hell because you have never had a glimpse of heaven.

Unfortunately, Helen is not really just talking about mediocre marriages. In the context of just the introduction, it seems like it could be just addressing marriages that are going along pretty well. Nothing too spectacular, they’re just comfortable. They’ve settled into life together, and just accepted some things as the way they were, and that’s ok.

Sadly, that is not what she’s getting at. This passage is obliquely talking about, you guessed it, feminists. Lets do a quick experiment and see how it turns out:

Feminists are in greater darkness. Feminists think they are happy, when in reality, they are not. Feminists’ marriages may see happy . . . but they fail to realize that there is more. They lack the vision to see how happy a marriage can be, and should be. Feminists are satisfied to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, for they have never tasted the banquet. Feminists think weeds are pretty, for they’ve never seen beautiful flowers. Feminists may even be content with hell because they have never had a glimpse of heaven.

See what I mean? It becomes obvious later on in the book, so if you don’t quite buy it here, stick with me, and you’ll see it for yourself. She also goes on to describe the woman who is reading this book, the woman who is willing to “get vision,” as open-minded, as willing to “truly build a happy marriage.” Two paragraphs later, she also tells us this:

Fundamental, however, is your husband’s love. If he doesn’t love you, your life will be an empty shell.

This is a pretty good example of the kind of language Helen’s going to keep on using throughout the book. It’s going to be assertive and absolute, with purely black-and-white statements dominating almost everything she says. She doesn’t admit to any kind of gray area, or any possible exception. This statement is also doing two things: it is a threat, and it is also re-enforcing the narrative– especially in Christian culture– that single women are incapable of being happy on their own (which applies to divorced and widowed women, as well).

In the next paragraph, labeled “The Answer” we get this:

The first step to a happy marriage is to understand that all life is governed by law– nature, music, art, and all of the sciences. These laws are immutable. To live in harmony with them provides healthy, beauty, and abundant life. To violate them brings ugliness and destruction. Just as unwavering are the laws of human relationships. These laws are in operation even though you may not understand them . . .

We find one woman happy, honored, and loved; and another . . . neglected, unhappy, and disappointed. Why? This book explains why, for it teaches the law she must obey if she is to be loved, honored, and adored.

The law she is referencing here is the male gaze. That is the only “law” she presents in the book– anywhere in the book. Everything the book talks about, everything the book teaches, is established on this idea: do what a man wants, be what a man wants, say what a man wants, behave how a man wants, look how a man wants, and your marriage will be happy.

Next, we run into victim blaming territory. Didn’t take her very long– it’s page 3.

If your husband doesn’t love you, you are likely doing something to cool his affections, or have lost something that awakens his love. You may have begun marriage lovingly but romance is fading. Why? Could it be that you have changed? Take a good look. In most cases a man stops loving a woman after marriage because she stops doing things which arouse his feelings. When you regain your charming ways, love can be rekindled.

And this is one of the reasons why this book was so incredibly popular: because, in an odd way, it puts all of the control squarely into the woman’s hands. Because, as Helen repeats all the way through this, if a woman just does XYZ, then presto-change-o she can get her husband to love her. As she says on the next page, “you hold the keys to your own happiness.”

However, this attitude is also a common marker for co-dependent and abusive relationships. When a wife is in an abusive situation– especially if it’s emotional abuse– the abuser very frequently turns the problem around back onto the wife. “If you would only do Y, then I wouldn’t have to do Z. You’re forcing me to do this, really.” In this situation, however, it’s the abuser that’s calling all the shots, making all the rules. He says jump, the wife says how high. In abusive situations, however, the abuser purposefully changes the requirement of “how high” after his victim has jumped. This book is incapable of changing the rules, obviously, but if an abuser reads this book and tells his wife “yes, this, exactly! Just do whatever this book says, and our marriage will be wonderful!” . . . you can imagine what can happen after that.

To be fair, marriage advice books are firmly within the “self-help” genre. Which means that part of the book’s marketability and saleability is based on the claim it makes– a reader will approach any self-help book with can this book help me? and if the answer is “maybe,” that’s not an effective strategy to get people to buy your book. However, I think there’s a particular failing among Christian marriage advice books in a way that’s totally different from the self-help genre in general: these books don’t claim that they can help, these books claim that their way is the only Christian, biblical way.

The next section is labeled “Self Dignity.” To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what she means by this, even after reading the book. When I think of dignity, however, what I envision is someone with a healthy amount of self-respect. A person who doesn’t demean themselves, a person who– whatever circumstances he or she is in– stays true to themselves. That’s not exactly what she means, though:

Does your husband ever speak to you harshly, criticize you unduly, treat you unfairly, neglect you, impose on you, or in any way mistreat you? The important thing is not what he does but how you react.

I think this idea is linked to an idea that seems like common sense: you can’t control anyone else but yourself. You’re not responsible for anyone’s actions, but how you respond. If someone is mean and ugly to you, it doesn’t mean the correct way to react is to be mean and ugly right back.

However, that’s not really where Helen is going with this. Here, she is again promising that if you respond to his ugliness in a way that all men appreciate, than you’ll diffuse his anger (which is one of the reasons why “a kind word turns away wrath” and the admonition to “heap coals of fire on their head” always frustrated me). In short, by responding to his anger “correctly,” you do control how he treats you after that.

All of that has a basis in reality to a certain extent (escalation, for example, doesn’t exactly help communication), but where she goes with it is troubling. She tells women that she wants them to be “fiery” or “little spitfires” or “saucy.” However, she comments here that her goal is to show women how to have something that she will call “childlike anger,” which she says can “turn a crisis into a humorous situation,” that “childlike anger can increase love and tenderness.”

This becomes a huge, glaring problem as we get into the book, because part of Helen’s definition of “fascinating womanhood” she very openly acknowledges is “childlike.” She infantilizes women all over the place, and it becomes deeply disturbing. She wants women to be treated with tenderness, to be cherished, and how she does that is by turning full-grown women into swooning, giggling girls. “Feminine,” to Helen, is intrinsically linked with “girlish.”

As an aside, she warns the women who read this book not to use what she’s teaching them to woo away a married man. Because, obviously, all men lack any sort of self-restraint or self-control and you can use your feminine wiles to get any man you want. My eyes rolled so far back into my head it hurt. I had a girlfriend in college who very confidently told me that she could “get any man she wanted,” and, looking back, I think it was because of this book, which she loved.

To close out the introduction, just in case you didn’t quite believe me when I said that this book is based on the male gaze:

The study centers around the ideal woman, from a man’s point of view, the kind of woman who awakens a man’s deepest feelings of love.


This is the first post in a series. You can find link to the rest of the series here.