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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