Review: Fascinating Womanhood
We recently had this important conversation about the heavy price African-American women pay in a patriarchal world for allowing themselves to become defeminized. After that conversation, I decided to review the ebook, The Feminine Arts of Charm and Charisma, by Melina, blog host of The Art of Being Feminine. However, the more I’ve read of her blog, I realized that many of her opinions about the nature of femininity are grounded in the book Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin (which she offers on her site). So, I decided to read Fascinating Womanhood to better understand the background context of the blog host’s ebooks and opinions.
AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE BLOG AUTHOR AND THE AUTHOR OF FASCINATING WOMANHOOD
In the first blog post where I mention the Art of Being Feminine blog, I advised readers not to let the things they don’t like about that particular blog stop them from picking up pearls of wisdom that can enhance their lives. A woman having feminine skills plus 21st century freedom of movement (especially in the Western world) is an extremely powerful combination!
I would also caution readers not to make assumptions about the blog author based on her avid support of Fascinating Womanhood. From what I’ve read of the blog, the author recognizes there are some men that women need to get away from. See her post from November 7, 2009 entitled My Boyfriend is On Adult Dating Sites and Looks at Pornography as an example. I believe she gives her reader excellent advice in this post. By contrast, the author of Fascinating Womanhood doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on this idea. In the revised, 1992 edition of the book that I read, she kept the following so-called “success story” testimonial from a reader who said:
My husband was drinking heavily, away from home almost every night, hardly speaking to me, and I believe he was seeing other women. He told me I might as well leave because he didn’t need me. One night he locked me out of the house and told me to come by in the morning for my clothes. When I did he had my bag packed, met me at the door, and told me he would think about letting me see our six-year-old daughter. Later that day he called me from work and said he wanted me to talk to someone. Then he put some girl on the phone. This kind of thing went on until I became desperate. I was ready to leave him when someone told me about F.W. I thought they were crazy. No book would change my husband, I was sure.
After some suffering I sat down and read it and when I did I got so excited. I started the very next day and within weeks there was a dramatic change in him and in our marriage. He started staying home, taking me out, buying me things, and his drinking almost completely stopped. . .
. . . I could go on and on but the thing I would like to mention is this: He told me that I was suddenly a different person, that something happened to change me. Our little girl is a different person now too. She had become so withdrawn and nervous that I suspected she had an ulcer. Now she is happy and outgoing and her father spends time with her.
Fascinating Womanhood, pgs. 31-32. I won’t bother to note the many, many things that are dangerously wrong with this so-called “success story.” I wouldn’t be surprised to read something like this dating from when the book was first published in 1965. However, I was surprised the author still felt this was an appropriate, positive testimonial in the revised 1992 edition of the book. By itself, this particular choice says a lot about the author’s views.
A WORD ABOUT THIS REVIEW
If you check out the readers’ reviews of Fascinating Womanhood on Amazon.com, you’ll notice how polarized the opinions are about this book. Since I’m not going to bite my tongue, I expect this review to also be fairly polarizing, and offensive to some readers. I will also note that reviewing this sort of work inevitably requires a multilayered discussion, so please take the time to look at the various other materials that I’ll link to during this review. Also note that my decision to link to any particular material does not mean that I necessarily agree with it, or endorse the author’s views about anything. I’m simply using the material to illustrate the issues under discussion.
THE REVIEW—FASCINATING MORMONHOOD
I’ve been surprised at the level of fury this book has generated among so many people. Not because of the advice given in the book which, frankly, can be deadly for a woman in a domestically violent marriage. In fairness, the women in violent relationships that I’ve encountered while working as a former prosecutor and defense attorney were more invested in maintaining these relationships than any other consideration—such as staying alive or their children’s survival. These sort of women will use any material (scripture, pop psychology books, slogans like “put God in it for a minute,” anything at all) as a justification for staying with a physically abusive man. [Personal bias note: I’m not automatically particularly sympathetic to battered women. This post mentions in greater detail some of the reasons I feel that way, and the dynamics that I’ve observed about violent relationships.]
The book’s critics’ fury seems misdirected. To me, it makes little sense to get upset with the puppet instead of the puppet master. Relatively few of this book’s fervent critics openly discuss what I believe is the root of what’s wrong with the book: the author was a Mormon wife who was spouting Mormon-influenced beliefs about gender roles. I believe Mrs. Andelin was merely speaking her indoctrination. What else would anybody expect a Mormon woman born in 1920 to say? I don’t understand why so many of the book’s critics sound shocked by her opinions. Instead of directing their ire at her, angry critics should direct it at the male Mormon clergy who fed her these beliefs.
Before somebody says that to consider the author’s religious background is always bigotry, I suggest you perform the following thought experiment. If the author was a woman named Fatima Abdul-Aziz writing the same opinions from Saudi Arabia during 1965 (which is when the book was first published), would the Western women who love this book still love it? Would they have the same uncritical acceptance of these opinions from a “Fatima Abdul-Aziz”? Or would they factor in the religious indoctrination (especially around 1965) that most likely formed the fictitious Saudi woman author’s opinions?
It was amusing to read Mrs. Andelin state the following about the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal (favorite wife of Emperor Shah Jahan in whose memory the Taj Mahal was built in India): “And take note of this thought: Mumtaz was of a culture where women were subservient, dependent, and kept their place in the feminine world. It was not a culture where women dominated, demanded, and tried to be equal with men.” Fascinating Womanhood, pg. 10.
It’s comical that Mrs. Andelin originally said this in 1965 as if she and other Mormon women were so much more free and autonomous than the women in 17th century India. Haven’t Mormon women traditionally been “subservient, dependent, and kept their place in the feminine world”? Other types of American women have always had much more freedom and autonomy than women in the Muslim world. Mormon women? I think not.
I believe that some of the self-professed Christian women who uncritically gush over this book need to step back for a minute. And consider exactly what it means that the author was a Mormon woman who first wrote this book in 1965. The Mormon church is not a mainstream Christian denomination. To put it bluntly, it’s not even a Christian group.
Let me stress that what I’m saying is different from the ignorance that I often hear from large numbers of African-American Protestant Christians. I hear them say phrases like “Christians and Catholics,” as if Catholics are not Christians. The profound ignorance embedded in these sorts of statements irritates me. It’s irritating because when I ask them, these same African-American Protestant Christians have never heard of Martin Luther or the Protestant Reformation. It’s irritating because they don’t even know the historical origin of their entire Protestant branch of Christianity. They don’t know that unlike the Coptic Church and the various Orthodox churches (Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and so on), the Protestant branch has its origins in a breaking away from the Roman Catholic church that began in the 1500s.
Let me also note for the record that I’m irritated by the smug attitudes that I’ve observed from more than a few African-American Protestants about the ongoing pedophile scandal within the Catholic church. Meanwhile, I don’t hear these people admitting that it’s not just the Catholic church that has institutional and systemic issues with sexual predators. See this post about the various pending sexual abuse lawsuits against a number of Church of God in Christ (an African-American Protestant denomination) clergy and other personnel. I don’t hear them talking about incidents like the COGIC in Toledo that allegedly had four, count ’em FOUR, pedophiles on the payroll with the pastor’s knowledge. See this post for details.
Nor have I heard them talk about the behavior of celebrated individuals such as Rev. James Cleveland. I believe that part of what goes into this is that, unlike their coverage of the many atrocities within the Catholic church, the media report these stories as isolated incidents as opposed to a systemic problem when this happens among Protestant clergy (Black or White).
[Personal bias note: My mother’s family is Catholic, so despite my own differences with the Catholic church—I never believed in it and I accepted Islam as an adult—I’ve been annoyed by hearing ignorance-based, anti-Catholic prejudice since adolescence. A legitimate, well-considered difference of opinion is something that I respect. But not mindless slogans from people who don’t even know the history of their own denomination.]
Anyway, I say that Mormonism is not a Christian denomination because there are common sense ways to distinguish groups that are within the broad family of a particular faith tradition versus groups that are not within that same faith tradition. One way is whether the group under examination is using the same scripture, and holding the same basic beliefs about the origin of the universe and humans as the rest of the denominations within that particular faith tradition. When a new so-called “denomination” is using scriptures and/or a cosmology that are unknown to the “parent” faith, then it’s not really part of that “parent” faith (despite typically loud protestations to the contrary). These sorts of differences are several orders of magnitude larger than doctrinal differences.
To put it simply, when a “Christian” group is talking about scriptures and core beliefs that no other Christian denomination has ever heard of, then it’s probably not a Christian group. The same applies to “Muslim” groups that are referring to core doctrines that no other denomination of Muslims, past or present, has ever heard of. I’ll mention two example of this: the Mormon church versus mainstream Christianity and the Nation of Islam versus mainstream Islam.
All Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, the Coptic churches, the Orthodox churches, and the Protestant churches) are grounded in the Bible. And they have the same understanding of what source material constitutes the Bible. The Bible is the Christian scripture. Historically, none of these various Christian denominations mention, use, or have heard of the Book of Mormon. Meanwhile, the Mormons use the Book of Mormon as scripture. They refer to it as “another testament of Jesus Christ.” See this.
The introduction to the Book of Mormon states, “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” See here.
In terms of Muslims, the Nation of Islam similarly has core beliefs that no Muslim denomination (Sunni, Shia, or anything else), past or present, has ever heard of before. One example is the Nation of Islam belief that God “appeared in the person of Master W. Fard Muhammad, July 1930—the long awaited ‘Messiah’ of the Christians and the ‘Mahdi’ of the Muslims.” Message to the Blackman, pg. 164.
Another reason I mention all of this is because the author refers to “Celestial Love” (which she describes as the highest kind of love between a man and a woman), and has a chart of “Angelic Qualities” that she says women should cultivate. But yet I don’t recall seeing any biblical citations for these assertions in the book. Could it be that what she’s talking about is NOT biblical, and is instead rooted in the Book of Mormon? I don’t know. I’m not going to invest the time into researching the Book of Mormon to find out. But if I were a Christian reader who was serious about my faith, I would be concerned about that.
I’m not saying I believe that Christian readers should avoid reading the book for that reason. I’ll read heretical material that, despite claiming to be “Muslim,” does not fit within my faith tradition (such as Elijah Muhammad’s Message to the Blackman). But I do so with my eyes wide open. And with that, on to the book’s main points.
A SUMMARY OF THE BOOK’S SUGGESTIONS TO WOMEN
In terms of a woman’s direct interactions with her husband, the author recommends the following:
(1) Accept your husband as he is, don’t try to change him.
(2) Appreciate your husband as he is, overlook his faults.
(3) Admire his masculine qualities.
(4) Put your husband at the top of your priority list (Khadija speaking: I find it interesting that honoring God is not the first priority. What if what your husband wants is directly contrary to God’s will?).
(5) Obey your husband and have a girlish trust in him.
(6) Don’t wound his sensitive masculine pride.
(7) Let your husband function as your guide, leader, protector and provider. Don’t work outside the home, and let him handle all the finances.
(8) Understand that once you apply Fascinating Womanhood principles, your husband will feel more secure in your marriage and he may start venting anger and other hostile feelings on you. Accept this, and allow him to empty his “Pandora’s Box” of negative emotions.
(9) Be sympathetic to your husband’s problems, but don’t offer to help or solve his problems—at least not in the beginning (as I understood the book, the author is arguing that trying to solve his problems might imply that you’re not overlooking his potential errors in judgment that helped create the problem. See pgs. 177-178).
The author then goes on to give detailed instructions in how to best function as a “domestic goddess,” and how to acquire and enhance a feminine appearance. The author states:
A noticeable characteristic of the feminine woman is that she gives careful attention to her appearance. She doesn’t neglect her hair, face, figure, or clothes. She looks as pretty as she can at all times. This is instinctive in her nature. An ideal woman, however, doesn’t focus unduly on her looks. She doesn’t spend endless hours on her appearance, and in so doing neglect important duty. She devotes herself to those things which need her time and attention, but manages to find time to look attractive.
Fascinating Womanhood, pg. 248.
THE TAKE-AWAY POINTS OF THIS BOOK
I believe that a savvy woman with healthy boundaries and healthy self-preservation instincts can learn much from this book. For example, I believe the problem of women trying to change their husbands usually reflects the woman’s failure to properly vet and screen the man before getting heavily involved with him. Women need to identify in advance what their “dealbreakers” are in a relationship. And refrain from getting involved with a man who has “dealbreaker” traits. I believe that between the heavy doses of obvious madness, there are huge chunks of useful advice in Fascinating Womanhood that can be a corrective for modern illusions about gender relations.
Meanwhile, this same book will contribute to the downfall of an emotionally needy woman who lacks firm boundaries and a healthy instinct for self-preservation. It all depends on the reader’s preexisting mindset and inclinations.
Equality is not the same as uniformity. Men are not the same as women, and generally don’t have the same emotional priorities or needs. Often, nonverbal communication is superior to verbal communication. Actions say more than words. Indirect actions are often more useful in shaping other people’s behavior than direct confrontations.
I also believe that more modern Western women need to get it through their heads that acquiring and maintaining an attractive, feminine appearance works to their advantage. Instead of trying to pretend that men don’t respond differently to different women’s appearance. Or trying to browbeat men into pretending that they’re not visual creatures. That doesn’t work.
What happens is that men learn to stop talking in women’s presence about their preferences. Overall, this is a losing strategy for women. See the illustration in this post for an example of what many men think about women’s appearance. Note the sense of entitlement embodied in the illustration: there’s no realistic portrayal of many Western men’s similarly overweight silhouettes, but yet these similarly less attractive men feel entitled to have what they consider to be the most attractive women.
Ladies, I hope you’re not getting yourselves agitated about this particular author, his subject matter, or the illustration he used. What this man is saying is simply an extreme version of what many other, healthier men feel to varying degrees. The point is for you to leverage these particular aspects of male psychology to your advantage! Look at the increased leverage you’ll have with men in the Western world (outside the African-American subculture) if you get yourself physically together, and into the “attractive” category of women!
Don’t waste a moment on being angry about that author. On a patriarchal planet, any man who can’t compete within the context of his own native culture is a loser and an undesirable. Who cares where such men go, or what they do? I know I don’t. I also don’t waste a single moment on being upset about what those sorts of men think about anything. I don’t care about them. Incidentally, I found it interesting that this particular blog author felt it necessary to ‘fess up that a large percentage of the men interested in his subject matter are looking to beat the foreign women they date and marry. See this post.
Anyway, it’s a better strategy for a woman to do what she can to maximize her leverage. As that particular blog author notes in this post, different areas of the world (and different cities and subcultures) have different leverage distributions between the genders. As anyone reading this blog knows, the African-American subculture is a male-empowerment zone. For the long list of reasons that we already know, such as a huge preexisting numerical imbalance coupled with a high African-American male incarceration rate, and so on. Any African-American woman (especially a dark-skinned woman) who restricts her dating life to African-American men will be at a severe, life-crippling disadvantage.
Ladies, take what’s useful from whatever source, and discard the rest. A woman having feminine skills plus 21st century freedom of movement (especially in the Western world) is an extremely powerful combination!
THEMES FOR DISCUSSION
Since the themes in the book touch on so many different underlying issues, I don’t think it’s helpful to try to isolate or limit this conversation to one main theme. So, please feel free to discuss whatever points that you want that were raised during this post.
With one big exception: I won’t publish comments that whine about or analyze male privilege, the prevalent male sense of entitlement, or male dysfunction. We already know all about those things. Those things are what they are. And the men who are heavily involved in that sort of distorted thinking are undesirables—they’re the sort of men who shouldn’t even be on a sensible woman’s radar. My main point in all the conversations here is on what strategies savvy, self-actualizing African-American women can use to maximize their enjoyment in life.
COMING NEXT IN BOOK REVIEWS
The next book review will feature the ebook, The Feminine Arts of Charm and Charisma, by Melina, blog host of The Art of Being Feminine.
Tagged as: book reviews