CTBHHM: One Ugly Hillbilly

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 27-28

Throughout her book, Debi’s attitude toward women is bizarre. In this passage, Debi tells a story to illustrate her point about the importance of having a cheerful spirit. But like all of the stories Debi tells, this one comes off as just, well, off somehow.

A few years back there was an overweight hillbilly woman who worked in the local store of our hometown. Every time we went into the hardware store, several men would be standing around the counter talking to her, and they were always laughing. We usually had to wade through the cheerful crowd and interrupt the gaiety to get served. … The strange thing was that this woman was ugly, I mean, hillbilly ugly, which is worse than regular ugly.

Um. Yeah. I don’t usually go around calling overweight women ugly. Or calling people hillbillies. I’m not really sure of the proper etiquette here, but just reading this story makes me cringe.

One day as we were leaving the store, I laughingly brought to my husband’s attention all those men standing around talking to the sales clerk. His reply really surprised me, “oh, you mean that cute little lady?” Live and learn! … In his mind that lady was cue! The truth is, she was not little, she was not cute, and she was not young. But she did smile, laugh, and giggle, and she was always ready for a good clean joke.

There is something very gendered going on here. In Debi’s world, women gain respect and acclaim by putting on a smile and being cheerful, not by being intelligent or talented. A pretty face, which can be attained by actually having one or by smiling until men are lulled into thinking you have one, is all a woman needs. I’m pretty sure Debi wouldn’t say the same about men.

A few weeks later, we saw her in the grocery store. She was mad at her very obese daughter for grabbing a handful of candy. Gone were the smiles, giggles, and radiance that had so captivated everyone at the hardware store. In their place was a bitter, ugly snarl.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Debi Pearl is not very nice. Why mention that the daughter was obese? And describing the woman’s expression as a “snarl”? Really?

My husband remarked before we left the grocery store, “Haven’t we seen that woman somewhere before? She looks familiar, but I just can’t place her.”

Debi tells her husband who the woman is, and he is stunned and insists that that’s not possible.

The funny thing was that the woman looked just like she always did. She was the same size, same scraggly hairstyle, the same clothes style, the same everything she was when we saw her in the hardware store. All she lacked was her glorious smile. It was her most valuable asset.

The moral of this story, according to Debi, is this:

Men are highly attracted to smiles. That includes your husband. Do you want your husband to stay home more? A merry heart and a mischievous giggle are good drawing cards.

A “mischievous giggle”? Really? I find a mischievous giggle quite attractive in Sally, but that’s because Sally’s in preschool. I’m really trying to imagine what it would sound like for me to have a “mischievous giggle.” I can’t. I honestly truly can’t. For one thing, I don’t giggle. For another thing, I don’t have Sally’s little sideways flirty smile down. I feel like you kind of need that to have a “mischievous giggle.” Once again, I’m feeling very much like Debi is telling women to ask like preschoolers. And that’s quite simply all sorts of not me.

You want to know what Sean and my favorite activity is? You want to know what we do together when we’re both home in the evening, or on the weekend? We engage in intellectual conversation. We pick an issue and rigorously debate it, turning it over and over and trying different positions. In fact, I just asked Sean, who is sitting across the room as I type this, what the main thing that attracted him to me when we first met was. His answer? “That you argued.” He then added as an afterthought: “That you’re pretty.” In other words, our ability to engage in rigorous intellectual discussion was the main thing that attracted Sean to me in the first place!

Debi can’t conceive of a couple like Sean and I. Instead, her fixation is on how attractive a woman is physically, and how a woman can augment that attraction by laughing at men’s jokes and giving men simpering, brainless smiles. She seems to think that’s all men care about. I mean, she framed her story about the importance of a cheerful spirit in terms of one’s physical appearance. Her message wasn’t “how you look doesn’t really matter, it’s who you are inside that matters” or “how you look doesn’t really matter, it’s how you treat those around you.” In fact, it most decidedly wasn’t that, since she indicates that the woman she’s talking about really was an unkind person inside, based on the experience in the grocery store.

Instead, what Debi is saying is that you should put on a cheerful spirit in order to make yourself physically attractive to the men in your life. After all, Debi isn’t simply saying that the “ugly hillbilly” sales clerk attracted people by being cheerful and laughing. Instead, she emphasizes that being cheerful and laughing made men view her as physically attractive. That’s what she emphasizes here – physical appearance, physical appearance, physical appearance. The woman was extremely ugly, but Debi’s husband actually saw her as beautiful. The message here is NOT that it is your manner – your smile, your cheerfulness, your readiness to laugh – that matters rather than your physical appearance, but rather that your manner actually affects your physical appearance, which is of course what actually matters. After all, how else are you supposed to attract a man, with your intellect?

But this passage isn’t wholly irredeemable. There’s one truly excellent sentence.

Everyone is drawn to a smile and wants to be a friend to someone overflowing with goodwill.

There! Just say that and stop there! That I can get behind.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    The thing is, I REALLY disagree with telling people they need to put on a fake smile of any kind if they are sad or depressed. I do understand that we all sometimes need space, and so its our human tendency to cover things up when are sad. But we do not need to add to that. We do not need to tell people there is something wrong with they express emotion and don’t walk around happy all the time. Sometimes life sucks. And its okay to have human reactions.

    • Angela

      This is a good point. Sure there are days when you’re simply tired or irritable when it makes sense to just try and stay positive but if you really are struggling it really won’t help to just pretend everything’s great, especially in a marriage.

    • abra1

      There is neurocognitive research around empathy that does show that smiling (in response to someone else’s smile) results in a change in brain chemistry — so good mood begets a smile but a smile can also improve a mood.

      That being said, as someone who has experience a clinical depression, there is a limit to the effects of this and that is a good thing. We often have *good* reason not to be happy and it is okay to be unhappy — as long as it is not debilitating. If smiling through it means you aren’t addressing the underlying reason for it, then you will probably be worse off in the long run…

      But if it is just a general funk, tired, cranky, off day, giving smiling a chance is worth a try.

    • Godlesspanther

      This is common among religious cults in general. People in the group are supposed to act happy even when they don’t feel like it. They are worshipping the right god, in the right group, in the right way — so that ought to make them happy. If one is not whistling Zippety-doo-da out their asshole all day, then that person must be doing something wrong.

      What happens if that feelings get bottled up and will often come out in a burst of explosive rage. Yes, Michael and Debi put on a fake cheerful for PR. Do you think that these people are genuinely happy? I would say that anyone who likes to beat children and infants, and even recommends that others do it can’t possibly be happy.

      I read something where M. P. suggest that one, “strike a child in joy.” I really don’t think it’s possible to perform the act of striking a child while maintaining the emotion of joy. Unless one has severe psychological problems. “Psychopath” comes to mind. A person who lacks a basic sense of empathy.

  • http://allweathercyclist.blogspot.com/ JethroElfman

    You know, Debi has a good point that a positive attitude goes a long way. On the one hand, it improves others’ perception of you. On the other, it improves your perception of yourself. Your behaviour and motivation change to match the face that you are putting on towards the world. Telling yourself that you want to be happy is a step towards being happy.
    http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/09/10/5-simple-mind-hacks-that-changed-my-life/

    • Sara

      I have to agree with what Lana wrote above your comment. You shouldn’t have to hide your feelings and put on a smile that is basically fake (especially if the main purpose of that fake smile is to be attractive and pleasing to men, like Debi seems to be saying). Not everything in your life is made better by having a positive attitude. And people are different, endless positive attitude just doesn’t work for everyone. I have to recommend Lana’s post. She really put it well.

    • abra1

      Of course a positive attitude makes you more attractive (in the sense that it makes you more approachable), the question are (1) does the desire/imperative to be attractive outweigh all of the other factors that feed into your mood and (2) who is the desire/imperative to be attractive to serve?

      There are some contexts in which the answer to (1) is “yes” — many mundane examples such as applying for job, working in sales, working with small children, etc. But the answer to (2) in those context is that is for my purposes — it gets me the job, allows me to do my job better, improves my relationship with another person, etc. One of those context may even be that I want to be cheerful/positive for my spouse or someone else but I don’t *owe* that to them and so the answer to (1) can be “no.” Thus, it is not so much of an imperative.

  • http://beautifuldisarray.wordpress.com Chryssie

    haha, just asked my husband what first attracted him to me, and his immediate answer was my bluntness. I read him part of this post and he told me that if I walked around mischievously giggling he would run and never come back.

    thanks for reviewing this book! I am able to put into words the issues I’ve had with this book.

    • Stony

      I just asked my husband and he said “conversation; we communicated really well”. And since we “met” over the phone, looks really didn’t enter into it for several months.

  • Angela

    I think that the Pearls should be careful about throwing around terms like “hillbilly ugly.” I believe there’s a saying about people who live in glass houses…

    • CLDG

      I was thinking it.

  • Christine

    I think that the terror I could inspire with a mischievous giggle is part of why my husband and I get along so well. But that’s entirely different from what Debi says. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite.

    • machintelligence

      Keep smiling — it makes people wonder what you might be planning.

  • smrnda

    I grew up in large cities (NY, Chicago and Shanghai for a while) and one thing that I try to do is, no matter how much somebody fits the stereotype is to never use slurs that demean people from rural areas: I don’t call people hicks, rednecks and I certainly wouldn’t say someone is ‘hillbilly ugly.’ It’s tempting, and I have slipped up from time to time but I wouldn’t use derogatory slurs against other populations faced with similar challenged, so I shouldn’t do it for rural whites either.

    Does Debi realize that lots of men find the whole ‘smile and giggle’ personality she thinks is *the thing* for a woman to be infantile and annoying? That a woman who just giggles and says ‘wow, really? wow, really?’ is showing a real lack of an actual personality?

    Also, why does she have to say ‘obese daughter’ – she seems to always use adjectives that would be perceived as negative every chance she gets. It’s unnecessary given the story, but it tells you a lot about Debi.

    • Godlesspanther

      The terms “hick,” “redneck,” and “hayseed” could be considered slurs. “hillbilly,” in my mind, is a little different. It does refer to a specific culture. These are isolated communities mostly in the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern US. They are a culture, in and of themselves, in that, they have their own traditions, music, style, accent, etc.

      Usually the people who are referred to as “hillbillies” are not actual hillbillies.

      • abra1

        I was thinking the same thing. I grew up 4 miles from “Hillbilly Junction” (a highway junction marked with a sign of a giant hillbilly with a rotating arm) and had neighbors who I am sure would proudly identify as hillbillies.

        I was a transplant so I wouldn’t count myself among them. But the descriptor is evocative all the same because the hillbilly culture is characterized by chronic rural poverty and calls to mind, for me, bad hair cuts, cheap, ill-fitting clothing, lack of adequate dental care, etc.

        I guess is a little bit like Hoosier… in Indiana, from what I understand, Hoosier is a positive cultural descriptor. Where I live, calling someone a hoosier is slightly worse than calling them a redneck/hayseed/hick.

      • Doe

        Hoosier is the name for a person from Indiana, and also the mascot for Indiana University. It is more than just a cultural descriptor, it is the equivalent of calling a person from Florida a Floridian. It’s used in Kurt Vonnegut’s writing a lot to describe the kinship that Hoosiers (and more generally Midwesterners) feel even outside their place of origin.

        I think when most people use terms like hick and redneck, they are trying to evoke a certain image, sort of like how “ghetto” has replaced racial slurs that called to mind a certain type of black person. I know people who would proudly identify as rednecks but would be extremely offended if some ivory tower person referred to them that way. Honestly I find it a bit offensive even though I left that community a long time ago, words like “white trash” are incredibly classist.

      • Leigha7

        “I know people who would proudly identify as rednecks but would be extremely offended if some ivory tower person referred to them that way.”

        I was going to say the same thing. Where I’m from, a lot of people refer to themselves or each other as rednecks (and sometimes as hicks, usually jokingly). But I’m not sure if they’d like it if someone who wasn’t from the same town called them that. Some would proudly accept it, but most would probably be offended or at least defensive.

  • Uly

    She criticizes the woman for not smiling as her daughter misbehaves? If my kid stole something, even if she was too young to know better, I wouldn’t smile either! Sheesh. She makes no sense. That’s worse than the hatred, classism, and misogyny, in my books, and that is quite an accomplishment.

  • J-Rex

    My boyfriend and I are very playful with each other. In our relationship, it’s not him making jokes and me giggling at how clever he is. We both make each other laugh all the time. I love getting a reaction out of him just as much as he loves getting a reaction out of me.
    I find it funny that in her story, the woman actually seems to be making the men laugh, but Debi doesn’t really catch on to this. She sees people laughing together and assumes that the crowd is drawn to this woman because this woman smiles and giggles. She ignores the idea that this woman might actually have a fun personality. Smiling and giggling by itself doesn’t draw a crowd at all.
    She perpetuates the idea that women don’t act, they just react. They don’t have their own diverse personalities or their own thoughts and feelings and needs. They just need to pay attention to all those things in their husband and make sure to react kindly and happily to all his actions.

  • lucrezaborgia

    Wait, I thought Michael was so astute and observant all the time? Especially with how much he purports to be an expert on human behavior. I call BS.

    • Liberated Liberal

      I was thinking exactly the same thing. Either this story is completely manufactured or it has been highly modified.

    • Mark Temporis

      I can’t imagine someone not recognizing someone because they are angry and you’re used to them being happy, unless they have that thing where they don’t remember faces at all.

      • Leigha7

        It wasn’t someone they knew, it was someone they occasionally saw at the store. And he did say she looked familiar, just wasn’t certain who she was, plus this was a few weeks later. I could easily see it happening. I highly doubt I’d even recognize someone I saw in passing a few weeks ago, if I saw them again in a different place (which it was, they saw her several times at the hardware store–though it doesn’t sound like he’d paid her any attention before that last time–and then again at the grocery store).

        But I doubt it was because she wasn’t smiling (though it may have contributed a very tiny bit). It was just because sometimes you don’t recognize strangers.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    You know what was most disturbing about those quotes from Debbie Pearl? What she says about her husband not even realizing that this women when not being pleasant, was still the same woman. In other words, Michael Pearl had never once looked at this woman and really seen her. All he could see was either a cute smile, or an angry face. The woman herself, as a person, did not exist for him.

    The real woman is both– she is, and should be, a person who has good times and bad. In other words, a real human being with all aspects of being human.

    • Richter_DL

      Michael Pearl seems a bit superficial here, really. And she says all men are like this. Kind of a down-talking again, really.

  • Don Gwinn

    The last line of the post kind of gets at my first reaction, which was “Wait . . . men are attracted to women who smile and laugh? Aren’t women attracted to smiles and laughter?”
    I’m pretty sure the average person enjoys humor, friendliness and smiles more than other ways of interacting. This is not a secret to hooking a man. It’s just how people get along with each other.

  • wren7

    Aside from the numerous nauseating aspects of Debi Pearl’s words in this post, I find it interesting that a supposed evangelical Christian would be so … well, snarky and judgmental. I don’t believe the Bible to be the literal word of God but I’m sure Debi does. What about the passages that instruct us to not be judgmental (lest we be judged) and that the least among us is judged by God to be more worthy than those with the most (money, looks, whatever)? Her saccharine, simplistic version of what men (read, all men) find attractive in women is ludicrous. My husband, as others above have said, was attracted to me for my strong (I dare say, opinionated) personality and intellect. If I acted as Debi says all women should act he would run for the hills. I just do not get this nonsense about women dumbing themselves down to be attractive to men. What total garbage!!!

    • wren7

      P.S. There has to be a lot of internal dissonance going on in these women who live a patriarchal lifestyle, with constantly denying huge aspects of their personalities and their true selves. I’ve read as much in accounts of women who have left the Quiverfull life. I can’t imagine denying my true self for years … sounds like a recipe for a lot of visits to a therapist.

    • Tracey

      Despite the supposed “joy for life”, some of the most negative, hate-filled, snarky, back-biting women I’ve meet have called themselves “Good Christians”.

      • http://belljaimie@ymail.com Jaimie

        You got that right Tracey! A couple years ago when I joined facebook, I friended a woman I didn’t know because I liked her blog. She was a Mennonite and into homekeeping, had lots of great recipes, and she seemed nice. Well then a bunch of her Mennonite and headcovering friends sent me requests and all of a sudden I had about thirty of them on my list. I figured ok, they are Christian women, I don’t know them but what could go wrong?
        Turns out, plenty. They were the nastiest, meanest, heartless bitches you could ever meet. The things they said were jaw dropping in their open hate and judgment for everyone in the world and even each other. You’re not a Christian this, you’re going to Hell, that. The way they treated each other was atrocious. Their rants about celebrating Halloween were predictably bad but you would not believe the things they said to those who celebrated Christmas or Easter. Ugly, ugly stuff. I dropped them all.
        I have never looked at an Amish, Mennonite, or headcovering woman the same way since.

  • Karen

    When I’m in my normal neutral mood, I make a point of smiling and making eye contact with strangers on the street, in the grocery store, etc. Many of them seem surprised and then appreciative at this, so I can see the value of a smile firsthand. With my extended family, I try to stay upbeat. I have no children, but I’m either warm toward my husband or I warn him I’m in a dreadful mood, and to keep a wide berth. He does, whatever was driving the bad mood gets into perspective in a day or two, and we’re on an even keel again. (To make the point, it’s rarely that something my husband says/does puts me in a bad mood. During the last bad mood, I even sent him an email saying, “Dear, I’ve got all claws out and teeth bared, but it isn’t about you at all.” If that’s not true, we talk it out.)

    But there’s no denying I occasionally get into a funk that scares cats and (if I’m not careful) people, too. I feel no obligation to smile, or to be any more than civil, to others when these moods occur. Perhaps the meds need tweaking; I do suffer from major depression, but it’s mostly controlled. If I’m not careful, in a bad mood, I can put a look on my face that damn near freezes water. It certainly intimidates people. I can’t replicate it in a mirror; I only know it by the reactions I get. And so I’m careful… but I’m not apologizing, either.

  • Karen

    Oh, and I mustn’t have put him off too badly, because the young lad I married has put up with me for 32 years and counting.

  • Seda

    It’s not only what Debi says about women I find disturbing in this story, but what it says about men! Men are individuals (just as women are), and the quality that most attracts them to a particular woman/mate is probably going to be a function both of the man himself, and of the individuality of the woman he’s attracted to. In other words, seems to me that the best thing a woman can do to attract the man who will best fit with her, is to be herself, fully, honestly, and openly. And that goes keeping a relationship healthy and fresh, and for men attracting women, as well. Debi’s formula of infantile cheerfulness won’t be honest with a huge percentage of women (probably most, and certainly not me), so trying to attract a man that way is basically lying. Neither a Godly nor constructive beginning to a relationship, nor maintenance of one – and very different, I think, than what Jesus might have advised.

  • http://talkbirth.me Molly

    I both love and hate this series of posts–love it, because the stuff you share from this book is so ridiculous it almost seems like a joke, and hate it because people actually read the book and take it to heart and consider the “lessons” desirable ones. :(

  • Katherine

    It really bothers me how she judges people for their looks. “Hillbilly ugly”- was that even necessary? How about get to know people and judge them for their character. She suggests for women to have the emotional range of a Stepford wife- happy and smiling all the time. But do this to attract the attention of men because that’s what they want. (Gag) Debi is extremely superficial and shallow. She is worse than the shallow, mean girl character types in the movies.

  • becca

    This reminds me of the song “Smile” from “I’m getting my act together and taking it on the road”

    I would smile for Tommy
    and sing a little song
    And Tommy would take care of me
    That’s how we got along…

  • Karen

    There is an entire unabridged dictionary of wrongness in Pearl’s statements here, but I think it’s made much worse because she’s almost right. My husband believes in expressing every single negative emotion he’s ever felt, which is really very hard to live with. I don’t need to hear him shout cuss words at every less-than-perfect driver on the road or get a blow-by-blow of the undeserved criticism from his boss. Of course, the reason Steve does this is that his mother, a very traditional Catholic, always punished him for complaining about anything. (The woman was the most perfect passive-aggressive bully I’ve ever known.) I try, with our sons, to explain that it’s okay to complain, but be sure to do so only if it’s going to do some good, and only as much as is required to correct the problem. The feelings aren’t the problem, it’s how they are expressed that makes trouble.

  • Katherine H

    late to the party here, but just as an aside – I don’t think I have ever heard a *good* clean joke. I’ve heard clean jokes that were terrible, and plenty of awesome dirty ones, but never a good, clean joke.

    • Nea

      I have, but they’re mostly science-based. The one about the priest, the lawyer and the engineer at the guillotine is my engineer father’s favorite.

    • Christine

      I was about to list some, but then I realised that as funny as they are, they’re all groaners. (And mostly poking fun at mathematicians, which makes it less nice, even if still clean).

    • James Yakura

      Well, there’s the origin of the term “spherical cow”, or the one involving the first part of heaven as an endless hallway of doors…

  • Jordan

    Is anyone else disturbed by the fact that this guy mentioned he was attracted to a preschooler named Sally? Also he says Sally (preschool girl) is flirty…..anyone else disturbed that this preschooler is flirting with him and that he openly admitted to finding a preschooler attractive?

  • Alex H.

    No, Jordan, nobody else is disturbed that “this guy” finds a preschooler attractive, because nobody else failed to notice that “this guy” is a woman named Libby Anne, and most other readers of this blog are probably aware that Sally is her daughter. You fail reading comprehension forever. How clueless do you have to be to presume that the writer of a blog called “Love, Joy, Feminism, by Libby Anne” is male? Bad enough to assume that male is the default gender for bloggers in general; finding a male blogger whose blog is called “Love, Joy, Feminism,” and has a pink default background and a butterfly as its icon, would be quite amazing. (That it would be so says a lot about how gendered socialization affects even the most egalitian-minded of people, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are very few, if any, male bloggers, even male feminist bloggers, who would go with anything remotely as consistent with American archetypes of femininity as the look and title of this blog.)

  • Richter_DL

    I absolutely *hate* these silly giggles. Seriously. I really do. It lowers the perceived IQ of a woman who puts them on by half, at least. And it makes it very hard for me to take them seriously, as a person and in what they might want to say. I realise this is probably very unfair to many women who think this is appealing, but really, just like badly applied makeup in crass colours, it’s just failed communication on their part.

    I suppose I’d be a lot more attracted to younger Libby than younger Debbie, too. Lots more you could … just do with her, like intellectual conversations about random topics. I’d rather fetch my beer myself than put up with silly giggles all the time.


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