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.
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Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce