Fascinating Womanhood Review: Putting Him First

by Samantha cross posted from her blog Defeating the Dragons

I’m just going to leap head-first into this chapter, “Make him Number One”:

A man wants a woman who will place him at the top of his priority list, not second but first. He wants to be the kingpin around which all other activities of her life revolve. He doesn’t want to be the background music to her other interests and dreams. This desire is not necessarily a conscious one, but an inner need which surfaces violently when not adequately met, when his wife places other things first . . . Being placed in this inferior position can cause a man to form bitter resentments toward his wife and even his children.

Through the rest of the chapter, it becomes blindingly obvious that Helen means exactly what she says here. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain all the different ways that a woman can make her husband feel “inferior.” Housework, children, money, beauty . . . She barely even mentions having a career, and when she does, it’s clear what she thinks about a career woman:

One of the greatest threats to your husband’s position of priority would be if you were to earnestly pursue a career . . . If you finally reach a pinnacle of success, you would overshadow him and make him feel unimportant.

This is a serious problem with highly successful women . . . You should always be willing to sacrifice your career for his sake.

If it hasn’t already been apparent (which I can tell from your comments that it has been), Helen has an exceedingly low opinion of men. Any kind of man who can easily be “overshadowed” and for that to make him “bitterly resent you” is not worth his salt, but Helen argues that this is all men, without exception. And any man who would require you to sacrifice your dreams just so he doesn’t feel that he’s in “second place,” is– well, that man is a first-class a-hole.

I’m not overly fond of the idea of “going to work.” Having a traditional career doesn’t align well with my personality, my health, or even just the way I operate. I’m a night owl, and corporate America doesn’t exactly revolve around people like me. So, I work from  home, and my work is fairly light. I spend most of my time in creative endeavors– like my blog, or writing. But, even though I work from home as a freelancer, work-life balance is still a concern. I can be up to all hours of the night doing research, and Handsome finds most of the work I do . . . unpleasant. I spend a lot of my time delving into some pretty heavy, depressing issues, but it doesn’t weigh on me like it does on him. So, I’m working to make sure I don’t burden him by constantly talking about these things.

It’s not a hard thing to do– I’m not “sacrificing” or “giving up” anything by leaving my “work” at “work.”

But that is not what Helen means here. She even goes on to say that you’re not allowed to develop your talents, your dreams. You can pursue these things, but not with dedication or passion, less your husband feel “inferior.”

And then she smacks you with this:

It it not always possible or even even right for a man to make his wife number one in his life. This is due to the nature of his life. His number one responsibility is to provide the living. His work and life away from home may be so demanding that it must take priority over all else if he is to succeed. This often means he must neglect his family.

Helen is not kidding about this stuff. She is dead serious. And she goes on to justify the difference thusly:

[Men] have been the builders of society, have solved world problems, have developed new ideas for the benefit of all. This challenging role of public servant is not easy and also demands the man’s attention away from his family.

Oy vey.

Women, you must never, ever, do anything that could even hint at your husband being second-place in your life, or his feelings of  inadequacy could “surface violently.” You must not pursue any talents, skills, positions, or carer– ever. You must never do anything that could possibly be construed as him not being your top priority. The second he walks through the front door from a long, hard, grueling day at the office, you must be there to great him with his slippers and his pipe (no, really, page 104).

And why must you sacrifice all of this?

Because he’s a man. He’s the one who’s capable of “building society” and “developing new ideas.” Men do that. Men. Not women. Never women. It’s not that we’re not capable of changing the world, it’s that we’re not supposed to. Our only priority must be our husband. We must constantly be aware of how week and feeble his ego is, and do everything we can to shore it up. And we should be so proud of our husbands who are so consumed by their career that they neglect their children. If our husband is Don Draper, we should just be thrilled and have dinner waiting for whenever he comes home.

See what I mean abut Helen being even more anti-feminist than Debi?

And Helen also passes along her usual threats– if you don’t do this, his character and personality will become “ugly.” He’ll “bitterly resent you.” In the “success stories” she shares at the end (these are usually so sickening I don’t even comment on them) she threatens her readers with husbands that will have multiple affairs, or worse, get into a car accident and die before you have a chance to make him feel like he’s the most riveting, all-consuming thing in your life.

She continually emphasizes that “making him number one” is a basic need of your husband’s. It is paramount that you meet this basic need before you even attend to the basic needs of yourself or your children.

The biggest problem, I think, with this chapter is that Helen is making a huge assumption about a woman’s needs. To Helen, a woman’s only need is to be loved by her husband. And yes, if my husband didn’t love me, that would be . . . awful. I’m pretty sure I’d be miserable. However, human beings are more complex than this. Any man is not some robot that you can push his buttons and “make” him love you. There are things we all can do to help make our relationships more healthy, but that will vary from person to person. We have to get to know the person we married. He or she is different than any other person on the planet, and they are not solely defined by their gender (which is a much more fluid thing than Helen can even comprehend).

However, my husband’s love is not my only need. I also need to feel useful, like I’m contributing. I’m just as miserable feeling useless than I do feeling unloved– it’s possible that I feel worse when I feel useless. I also need challenges and ideas to puzzle out. I’m not easily bored, but I have found that if I don’t exercise the skills I’ve acquired through grad school, I start feeling restless and empty. I need laughter and companionship.

But, to Helen, no one is allowed to be complicated. No one is allowed to have multi-layered, multifaceted desires and wants and needs. Men are driven entirely and exclusively to have their ego stroked. Women are only driven by an overwhelming need to be loved. What Helen describes are empty, hollow, shallow stick figures. Not people.

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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

Comments open below

Read everything by Samantha!

Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverful, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.

Samantha blogs at Defeating The Dragons and is a member of The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

About Suzanne Calulu
  • KarenJo12

    If I were married to a man like that I would have a party if he died in a car wreck. I’d have him cremated and flush the ashes down a toilet.

  • JetGirl

    Thanks for helping me recommit to feminism.

  • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

    If my husband felt the constant need to “be number one”, I would get him a puppy and walk out the door.

  • Kristen Rosser

    What a recipe for unhappiness! She’s supposed to be centering her life around him, waiting for him to come home. He’s supposed to be centering his life around his work to the point where he may come home very late, and often (business trips, etc.) not at all. Now, if she could fill up the time he’s away from her with fulfilling activities of her own, she would be much less likely to blame him for the unhappiness of having nothing of real importance to do but to wait for the center of her life– who is not supposed to care as much about her as she does about him– to show up.

    There’s not much she can do but become resentful of her empty life. And from what I understand, that’s exactly what women did. By the thousands.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    I can state categorically that if this is an underlying premise of her book it is not a Christian book.

    One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    She says men want to be put first – and endorses this. Sorry, God should be first in Christian thinking, and a husband is part of “your neighbour, who should be loved as yourself.
    She also says it should be acceptable for men to put other things first, things that is neither God nor people. She does not even suggest that the man should put God first, people second, and then other things.
    She misses the most important commandments of Christianity by a mile. She has utterly no business teaching Christians anything about how to live or love.

  • forgedimagination

    I’m not sure what Helen would say about this. Part of me thinks that if you pointed this out to her, her response would be “well, of course GOD comes first. That’s such a given, for me to have to mention it is ridiculous.”

    But the fact that she rarely ever talks about God… hmm. I don’t know if she was just trying to make this book as non-Christian as possible in order to market and sell it outside of the religious market.

    –Samantha

  • Trollface McGee

    So that’s the reason we’re not all in flying cars now, with zero pollution and Palestinians and Jews are giving each other some heterosexual bro-hugs – some man had a lousy wife and we’re all suffering.

    It’s kind of horribly insulting to men. I think, most men who marry want a wife and family to be a part of their life, not just someone to hold the pay checks because he’s too busy to go to the bank. In her world, the only reason a man who has the “ideal” wife even comes home is to get a power-up ego boost (and probably sex) and then presumably leaves again.

    It’s not a very pretty picture of women either. A woman who has no ideas of her own, no ambitions, no thoughts other than of you. A woman who is willing to neglect her kids to put you first? Someone who’s constantly lying to you because she’s afraid to hurt your fragile ego (I know she thinks men are emotionally dense but really). No normal person would be happy in a relationship like that.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    If she does, she will miss some very important points. Men are directly mentioned as wanting to be put first, not second next to God. And that is not insignificant. And the man alone is not the full meaning of neighbour, a wise Christian will on occasion – not always – put a spouse second to other parts of his/her neighbour. For a simple example, a neighbour who needs to be taken straight to hospital (I live in a country where you could wait hours for an ambulance) is more important than having dinner on table on time for your spouse. A spouse’s desire to be first is not spiritually right. (The first will be last …)
    And even supposing God’s place is a given, she also endorses men putting work before people.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    Kristen, through Internet dating I once met a guy who seemed to expect that. He was unhappy when I did not have my phone with me immediately, but he never answered calls – he should be the caller. If I e-mailed him he answered within 3-4 days; but if he e-mailed me he phoned within 30 minutes, asking if I read his message and why did I not answer yet. (Sometimes, I am away from my computer from logging off the Internet one evening to logging on the next. This was before I had a mobile phone that also got my e-mails.)
    I sent him a friendly e-mail asking him to tell what he thinks is a reasonable standard for e-mail, that he could ask me when I don’t answer that quickly and I can contact him when he does not. He visited me once more, complaining that the e-mail was “sarcastic.” “How so?” I asked. “What should I have said different?” But he could not explain. That was the last time I saw him – I think he was unhappy that I was holding him to similar standards, and was not expecting to let my whole life revolve round him while I only get scraps.
    (Neither of the expectations he seemed to have is good – partners need more than scraps and men and women should use their gifts to look outward and build up others, a relationship cannot be the only thing to focus on.)

  • Dana

    This is a good way to try to read her charitably, forged–that maybe she’s just *assuming* that of course God comes first, before the husband, even if she never mentions it.

    But that doesn’t work, because any woman who followed the advice in this book would end up putting her husband first, before God, in practice–because she’ll have made her entire life revolve around serving her husband.

    There are female prophets in the Bible, praised by Paul. What if God wants you to do that? Well, you shouldn’t, because that’d mean putting something before your husband. (Or maybe the idea is that you’ll be a prophet only so long as your husband agrees and you’re still prioritizing his petty needs over the prophetic work?) Or what if the woman has a bunch of neighbors who are in need. If she passionately, devotedly throws herself into taking care of those neighbors, at the expense of making sure all of her husband’s socks are arranged just as he likes in his sock drawer, that would clearly be what God wants, but would contradict the message of the book.

    You can’t actually put God first, and still put your husband first in all your daily activities. Putting God first sometimes means putting other things, and other people, before your husband and his desires. The Quivering folks don’t recognize that because the whole movement is a deeply unChristian one. It’s a religion of patriarchy with a superficial gloss of Christianity.

  • Kristen Rosser

    Thanks for sharing that. It’s a prime example of how following Fascinating Womanhood’s advice can enable an abusive partner and give him free license. If you’d given in to that guy, I’m fairly certain that’s where it would have ended up.

  • Saraquill

    I once dated a turd who was deeply insulted that I had a life outside of him, and that I had career goals other than the ones he wanted for me. The relationship didn’t last.

    I’m currently with someone who loves me while accepting me for who I am. This includes a variety of interests and a social life outside of him. We’ve been together for over 6 years.

  • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

    I suppose, nobody would want that unless they’re conditioned to believe that’s what they deserve (by virtue of a penis, of course).

    Or a narcissistic individual. Either way.

  • EvelynKrieger

    Didn’t someone already write the fictional version of this asinine book? I think it was called, The Stepford Wives.


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