Fascinating Womanhood Review: The Male Ego

Fascinating Womanhood Review: The Male Ego November 4, 2013

by Samantha cross posted from her blog Defeating The Dragons

I’m halfway tempted to have today’s post be nothing but a collection of choice quotes from this chapter, because they almost entirely speak for themselves. However, like most of what Helen’s says, it’s all grounded in (unfortunately) common stereotypes about gender, so they are worth discussing. The chapter is titled “Masculine Pride,” and I had a hard time identifying anything in it that I could agree with or tolerate. Beginning with this:

The most important thing to learn on this topic is that masculine pride is very sensitive. A man cannot stand to have his masculinity belittled, ridiculed, or treated with indifference. Such an attack on his manhood is one of the most painful experiences he can suffer.

As members of the human race, I’m sure most of us can attest to the unpleasantness of being belittled and ridiculed. I’m going to be honest and say that, in grad school, I had to deal with a woman who belittled me in front of our peers pretty consistently– and it was worse than just distasteful. It was infuriating at times, and there were days when I drove home from work literally screaming in frustration (yes, I’m that dramatic).

The most painful experience of my life? Completely unendurable? Uhm . . . no. Not even by a long shot.

Granted, I’m a woman, but I’d have to be a real “man-hater” to believe that all men were incapable of tolerating any sort of ridicule whatsoever. But that is, in fact, what Helen spends her entire chapter arguing– that all man are, in fact, this immature, and are incapable of growing beyond it. I understand that when your spouse ridicules you it’s a lot harder to swallow than when a colleague does it. We trust our partners with a vulnerable heart, and being attacked by him or her would be painful.

If that’s where Helen went with her ideas, she’d have no argument from me. However, to Helen, there is no difference between offering constructive criticism and ridicule. They’re the exact same thing– at least, if you’re criticizing or ridiculing something about his masculinity. She is completely silent on how your husband will supposedly respond if you start negatively talking about something that she doesn’t associate with his “masculine qualities” (“his muscular body, his manly skills,” etc.). By doing this, she completely erases any sort of possibility that men exist outside of Western gender stereotypes. It’s not just that she’s reinforcing stereotypes– by telling women to only recognize their husband’s masculinity, she is telling them that recognizing and appreciating non-masculine traits is either a) a waste of time or b) wrong.

Two of the things I admire about my husband are his intuition and his empathy. I can’t imagine what he would be like without those traditionally “feminine” traits. But how would Helen react to me consistently affirming these “feminine” qualities and occasionally being amused at his obsession with Michigan football or aerospace engineering? Pretty sure she’d be horrified.

This is also the chapter where she starts her heavy-hitting “men must always excel women” idea.

Don’t belittle, show indifference, or excel him in anything which requires masculine ability. This applies not only to skills in his work, ,but to such things as carpentry, mechanics, fishing, hunting, masculine sports, math, or anything in which he has masculine pride . . . and if, through necessity, you must perform some masculine skill yourself, do not outshine him.

I’m currently writing on my husband’s laptop because my desktop PC died a couple weeks ago. When I got a blue screen, I handled it on my own. I started troubleshooting. I googled solutions. I figured out it wasn’t the video card or the power supply completely on my own– that it was a 7B error. I cracked open the case and started switching out DIM cards. Today I’m going to boot from disc and try to see if it’s the hard drive and if my data is salvageable (backups are your friends, ya’ll). I grew up with my dad– a computer engineer — showing me everything I need to know about computers. I built this PC on my own (which, seriously, not that hard. Nowadays everything is color coded).

But, oh noes! Computer engineering is a masculine field (yes, she says this later in the book)! Computers are for boys! I’ve emasculated my husband by handling my own problems!

As if. Handsome (my husband) is proud and impressed that “I got this.” Sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes, I don’t want to open the pickle jar. I could, but why not hand it off to him when he can easily pop it open and I would have to strain? Our marriage is about determining abilities and gifts– he loves spreadsheets and budgets, and I adore the Food Network. He handles the financial side of things, I handle a lot of the daily logistics. He’s big picture, I’m detail-oriented, and we do what works for us. Sometimes that means some of our responsibilities fall inside “traditional” roles, and sometimes it doesn’t. We also don’t care.

The next few pages are loaded, but it’s pretty much more of the same– although it does expressly forbid working women from “excelling him at work; doing a better job, advancing to a higher position, or bringing home more pay.” In a country where women are the primary breadwinner in 40% of all households, that particular order is insanely outdated.

Then she moves into a section labeled “Common Mistakes Women Make,” and describes a few situations. The first one is a scenario where the husband wants to make a large  investment where the odds are “10 to 1 that he could be fleeced” (her emphasis). The only way we’re allowed to express concern about this? “It sounds like a good idea . . . but for some reason I just don’t feel right about it.” Offering a logical analysis? Discussing his reasoning with him? Not possible. We’re also not allowed to utter the words “Let’s be practical” or “sensible.” Anything we do that could put a damper on his enthusiasm is the same exact thing as belittling him. No, really:

Remember, if your diminish masculine enthusiasm, you damage masculine pride.

And if we’re busy with something, like right smack dab in the final moments of cooking dinner and he wants to share a compliment he got from his boss, we’re not allowed to say “That’s wonderful! Could you tell the girls to wash for dinner?” Because being distracted and preoccupied is not permitted– that would mean we’re not “feeding our husband’s soul.” She refers to this behavior (not dropping everything your are doing the second he walks through the door) as belittling and dismissive.

Helen and I could be on the same page if she used the words “belittle” and “ridicule” the same way the dictionary uses them, but she doesn’t. She turns ridicule– something that actually could be a serious problem — into any action on a woman’s part that indicates she’s an actual person with a mind, responsibilities, and abilities of her own.

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7

| Part 8 |  Part 9 |Part 10

Comments open below

Read everything by Samantha!

Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverfull, 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

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


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  • Edie Moore McGee

    I-am getting sick reading this stuff. The part about not outshining men? That was the advice one girl gave me in seventh grade for how to attract a boyfriend. She told me I was too smart in school and no boy would ever be interested. Oy vey!

  • Nightshade

    It’s a human thing to not like being belittled, ridiculed, or treated with indifference. HUMAN. Get that? It’s important. If men are so fragile that they cannot tolerate reasonable suggestions or seeing someone else, male or female, do anything better than they can, whyever would anyone think it’s a good idea to put such delicate flowers in charge of anything?

  • Trollface McGee

    Funny – as I understand, teen/tween boys spend much of those years undermining each other’s masculinity on a regular basis in an overt manner and yet this seems to exact little to no damage to the fragile male ego.
    Of course, other males do not possess the what females have, to be exact the Certain Overly Ovarian Testicular-shrinkage In Excess Syndrome (COOTIES) and that a woman “belittleling” a man by refusing to let him win over her like one would let a small child win is terrible, but most men seem to be just fine with it, in fact, I’d be so bold as to say that most men don’t need women to pretend to be incompetent in order to feel better about themselves.
    I do agree with one thing, you should never try to excel a man, because excel isn’t a verb and therefore should not be attempted.

  • Jennifer

    Actually, the undermining they do to each other does often hurt their masculinity, definitely more often than we hurt it. Hence the defensiveness so many young males have.

  • Jennifer

    This is one of the most pathetic books I’ve ever seen in my life. Encouraging a woman to act like a skipping, giggling child? Do you have any idea what kind of man is attracted to that?

  • alfaretta

    That usage of “excel” grated on my nerves too, but unfortunately, it appears to be correct. From dictionary.com, usage #2, used with object:

    to surpass; be superior to; outdo: He excels all other poets of his day.

  • Trollface McGee

    Bah, it still sounds terrible. My inner grammar-Nazi is shamed but my inner picky-word person remains repulsed.

  • Saraquill

    Bah. I dated a man that fragile. It was a horrible relationship.

  • Jennifer

    Try reading the book by this author’s creepy husband; it’s an even bigger joke in many ways.

  • Yeah. Michael Pearl.

  • Jennifer

    Actually he prefers a more rustic woman. Aubrey Andelin, on the other hand..

  • Jennifer

    Ha, here’s my summation of that logic in a review of Helen’s precursor to Stepfordom, “Fascinating Girlhood”; first paragraph quotes her.

    “The woman also loses ground by becoming capable and independent. As she begins to take on an air of self-sufficiency she tends to lose her essential feminine charm. A feminine woman is tender, delicate and gentle and needs the protection of men. When we see a generation of women who have become capable — able to kill their own snakes, it is not surprising to see that they have lost respect in the eyes of the men and that men do not offer them the chivalry that they did generation ago.”

    Are you getting this, ladies? A competent woman is a THREAT TO A MALE EGO. These are Andelin’s own words, to the letter. According to Andelin, men don’t like strong women and don’t feel like men unless we treat them like great big macho heroes. What real man wants a ninny who can’t even open the car door for herself and waits five minutes if necessary for him to do this for her? (Yes, Andelin suggests women do this) How is such a weakling supposed to bear his children? And heaven forbid such a woman try to marry a farmer, who actually needs his wife to lift a little finger every once in a while…Andelin finishes this ridiculous paragraph by advising that you always be alluringly vulnerable and never the kind of woman who KILLS HER OWN SNAKES (emphasis hers). Never do anything yourself, ladies. I guess you’re not allowed to kill snakes after you’re married either, so if a rattler comes up and hisses at you and your children, be sure to shriek and faint just in case hubby’s watching.”

  • $66283444

    I got the same advice from a friend in middle school. Twenty years later, I have more education and make more money than my fella, but he and I have a positive, healthy relationship. She’s married to a guy whose idea of work is getting off the couch to change the TV station. I’m rather glad I didn’t listen to her….

  • Interesting. So, since my husband loves the fact that I’m strong and competent, “his rock” (his words not mine) … does that mean he’s not a real man?

    Here’s a clue – being strong and competent was what got me out of an abusive first marriage. I feel sorry for anyone who actually believes this crap.

  • I know, right? Real men can handle a woman that makes more money than they do.

  • houstonschic

    I watched for years as my mother verbally tore down, physically kicked/smacked/punched, and emotionally abused my father. Yes, you read the genders right. I was in one of THOSE families. When this book came into my life, when I was only eighteen, it seemed like such a breath of fresh air. I tried so hard to do everything it said….and guess what? My husband spent years thinking I was less intelligent than him. I had to threaten to kick him out when he refused to get a job [and he knew how serious I was] before he finally realized that I was his equal. It’s not been an easy recovery—but I’m living proof that this “Sensitive Masculine Pride” BS is an altar that you don’t want to be sacrificed on. Truth with a capital “T” is more important than anyone’s pride.

  • $66283444

    And I’m very glad there are real men out there. lol