Appearance and Helen Andelin

Helen Andelin, author of Fascinating Womanhood recently passed away. My sympathy to her friends and family. I’m sure that she had a life and beliefs outside of her work. I do have definite opinions about her work, which I will discuss below.
I definitely disagree with her work and its premise. The book was supposedly a response to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The theory is that women could find fulfillment and happiness through embracing their inner “girl”, focusing on their appearance and making their men happy. Women were not to be assertive, work outside the home or even try to make demands about their own happiness from their husbands.

Here are a couple of quotes from the 1963 book:

p. 258 “When a very feminine woman feels close to the man she adores, she sometimes coos and purrs.”

p. 267 ” Women tend to relax their feminine manner at outdoor parties and games. This is partly due to their clothes. Pants and casual clothes encourage unrestrained actions. Women slap men on the back, whistle, yell, speak loudly, laugh noisily, gulp their food down, sit with legs apart, or one leg resting on another as men do…Be on guard at such parties to retain your feminine manner.”

Regarding religious attendance p. 45 ” Men are so touchy about religious freedom that they resist even a gentle hint….this so irritated [the husband in the story] that he stayed home just to claim his freedom. He had nothing against his church, but if he attended, he wanted it to be his idea. As soon as she [the wife in the story] stopped hinting he began to attend church more regularly.”

Andelin was LDS, and while she never explicitly mentioned her religious affiliation, it was clear she was heavily influenced by doctrines of eternal gender.

While most LDS currently might not agree with her work, I think she was very popular for some time. I’m disheartened by the idea that men and women cannot just “be themselves”, that they are not both able to fully meet a relationship as humans and adults. After reading the book, I thought that her message was clear to women, don’t work, patronize your men (and marriage is also a requirement), subtly manipulate them…it’s fairly unhealthy from my perspective.

Another interesting trend that someone pointed out recently – Salt Lake City (of all places) was the highest per capita consumer of plastic surgery in the U.S. (according to Forbes). This figure was calculated by the population and number of plastic surgeons (see more information about the calculations Forbes used here.

I find this plastic surgery trend and Andelin’s work intriguing. I think there is a decided emphasis within the LDS faith to remain child-like or “as a child”. I also believe there is a heavy focus on appearance, not necessarily on inner beauty/inner work. There is also a heavy emphasis on a woman not being complete without a male influence – without a husband. And that simply by being born a woman, a person has all sorts of feelings and requirements that they need to embrace. And the husband also has all sorts of requirements he has to embrace. Woe to the person who doesn’t meet those requirements.

When there is a focus on inner beauty in my current LDS observations, it usually involves a person being counseled to pray more, read the scriptures, go to meetings, go to the temple, prepare for a mission, etc. The idea of continuing education (for women), personal growth, volunteering outside the church – even secular book clubs are sometimes discouraged for LDS women.

So there is a great amount of pressure for women to look good, to have beautiful families. Although I grew up far from Utah, this was my experience in my ward as well. While there might have been lip service paid to the idea “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”, in practice, that never seemed to hold true. The most popular people within the ward were the ones who were beautiful, thin and who wore the latest fashions (and dressed their children in those fashions). Sure the worship of sports and cars were also denounced, but this was also rarely heeded.

But I’m on the fence about this.

Who am I to criticize someone for wanting to look good? I understand our notions of attractiveness are socially determined. Why should I criticize a woman who wants a tummy tuck or face lift to feel better about herself? As the mother of twins well into my thirties, I can sympathize with the desire to “turn back the clock”. Bigger women can also flaunt their beauty wearing unique plus size homecoming dress designs. We have the technology.

Does that mean we should use the technology? What does this say about our society? What does this say about where we spend our resources?

I think my criticism stems from the notion that 1 – women have to have a man and 2 – women have to do everything they can to keep that man.

If the desire for plastic surgery is for personal self-esteem, that’s one thing. If it’s to “keep a man” or to keep one’s husband away from porn, that’s another thing entirely.

What has been your experience? Have you read “Fascinating Womanhood”? Do you feel the LDS church focuses more on appearance than inner growth? I believe the line will probably fall with current and former mormons on one side or the other, but that’s just my take. Are strict gender roles harmful? And how has society changed (since the early 60s) so that quotes about frilly dresses and women crossing their legs seem out of touch?

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16 Responses

  1. Jason Echols says:

    I grew up attending church with Helen Andelin (Pierce City, MO branch). She certainly stood out in our Ozarks congregation. Never got around to reading “Fascinating Womanhood” but “Man of Steel and Velvet” … now that’s a good read.

  2. aerin says:

    That would have been very interesting. I thought she was from California….yeah – that book also sounds fascinating.

  3. Holly says:

    I read FW recently as research for a project I’m working on. One of the things it underscored for me is how important feminism is not just for women but for humanity in general. A basic premise that Andelin repeats over and over (usually in caps, like this) is: WOMEN NEED TO BE LOVED, BUT MEN NEED TO BE ADMIRED. According to Andelin, men’s need to be admired is so great and overriding that they cannot endure criticism or even rational conversation.

    Instead, men must be manipulated–and they might even sort of know they’re being manipulated, but as long as their egos are stroked in ways that let them feel macho, they’re OK with it. In fact, Andelin tells her readers before the table of contents that the book will teach them

    how to get what you want out of life, until man becomes both master and slave. (Great is the power women can have over men when they understand them. And the men love it.)

    Andelin has no interest in equality or ethical maturity or spiritual development or anything but bedroom games of “masters and servants” (she wasn’t kidding in the passage quoted above) so profound and pervasive they shape every aspect of a marriage. She recommends, for instance, that women purposely botch certain household chores, so that they will seem weak and incompetent, and men will feel powerful and smart when they correct their wives’ mistakes.

    I personally think there are many things about the 1960s edition that are WAY out of touch, as well as dreadful to begin with, but it should be noted that the book continues to sell well. The most recent edition was 2007, and on there are more 5 star than 1 star reviews.

  4. chanson says:

    Why would I want a man who needs his ego stroked like that? To the point where he’d enjoy having me botch simple tasks so that he’d have the pleasure of feeling superior to me…?

    Yuck, I would have no respect for such a person. I wouldn’t even want to hang out with him, much less marry him, much less pull a bunch of humiliating-n-manipulative stunts to attract and keep him…

  5. Holly says:

    chanson @4: I couldn’t agree more. The advice in the book is so backasswards and stupid that if I didn’t KNOW it was completely serious, I would think it was a parody. This, for instance:

    The key to child-like anger is this: YOUR ANGER, YOUR SAUCINESS, OR SPUNK MUST BE MOSTLY PRETENSE. By pretense, I mean that your fiery display of emotions are mostly on the surface; they are shallow; you do not appear to be really angry; it is only a little act…. You can exaggerate both his treatment of you and your threats. For example, say “You are the most thoughtless man in town!” or “Well, so this is how you treat your poor little wife who works and slaves for you all day.” Your threats also should be exaggerated as are those of little children who say, “I’ll never speak to you again,” or “I won’t do anything for you anymore,” or “I’ll tell my mother on you.”

    ( (emphasis in original.)

    This is serious advice on how to have a successful marriage? Unfortunately, yes, it is.

  6. Holly says:

    by the way, I hadn’t heard that Andelin died, but after aerin mentioned it, I went looking for an obit, which can be found here:

  7. Andrew S says:

    Whoa. Based on what Holly wrote, I feel compelled to read this book, because I’m a little scared of what else Andelin might’ve said.

  8. I just now caught this thread via trackbacks.

    Two weeks ago, I visited Utah (mostly the Provo-Orem area with a few trips to Salt Lake City) with a group of students from my evangelical seminary. Four women, one man. The women who had never been there before remarked about how pretty all the women around Provo were.

    If you want another anecdotal confirmation that Mormon women put more into their appearances, check out Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale Jr. (ghost-written by Stan Redding). At one point, his attempts to evade authorities took him to Utah. He states that he began checking out college campuses around Utah and was impressed at how lovely the coeds were. One college had coeds that were so lovely he was tempted to enroll as a student, but decided to become a teacher instead. He faked the necessary college transcripts and spent a spring and summer term there teaching Sociology 101. He said he just read in the textbook a chapter ahead of the class and no one was wiser.

    Though the book didn’t say, in other interviews Abagnale has confirmed that the college in question was BYU. This was a man who had hooked up with women all over the world, and he thought the women in Utah were most attractive and the women at BYU were especially attractive.

    Like you, aerin, I don’t grudge anyone for wanting to look nice. I wear some light make-up, usually style my hair every morning, and prefer floor-length skirts more than anything. But I do wonder if LDS women don’t have a problem with overdoing it.

  9. Hellmut says:

    It’s true. Women at BYU are exceptionally attractive. In part, that must be selection bias.

    There are so many Mormons who want to get in. Competition will favor applicants from a privileged background, which happens to include money.

    Lets face it, beauty is not just about genes but also about clothes, style, make up, and hair styling all of which require a little bit of disposable money.

  10. Terri says:

    One possible reason that Utah has the highest plastic surgery per capita could also be Utah is #1 world wide for children being born with cleft lip/pallet. The average is 1 in 1000 world wide. Utah leads with 1 in 460. My child is one of them. Some people joke that it may be inbreeding from polygamy. However, myself and my husband are not from Utah, nor are we LDS. But we have both lived here for nearly 20 years before our child was born with this birth defect. Thankfully, it was mild, repaired and hardly noticeable. However…many children require several surgeries through out their life time….as their faces grown and change. My child who is now only 9 may have another ‘touch up’ after fully grown to remove some scar tissue build up.

    So…don’t judge too harshly on the plastic surgery. I feel its the move towards focusing so much on outward appearance is the result of a youth-obsessed media culture who worship pop stars who peek at age 25.

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