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”. 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?