In an effort to revitalize our marriages, many of my friends were turning to the current best-seller, Fascinating Womanhood. Curious, I joined in and discovered that between the pink covers were tips on how to become not only more fascinating to our male partners, but how to make our marriages a “lifelong love affair.”
Written by Helen Andelin in 1963, the book recently went into its 6th edition; more than two million copies have been sold! Along with The Total Woman, which came later, the book, by some accounts, is credited with starting a grassroots movement among women.
Wikepedia asserts that “the book serves as a touchtone for those of the anti-feminist persuasion…which continues” via a website and a series of classes. US women in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Virginia, and Utah as well as in Nambia, The Phillipines, Japan and Malaysia can learn to be fascinating women where classes are still being taught. Helen Andelin has died, but her oldest daughter, Dixie Andelin Forsyth, valiantly carries on.
Currently, videos on “Flirting,” “Help on Becoming a Better Housewife,” “How to Accept a Man as He Is,” and “How to be More Feminine,” are all available on their website as are “A Feminine Moment: Using Girlishness to Set Boundaries in Relationships.” And should there be problems, Dixie offers advice to her followers.
Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman: How to Make Your Marriage Come Alive followed in 1970 and was grounded in evangelical Christianity. The teachings emphasized that a Total Woman caters to all of her man’s idiosyncrasies from salad to sex. She taught women to surrender her life to her husband, to worship and serve him. Only then will she become beautiful to him. One suggestion she gave in order to achieve this was to greet her man at the front door wearing a sexy outfit, i.e. a showgirl. One woman became infamous when she appeared at her front door donned in Saran Wrap and a red bow. (I’ve tried, but can’t quite get how she accomplished this feat.)
One year after publication, Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman became the most successful non-fiction book…just as the second wave of feminism was growing into being.
Mrs. Morgan sponsored classes as well, and in the second week of a Total Woman course, students are taught “to be ready and willing for love-making at any hour during each of the following 7 days.”
Having concluded my marriage was as re-vitalized as it was going to be, I went in search of another perspective. What a relief when I discovered Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Powerful. And I was saved! Praise Goddess!
Also published in 1970, Sisterhood is Powerful was a welcome counterpoint. It is an anthology of radical feminist writing and was one of the first anthologies of second wave feminism. Both consciousness raising and a call to action, the compilation includes essays by feminist activists such as Kate Millett, Mary Daly and Marge Piercy.
Theirs were the voices that ignited the women’s movement in the U. S., and Sisterhood is Powerful was cited by the New York Public Library as one of the most influential books of the 20th Century.
This is the book that replaced both The Total Woman and Fascinating Womanhood on my bookshelf. This is the book that ignited my passion for women’s rights…
…for a woman’s right to have equal pay (In 1970, a woman was paid 59 cents to a man’s dollar.)
…for a woman’s right to control her own body
…for a woman’s right to have her own money, i.e. bank account and credit card
…for a woman’s right to say NO! to sexism, to racism, to inequality.
To be challenged by Robin Morgan, to be a feminist and a radical feminist, to become politically active, to join the fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment was a far cry from the Fascinating Womanhood and Total Woman precepts.
I have often likened that transformation/metamorphosis to ascending to the top of a steep hill. Descending the other side, I discover a landscape that called to something very deep within me. Although craggy and mysterious, dangerous and unknown, I somehow knew that once I stepped onto that other side, there would be no going back. Once I saw what I saw and knew what I knew there would be no returning…certainly not to Fascinating Womanhood, and I would redefine the Total Woman!
This total woman would be a radical feminist; she would question authority and not bow to it. She would be feminine in her own way. Birkenstocks replaced high heels. One day she might choose that pretty flowing skirt; the next her old flannel shirt and jeans offered comfort. And she was no longer willing to submissively accept him nor the status quo as defined by patriarchy.
Now, that’s fascinating!
Robin Morgan still speaks to me. When I discover in my Inbox that she’s posted on her blog, I know the sisterhood will be affirmed.
In the aftermath of the 2018 mid-term elections, her writing, “Everywoman and the Blue Wave,” honors the many women who turned the House of Representative on its head. There were also victories in the states where two women are now governors-elect.
Women did what we needed to do. We got angry and we marched and we rallied in our pink pussy hats, and we campaigned; we made phone calls and knocked on doors, and we voted! “These women are everywhere, as ordinary as bread. They are everywoman. Everywomen won the election,” Robin Morgan writes. “Look! There goes Everywoman! Follow her. She’ll lead us home.”