I knew that Mrs Andelin and I could never be soul-mates when I read Chapter 2 “The Ideal woman”. Mrs Andelin's idea of the ideal woman is a combination of Agnes Wickfield and Dora from David Copperfield. Great. The two women she wants me to emulate are the two women in all of English literature I despise the most. This was a discouraging start for me, and it gets no better as the book proceeds.
In the chapter “Accept Him at Face Value” she tells us we must put up with a man as he is and not try to change him. Very nice, except that she does not exchange the same courtesy to women. If you're a woman you've got to change, whether you like it or not. “Pressing a man to change can bring out a streak of rebellion in him” she says. And in women too, Mrs Andelin, in women too.
In the chapter “Admire Him” she suggests hanging on your husband's every word with rap attention. Unfortunately, if you have a husband like mine he will not be deceived by this. “You don't understand a bloody word I'm saying, do you?” he is apt to say to me severely when I am trying to show a bright interest in, say his latest piece of metalwork. Men are not all as easily fooled as Mrs Andelin seems to imagine.
In the chapter “The Leader” she tells us that the man must be leader in the family because the Bible says so. Mrs Andelin is strongly religious, and drags religion in to support her theories all the time. If you are not religious you may find this tiresome or irrelevant. In this chapter she says something that will be very familiar to Taken In Hand readers since it crops up on here quite often, “Any organisation to have smooth-running system, must have a leader. The family, a small group of people, must be organised to avoid chaos. It doesn't matter how large or small the family, there must be a leader to maintain order.” To which my reply is always “Why?” I do not believe that a family must be like a business organisation, or must have a leader. You may prefer it like that, but I simply don't believe it is how it has to be. A man should lead, Mrs Andelin tells us, because women tend to vacillate. I'm not surprised: anyone would vacillate if they were striving to be both Agnes Wickfield and Dora at the same time. It's a wonder a woman doesn't have a complete nervous breakdown, let alone vacillate, under those circumstances.
She continues in this chapter to discuss obedience. “When the wife sets an example of obedience to her husband, the children follow. It has not only immediate benefits, but far-reaching effects on their entire lives.” I'm sorry, Mrs Andelin, but that is not always the case. Why, I have been a model of wifely obedience for the past two and a half years, but our children are completely unaffected by this, they pay no attention whatsoever to anything that is said to them, either by my husband or myself.
Then in Chapter 9, “The Protector” Mrs Andelin tells us that the man must protect his wife from dangers, such as rape-, abduction, vicious dogs, snakes (snakes feature very prominently in this book), high precipices, deep canyons etc. She also tells us that a man must protect his wife from “unreal dangers” such as spiders, mice and dark shadows. Well, I'm here to tell you Mrs Andelin, that I won't get any protection from spiders from MY husband—he's terrified of them. If a spider needs removing from the bath he sends for me to do it—he won't touch them. Likewise any snakes that might be around, he abominates them even more than spiders. Snakes are fortunately in short supply in the UK, but if any snakes do appear in my house, my husband won't be the one dealing with them, and what do you have to say about THAT, Mrs Andelin?
Chivalry is dead, Mrs Andelin tells us, because women have become efficient, capable, and able to kill their own snakes. She doesn't have anything to say about those societies in the world (and there are a lot of them) where women are regarded pretty much as beasts of burden and expected to do most of the heavy work that she says is the province of men. In her world-view, lack of chivalry in men is all the fault of women, that there are large areas of the world where the concept of chivalry does not exist at all is not her concern.
In the chapter “A Worthy Character” Mrs Andelin tells us that a woman must be BETTER than a man, so that he can put her on a pedestal and worship her. This of course is a Victorian ideal, but one that has always appalled me. who wants to be worshipped, and why? I would must rather be treated as a human being, and allowed to have a few faults and failings, than be considered as an angel who can do no wrong, that's too much of a strain to live up to. It's a frightful prospect to be up on that pedestal.
The chapter “The Domestic Goddess” I will pass over. Everyone who has read anything I have written on this site knows that I am not one of those, and am never going to be, so I won't weary you with going over all that again.
When we get to the chapter on “Femininity”, Mrs Andelin gives it to us straight:
“Femininity is a gentle, tender quality found in a woman's appearance, manner, and nature. A feminine woman gives the impression of softness, and delicateness. She has a spirit of sweet submission, and a dependency upon men for their care and protection. Nothing about her appears masculine—no male aggressiveness, competence, efficiency, fearlessness, strength, or the ability to kill her own snakes.” (I told you there was a lot about snakes in this book).
Well, reading through that paragraph I felt a bit discouraged, because I couldn't actually see much in myself of either feminine or masculine qualities, I don't have the softness and delicateness, nor the competence and efficiency either. This is somewhat discouraging. And while I've never yet had to kill a snake, I don't even know if I could do that. Oh well, only time will tell.
Mrs Andelin admonishes women not to talk too much, and says that they should never be crude, vulgar, harsh or critical. “Avoid talking about people you dislike as you may be tempted to make an unkind remark” she says. Honestly, she doesn't want us to have ANY fun at all.
When she discusses characteristics of the feminine nature, she emphasises how fearful women are. women are afraid of thunder and lightning, strange noises, dark shadows, mice, and yes, of course, spiders. Men love to laugh at women's fears she says. But what if it's the man who is afraid? Does anyone on this site need to be told what would happen to me if I laughed at my husband's fear of spiders?
Another thing Mrs Andelin tells us a woman should do is to purr like a cat and coo like a pigeon, both at the same time apparently. Men find this fetching. So, in addition to everything else, you've got to be an animal impersonator as well.
Mrs Andelin is very much against women going out to work. She attributes most of society's ills to women working out side the home. A favourite passage from the Bible that she quotes often in the course of the book is Proverbs Chapter 31, the one about the good woman. However, curiously, Mrs Andelin does not appear to notice that the woman in Provers is a businesswoman as well as a housewife. “She considereth a field and buyeth it: with the fruits of her hand she planteth a vineyard. She maketh fine linen and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.” it says. The woman is engaging in farming and trade, but curiously Mrs Andelin chooses to overlook that point.
When it comes to expressing anger, Mrs Andelin encourages women to be “childlike”, something else that men apparently find fetching. She suggests making the following comments if your husband has upset you: “Ill never speak to you again” “I won't do anything for you anymore“ ”I'll tell your mother on you” (I swear I'm not making this up), or if he insults you in public “Wait until I get you home alone” or “I'll get even with you” I can only imagine how my husband would react if I said any of those things to him.
The chapter on sex would be, from a Taken In Hand point of view, downright subversive. She tells s that men generally want sex more than women do, and encourages women to be accommodating of their husband's needs, up to a point. However, she says: YOU need not feel you owe it to your husband to give sex whenever he expects it, and never refuse. I doubt if there is any merit in this. There may even be harm. Women who do, I have noticed, are not the ones who are idolized by their husbands. They are more often taken for granted, neglected, and sometimes even treated with contempt. In fact, they are about the most poorly treated wives I have known.
No man appreciates sex which can be had so readily. It is simply too cheap. Although you owe your husband a generous amount of sex, he doesn't own your body. To give him sex every time he asks is to spoil him. He will respect us more if we don't give him every little thing his heart desires. That's fighting talk for this site, isn't it?
On the subject of The Oversexed Man she is even more forthright. She suggests that an oversexed man should avoid sexual stimuli, so you shouldn't undress in front of him for instance. You should fill his emotional needs, appreciate him, admire him, and help build his self-esteem. This will reduce his need for sex. Also he should get plenty of hard work and exercise. Vigorous physical exercise diverts interest away from sex. Are you paying attention to this, all you lascivious Taken In Hand men? Get out and take some exercise and get your minds off you-know-what, you lecherous brutes, you.
To sum up the philosophy of this book, admire your husband, praise him, obey him, be a Domestic Goddess, don't work outside the home, be childlike, put your husband first at all times, but don't let him have too much sex, it's not good for him, and, above all, Don't Kill Your Own Snakes.
This book is full of glowing testimonials from women who have used the practices advised in this book and have made their marriages happier as a result. Good for them. But, if you are a woman who cannot face the thought of spending your life trying to be both Agnes Wickfield and Dora, not to mention cooing like a pigeon and purring like a cat simultaneously, then possibly the book is not for you. I'd have a nervous breakdown in a week.