Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin is probably the best book I've ever read. It is in many ways a life-changing and marriage-changing book. The book is written by a woman for women but as a man I found it absolutely compelling and much of this article will be focused on my experience of it as a man.
Firstly I'll say that I don't agree with everything in the book. It was written several decades ago and attitudes towards homosexuality reflect that. It also has a Christian background, which will not appeal to everybody. But there are excerpts and principles that as a man hit me very deep within and I find are absolutely precious. I have that book next to my bed, but I seldom read it because I've found it will stop me from sleeping.
The first few chapters comment on issues such as accepting him for who he is, appreciating him and admiring him. As a man I cannot tell you how important this is. We as men want to be the most important thing in our women's lives. Ladies of the world take notice: we men need to be appreciated, valued, respected and most of all admired. We want to be your knights in shining armour, we want to be your heros. Somebody said that if it wasn't for women men would still be squatting in a cave eating raw meat because all we did to achieve civilization was to impress our girlfriends. We men want our women to admire us and think the world of us and we would go to incredible lengths to accomplish that. You can imagine how damaging it is when despite our best efforts the woman in our lives fails to appreciate and admire us.
One of the chapters strikes on something even bigger than that: Make him number one. I believe that many of us are hardwired to want to be the most important thing on somebody else's life, that person being our partner. We want to take second to no one, not even our children. And there are good reasons for that, our children, as much as we love them will never be as close to us as we will or could be to our partners. We wouldn't tell our innermost secrets to our children, we will never want to live for the rest of our lives with our children, we will never have sex with other children. The intimacy and closeness that we hunger for in a relationship is greater than with anybody else in the world and being number one in our lives is the level of importance that we want to assign to that person and we want that person to assign to us.
The book also touches on the roles of women and men and does so with piercing accuracy: the man is the leader, the protector, the provider. Again, as a man, I cannot tell you how accurate this is. We men have it in our blood to want to take care of our families. We see it as our role, our responsibility to ensure our wives and kids have a plate of warm food on the table and a roof above their heads. Even if the woman was to earn more money than us, we will still see it as our responsibility to ensure those basics needs are met. To ensure the protection and wellbeing of our family is our prime role as a man, even if we have to give our lives in the process.
The role of the woman is different. There is a quote in the book: “Let him make the living and you make life worth living.” The woman provides comfort, joy, soothing, encouragement, relief. As a man I can tell you that it'd be very easy to work extremely hard in the outside world to meet the needs of your family if you know that you are coming home to a woman who values you and admires you as a man, who doesn't take your efforts for granted and will make you feel like the king of the world. Page 174 writes: “When he comes home each day he is always greeted with a warm smile... she leads him into the bedroom where she can make him comfortable. She arranges his pillows, takes off his shoes and encourages him to relax... He works to protect and shelter her, and this is her way of protecting him.” This is stuff that could make you cry.
The book also suggests childlike anger as a way to resolve conflict and express disagreement. In doing this it suggest that when a woman feels upset or offended she may cross her arms, pout and shake her curls much in the way little girls do when they are upset. This disarms the man and turns what could've been a nasty fight into a desire on him to accommodate her and make things better on her. I see very clearly why this might work in that a woman responding like this makes herself vulnerable and little towards her man. She is no longer the fearsome dragon that the man has to do battle with but a gentle girl who has made herself vulnerable and in doing so triggers the most protective instincts from a man. All of a sudden the man feels compelled to wrap her arms around her and make things better for her, something that would've never happened if she had decided to pull up the drawbridge and lock horns with him.
The book also touches on what it calls Pandora's Box: when a marriage is in crisis a man may retreat and stay away from his wife, but when a woman starts practising the principles of Fascinating Womanhood a man may feel more loved and accepted for who he is and hence more secure to talk about the frustrations that have been accumulating over the years. This may sound like a step backwards on the road to a harmonious marriage but is not, since in order to make progress the frustration and pain of the past must be processed and dealt with. If the woman responds positively, that is fully listening and legitimatising his feelings and taking responsibility for her role in making him feel like that, those issues will be repaired and much progress will be made.
The book also touches on the feminine appearance, manner and nature and emphasises that it must be feminine and gracious if it is to appeal to a man. Again as a man I can tell you that this is absolutely true, we men are far more likely to be impressed by a woman who is feminine and girly and has all sorts of feminine mannerism, reactions, worries and insecurities. It makes a woman look vulnerable and feminine and again that awakens our most primal manly instincts in wanting to comfort, protect, care for and be there for her. If on the other hand she can kill her own snakes, what does she need us for?
There is a really appealing underlying theme throughout the whole book in the taking responsibility for one's own actions, in this case the woman's. The book is aimed to women primarily and the role they can play in changing their marriage. Not once there is apportioning of blame towards what the husband could be doing, it's all aimed at what the woman has done to end up in the marriage as it is and what she can do to to improve it. There is never a recrimination on him or an expectation that he should change in response to the efforts of the wife. It's all about the woman. And that is a wonderful work-ethic that is sure to trigger a likewise response in a man.
Throughout the books there are many letters of wives who put the principles into practice to great results. This is another jewel in the book, the letters are so touching and heart-felt. They exude so much emotion. They are a pleasure to read and very insightful on the impact these dynamics can have on a marriage.
All in all I completely recommend the book. Even if you already adhere to Taken in Hand principles I can almost guarantee that it will give you valuable insights on how men work and what is needed to get to his heart. It is certain to make your marriage happier. I cannot recommend it enough.