Shortly after getting married, I bought dozens of books on how to be a good wife. Marriage was a mystery to me, and I wanted to make sure we got off to a good start. One book in particular, Helen Andelin's Fascinating Womanhood, a 1973 bestseller, jumped out at me. Not only was the author still alive, but she offered online, interactive classes, taught by her trainees.
Part of me was scared to sign up and skeptical that her approach would work for me. It seemed designed for women living like 1950s housewives, where the husband was the boss and a wife's job was to make him happy. Andelin advises women to be feminine, childlike, and subservient – all of which conflict, to increasing degrees, with my own values.
But I was attracted by the fact that so many other women swore by her method. I couldn't help but wonder if they knew something I didn't.
I sent in my $35 check and a few days later, I got an email from our class leader, Shirley. She asked us to introduce ourselves and told us that the FW approach had saved her own marriage.
Unlike me, the other dozen or so women were mostly stay-at-home wives. In my note to the class, I explained that I joined because I felt like I was often selfish and I wanted to learn how to be a better wife. Almost immediately, I received emails back from the other participants telling me they understood where I was coming from.
Shirley soon began sending us assignments: Eliminate one unfeminine item from your wardrobe. Add feminine touches to your home. When you feel yourself getting angry, pout, and stamp your foot like a young girl. Your husband will find it cute, she said. At first, I was appalled. Acting like a child in order to be attractive seemed insulting and condescending, not to mention dismissive of the reason behind the anger.
In my one-on-one phone call with Shirley that week (the talks were part of the class), I asked her what I should do when I felt overwhelmed by housework.
"Sometimes," she began, in the reassuring tone of a grandmother, "if you can think of housework as a blessing, and how blessed you are that you even have a house to dust, it can help." She also told me that my husband was very lucky to have me as his wife. After hanging up, I felt giddy. It was freeing to confess my fears about being a wife and to have an older, wiser woman reassure me.