I’m just going to leap head-first into this chapter, “Make him Number One”:
A man wants a woman who will place him at the top of his priority list, not second but first. He wants to be the kingpin around which all other activities of her life revolve. He doesn’t want to be the background music to her other interests and dreams. This desire is not necessarily a conscious one, but an inner need which surfaces violently when not adequately met, when his wife places other things first . . . Being placed in this inferior position can cause a man to form bitter resentments toward his wife and even his children.
Through the rest of the chapter, it becomes blindingly obvious that Helen means exactly what she says here. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain all the different ways that a woman can make her husband feel “inferior.” Housework, children, money, beauty . . . She barely even mentions having a career, and when she does, it’s clear what she thinks about a career woman:
One of the greatest threats to your husband’s position of priority would be if you were to earnestly pursue a career . . . If you finally reach a pinnacle of success, you would overshadow him and make him feel unimportant.
This is a serious problem with highly successful women . . . You should always be willing to sacrifice your career for his sake.
If it hasn’t already been apparent (which I can tell from your comments that it has been), Helen has an exceedingly low opinion of men. Any kind of man who can easily be “overshadowed” and for that to make him “bitterly resent you” is not worth his salt, but Helen argues that this is all men, without exception. And any man who would require you to sacrifice your dreams just so he doesn’t feel that he’s in “second place,” is– well, that man is a first-class a-hole.
I’m not overly fond of the idea of “going to work.” Having a traditional career doesn’t align well with my personality, my health, or even just the way I operate. I’m a night owl, and corporate America doesn’t exactly revolve around people like me. So, I work from home, and my work is fairly light. I spend most of my time in creative endeavors– like my blog, or writing. But, even though I work from home as a freelancer, work-life balance is still a concern. I can be up to all hours of the night doing research, and Handsome finds most of the work I do . . . unpleasant. I spend a lot of my time delving into some pretty heavy, depressing issues, but it doesn’t weigh on me like it does on him. So, I’m working to make sure I don’t burden him by constantly talking about these things.
It’s not a hard thing to do– I’m not “sacrificing” or “giving up” anything by leaving my “work” at “work.”
But that is not what Helen means here. She even goes on to say that you’re not allowed to develop your talents, your dreams. You can pursue these things, but not with dedication or passion, less your husband feel “inferior.”
And then she smacks you with this:
It it not always possible or even even right for a man to make his wife number one in his life. This is due to the nature of his life. His number one responsibility is to provide the living. His work and life away from home may be so demanding that it must take priority over all else if he is to succeed. This often means he must neglect his family.
Helen is not kidding about this stuff. She is dead serious. And she goes on to justify the difference thusly:
[Men] have been the builders of society, have solved world problems, have developed new ideas for the benefit of all. This challenging role of public servant is not easy and also demands the man’s attention away from his family.
Women, you must never, ever, do anything that could even hint at your husband being second-place in your life, or his feelings of inadequacy could “surface violently.” You must not pursue any talents, skills, positions, or carer– ever. You must never do anything that could possibly be construed as him not being your top priority. The second he walks through the front door from a long, hard, grueling day at the office, you must be there to great him with his slippers and his pipe (no, really, page 104).
And why must you sacrifice all of this?
Because he’s a man. He’s the one who’s capable of “building society” and “developing new ideas.” Men do that. Men. Not women. Never women. It’s not that we’re not capable of changing the world, it’s that we’re not supposed to. Our only priority must be our husband. We must constantly be aware of how week and feeble his ego is, and do everything we can to shore it up. And we should be so proud of our husbands who are so consumed by their career that they neglect their children. If our husband is Don Draper, we should just be thrilled and have dinner waiting for whenever he comes home.
See what I mean abut Helen being even more anti-feminist than Debi?
And Helen also passes along her usual threats– if you don’t do this, his character and personality will become “ugly.” He’ll “bitterly resent you.” In the “success stories” she shares at the end (these are usually so sickening I don’t even comment on them) she threatens her readers with husbands that will have multiple affairs, or worse, get into a car accident and die before you have a chance to make him feel like he’s the most riveting, all-consuming thing in your life.
She continually emphasizes that “making him number one” is a basic need of your husband’s. It is paramount that you meet this basic need before you even attend to the basic needs of yourself or your children.
The biggest problem, I think, with this chapter is that Helen is making a huge assumption about a woman’s needs. To Helen, a woman’s only need is to be loved by her husband. And yes, if my husband didn’t love me, that would be . . . awful. I’m pretty sure I’d be miserable. However, human beings are more complex than this. Any man is not some robot that you can push his buttons and “make” him love you. There are things we all can do to help make our relationships more healthy, but that will vary from person to person. We have to get to know the person we married. He or she is different than any other person on the planet, and they are not solely defined by their gender (which is a much more fluid thing than Helen can even comprehend).
However, my husband’s love is not my only need. I also need to feel useful, like I’m contributing. I’m just as miserable feeling useless than I do feeling unloved– it’s possible that I feel worse when I feel useless. I also need challenges and ideas to puzzle out. I’m not easily bored, but I have found that if I don’t exercise the skills I’ve acquired through grad school, I start feeling restless and empty. I need laughter and companionship.
But, to Helen, no one is allowed to be complicated. No one is allowed to have multi-layered, multifaceted desires and wants and needs. Men are driven entirely and exclusively to have their ego stroked. Women are only driven by an overwhelming need to be loved. What Helen describes are empty, hollow, shallow stick figures. Not people.
This is the seventh post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.