The Total Woman

Defeating the Dragons does a regular feature where blogger Samantha Field looks at various Christian how-to-submit and how-to-be-a-real-women books written for Christian women. Frequently when I read them I think of the first book of this type I ever encountered, Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman.
This book came out around 1973, in the early years of second-wave feminism (as it’s now called). It hit like a bomb: Best-seller (IIRC) with features in magazines and newspapers because what Morgan was saying flew in the face of everything feminists were saying (this no longer surprises me. As Susan Faludi has said, the mainstream media love them some antifeminism).
In the intro to the book, Morgan explains how her marriage was a disaster, primarily because she was too damn uppity. Her husband came and dumped stuff on the table she’d just polished? She got upset. He made plans that conflicted with plans she’d already made? He got outraged at her defiance. At one point he apparently told her he’d notify her 30 minutes ahead of time when they were going out, no sooner. Which would, of course, make it impossible for her to plan anything without talking to him first.
Morgan’s conclusion? Not that her husband is a jerk, but that she’d ruined her marriage. Her solution? Obey him in everything. Literally. No matter what he asks, she would do whatever he said. Along with that, she’d give him lots of sex, and dress up in sexy costumes to greet him at the door after work.
Within a short while, or so Morgan says, he was eating out of her hand. Which was, quite clearly, the point: She was submitting, but it was like topping from below. Over and over, the book emphasized that if readers follow Morgan’s directions, it’s not really a sacrifice because their husbands will be so in love they’ll be willing to do what the wife wants.
A lot of the book was much more conventional, like making a to-do list with your top things to do, then crossing off each item as it’s done (I’m aware that sound simple but if you’re not by nature organized, it’s remarkably effective. I speak from experience). Some of the book was religious (believe God has a wonderful plan for your life) which didn’t seem significant then. I realize in hindsight Morgan was a forerunner of the writers Samantha blogs about, and much more religious than I assumed at the time (this may reflect growing up in a small, fairly rural town where God having a plan for your life wasn’t an unusual idea).
Even as a teenager, Morgan’s idea of a perfect relationship didn’t appeal to me at all. Less now, as I’m aware that no matter how well a woman treats her husband, that’s no guarantee he’s going to change his behavior accordingly. And that if your husband is abusive, it’s nothing to do with whether you worship and obey him or not.
I’m also aware, though not surprised, that Morgan didn’t follow her own advice or at least not after a while. In a follow-up when she had another book out, she admitted she hadn’t had the time in her busy career to dress up in costumes to greet her man. Which is pretty typical of anti-feminists (Susan Faludi writes about this too in her book Backlash).
Morgan, as far as I know, has faded from the public eye. But her philosophy, it seems, lives on.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

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