An Ideal Woman and Why We Hate Her

Oh, don't you look  so smug in your perfection!
Oh, don’t you look so smug in your perfection!

“. . . she carried out her duties as mistress of a small family with ‘piety, patience, frugality and industry’. Moreover,

‘… her ardent and unceasing flow of spirits, extreme activity and diligence, her punctuality, uprightness and remarkable frugality, combined with a firm reliance on God … carried her through the severest times of pressure, both with credit and respectability …’ (The General Baptist Repository and Missionary Observer, 1840).” bbc history of victorian women

Here’s why we don’t like you, dear: You make us look bad–and selfish. You save money, dress with no hint of muffin-top or dirty flip-flop feet and in general seem to  actually take your place in society seriously.


We moderns scoff at manners and “rigid” rules. You see the value in a well-run household. And damn those studies that actually prove children thrive  in predictable, nurturing settings! And the homemade family suppers you insist upon–turns out you were annoyingly right about them as well.


Keeping busy at the church? Statistically people who attend church regularly are more active in their community so just being spiritual doesn’t seem to cut it. As much as we brow beat you, dear, and try to convince you that being an office manager is as important as raising the next generation of adults and that being a salaried employee automatically makes you happy and that free love and the abandonment of your place as moral arbiter will make you EQUAL to men, you demur with that look of placid innocence we despise.


You don’t have to have rabid Facebook wars–pro-choice vs pro-life–that honestly would make you sick. You give us that scolding look that shows how shocked and dismayed at how hostile and ugly we’ve allowed ourselves to become. At least pretend to have some manners, you say. Our language shocks you and how we laugh when children repeat it!


You’re not sure you believe in evolution at all. Unless there’s a species that devolves. You wonder at how often we speak of happiness instead of goodness and we laugh at you mockingly. If there’s no such thing as truth then there’s no such thing as goodness. You’d know that if you were paying attention to something other than being perfect.


You look at us like we’re mad.


A Paradoxical Woman

The question is why she would propose to him.
The question is why she would propose to him.

Helen Rosen Woodward sure had strong opinions. She made a way for herself in the world of advertizing when most of her female co-workers at the office were against suffrage. She was the first female account executive in the US and credited her success to having marketable talents and a likeable personality.

This woman held no punches.
This woman held no punches.

In 1959 she wrote: “It is a mighty swing from this ‘legal “death’–the words are Blackstone’s–to the position that women occupied in 1959, when they controlled seventy percent of the wealth of the country and sometimes wrecked their marriages by earning more than their husbands. Without their understanding how it all came about, women ruled the roost. They had reached this position through fighting, scratching, screaming and also through every device of indirection and charm . . .

“In this climb the women’s magazines with their millions of readers played a major part. To the uninitiated, a woman’s magazine may seem a powdery bit of fluff. No notion could be more unreal or deceptive . . . these publications represent a giant business investment, and have an overwhelming influence on American life . . .

“Toward matriarchal power. Women’s magazines have played a major part in bringing about that “Momism” . . .They have steadily built up women’s authority . . .Slowly women took responsibility, dignity and authority away from men. The American male was portrayed as a kind of Dagwood Bumstead, likeable, lovable, but also foolish and irresponsible and in need of feminine management. But this propaganda had an unexpected result. Women themselves did not like what was happening  . . .it became important to lure men back into the fold with togetherness.”  The Lady Persuaders, Helen Woodward

We will have equality when we wear the same hats!
We will have equality when we wear the same hats!

One might be surprised at this attitude coming from a woman working in magazine advertizing–a woman who fought for unionizing women! But in her mind the magazines had ruined most women by keeping their minds on mush while giving them immense spending  and voting power.

When asked his opinion of women after many years at Ladies' Home Journal, Mr. Bok refused to answer.
When asked his opinion of women after many years at Ladies’ Home Journal, Mr. Bok refused to answer.

The Lady Persuaders is a fascinating look at women’s magazines from the early 1830’s (when Sarah Josepha Hale headed the  successful Godey’s Lady’s Book) through the 1950’s. It offers an interesting snapshot into the mind of a woman in the 1950’s just before the women’s movement of the late 60’s-70’s. Nothing much has changed in magazines from the scolding, advice-giving, judgmental style of these writings . Sex (once disguised as hygiene), before and after decorating, manners and fashion. Politics and deep reading never did well. In fact, Edward Bok, the long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal with an abiding respect for his strong mother, felt it his duty to educate women on important issues of the day. After a campaign highlighting the cruelty involved in obtaining egret feathers for women’s hats (they starved mother egrets to get the long feather) demand for the rare feathers went up.

This didn’t surprise Mrs. Woodward. Women had been made into silly, vain creatures by magazines. What might she say now?

Opinions galore!
Opinions galore!