The Good Husband's Guide
*Several years ago, an email circulated purporting to contain an article from a 1955 magazine called Housekeeping Monthly. It has now been revealed as a hoax - but at the time I wrote this article, over ten years ago now, no one knew that. I wrote about this episode believing it was legitimate, and even though I know now that it was not, my thoughts on the mindset behind whoever decided to create this fiction have not changed. Furthermore, no other page on this site has received more email, or been more misunderstood and misquoted. I was even interviewed on Australian radio over it, even though they, too, misunderstood my meaning.
In May of 1955, a magazine called Housekeeping Monthly ran a short point-form article called "The Good Wife's Guide." The article is unaccredited, but I am sure that like many other articles written in 1950's women's magazine, it was probably written by a woman. This article was sent around by email to all the workstations in my office, and probably visited many other inboxes around the world as well.
These are some of the suggestions that appeared alongside a cheerful picture of a woman in high heels and pearls taking cookies out of the oven as her pin-striped husband comes home looking for a chaste little peck on the cheek:
* Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favorite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.
* Prepare yourself. Take fifteen minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
* Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
* Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.
* Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his personal comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
* Be happy to see him.
* Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
* Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not one of them. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
* Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.
* Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself body and spirit.
* Don't complain if he's late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.
* Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
* Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
* A good wife always knows her place.
I admit that when I first read this list I laughed. It is so hopelessly out of date now that I can hardly imagine any modern woman taking it seriously. I found it hard to believe that any person would seriously abdicate their right to question the actions of their spouse, or that any person would sincerely believe that their thoughts and concerns are of minimal importance next to those of their partner, but I know that situations like this were not at all uncommon in the 1950's. I'm sure that scores of earnest young housewives took this advice to heart back in 1955, never imagining that their daughters would grow up to laugh at it with so much disbelief. Women were each other's harshest critics back then, just as they are today, and it was common for the female-written magazines to preach obedience and servitude, orgasmic rapture over kitchen appliances, beauty, poise and above all silence, in the wide-eyed young readers who looked to them for advice.
But after reading it again, and after noting that whoever had sent this email had also taken the trouble to circle the last item - about knowing a wife's place - in red marker, I realized that this item was not intended to make me laugh. Neither was it intended to illustrate how much our society - men and women - has changed since that confusing decade after the second world war, a time when women thought it best to return to the only kind of femininity they knew after having done of the work of men in wartime factories. The article was intended to encourage in me an outraged gasp of shock, an indignant yelp of estrogen-based anger, a condemnation of men everywhere and a heartfelt wail of sorrow for all my lost sisters, doomed to a high-heeled life of slavery to the Frigidaire. I had been duped, like most people had, into reading more propaganda about how lousy it is to be a woman and what self-centered, socially and economically privileged pompous asses men have always been.
It's a lucrative business, this making men out to be the cause of all our woe. No one knows exactly how much public funding radical women's groups get, but it climbs easily into the multi-millions per year. A great many women owe their livelihood to the fact that male-bashing is not only condoned, it's fashionable and moral and considered turn about for all the centuries of "abuse" women have supposedly suffered; a great many paychecks and grants and bursaries would dry up completely if men weren't such an easy target, a ready-made devil figure to justify these expenditures and all that ink. One way to make sure that no one ever forgets that men are evil bastards - not even for a second, not even in a era when the society they live in no longer hinders women in any way - is to send little emails around and to put up little posters in university hallways and the like. If they have to go back fifty years to find a suitable example, so be it. Anything rather than presenting a more balanced and more accurate accounting of relations between the sexes.
How many feminists, for example, send out emails reminding us that in 1955, the average work week included Saturday and required 10-12 hour days, or that the financial burden of providing for home and family on one salary, without even the possibility of financial contribution from their spouse, placed men of that generation under enormous pressure? Besides which, how many feminists remind their faithful that in 1955, there was nothing to stop women from holding down jobs of their own and foregoing marriage altogether if they chose, or having a career while being a wife and mother too? Barbara Billingsley, the quintessential fifties super-mom-in-pearls whom most feminists see as an icon of repression and a prime example of everything that's wrong with domesticity, was herself a working mother, an actress with a full time job and a family at the same time.
We never hear about these things, of course, because it goes against the political agenda of those who would profit from painting women as long suffering and men as the agents of our grief. Neither do we ever hear about the opposite side of the issue, about the demands and expectations we place - and have always placed - on men.
So I came up with my own list, something that could have appeared in Housekeeping Monthly or some such similar advice magazine for men. It would have been based on the same premise that the Good Wife's Guide is built on - that the husband works at a job to provide for his family while his wife stays home to raise the kids and run the household. It would have been called "The Good Husband's Guide", and it would have gone something like this:
* Always make getting and keeping a full-time job with regular raises, benefits, bonuses and the potential for prestigious advancement your number one priority in life. Remember always that you have a wife and children who need your financial support, and that it is your responsibility to provide for them to the best of your ability.
* Always arrive home refreshed and happy - put your bad day or your confrontation with your boss, the traffic, the crowds or the physical exhaustion you might feel aside and try to arrive home as cheery and lighthearted as you possibly can. Your wife has been struggling with the children and the housework all day, she does not need to hear about how bad your day was.
* Be prepared to help with household chores when you get home - let your wife relax or talk on the phone since she has been dealing with these problems all day. Make supper for her often, and offer to clean up afterwards so that she may rest and feel appreciated.
* Do not bore your wife with stories of the troubles you faced at work today. Remember that you are lucky to have a job and that many other men would be happy to trade places with you. Remember that it is not masculine to complain or let worries trouble you. Your job is to provide, and whatever you must go through to achieve this is part of your lot in life. A good husband knows that he is lucky to have a wife at all, and that a woman wants a strong, silent man she can depend on.
* Never expect your wife to have contributed to the smooth operation of the household. She has had a busy day and cannot be expected to provide meals or clean clothes for you. Never insult her by asking her to do such things while you're out earning money. Be mindful always that your wife may think you are being sexist if you ask her to help make a home for your family as part of your partnership.
* Be prepared to account for your whereabouts every minute of the day, including an explanation as to why you were away from the phone when she tried to call or why you were unable to chat with her for twenty minutes when she did get through to you. You must always put her interests first, and be mindful of her natural suspicion about her husband's activities. A good husband knows that men can't be trusted, and that a wife has every reason to believe you will hurt and humiliate her.
* Do not grumble or gripe about handing over your paycheck to her - she is in control of your finances and knows better than you how to spend or invest your money. Never assume that the money you earn is yours to do with as you will - you have a family to think about now, and their needs must always come before your own.
* Listen avidly to your wife's complaints. She leads a hectic life and needs to feel listened to and appreciated. Never suggest ways in which she might solve whatever problem is vexing her. You need only listen; your suggestions are likely insensitive and unfeeling anyway. And do not counter with complaints of your own. She would love to have the chance to leave the house and work, she does not need to hear about how difficult your job is.
* Be prepared to give up your weeknights or weekends to whatever projects or socializing your wife has in mind. If she has determined that cleaning out the garage or painting the upstairs bathroom would be the best use of your time, never complain that you would like to relax or pursue personal interests instead. She has every right to expect that you will make repairs to the house or help her redecorate during your time off. Do not be so selfish as to ask for personal time. You are a family man now, you do not have the luxury of personal time.
* Always be prepared to take over in caring for the children when you get home from work. Your wife has been busy all day and deserves some quiet time. Allow her to watch television or chat with her friends on the phone, go shopping or simply relax. They are your children too, and it is unfair of you to expect to come home from a twelve hour day and simply put your feet up.
* Never grumble about having to support children you didn't want to have. If you were irresponsible enough to help her get pregnant, then it is your duty to pay for that child for the next eighteen years. If you decide to have sex, you must know that pregnancy may result and be fully prepared to take responsibility for it. This, of course, does not apply to her. She doesn't have to be responsible for her actions, and can abort a child she conceived any time she wants, whether this breaks your heart or not. Accept this stoically. She has the special privilege of being able to kill her unborn child, carry it to term and give it up for adoption, or have it and raise it all by herself if she wants, but you have the responsibility of simply living with whatever choice she makes and quite often paying for it, too. Remember, you have no right to be a parent and no right not to be a parent, you are just a man. A good husband knows his place.
There is one main difference between the Good Wife's Guide and the above. The first list is outdated and laughable in its attitudes towards women; the second list, however, could be printed today since every single sentiment expressed in it is practiced, believed and upheld by modern wives and by the culture at large.
Although the Good Husband's Guide is just as offensive, just as insulting, just as sexist, and just as accurate a picture of the plight of some modern husbands, it will never make the email rounds as a rallying cry for anything. No one so much as blinks at the way husbands are treated in this era, and never will as long as men are so thoroughly unappreciated and so completely abused, but proud enough, strong enough, and mature enough not to complain.