Book Review: The Total Woman by Marabel Morgan (1973)

I am sure some of you are going to ask me why I read this book in hardback. Hey, I don’t know. I just read lots of books. The little red dot indicates either I paid thirty-three and a third cents for it at Hooked on Books or that the International Masculinity Squad has someone in the treeline about to take me out for my gross transgressions against manhood. I guess I picked it out from the bookshelf outside the bookshop where the booksellers put the books they want people to steal. So I flipped a 33-cent piece onto the counter and walked out of the shop with this handbook for becoming The Total Woman.

All right, I read the book because I thought it would be amusing to read. It’s carbon-dated to 1973, which means it was written about the time I was born and coming home from the hospital. The back cover contains a photo of Ms. Morgan, who looks like an amphed-up Liz Crocker from the time period. A former beauty queen from an upper-middle class suburban Wonder bread world dishes out some advice to other high-strung married-too-early tract house denizens. Man, urban-born and 21st century me was going to laugh, laugh all the way through the book.

A funny thing happened on the way to that mockirvana. I started respecting the book and its viewpoint.

It’s not that different from any other self-help style, inspire-yourself book. Whereas other, more contemporary tracts tell you how you can be a better businessperson, salesperson, or more complete self-actualized Bobo, all of them seek to make you better at a particular role. This book’s not that different. It definitely presents a different set of lines in which to color–those of a Christian housewife–but it offers a certain amount of pluck, vibrance, and intelligence to the role. It’s not so much about remaking yourself as a Stepford Wife (a reference contemporary to the time in which this book was written, remember) as remaking yourself as the Wife of Bath.

Because although the book encourages a certain submissiveness on the part of the wife, it’s not because of a woman’s inferiority–rather, it’s because she can, and because she wants to be part of the whole that is the functioning nuclear family unit. Not only a part, but the backbone. Of course, in 2004, “nuclear family” is a perjorative in many circumstances, but I still personally admire the goal and the imperfect-but-striving examples in the world. So screw you if you’re too smart to be constrained by tradition and morality that won’t let you have open marriages or that require committments to your spouse and your children.

So, what should you do if you’re a Christian housewife who wants to strengthen her marriage (and, in most cases, fears that her marriage is failing or is not satisfied with its current state)?

  • Focus on the good things
    You got married to this person for some reason, theoretically because you guys liked each other. Focus on those things, and make an effort to be more like the person you were then, and not the nagging harpy you are now. Okay, not nagging harpy, but look beyond the concerns of the day-to-day household management to reconnect with the people who have made the household.
  • Feed his ego.
    He’s only a man, and he needs to be stroked. When he’s stroked, he’ll stroke back.
  • More, imaginative sex.
    Okay, here’s my favorite passage from the book:

    Still another gal took the course [The Total Woman course, which this book describes] being held in her Souther Baptist Church. She welcomed her husband home in black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron. That’s all. He took one look and shouted, “Praise the Lord!”

    Indeed. Sex comprises one quarter of the book, and she advocates dressing differently, wearing costumes, role playing, and other things–in the name of family values! Good marital sex helps a good marriage. Also, she’s an advocate of the female climax, which she says has helped many class attendees learn to appreciate sex. Morgan’s writing about the dark ages, undoubtedly, but it’s interesting to note that the book is geared toward church-going women. Contrary to the popular caricature, maybe women who are Christians and who go to church can be sizzling lovers.

    Don’t tell them, though, or those coastal Democrat types will come to carry off our womenfolk like the barbarian invading hordes they are.

So I read the book, and although I laughed at certain parts, I appreciated the sentiment and the intelligence of the author. She certainly seems earnest enough, and she’s smart enough; although the only endnotes are scriptural citations, she quotes Shakespeare and Robert Browning easily. Also, the churchgoing aspect of the book isn’t overwhelming–she’s not proselytizing, she’s talking about her convictions. The shortest chapter in the book, near the end, talks about her relationship with God. Interesting, a little personal and common, but not something the make the book unreadable.

If you can find a copy for under a buck (with shipping, if you’re Internet inclined), this book will offer a view of marriage from a viewpoint outside your own (most likely) and will offer ideas and insights that you might apply to your own marriage. If you want it to work.

For example, tomorrow night I shall greet my wife at the door wearing black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron. (Don’t tell her, though!)

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