Contrary to popular imagination, not every young woman was an independent-minded flapper in the 1920s. Most still longed for the same thing their mothers and grandmothers did decades before: marriage. To help them reach their dream, a publisher called Psychology Press released this helpful guide in 1922: Fascinating Womanhood, or, The Art of Attracting Men: a practical course of lessons in the underlying principles by which women attract men, leading to the proposal and culminating in marriage. Within its eight glorious volumes, women of any stripe could learn the secrets to snagging a loving husband of their very own—especially if they were willing to abandon any pesky ethics, morals, or any sense of self worth they might have in order to do so!
Now, let’s say you’re a young woman in 1922. You’ve been in the dating pool for a couple years now, but you’ve yet to attract a husband. All around you, your friends are marrying right and left–but not you. You long for a husband of your own, but men just never seem to stay interested in you long enough to commit. Why is this happening? And what are you going to do about it?
Fear not! Fascinating Womanhood is here to offer you a plan that will assure victory. For, you see, you’ve been going about this all wrong. Hooking a man is just a matter of applying our five basic steps—the very same steps that successful salesmen and orators use every day—to win a man for life. Getting and keeping a man is akin to battle, and you’re going to be the winning general, as long as you do EXACTLY as we tell you.1
Now let’s take a look at our two role models—“Miss Innocent” and “Johnny Hopeful”—and watch how our sweet little Miss Innocent applies the five steps to bag Mr. Hopeful:
STEP 1: ATTRACTING ATTENTION
Goods cannot be sold without getting the buyer’s attention, and the same is true of catching the eye of a man. Miss Innocent must be seen at parties and public places wherever there are men—but she must never go out to socialize and have fun. After all, she is on a serious mission! Dressed in a “cuddlesome” and “girlish” fashion—for a woman must emphasize her pure, sweet “feminine” qualities at all times, rather than show skin like those brazen flapper hussies—Miss Innocent drifts about the party, looking cute and vapid, while keeping an eye on her male audience: “while other girls are discussing sports or personalities, she is thinking of her appearance, fixing a stray hair, eyeing herself in the glass, or sizing up the men. She is never unconscious that she is a woman and that men are around who might notice her.”2 If she catches one looking, why, then, she “lets him catch her startled eye, drops her lashes in pretty confusion, and if possible engineers a blush.”3 It’s like the book says, folks: “Can anything be better calculated to attract a man’s attention?”4
STEP 2: AROUSING INTEREST
Success! Johnny Hopeful has noticed this blushing, delicate little flower and has come over to talk to her. Good heavens! Whatever shall she say to him? Turns out, not much: “Does [Miss Innocent] talk about herself? Not she! That’s no way to arouse Johnny’s interest. She talks about Johnny—or rather, she gently leads Johnny to talking about himself.”5 Through this process she discovers that Johnny considers himself an excellent swimmer. And that’s when Miss Innocent takes her first step into Emotional Manipulation Land:
Upon this her eyes and her attitude show every indication of amazement. ‘How can he keep from sinking?’ [she asks with guileless wonder]. Plainly a man who can swim is to her an extraordinary being. As Johnny undertakes to explain how easy swimming is when you know how, he begins to think that maybe there is something worthy of admiration about his mastery of this accomplishment. And when Innocent refuses to believe that swimming is easy, and insists that she herself could never stay above the water, the feeling dawns upon him that if he were not a man, and a real man at that, he might have found swimming more difficult.6
Miss Innocent’s absolute insistence that Johnny must be heroic indeed to master something as difficult as swimming makes him feel like a million bucks. Since he “isn’t very often made to feel that he is exceptionally manly, he finds this sensation rather pleasant” and wants more.7 Suddenly he finds himself making a date with Miss Innocent for next week—at the pool, naturally, so he can teach her how to swim!
STEP 3: CREATING DESIRE
Over time, Johnny finds himself drawn more and more to Miss Innocent. She’s just so cute and appreciative and keeps ooohing and ahhhing at his every word, and who doesn’t like that, right? Sometimes she doesn’t even need to open her mouth—it’s there in her eyes whenever she looks at him, eyes that shine with “unalloyed respect, approval, and appreciation” for him and everything he does.8 Over time, Johnny becomes more and more emotionally dependent on her worshipful glance: “ever so often, he discovers, his self-esteem must be bolstered by her reiterated appreciation…his only relief from despondence is to be found in the comforting and uplifting companionship of Innocent.”9
Buoyed by her sympathy, Johnny begins pouring out his hopes and dreams and secret ambitions to Innocent, who ooohs and ahhhs at each and every one. Soon he begins to believe not only in the greatness of his past deeds, but in the glory of his current self and the vast promise of his golden future. Suddenly he’s working hard to trying and outdo himself in order to “justify her exalted conception of him.”10 Johnny is well and truly hooked now: “finding himself, at first, unable to live without her appreciation, he soon finds himself equally unable to live without the girl herself.”11 But will this prompt him to take the plunge and buy a ring?
STEP 4: SATISFYING JUDGEMENT
Not so fast there, partner. Just because Johnny is now emotionally dependent on Miss Innocent for his self-worth doesn’t mean he will automatically marry her. Perhaps he doesn’t make enough money to support a wife and children yet. He is interested, of course, but also wary.
Whatever will Miss Innocent do?
She can’t just straight up ask him to marry her and damn the consequences—that would be unbecoming of so delicate a creature! So, she must drive him to it by other means.
And how will she do that, you ask?
By manipulating the hell out of him, of course! 😀
When Johnny comes to her full of optimism about the future and his job prospects, Innocent plays them up. Does he want to be the boss of his company some day? Then of course he’ll get there one day! After all, Johnny has “infinitely superior qualifications”—Innocent would know, since she’s been feeding him this stuff since day one (see “swimming” above).12 And dammit, she must be right! He could totally run the company. By god, he could run it today! And so “with the inborn vanity natural to every man confirmed by the sincere faith of a girl like Innocent, Johnny brims over with new-found self-assurance” and goes off to tackle the world.13
When he crawls back to her the next day, feeling utterly defeated by the fact that his boss wouldn’t give him the promotion he demanded due to his “infinitely superior qualities,” Innocent goes to work on him again, rebuilding his self-confidence from the ground up. Each time she does it, Johnny comes back stronger than before. Soon he simply radiates self-confidence—and other people take notice. His boss finally promotes him and life begins to go a bit smoother. Dimly, in the back of his mind, he knows this is all thanks to Innocent–yet, Johnny still hesitates to pop the question…
STEP 5: PROMPTING ACTION
Now little Miss Innocent is starting to get kind of angry. After all, she’s spent all this time and effort on building up Johnny’s interest and confidence, and she still doesn’t have a ring! Why is that? So, she decides in a “fit of petulance” to “encourage the attention of several other young men” and sets about totally ignoring Johnny.14
Naturally, this drives Johnny—who is now wholly dependent on Innocent for his sense of self-worth—into an uncontrollable jealous rage!15 Once he’s good and mad, Innocent calls him up and offers to meet in order to apologize. Johnny readily agrees. He’s been waiting for weeks to give her a piece of his mind, damn it!
Once she hangs up, Innocent begins to realize that this meeting could go poorly. After all, there’s really no good excuse for her behavior aside from her petulant, childish nature—so she needs another way to dodge his rebukes. Maybe a change of scenery would help: the garden, perhaps? After all, “with a meek little girl sitting next to him in a lawn swing, with a big moon beaming…[and] the scented night air” how can Johnny get truly angry at her?16
Turns out he totally can. Johnny shows up and starts tearing into her, garden or no. How could she do this to him? How could she toy with his emotions like this??! But as he rages at her he realizes something awful: “in this romantic setting…Johnny’s words and voice sound to him frightfully harsh and brutal;” Innocent’s quiet listening has “tempted him to go on and on until he feels that he has said far more than he intended” and “far more than this fragile creature can bear.”17 My God, was that a sob he just heard?
After that Johnny just can’t take it anymore. God, what a horrible brute he was to move this fragile, tender creature to tears! Overcome with shame, and wowed by her silent, sobbing defenselessness, he “suddenly realizes what a glorious privilege it would be to take care of her always, to protect and shelter her forever.”18 Finally, he “blurts out the story that has so long been pent up—the story of what Innocent means to him.”19 There is only one thing left to do: he proposes on the spot!
So why doesn’t it really feel like winning?
Well, that may have to do with Miss Innocent’s tactics. Despite her name, Miss Innocent is clearly anything but. She has no compunctions about using her “feminine wiles” to manipulate Johnny into his decision to marry. So why does Johnny fall for it? Surely anyone with half a brain could see that Miss Innocent isn’t quite the brainless, worshipful twit that she appears…
According to the author of Fascinating Womanhood, that’s because Miss Innocent has mastered the one quality that turns men into “doting slaves”—namely, she emphasizes her uniquely feminine qualities, playing them off against his “manly” ones. By “constantly bring[ing[ out and emphasiz[ing] the contrast between [her] tenderness and his strength,” she “imitate[s] by [her] every action how much [she], as a woman, [is] dependent upon the bravery, power and generosity of man.”20 Apparently, being around such a weak, timid creature makes a man feel like a superhero or something: “in the presence of such weakness he feels stronger, more competent, bigger, and manlier than ever. This feeling of power is the most enjoyable he can experience. He likes to indulge it, to parade it, to strut before this timid, hesitant creature and show what a brave and able man he is. He doesn’t feel futile or ineffectual now…what a sensation of power and superiority it gives him to calm her fears and rout the offender.”21 Miss Innocent bolsters this image of him—and in turn, all other men—by constantly “throwing herself upon the protection and care of every man she meets” in the most annoying way possible: “if she plays golf, she can never find her own ball, at the beach she is afraid to let the man get more than a foot or two away when in the water, at a party she simply can’t fill her own punch glass…[and] her very expectation that men are always able to help her, that they are so much more capable of doing things than she, is a most flattering and agreeable thing to the men themselves.”22 And so men, taken in by this dependent, helpless attitude which supposedly puts them in charge, are now content to “keep on giving and granting” her wishes “forever”—never mind that “she might be quite capable of taking care of herself”23 Win a man this way, says the author, and he will gladly acquiesce to anything a woman’s heart might desire: “little wonder that he is blind to a hundred defects in her appearance and character, so long as she gives him this glorious realization of strength and power!”24
I could go on and on unpacking all the crazy gender implications here, but let’s just say that Fascinating Womanhood does not present a flattering picture of either sex. Men generally come off as vain, gullible, and insecure jerks who need constant ego-stroking, and women are either naturally gifted as “brainless dolls” who attract hordes of men by acting like manipulative children, or they’re forced to pretend to be that way in order to get what they want or need. No one wins here. So how did people in 1992 react to this book? Did the women who picked it up find it helpful, or did it make them cringe? Author Cathrine Gourley, who mentioned Fascinating Womanhood in her book Flappers and the New American Woman, couldn’t find anything about how it was received by the public.25 I suspect it depended on the woman in question and her particular situation, but it’s definitely something I could imagine desperate matrons giving to their wayward teenage flapper daughters in the desperate hope that they might change their newfangled ways and settle down into respectable married life–only to be tossed into the trash a few minutes later with a lot of eye-rolling as they walk out the door to the next speakeasy ;).
But what saved Fascinating Womanhood for me as a modern reader–rather than simply finding it vastly appalling–was its pervasive sense of irony and cynicism. The author of Fascinating Womanhood makes it very clear that, more often than not, all of this hyper-feminine behavior is just a ruse to attract men—a game that any woman can play if she’s clever enough. It’s simply a role to be played, like an actress on the stage; most women aren’t really like that. Volume 4 says right out that women are “able, competent, and powerful personalities” who are fully capable of “killing their own snakes,” as it were—but it’s this very quality that makes them unattractive to men: “the air of being able to kill their own snakes is just what destroys the charm of so many school teachers and competent business and professional women. It is the absence of this air that permits many a brainless doll to capture an able and intelligent man whom one would expect to choose a more compatible helpmeet”26 Faced with this, a woman who wants to bag a husband has a clear choice: she can continue on her way as her own person, or she can accept society’s exaggerated gender roles for women and take them to the extreme—thus using them to her advantage. It’s an extremely mercenary and cynical attitude, given how so much flowery language is used throughout the book, including section headings like “Is this Unmaidenly?”27
Sadly, this cynical, ironic attitude was completely lost on the next person to rediscover Fascinating Womanhood: Helen Andelin.
It turns out that Fascinating Womanhood, or The Art of Attracting Men was rediscovered–and rewritten–for a new era by a woman named Helen Andelin. She published her own version of the series, simply titled Fascinating Womanhood, in 1963. Unfortunately, Helen seemed to miss the ironic, knowing quality that made the advice in the originals bearable. Instead, she took all of its maxims regarding “proper” woman’s behavior—all the fawning, dependent, helpless, brainless, and traditionally feminine aspects of Miss Innocent and her ilk—and decided they were the way women truly ought to behave. Using her own successful Christian marriage as a starting point, Helen combined the 1922 volumes with “biblical writings, testimonials from other women, advice from her husband, and trial and error to create [a] formula for marital success.”28
The result was nothing less than terrifying. Not only did Andelin’s book sell 400,000 hardback copies the first year it came out, but it was embraced by millions of women around the country as a welcome return to traditional gender roles in the face of second-wave Feminism in the 1970s.29 By 1975 it was a cornerstone of the anti-Feminist movement, with Andelin teaching her own courses and hosting workshops around the country. According to Wikipedia, “by 1975…the movement included 11,000 teachers and over 300,000 women had taken the series of Fascinating Womanhood classes”30 That’s quite a lot of women buying into a way of being that called for, among other things, acting like a petulant child. For example, here’s how Andelin suggested one should express anger to one’s husband in a 1975 interview with the Chicago Tribune: “express anger honestly like a child, without bitterness or ugliness. Stomp your foot, shake your curls, and pout, if you will, but always let him know with a sidelong glance that you’re looking to see his reaction.”31 If you weren’t sure how to manage that feat, you could even take a class to learn how to do it in the proper “adorable” fashion, complete with direction on how to stomp one’s foot, then “walk briskly to the door, pause, lift your chin higher, and look back over your shoulder” as cutely as possible.32
Naturally, most feminists didn’t react well to Andelin’s teachings. Even the book’s author admitted that: “those women who have absorbed a great deal of feminist thinking may find their blood curdling at the first pages of these books. Mrs. Adelin reports women’s lib leaders have said her book alone ‘set the movement back 20 years.’”33 Today’s academics agree. Psychologist Martha L. Rogers hypothesized that following Andelin’s tenants encouraged women to emotionally regress and actively avoid becoming self-actualized individuals.34 Feminists continue to speak out about it today, including this fairly recent article at Bitch Magazine.
There’s no denying, however, that Andelin’s book and movement had a lasting impact. She inspired an entire new generation of self-help books. According to Julie Neuffer, history instructor at Washington State University, Andelin’s book paved the way for advice gurus that are still popular today: “You can find a lot of Andelin’s philosophy in Doctor Laura Schlessinger, Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, and The Rules. They don’t quote Andelin, but she was the beginning of an entire movement. That movement is still going strong.”35
Andelin’s movement even continues to this very day. The author herself died in 2009, but her book lives on without her, inspiring new generations of women to improve their marriages and romantic lives by becoming “fascinating” women or girls (plus a reissue in 2007). Her website appears to have been taken down, but there are still places to take classes based on her teachings, both online and off. I even found two blogs by some of her devoted followers: My Fascinating Womanhood and The Fascinating Woman. Based on these two blogs alone, it appears the highly stereotypical gender maxims of both versions of Fascinating Womanhood have found their “forever” home: the Religious Right.
If you’d like to read the 1922 version of Fascinating Womanhood in all its glory, you can find a full scan of it here, including cover images, courtesy of HathiTrust and Google Books.
If you’re looking for Helen Andelin’s book, simply pop it into Google. When I was doing research for this, it brought up tons of free PDF copies all over the place. Knock yourself out! 😀
1. I’m not kidding. There’s an actual warning in there about how not following their steps EXACTLY will lead to ruin. It’s on page 20 of Volume 1, and it goes like this: “TO WIN MEN CERTAIN DEFINITE PRINCIPLES MUST BE FOLLOWED IN A CERTAIN DEFINITE ORDER…NO MAN IS EVER WON UNTIL EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THESE PRINCIPLES HAS BEEN APPLIED IN EXACTLY THAT ORDER.” Those italicized caps are for real too–the author chose to emphasize key points with them at every opportunity!←
2. Anonymous, Fascinating womanhood, or, The art of attracting men: a practical course of lessons in the underlying principles by which women attract men, leading to the proposal and culminating in marriage, Vol. 1, (Saint Louis, MO: The Psychology Press, 1922), p. 32.←
3. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 33.←
7. Ibid. And another thing: just how messed up is Johnny’s life that some girl at a party telling him he’s awesome at swimming suddenly makes his life a million times better? Seriously, what is wrong with this guy?←
8. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 34.←
9. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 36.←
12. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 39.←
14. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 41.←
15. See? I told you this guy had issues!←
16. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 41.←
17. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, pp. 42-43.←
18. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 1, p. 43.←
20. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 4, p. 16.←
21. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 4, p. 8.←
22. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 4, p. 21.←
23. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 4, p. 23.←
24. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 4, p. 15.←
25. Catherine Gourley, Flappers and the new American woman: perceptions of women from 1918 through the 1920s, (Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2008) pp. 74-76.←
26. Fascinating Womanhood, Vol. 4, p. 11.←
27. Reading the chapter and section titles at the beginning of Volume 1 is almost worth it in and of itself. There are entire chapters in Volume 4 about how to “Make Yourself Somebody’s Pet,” among other super creepy things…←
28. Anonymous. “Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement.” ProtoView, Vol. 2, No. 1. Jan 5th 2015. Accessed at: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.glenview.lib.il.us:2048/docview/1651727565/70B7A27A68FB475CPQ/2?accountid=3688←
29. Wikipedia. Fascinating Womanhood.←
31. Daniels, Mary. “How you can get your man–and keep him.” Chicago Tribune. June 1st, 1975. ←
32. Anonymous. “The Sexes: Total Fascination.” TIME. May 10th, 1975. Accessed at: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,917212,00.html?iid=chix-sphere←
33. Daniels, Mary. “How you can get your man–and keep him.”←
34. Wikipedia. Fascinating Womanhood.←
35. Fulton, Ben. “Obit.” ←