I haven't done a book review for a long time. I've been reading; there is a list of this year's selections about halfway down my sidebar. This post will be partially a book review, but also some of my own opinions (shocker) on the proper care and feeding of husbands.
It is probably good to begin by disclosing my own bias against self-help books. When I do find them useful, it is only because the basic philosophy of the author is consistent with gospel teachings. (For a brief discussion of this, check out Elder Uchtdorf's talk from the last conference.) Laura Schlessigner's book, "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands," is no exception to this--where her philosophy is consistent with gospel teachings I think she has a lot of helpful advice; but, to me, her basic theme in the book is completely incompatible with our understanding of the divine nature of man and woman. I'll complete this thought later.
The first thing that bothers me about the book is the shoddy scholarship. She explains that her ideas for the book come from her experience as a therapist, her radio show and her web site. As for the first, Dr. Laura (I use the term "doctor" very loosely here; this is Ms. Shlessigner's preferred title), currently holds no license from any state as a family therapist, and has not for many, many years. Her PhD is in physiology, not psychology. None of her educational background is in psychology. As for the radio show and the website, these can hardly be called unbiased sources as her often volatile program likely attracts a certain type of demographic. The addendum on her website says that any email or call becomes her sole property once it is made public. In other words, she has full discretion to abuse you soundly on the air and then use the interaction in a book, taking whichever excerpt proves her point and paints her in the light of having saved your marriage by way of a 20 second lecture.
There are no facts or statistics to back up the more specific claims she makes. There isn't a single footnote in the entire book. No expert, other than Dr. Laura herself, is quoted. Her evidence all seems to be anecdotal, though she has plenty of anecdotes.
As I read, I became curious about Dr. Laura's personal life and was quite shocked by what I learned. Her current incarnation/persona is of a highly conservative, God-fearing woman who is critical of anything that might break down the family. She thinks women should delay sex, if not until marriage, at least until relationships are serious. She is highly critical of feminism and thinks mothers should raise the children they have, and that those children should never be born out of wedlock. While this is generally positive, Dr. Laura, now in her 60's, only came by her current philosophy much later in life. It seems apparent that her first radio job was a result of sleeping with the boss, and the nude photos emerged 20 years later to prove it. She divorced her first husband after just a few years. She lived with her second husband for eight years before marrying him, and for the first of those years he was still married to another woman. She was pregnant their only son before they were married and had a very demanding career while he was a small child. Dr. Laura was a self-proclaimed feminist well into the 1980's. To defend herself against the many who have called her hypocrite she says, "A hypocrite says 'do as I say, not as I do.' I am saying, 'do as I say, not as I did.'"
None of the previous paragraph is, of course, in the book. I just wanted to know what I was dealing with. This makes it sound as though I don't think she could have anything worthwhile to say because of the life she has lived. In fact, just the reverse is true: I think her many negative experiences probably give her unique perspective on the mistakes that many women make. It does, however, make her holier-than-thou tone throughout the book a bit disgusting. It also makes me halfway think that her scathing critique of women is her own way of justifying her husband's prior infidelity--as though his first wife drove him to Dr. Laura's caring and feeding arms and she deserved it. (It seems, to the good doctor anyway, that most cheated on women DO deserve it.)
Anyway, I think her advice needs to be taken in context of who she is and where she is coming from, recognizing that her source material is certainly biased in favor of her own methods. Her motivation for writing the book is that women are undermining their marriages right and left by their own actions, and that most other "help" sources--books, talk shows, therapists and girl friends are contributing to the problem by validating and therefore reinforcing women's most negative behaviors to their husbands. In "researching" her topic, she set up a spot on her website where men could email comments to her about what should go into this book. She quotes from these extensively, but there is one such email that gets to the heart of her thesis very quickly.
"Men are simple. If I'm not horny then I probably want a sandwich."
This is funny. Maybe REALLY funny. And, as with many tacky jokes, it requires a broad generalization of men in order to work. Jumping from this platform, Dr. Laura's book deals in broad stereotypes, reiterating time and time again that MEN ARE SIMPLE. They want to be shown physical affection (reader Steve left this charming comment, "[Men] need more sex. Once a day is fine"), given praise, fed a good dinner and be shown "awe" by "their woman" for all they do for her. If a woman will perform these simple tricks then, voila! "Your man" will reciprocate by "slaying dragons" and "walking through fire for you."
Hm . . . . to some of this verbiage I want to say that we are fresh out of dragons and that in most normal circumstances, walking through fire would be rather useless. Yes, I get that this is figurative, but isn't it easy to say that you would do something very dramatic for the one you love, when all she might really want is for you NOT to regard the toilet as a general sort of a goal instead of a target?
If this seems like a gross simplification of a book that is nearly 200 pages, well, I'm not so sure. I think what I've said here really gets to the heart of what she is advocating. True, she treats topics such as respect, busy-ness, feelings, communication, nagging and sex in seperate chapters, but her conclusions are all the same.
I didn't hate this book, though I found her tone so supercilious at times that I wished for a dart board so that I could paste a picture of her face right on the bullseye. The book was actually recommended to me many years ago, and I've put off reading it as I had heard clips from Dr. Laura's radio show, and expected the tone to be very combative.
To say the least.
But in the interest of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I will tell you what I liked about it. I can hardly call these things "spoilers." I would actually think that for LDS women, these points shouldn't be anything we haven't already learned in Church or from our own mothers.
1--Dr. Laura goes on at some length about treating your spouse with kindness and love first without waiting for him to make the first move. She is basically saying that we should serve our families cheerfully, even when we aren't quite feeling it, because this basic service-attitude will make us feel much happier.
2--"Your feelings are not facts and should not be used as weapons." I quite like the way she worded this. It is true that some women use tears and verbal abuse to bend men to their will all the time. I'm grateful to have been raised by a mother who saw herself as a partner with my dad and she didn't resort to passive-aggressive methods in an attempt to make him into something else. My mother loved us all very much and never hesitated to express such in a hundred tiny ways, but she never turned on the waterworks or used the silent treatment to get her way with my dad.
3--The feminist movement tricked women: First into thinking they could have it all and do it well, and that if they DIDN'T then they were somehow less than a woman. The second fallacy is that women don't need men. And lastly is the popularized notion that women who find fulfillment in home and family are deluding themselves. I agree that these are all negative attitudes that were a result of that movement.
4--Love is more than just a feeling--it is both a choice and an action. Dr. Laura explains that she writes FOR women because so much ineffective advice, counsel and teaching is aimed at changing men. But it is women that want to change men. Since it really is only possible to change yourself, then it stands to reason that if your marriage is in trouble and worth saving, then you can really only influence your own behavior, and not your partner's. I like her proactive, practical approach to making your life better. We must choose every day to love our spouses, and then we must show that love by our actions.
5-Men and women ARE different. And that is okay, these differences can be a wonderful compliment to each other if we allow them to be.
As for what disturbed me about this book, it was partly her combative tone and Dr. Laura's advice doled out like she is spouting eternal truth in every consonant. She advocates control and manipulation just as powerfully as the feminists, but encourages women to do this in a uniquely feminine way. So here are a few of my gripes.
1--She seems to advocate serving in order to manipulate: love is practically an afterthought in the reasoning. By manipulate I mean that she encourages women to use all of their kindest "tricks" so that men will be putty in their hands and do whatever they want them to do. In other words, the purpose of serving "your man" is to get served in return. While I admit that such reciprocation of affection, help and love is often the result of properly caring and feeding your husband, I think the motivation here is everything. I remember once, some years ago, Dr. Phil had a woman on his show who was using sex as a way to get her husband to buy her expensive gifts. If this sounds like prostitution, well, you aren't alone in your thinking there. That, obviously, is an over-the-top example of a woman going to the extreme to get what she wants, but again, if our motivation is not pure love for our partner, giving without expectation of getting in return, then we haven't learned squat about charity.
2--She says that women ARE in control in their homes, but that men want to BELIEVE that they are. To this end, she instructs women on how to give men the illusion of wearing the pants. Yet, other times, she berates women soundly for emasculating their men by expecting them to be good listeners. There were whole passages in this book I found very contradictory to itself, besides being at odds with a patriarchal model of the family set forth by the Lord.
3--The feminist movement wasn't ALL bad. Heck, even "Dr. Laura" herself wouldn't exist without some kind of sexual revolution. Women have choices now that they never had 100 years ago. Absolutely, some of it has been taken too far (see #3 above), but it is pretty disingenuous to soundly criticize something you have been a huge beneficiary of.
4--Men's emotional needs are met, not just primarily, but pretty much entirely through sex: this is the gospel according to Dr. Laura. I won't say much more on this, some topics are better left between husband and wife, but I sincerely hope that if you are married (or become so one day) that it is to a man who has emotional needs beyond sex. Or at least if he views sex as the culmination of all emotional needs, he has made an honest effort to meet your emotional needs before he expects you to welcome his advances with open arms.
5--But the last thing, and probably most disturbing thing, about this book is the oversimplification of who man is. Yes, to a large degree, a man's needs might be rather simple. However, he, himself is not. Men are sons of God. Men who are priesthood holders and have made covenants are gods in embryo. To use sex and food to trick them into behaving as we want is regarding them as trained monkeys.
We reiterate to our young women week in and week out this princess part of their nature. Each week they recognize "divine nature" as one of their values. We play on their sense of romance by encouraging them to find a prince who will take them to the palace/temple and commit to them forever. What could be more romantic than that? Yet, when we make analogies with our young men, we talk so much in terms of warriors and armies and battles. Men are so trained to slay the dragon that I wonder if they sometimes forget that they will be kings as surely as their wives will be queens. Dr. Laura encourages each woman to set her standards much lower and then "stand by your man, because, after all, he's just a man."
I once heard a general authority give a talk about Christlike attributes, and the teaching of such to our young men. He said that too often, the qualities of Christ are attributes men only assign to women--love, compassion, mercy, tenderness, etc.--but that in reality, these are attributes we all must strive to have. Dr. Laura berates women for trying in so many negative ways to change the nature of men, and she certainly has a point about all of the mean and ineffectual ways women attempt to do this; but what she doesn't understand is that part of the nature of the covenant marriage is that a man and a woman will work as a team to go beyond just accepting and loving each other as they are, and instead bring out the very best in each other's natures in order to progress together toward something greater.
One of my favorite scriptures from the new testament is, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it." The counsel could apply equally to women, and I don't think Paul was talking about dying for the Church here, though Christ certainly did that too. I think he is talking about living for the things we love and have covenanted to. We shouldn't love our spouses to get dinner or sex or help around the house or a night off from changing diapers . . . . we should love our spouses because it makes us more Christlike to do so. Deep, abiding and lasting love has the power to change our very nature.
Maybe my next post will be about why in the world, if most men (as per Dr. Laura) are really looking for wives who are sweet and acquiescing by nature, do they try so hard to date women who manipulate, control, tease and tempt? But that can wait; this post is already twice as long on paper as it was in my head. By all means, share your thoughts on taking care of "your man," or on the book if you have read it.