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The Custom of the Country
Edith Wharton, Linda Wagner-Martin
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Leo Tolstoy, Louise Maude, Alymer Maude

I Am a Housewife!

I Am a Housewife! - Jaquie Davison Yes, I suppose attacking this book is like shooting fish in a barrel, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself…

I ran across this horrific little gem when I was researching some other books. Though dated in its viewpoints, the beliefs Jaquie Davison depicts are still promoted by some women and men and religious denominations.

This is the "baby doll" nightwear Davison suggests to please yo’ man:

description

In Davison’s mind, the culturally correct housewife acts less like a mother than a (father’s) daughter. Davison explains the notion of an acquiescent, dependent wife and mother in I Am a Housewife! (1972)—a book that is a unique blend of autobiography and self-help guide. The ideal housewife, Davison tells us, acts like her daughter:
Take a tip from your little daughter. Watch her uninhibited technique as she handles the man in her life, her father, your husband . . . . She obeys him without question: she gives him unstinted devotion. When he arrives home she runs, screaming with pleasure to throw her arms around him, to hug and kiss him. When he tells her stories, no matter how tall they are, she listens with wide-eyed interest and innocence. She asks questions constantly so he can show off his intelligence . . . (32)

Though Davison—depressingly—writes in complete earnest, her advice echoes Virginia Woolf’s highly ironic description of a woman’s function: “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size” (35). Implicit, then, in Davison’s description of a successful housewife is the necessity for a woman to act like an infant and thus magnify the importance of her husband (and children). It is a schizoid performance, however, since on one level a woman should behave like her daughter and shower her husband with devotion while on another she is highly conscious of using manipulation and “technique.”

In another passage, Davison again explains the merits of a housewife’s demotion to infant status. Further, although Davison is apparently aware that housewives are being commodified by our culture, she lauds the wisdom of the advertising industry nevertheless:
I was walking through a department store and I saw some female sleeping apparel, and it was called a “baby doll.” In other words, here are grown women, when the weather’s warm, sleeping in something called “baby dolls.” What’s more, the manufacturers are smart enough to give them names like that, knowing they won’t be shunned. What does this mean? It means that women really like to be feminine and like to be baby dolls, protected, cared for, pampered. They want someone to take care of them. They don’t want to be in charge. (emphasis added, 33)

Or, perhaps what Davison is really identifying are the needs of our society rather than the needs of a housewife. If, by Davison’s own admission, a woman acting like a baby is a performance, her book may tell us more about the desires of a culture than those of a housewife. Though Davison paints an extreme picture of a submissive housewife, she accurately reflects a culture that often tends to subdue and infantilize motherhood. A woman following Davison’s advice learns to bow to the desires of a dominant culture, since her own desires must be effaced and controlled to please her “man” and her children.

However, like so many critiques of wives and mothers, Davison’s commentary lacks a socioeconomic base. Her exhortation for women to stay at home where they belong presumes a husband able to [amply!:] support a family and does not take into account the needs of divorced mothers, mother without partners, mothers with unemployed husbands, widowed mothers, mothers on welfare, etc.

In America, Davison blithely argues, women are lucky because we have inherited the traditions of the “Age of Chivalry’: “In America, a man’s first significant purchase is a diamond for his bride, and the largest financial investment of his life is a home for her to live in. American husbands work hours of overtime to buy a fur piece or other finery to keep their wives in fashion . . . .” (77).

Davison’s description of the great good fortune of American women really applies to very few women, and it’s my hope that very few women aspire to being the decorative doormat Davison advocates.

p.s. Found this while hunting (unsuccessfully) for the book cover: In the early 1970s, Jaquie Davison organized HOW (Happiness of Womenhood) to combat the evils of NOW.




partly from a prior publication