A Woman’s Place; Good Wives and Happy Husbands by Redmer Yska is an adorable looking little volume that promises to be full of cliché and sexist, demeaning mantras, and it is.
I’ve now read this book twice. The first time I sat down with a girlfriend over several glasses of wine and we took turns reading paragraphs to each other while trying not to let our snorts of laughter and hysterical giggles wake her husband. It is a ridiculously silly and funny book. The feminist in me laughed and railed in equal parts over the blatant sexist nature of previous generation’s beliefs and the copies of actual press ads from the 1950s and 60s that are scattered throughout.
The book is meant to be a humorous, tongue in cheek call for women to cast off their “modern” attitudes and return to being “good” women, and I did find it very funny, but the second time I read it through parts of it really did make me stop to think.
The advertising within the book irritated me and a few times left me feeling quite indignant. There is an advert that proclaims a woman will be a happier person if her husband would only buy her the new Sabaco carpet sweeper. I am of course a product of my generation’s beliefs, but I can’t imagine caring less about a broom or my vacuum cleaner. It just seems absurd. Adverts that said things like “Are your friends talking about you behind your back because you don’t serve quality tea?” or “Being fat cuts down your circle of friends” or my personal favorite “Will the law ever require women who are careless with their oral hygiene to wear a bell” (presumably so you know when they are coming and can run for the hills!) are representative of the early stages of blatant emotional, fear based manipulation that some advertising uses to make women feel insecure and I struggled to find that funny.
Some of the chapters however were really sweet. I particularly like the idea of showing the world that you’re “going steady” with a boy by knitting him a sweater (God help the man that I attempt to knit for) as well as the suggestion that it would be acceptable to “lightly perforate” a man with a shot gun if he doesn’t offer you a cigarette (not planning to try that either) But I was surprised to find that parts of the book do have real value despite the obvious humor, and contain lessons that perhaps in the rush to become equal and empowered, women are no longer taught. Being respectful and well mannered can hardly be a bad thing. And I see more and more examples of women who don’t have the basic self respect to ensure that they are clean and well cared for. There is nothing modern or feminist about running around with stains on your clothes and filthy hair. Maybe a little bit of old fashioned advice on being a lady wouldn’t go amiss.
If a “woman’s place” does require her to be respectful of others and herself, well mannered and caring, then perhaps we modern gals have strayed a little too far from the path, but if being able to keep my husband happy with my delightful culinary skills and pay particular attention to maintaining a perfect home is the indicator of a woman’s value, then I’m afraid I am a monumental failure! I might run out and get myself a floral apron…
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