We can draw one set of magnified moments from Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman (1973), an arch-reactionary traditional book (covertly addressed to modern readers) that is curiously warm. We can draw a very different set from Colette Dowling’s The Cinderella Complex (1981), a modern advice book that is curiously cool.
From The Total Woman:
If your husband comes home at 6:oo, bathe at 5.00. In preparing for your six o’clock date, lie back and let go of the tensions of the day. Think about that special man who’s on his way home to you.. . . Rather than make your husband play hide-and-seek when he comes home tired, greet him at the door when he arrives. Make homecoming a happy time. Waltzing to the door in a cloud of powder and cologne is a great confidence builder. Not only can you respond to his advances, you will want to. . . . For an experiment, I put on pink baby-doll pajamas and white boots after my bubble bath. 1 must admit that I looked foolish and felt even more so. When I opened the door that night to greet Charlie, I was unprepared for his reaction. My quiet, reserved, nonexcitable husband took one look, dropped his briefcase on the doorstep, and chased me around the dining room table. We were in stitches by the time he caught me, and breathless with that old feeling of romance. . . . Our little girls stood flat against the wall watching our escapade, giggling with delight. We all had a marvelous evening together, and Charlie forgot to mention the problems of the day.8
What did Marabel Morgan feel? First, she felt delight and surprise at Charlie’s response. Charlie was surprised, of course, but then so was Marabel—at the very fact that her act succeeded. In some ways, Morgan’s peak moment is the same as other peak moments in advice books to women. She feels central, appreciated, in the middle of an experience she wants to have. But in other ways her moment is very different. For one thing, it’s “fun," and fun in a certain kind of way. It is sexually exciting within the context of the family. It is marital and family fun. She is breathless in her husband’s arms—not in a lover’s arms. And her two girls are nearby, “flat against the wall” and “giggling.” Sexual excitement is marital and marital fun includes the kids.
In addition to Morgan’s husband and daughters, present in fantasy are a community of women who are also working on their marriages. After they have tried out a certain move at home, Morgan tells us, one “Total Woman” class member often calls another the next morning to see how it went. Spanning across families, a mirror opposite to the women’s movement, a community’ of Christian wives are “watching the show” in each other’s homes.
Marabel Morgan’s big moment doesn’t occur naturally, as when one is suddenly overcome by a magnificent rainbow or sunset. It is not spontaneous. Her moment is a well-planned, choreographed act. Sometimes instead of dressing in pink pajamas, she dresses as a pixie or a pirate, or comes to the door totally nude wrapped in cellophane. Her magnified moment is not an occasion for self-realization or revealing communication, not the “high” of sudden self-honesty or intimate communication. The act and the delighted response form a stylized, premodern form of communication in themselves. Marabel puts on her baby-doll suit. Charlie sees she means to please him. He is pleased. She receives his pleasure. They have communicated. That is the high point. At the same time, Morgan’s act paradoxically doubles as a shield against intimate communication. With doorway surprises, she advises her readers to “keep him off guard.”9 Whether she is pleasing (Charlie or getting her way with him by working female wiles, whether she draws inspiration from the Bible or Hollywood, Marabel Morgan is approaching her husband in an old – fashioned way.
At bottom, the pink pajamas and the ‘Total Woman” homework and tests are proposed as a Christian fundamentalist solution to disintegrating marriages—a trend quickly mounting through the 1960s and 1970s when Morgan wrote. Throughout the book, there is a drum-beat reminder of divorce. Speaking of a woman who could not adapt to her husband’s desire to travel, Morgan cautions, “Betty is now divorced. . . . Carl has since found someone else to enjoy his exciting new way of life with him. In your marriage it only makes sense for both of you to paddle in the same direction. Otherwise, you’ll only go in circles—or like Carl, he may pull out and go downstream.”1" In addition to friendly women in the same boat, then, are anonymous rivals who can replace the wife in a fading marriage. In spirit, these female rivals are present in the magnified moment of The Total Woman too.
I should add one other social relationship on the scene—that between author and reader. The girl-to-girl back fence tone or; voice, the open, conversational style with which Morgan tells her story, is itself a message. Morgan talks to the reader, not as priest to parishioner or therapist to patient, but as girlfriend to girlfriend. She does not offer the indisputable received wisdom of the ages concerning “the correct way” to conduct oneself in a given situation. Her advice is personal. Culturally, she seems to be saying, “You and I are on our own. This is what I did. Why don’t you try?” Curiously, other American traditional-for-modems eschew a voice of authority in favor of the voice of a friend. How or whether you save your marriage is up to you, they seem to say; I wish you luck.
In contrast to her best moment, Morgan’s worst moments virtually all focus on the discord that results when she challenges her husband’s authority. Already criticized by her husband for being “uptight,” she describes the following bad moment:
I prepared a very nice dinner the next day and determined to be a sweet wife. However, the bottom fell out for me. Over the mashed potatoes, Charlie announced casually that we would be going out the next evening with some business associates. With no malice 1 blurted out, “Oh no, we can’t.” And then I began to tell him of the plans I had already made. A terrible stony look passed over my husband’s face. I braced myself. In icy tones, with obvious control, he asked, “Why do you challenge me on every decision I make? Hn
Elsewhere, she talks about confronting her husband “eye ball to eye ball.”12 To Morgan, patriarchy is what keeps a woman a woman; otherwise, it seems, she’d act like a man—and fight. Like many traditional women, Morgan presumes men and women are adversaries. Patriarchy, for her, is the arrangement that ends the war with the following deal: the man gets the power, the woman gets the stable home. Morgan’s big moment thus expresses a series of basic premises: (a) that men should lead, women should obey, (b) that women benefit from patriarchy, and (c) that it’s a woman’s job to keep marriage happy and it is mainly her fault if it’s unhappy. These premises make up the cultural floorboard beneath magnified moments in The Total Woman.
The magnified moment reflects an anxiety and what Morgan imagines as a solution to it. The anxiety is that of women who fear “getting fired” from their marriages and becoming the displaced homemakers of tomorrow. Morgan proposes to beat the 1960s disintegration of the family, compete with the pool of newly displaced women (the other women out there). And she does this on her own home turf. She incorporates the sexual revolution (including its ideal of sexual variety) into the monogamous Christian marriage, and adds a little theater to a housewife’s day.
While Morgan may seem to draw more from Hollywood than the Bible and feminine tradition, and she may seem more flamboyant than warm, her magnified moments place her as both traditional and wann. It is overwhelmingly clear that Morgan favors an authoritarian world in which men rule women and men have greater human worth. In those respects, Morgan carries the antiquated, tattered flag for patriarchy. At the same time, her simpleminded tips are all about moving forward and in, not backward and out of relationships. However antiquated, the ethic she affirms is communal. As an emotional investment counselor, she recommends that women invest their emotion work in the family.