THE NO-NEEDS MODERN
At the other end oi the spectrum we find a moment from Colette Dowling’s
The Cinderella Complex:
Powerful emotional experiences await those who are really living out their own scripts. A Chicago woman in her early forties who still lives with and loves her husband is also intensely involved with a man she works with. He too is married, so their time together is limited. They look forward to the business trips they manage to take together several times a year. On one of these, the woman decided after a few days that she wanted to go skiing. The man was not a skier and in any event had further work to do in Boston. “I decided that I should ski by myself,” she told me [Dowling]. “I got on a bus in the middle of the afternoon and as we wound up into the Vermont mountains, it began to
snow. I remember sitting by myself on this greyhound bus, looking out the window and watching the lights come on in the little towns we passed through.
1 felt so good, so secure in the knowledge that I could be myself, do what I want—and also be loved—I started to cry.”1
Marabel Morgan is greeting Charlie in pink baby-doll pajamas at dinnertime while her children watch. The “Chicago woman” leaves her husband for her lover, then leaves her lover to ride a Greyhound bus up a mountain alone. One is in the thick of family life, the other pretty far outside it. One is acting; the other enjoying, perhaps, the release from acting. Morgan values fun; Dowling, aliveness and self-understanding. Morgan is onstage, Dowling’s Chicago woman is offstage. In their magnified moments, Morgan’s husband is the audience while the Chicago woman’s husband functions more as a stage.
The drama in the Chicago woman’s magnified moment doesn’t take place between herself and her husband, but between her desire to be attached and her desire to be independent. For Dowling’s woman, the drama does not take place through the enactment of a social role but in an emotional space outside her regular life, beyond the labors of love. For even when she is offstage, away from her marriage, she’s not working on her “intense affair." The focus moves to her feeling in the bus, the mountains, the snow, the anonymous context within which she feels attached but independent. She comes alive focusing inward—figuring out a troubled boundary between herself and anyone else.14 Her feelings are in response to thinking about relationships, not in response to enacting them. If Morgan is inspired by her own success at breathing life into monogamous marriage, the Chicago woman is inspired, perhaps, by daring to challenge it.
Who is on the scene in the Chicago woman’s epiphany? She’s honest. But who is she honest with? Her husband? Her lover? Her children? A close friend? A community of women? It is really none of these. Elsewhere we discover a somewhat people-less career and the idea of exertion, excelling. Her exertion is private and internal, against her very dependency on others.
For Dowling we’re our best when we are by ourselves facing the elements alone, as in the myth of the cowboy, the Jack London trapper in a forest, Hemingway’s man and the sea. Others of Dowling’s positive moments are stories about women being sprung free into professional success, erotic freedom, and autonomy.1’" In her final chapter she describes a scene from the life of Simone de Beauvoir, who broke her dependence on her life’s partner, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, through a series of fierce missions “climbing every peak, clambering down every gully.. . exploring every valley . . . around Marseilles, through challenging solitary ten hour hikes, 25 miles each day. . . . Simone de Beauvoir’s hikes became both the method and the metaphor of her rebirth as an individual," Dowling says. She quotes de
Beauvoir: “Alone I walked the mists that hung over the summit of Sainte Victoire, and trod along the ridge of the Pilon de Roi, bracing myself against a violent wind which sent my beret spinning down into the valley below. . . . When I was clambering over rocks and mountains or sliding down screes, I would work out shortcuts, so that each expedition was a work of art in itself." Once she charged up a steep gorge, unable to go back the way she came, but, upon reaching a fault in the rock, was unable to jump across. Backtracking down the treacherous rocks, triumphantly she concludes, “ / knew that I could now rely on m 16 In her most dreadful moment, Dowling feels the opposite of this. She begins the book with this passage:
I am lying alone on the third floor of our house with a bad bout of the flu, trying to keep my illness from the others. The room feels large and cold and as the hours pass, strangely inhospitable. I begin to remember myself as a little girl, small, vulnerable, helpless. By the time night falls I am utterly miserable, not so sick with flu as with anxiety’. “What am 1 doing here, so solitary, so unattached, so, .. floating?" I ask myself. How strange to be so disturbed, cut off from family, from my busy, demanding life. .. disconnected. More than air and energy and life itself what 1 want is to be safe, warm, taken care of.17
This desire to be “safe, warm, taken care of” forms the basis of the dreaded “Cinderella Complex,” which, Dowling goes on to generalize, is the “chief force holding women down today.”18 Elsewhere in the book, Dowling points to the waste of brains when women don’t have careers. She cites the Stanford Gifted Child Study of 600 California children with IQs above 135. She notes that most male geniuses have had high-level professional careers while most women geniuses have not. This isn’t good for society, she says, or fair to women; in this, Dowling’s advice book is clearly feminist and modern.
The Total Woman and The Cinderella Complex are guided by different inspirations, Morgan tries to have fun, she likes to act and feel exuberantly playful in the confines of a unitary patriarchal world. The dangerous feelings for her are anger, assertiveness, strivings outside the home, feelings that do not fit that patriarchal world. Dowling, on the other hand, strives to be honest with herself, to control and tame her needs in a sparsely populated and socially dispersed world. For her, the dangerous feeling is the desire to be “safe, warm, and taken care of.” Indeed, her fear of being dependent on another person evokes the image of the American cowboy, alone, detached, roaming free with his horse. The American cowboy has long been a model for men struggling against the constraints of corporate capitalism. Now Dowling embraces this ideal for women. On the ashes of Cinderella, then, rises a postmodern cowgirl.
The two authors differ in their ideas about what is exciting: attaching yourself to a man or detaching yourself from him. They differ in their policies toward emotion management: one advises women to suppress any assertion of will in the service of binding them to men; the other advises women to suppress any feeling that would bind them to men too closely. They differ in the place they accord autonomy in the ideal feminine self and ultimately in their views about danger and safety in the world for women.
Although the advice books I’ve studied don’t line up in the same rows on all dimensions, if we sort them according to (heir views on the role of women, roughly a third lean toward the “traditional” model. Examples are the humorous Erma Bombeck’s Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (1983), her The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank (1976), and James Dobson’s Parenting Isnt for Cowards (1987). Roughly two-thirds lean toward the modem model, of which The Cinderella Complex is an especially individualistic example. We find a lighter, more saucy version of it in Helen Gurley Brown’s Having It All (1982). Equally searching but less focused on autonomy are Susan Forward and Joan Torres’s Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them (1987), Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Muck (1985), Connell Cowan and Melvyn Kinder’s Smart Women, Foolish Choices ■( 1985), and Barbara De Angelis’s Secrets about Men Every Woman Should Know (1990).
Most of these “modem” books whisper to the reader, “Let the emotional investor beware.” If Morgan counsels women to accumulate domestic capital and invest at home, Dowling cautions women to invest in the self as a solo enterprise. Most advice books of the 1970s and 1980s are spin-offs or mixtures of these two investment strategies. Gaining the edge during this period, then, is the postmodern cowgirl who devotes herself to the ascetic practices of emotional control and expects to give and receive surprisingly little love from other human beings.
A handful of books are warm modems, emphasizing equality and social attachment, sharing and commitment. Examples are the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective’s Ourselves and Our Children (1978) and Harriet Lemer’s The Dame of Anger (1985). It is my impression—though I’ve not taken a systematic look at women’s advice books since 1990—that the supply of warm modem books has expanded, although not that much.