This 1973 Marriage Manual Uses Beauty For Evil

"The Total Woman" offers bad advice and worse gender politics.
Publish date:
March 10, 2015
costumes, books, sexism, feminism, 70s, bubble baths, gender, marriage

Are you feeling unfulfilled by your marriage? Is your relationship tense, stale, or disappointing? According The Total Woman, a 1970s self-help book, a little glamour can go a long way.

Applied liberally, bubble baths, wigs, and sexy costumes will incentive your husband to lavish you with affection. He probably won’t regard you as a capable adult, but in the world of The Total Woman, that’s just fine!

The Total Woman was written by Marabel Morgan, a “former beauty queen, housewife, and mother of two.”

It came out in 1973, at a time when second wave feminists were making significant progress in their fight to give women the same legal and social advantages as men.

Morgan’s book offers an alternative to gender equality: a “blissful” married state where the husband makes all the important decisions. His wife “graciously chooses to adapt to her husband’s way, even though at times she may desperately not want to.” Fun!

The premise of the book is simple, if mind-bending. Any wife can fix an unhappy marriage all on her own--in fact, her husband isn’t even supposed to know that she’s doing it! By becoming a “total woman,” she creates the perfect conditions for her husband to become a “total man.”

“Total woman” is never really defined, but the book gives an impression of sex and sunshine: a compliant and upbeat super-housewife who’s always pretty and always in the mood.

After all, “when his need for an attractive and available wife is met, he’ll be so grateful that he will begin to meet your needs.”

Although the book starts as a gender nightmare, it devolves into sheer comedy when Morgan starts offering beauty advice.

She strongly suggests taking a good look at your “curb appeal.” Are you as pretty as you were when you first married? Do you look pretty 24 hours a day? No? Well, here’s a plan of action:

  • If your husband arrives home at 6:00, take a break from housework and jump in a bubble bath at 5:00 so you can greet him “in a cloud of powder and cologne.”
  • Even better: greet him at the door in a sexy costume. Remember, “Before a man can care about who a woman is, he must first get past that visual barrier of how a woman looks.”
  • Don’t slack: “You may not want a costume party every night but you can work toward it.” (I suggest you start with this.)
  • Of course, all this sexy role play will have to co-exist with family life. “If you have older children, naturally use discretion when they are around. You may not wish to parade around in nylon net at half-past five with your fifteen year old son all eyes. But the children will love your costumes. It makes life exciting. Can’t you just imagine Junior on the sandlot telling his friends, “I’ve got to go now, guys. Got to see Mom’s outfit for tonight.””
  • Even though the this book is all about manipulation, “don’t use costumes as a gimmick to manipulate your husband. He will sense it if you are not sincerely trying to please him out of love.”

The Total Woman really must be read to be believed. I’ve only scratched the surface of this bewildering book. Some of the basic advice is good--be a good listener, be nice to your husband--but it’s set in a sexist framework that infantilizes women and robs them of their autonomy. Horrifyingly, this book was a huge bestseller in 1974.

  • What’s your favourite horrible book?
  • What fun costume would you pick? I think I’d go for Alle’s Scary Mouth