Middle-aged Femme Mom Busts Onto the Blog Scene!

So nice to be here! I’m a soon-to-be-married femme in my mid-forties with 2 kids from a previous relationship. Just wait, and you know I’ll tell you more! But first….

Long before I knew anything about the internet, I had a zine called Mousie. It was a xeroxed wild thing, and for 7 issues, I had lots of fun talking about sexuality, race, queerness, music, and books. Now that I am up on here – boldly taking the blog step, go girl, go! – as my first post, I would like to reprint a book review I wrote for the second issue of Mousie, somewhere back in the early 90s. Since the name of my blog takes inspiration from her books, allow me remind you of a straight woman who, in the wondrous strange way of these things, helped me along the road to my present queer femme self.

MARABEL’S WORLD: The Total Woman (1973) and Total Joy (1976) by Marabel Morgan

reprinted from the second Mousie, circa 1992, the one with the little girl getting her teeth cleaned on the cover

Funny how things work. I read these books in about 8th grade; I was disdainful and angry, my protofeminist sensibilities simply outraged. 17 years later, I’m not so quick to condemn and the world looks much more complex than I once thought. Ah, children, gather round – here is the story of a woman who just wanted to help her sisters learn to be happy.

When Marabel married Charlie, she had no idea of the real world and the real work involved in marriage. “…[R]uffly curtains at the kitchen window, strawberries for breakfast, and lovin’ all the time” was her vision; also, she counted herself lucky because she and Charlie had what she considered great communication skills. The next thing she knew, she was nagging nonstop and he had withdrawn almost completely. So rather than heed those wacky gals who were going around burning their brassieres and turning into lesbians, she started trying to figure out a solution to the problem that would work for her.

What she came up with was for sure not something feminists would agree with. The gag-reflex that kicks in upon seeing her slim paperback, white cover adorned with a single red rose, attests to that. Along with Anita Bryant, Morgan became a symbol of All That Is Evil About Patriarchy. But what if you really loved your husband and thought he was a good person. What if you were aware that a lot of fucked up things were going on in society that encouraged both of you to act stupid and divisive, but you didn’t know how to stop. What if you believed in God and you believed that when you got married that was it and you wanted things to get better within your marriage. All that stuff about women’s lib that you were hearing about on tv wasn’t any kind of help at all. Then someone gave you a copy of The Total Woman, and you read it, and you felt understood and you started to feel hopeful.

Morgan’s books aren’t evil. They aren’t even all that original. A lot of what she says is just standard self-help advice: know yourself, love yourself, respect yourself and others, remember that you have a purpose, try to fulfill yourself, live to your utmost potential, believe in a higher power, change what you can, accept what you can’t, etc. And all the dress-up for your hubby stuff seems pretty tame these days, when Victoria’s Secret caters to fantasies in every shopping mall across America. Like any theory made public, her books run the risk of being misconstrued and used for purposes other than those intended. She doesn’t say that everybody has to do as she did, she’s just offering it up. And it’s quite specifically aimed at white, middle class housewives – also the targets of women’s lib. So she was giving these women an alternative. In the honor-and-celebrate-difference 90s we’re starting to learn that that ain’t such a bad thing.

Ok, so her choices aren’t mine. I don’t want to give all the power in the relationship to the man on the theory that if he knows he has the power, the whole power and nothing but the power – what she calls supporting “The Man, not the Plan” – he won’t abuse it and will go out of his way to make sure I get what I want. The books abound with happy tales of women who loose the reins, stop bitching, acknowledge who is the head of the family and then suddenly are being wooed and won all over again with new kitchen appliances, furniture, vacations…. I don’t believe that God mandated that we should all be in married heterosexual relationships and that those are the only relationships that mean family. I think a lot of what she says about dieting and child raising is silly and a little bit sad. I do, however, agree with her basic point: that if you don’t know, love and respect yourself, it’s hard to know, love and respect someone else.

One thing about these books that did worry me is that it seemed as though a woman in an abusive relationship might see the ideas in the books as a reason to continue with the relationship: If I can just work harder, make myself a better person, then he won’t get angry anymore. Morgan should have addressed this issue more thoroughly. Another thing is that her whole view of men is based on that insidious and pervasive model, Man as Nature. Because he might at any moment explode like a volcano or gust up like a hurricane, a woman must work to appease and anticipate her man. She must do the dance of the high priestess, figure out what sacrifices to offer up, which prayers to say and songs to sing, so that the storm will abate and the crops will grow once more. She must constantly watch the sky and when she sees the clouds gathering, quick, start dancing and praying. Take precautions. Man can’t help himself, that’s just the way he is…. And sadly enough, I think that’s what I really retained and internalized when I read these books at 13 – as romantic and impressionable as I was, I know I swallowed that idea down without even thinking twice.

It’s easy to make fun of these old books, with their slightly breathless, frothy prose and ugly 70s illustrations, and it’s even easier to lose sight of the woman writing them. In Total Joy, which is more mature and thoughtful than The Total Woman, Morgan begins the book with memories of her childhood. When she was in third grade, her parents got a divorce and she lost all sense of security. By eighth grade, she felt so inadequate and embarrassed of herself that she fainted in class when the teacher asked her to read aloud from a book. In ninth grade, when her father died, she says, “I was fourteen years old and I felt eighty. Looking at the streets and trees and houses and realizing the scene was multiplied a million times around the earth sent a bittersweet ache into my heart. The world was so lovely, but I didn’t know where or how I fitted in….I asked myself for the first time, ‘Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?’” Her two books are an autobiographical journey as she attempts to answer those questions for herself.

It was heartening to reread these books and find that Morgan’s work no longer threatens me with a feminist dystopia, nor does it effect me adversely with its messages so important to the status quo. Some of what she says is outrageous and dated, but in an odd sort of way, these books are charming, if only because she’s sincere and goofy and she never loses her sense of humor. A couple of months ago, I wrote to the Total Woman PO Box number that’s printed on the dust jacket, asking if the Total Woman had survived into the 90s – it was a nice letter, respectful. But I’m still waiting for an answer.

I did get a reply from the Total Woman folks – they were still around, still doing workshops. Don’t know if that’s the case over ten years later, but I don’t really need to know. Last week, my butch Beau came back from a week on the road. You know, it was the end of a long day, and I was tired and didn’t much feel like it, but I sent out a silent “howdy” to Marabel and got out my bag of lingerie. Damned if I didn’t meet my soon-to-be hubby at the door in an outfit that lit up her face in a way that made me forget how tired I was and allowed me to glory in our super-duper love.
That’s one of the lovely things I’ve retained and cherished from those old books: if you make a little effort from a genuine place in your heart, the love the two of you share will grow and deepen and that’s what being married means. Cheers, Marabel!

Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 3:37 PM  Leave a Comment