The American Woman


© Eric Dingwall


                                       ... many domestic and foreign
observers have remarked that the United States seems to
have a surprising number of men who remain adolescent and
of women who play the roles both of doll and of matriarch,
and they have not always realized that this is part of  the
American cultural pattern and the result of the domination
of society by women. The conflict in the American soul, is
an economic and a sexual conflict, and the American woman
is,  I  think,  at the heart of that conflict. It is women who
set the stage and largely control the players in important
sections of American life. America is a woman's world, a
world in which, as a Chinese woman, Helena Kuo, remarked,
women have succeeded in everything except in the art of
being truly feminine. In this lies the tragedy and the danger.
It is the purpose of this book to try to see how the American
woman has attained her position and how the whole of
American culture is permeated by her influence.                                                             p. 14

                             ... Theodore Dreiser, in his Hey, Rub-a
Dub-Dub!, contributed a stinging indictment of contemporary
America ...                 As to the American woman, Dreiser
expressed astonishment that the ideas regarding her could
honestly be held by any rational person. But, he stated,
Americans move in a world of illusion. To them woman is
more than human and has become a goddess, a divine
creative principle to whom no vice, error or weakness can be
found. He went on to say that this fantastic delusion caused
sex activity, as it were, to become a criminal offence, since
it was through its expression that the paragon was violated.                                            p. 28

                                          ...Woman, who, unless carefully
brought into legal and moral subjection, was of all things most
likely to be used by that Infernal Serpent as he had already
used her in those far-off days ...
Woman was to be watched and guarded against, and the
Puritans were the ones to do it...
It is when we see the Puritan face to face with the problem
of woman that we can see a picture of strong men wrestling
with something so intangible and elusive that it seemed im-
possible ever to obtain a grip firm enough to discover just what
it was against which they were struggling. The problem had
always been the same. The Fathers of the Christian Church,
saints and holy men in all ages and of nearly all faiths, had
had the same riddle to solve and had failed utterly to solve
it. For here was something that defied analysis; so subtle, so
dangerous was it that proof of Satan's power seemed the only
dear fact that emerged from mature consideration....                                                      p. 34

                               ...  Sex antagonism is no modern
notion built out of the difficulties and tensions of civilized
life. It lies at the heart of the natural process, and com-
promise only is possible. The aims of the sexes are different
and are incompatible. The ways of man are not those of
woman and the paths destined for feminine footsteps can
never be those trod by men. All attempts to suppress
manifestations of this overwhelming impulse are doomed to
failure...                                                                                                                        p. 35

    ... Marriage to the Puritan was an alliance of two persons
joined in love and mutual companionship, help and comfort.
It was, as William Ames again so well put it, an arrangement
whereby existed a "most sociable and intimate affection be-
tween Man and Wife," and anyone who reads the family cor-
respondence in the Winthrop Papers cannot fail to be struck
by the tokens of esteem, respect and affection in the letters ..
in the Puritan family the woman was a responsible individual,
an equal partner with her husband before God, and, as the
bearer and educator of his children (and in spite of the fact
that as a female she was somewhat suspect), began to assume
importance which, as time passed, began to grow and                                                   p. 36

change the general pattern of the family unit. This position
of influence and authority grew so rapidly that I do not sup-
pose that there are any competent historians, male or female,
who would deny the importance of so striking a factor in
moulding of the American Republic...                                                                            p. 37

                                                         ... many of the colonial
women were soon engaged in tasks apart altogether from those
connected with rearing a family. Except in professions such
as Medicine and the Church, their activity was but slightly
hampered, and they soon began to deal with administrative,
executive[,] and legal matters, while some actually managed
businesses ...
The most important social unit in colonial times was nat-
ally the family, and, as we have said, the woman was the
unchallenged head of the home, although her husband was
nominally the head of the family...                                                                                  p. 38

                                                              ... How far the Vin-
dication of the Rights of Women was read in colonial America
I am not prepared to say, but it is clear that the life of Mary
Wollstonecraft was not one of which many would have ap-
proved, and that the sentiments expressed in her outspoken
book were hardly those which would have appealed to the
typical New England housewife. Yet it is here that we can,
I think, perceive the germs of those ideas which were later
to work such havoc in the lives of American women...                                                    p. 43

                                                          ... The wife's place
was the home, and her legal position, borrowed as it was
from European enactments, was that of inferiority, although
the conditions of life were clearly undermining the position
of the husband and the ancient patriarchal pattern. The posi-
tion of dominance that the wife maintained in the home
extended not only to the management of the children and
the household generally but to a certain amount of control
over the husband's purse. In his Letters from America, which
were translated in 1924, the writer, who seems to have been
a German officer and who has described his experiences from
1776 to 1779, declares that the stylish display affected by
the women of New England was due to the fact that they
insisted on controlling the domestic finances, and he adds that
mothers on their death-beds ordered their daughters to retain-
the mastery of the house and the control over their father's
purse-strings. It was thus, he concludes, that "petticoat rule"
was spread throughout America. Thus the growing power of
women arose from a natural process which began to operate
very early in the United States and from which the present
almost "matriarchal" pattern has developed....                                                                p. 48

                   ... early American novels ...
As early as 1802 .. signs of a changing attitude
were becoming dimly perceptible. From the daring rake
bent upon carrying off the protesting damsel to his lair,
to prey upon her hidden charms, the beau was beginning
to be considered a somewhat weak and poor specimen...
                                            ... But the preferences of
the ladies were clearly in another direction and the Rhett
Butlers of the 1800s were much more popular than the gentle
beau who were likened to syllabub--"all froth and show,
white, sweet and harmless." It was not, however, for the
ladies to say so, for only females of the lower grades de-                                               p. 50

graded themselves thus. "Ladies" had no such feelings, and
thus they were able to rise superior to the other sex, which
was clearly much lower in the animal scale. Man was begin-
ning to take the place assigned to him by the American
woman, for was it not she who was about to take the moral
leadership of the country into her own hands? Freedom for
women offered, so it seemed, boundless opportunities for
female improvement and advancement, but on the other hand
it provided opportunities for libertinism where such was de-
sired. This was the dilemma in which the feminist leaders
were always entangled. Jumping from one horn to the other,
they became enmeshed in a web between the two, and in this
web they are still struggling...                                                                                         p. 51

                                                            ... The gradually in-
creasing importance of the mother and the supposed inno-
cence of the female child had a profound influence on social
custom and behaviour, since to the power exercised by mater-
nal authority was added the myth that women were super-
ior morally to the other sex, and that it was only through
an inexplicable arrangement of Nature that they had to sub-
mit to what was, after all, something of a degradation. Thus,
as we shall see later, women were being divided into two
sections, the pure and the impure, and since the children of
both sexes were under the influence of the mother, both boys
and girls were early trained to conduct themselves in ways
which were not only unnatural, but which led directly towards
the formation of those neuroses which are so noticeable a
feature of the American scene today....                                                                          p. 59

           ... the problem of woman and the problem of love
are two of the most serious questions that the people of the
United States have to face. It is true, of course, that there
other highly important problems, such as the economic
problem, the problem of the Whites in their relation to the
Negroes, and the problems of the relations of the United States
with the outside world. Unlikely as it may sound, however, all
these questions are linked up with the fundamental disharmony
between the sexes, a disharmony distinct from, but still con-
nected with, the sex antagonism in other countries....                                                      p. 63

                            ... It was the nineteenth century which
saw the gradual emergence of the new American woman
from the early days to the days of organized feminist agitation
and subsequent power. Her dissatisfaction with her lot can be
seen gradually increasing as the dichotomy of the sexes
became wider and more pronounced. But through the whole
of her numerous activities and troubles a single thread runs
from which branch out numerous fibres in all directions. That
thread is her love-life, and it is because her love-life is hope-
lessly awry that the American woman is as she is. She is too
often a woman without love, for love in America is not
what it is in the rest of the world. Woman is the centre of the
moral chaos, the immaturity, the strange fetishes and the
even stranger practices which are to be observed everywhere
in the United States. Yet it is largely through her that the
system which has put her in her present position is per-
petuated....                                                                                                                   p. 64

                     ... It must be remembered that, as Nathaniel
P. Willis said, a lady in American society could do no wrong,
for the women of the United States were superior to the men,
physically, intellectually and morally...                                                                            p. 72

                                        ... The American husband, as
Mrs. Houstoun wrote in 1850, was "merely the medium
through which dollars find their way into the milliners' shop
in exchange for caps and bonnets." ...                                                                            p. 73

    In 1869 Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe
were still discussing the evils of tight dresses in their The
American Woman's Home, and they joined in the increasing
condemnation of everything masculine, and above all in the
attempt to show the superiority of woman over the mere male.
For example, they declared that it was the brother who was
to do the hardest and most disagreeable work. It was for him
to face the storms and perform the most laborious drudgeries.
As to the family circle, it was for him to give his mother and
sisters precedence in all the conveniences and comforts of                                             p. 75

home life. 15

15 Writing in 1910, an American lady, Katherine G. Busbey, de-
clared that the American boy was subject to the tyranny of his sisters,
and that "an observing Englishman" saw in this fact the beginning
of the so-called slavery of the American man to the American woman
(see Home Life in America, p. 29).                                                                                       p. 76

                                            ... Margaret Fuller herself, who
published sections of her Woman in the Nineteenth Century
in the Dial, showed the same tendency to attribute sexual
irregularities to man alone, and declared that many women
looked upon men as wild beasts, although such a supposition
was surely terrifying if they were all alike. Frail was man, in-
deed, she concluded; but how frail! and how impure! ...                                                p. 77

   ... it was in the nineteenth century that we can see the
beginnings of the theory of male inferiority and female
dominance, not only in the home, but in society in general,
which, as Dickson Wecter points out in The Saga of Amer-
ican Society, women finally dominated completely and occu-
pied a position which the American man has usually accepted
without question. ...
     ...  A. d'Almbert, in his Flanerie Parisienne aux Etats-
Unis, said that the women in the United States realized their
power to such an extent that they abused it like tyrants who
are aware that there is no limit to their despotism. On the
other hand, the men showed a boundless patience and a
deference to the women that could scarcely be imagined.
American husbands, he stated, knew that they were inferior
to their wives, and as they secretly confessed it, their attitude
was explained. The least sign of any gratitude on the part
a woman towards a man was considered superfluous, a
feature which Francis Lieber had noticed twenty years
    Similarly Alfred Bunn in his book Old England and New
England declared that if there was one feature more striking
another in the American character, it was the boundless
attention that American men paid to women. She is supreme,
and they are the mere creatures of her will, an opinion voiced
twenty years before, when William Faux in Memorable Days
in America declared that south of the Delaware woman was
"a little divinity, to whom all must bend, give place, and pay
idle homage." Bunn noticed the rudeness of women when
travelling, and observed one case in which a woman turned
a man off his seat and then used both halves of the settee
for herself and her baggage. It was women of this kind to
whom Anthony Trollope doubtless referred when he spoke
of persons who were more odious to him than any other
human beings he had met elsewhere. Although generally
speaking he found American women charming, he noted that                                         p. 84

they had "no perception of that return which chivalry de-
mands of them," illustrating his thesis by an account of what
he himself observed in street cars  A similar point of view
was expressed by Count de Soissons, who was interested to
confirm what William Dean Howells had written about the
American women when he had said that it was useless to
quarrel with their decisions because there was no appeal from
them. Soissons mentioned that in America everything was
for the woman. Love played a very small part in her life, for
her husband, whom she dominated, was merely a machine
for making money....                                                                                                     p. 85

... a point of view [was] even more forcibly expressed in the                                          p. 96

Philadelphia Public Ledger and Daily Transcript for July
20, 1848, when it said that one pretty girl was equal to ten
thousand men and a mother was, next to God, all powerful...                                         p. 97

                            ... Mrs. Farnham proceeded to com-
pare the two sexes, to the great disadvantage of the male.
Woman's brain was finer, she wrote, as were all her other
tissues: it was, moreover, more complex, as was her general
build. Through this fineness arose her higher character, her
mom delicate grasp, the more penetrative reach of her
faculties, her swifter power to seize relations, her more re-
ceptive states, which were open to illumination and inspira-
tion, and the more fluent inner life which she enjoyed. As to
her body, the same proofs were there...
... Men, she went on, revel in bestial sensuality and they
dare to speak of "fallen women." "I accept man's language,"
Eliza exclaimed; "it is a fall for my sex when it descends to
meet his at the level of sense," for women abhor sensuality
in their own sex, women, who have been shown to possess
the most perfect, "complex, varied, refined, beautiful and
exquisitely endowed organization, comprising, with its cor-
responding faculties, the most susceptible, sensitive yet en-
during constitution; and also the purest, most aspiring,                                                    p. 100

progressive, loving, spiritual nature of any being that inhabits
our earth."
     Such was woman according to Eliza Farnham...
                                            ...  what she had said was not
the reasoned argument of a mature thinker, but the wild and
incoherent ravings of a frustrated, jealous and neurotic
woman, of an American woman of the middle nineteenth
century. She voiced the opinions of many others who ...
felt themselves cheated and trapped, and thus the fight for
quality in the United States was a fight in which sex an-
tagonism played a prominent part. In this connexion Emily
Faithfull quotes an amusing skit on the kind of address de-
livered by an American feminist. "Miss President, feller-
wimmin and male trash generally," the speaker began, "I
believe sexes were created perfectly equal, with the woman a
little more equal than the man ... The only decent thing
about him was a rib, and that went to make something
better."...                                                                                                                     p. 101

    When considering the effect of the motion-picture and the
radio on women in the United States we shall see how the
producers have constantly to bear in mind the tastes and
desires of their feminine and juvenile audiences. For not only
in recreation but also in retail buying the women of twen-
tieth-century America played a highly important part. Sep-
arate as the sexes were in the nineteenth century, the gulf
which divided them was wider still in the twentieth. Women
were still dominant in the social sphere and in the home
where children are concerned. Teachers were still largely
feminine and unmarried, and men still retained a firm but
probably weakening hold on business and politics. It was an
age when the American Woman was coming into her own at
last. She could do all that men could do--almost. It was the
age when the American Man was beginning to wonder what
it was that had hit him. He saw woman in the ascendancy,
and had no idea what was to be done. It was an age when
a Methodist divine (Bishop C. Denny) had to comfort his
male followers by telling them that, come what might, women
at least could not yet "grow a mustache." It was the age
when, as an American woman once told me, the American
Man was simply a doormat-and liked it! ...                                                                   p. 124

      ... Instead of calm confidence many a woman exhibited
merely restless frustration: many mothers were more often
than not maternal tyrants: and younger girls became
stereotyped dolls basing their appearance, manners[,] and dress
upon the film stars ...                    ... hard reality was cast
aside in favour of sensuous phantasy.  The American family
itself seemed to be breaking up...                                                                                  p. 125

        ... the American Woman was becoming more and
more of a problem not only to herself but also to others...
       ... The more observant foreigners were amazed at
what they found and the way in which so many American
men allowed themselves to be dominated and "pushed around"
by their female relations and friends...                                                                           p. 126

 .. I am inclined to regard the enormous importance of
the sissy concept in American life as due to that feminine
dominance which is everywhere apparent ...
It seems to me likely that the idea stems from an only partly
conscious terror on the part of men that maternal domination
may so influence the son that he may lack at least some of
the masculine characteristics that woman still permits the
American male to exercise...
    At the same time, the American mother, while paying lip
service to current beliefs, is not at all anxious to see her sons
exhibit too many of the male characteristics, which may
remind her of her own deficiencies and thus tend to deflate
her assertive personality...
... H. Elfin, in his acute discussion of the aggressive and
erotic tendencies in army life, published in 1946, goes so far
as to say that the profanity and obscenity of the American
soldier is the symbolic rejection of the shackles of that
matriarchy in which he was forced to spend his early years.
He goes on to say that a large proportion of American men                                           p. 130

have never properly developed beyond the early stages of
emotional experience, and that the anxiety and strong reac-
tions they exhibit when required to live by standards expected
of mature adults are proof of the kind of upbringing to which
they have been subjected...
                                                        ... The fact is that, as
Graham Hutton so well puts it, American men, on account
of their upbringing, retain "an unparalleled devotion" to their
mothers ("Moms"). Their lack of maturity is reflected in
what they are called. They are called "boys," often think of
themselves as such, behave as such and indeed often continue
to be called by this word all their lives...                                                                        p. 131

... With the rise of the motion-picture the desires and wishes
of the American girl began to change. Her vitality and desire
for happiness began to be centred upon the kind of life
portrayed on the screen. Happiness was to be obtained by
being beautiful, rich and well known. To be content meant
having a body which men would look at twice, a long sleek
car, and one or more long-drawn-out and passionate love
affairs. As might have been expected, these phantasies made
the girls neither happier nor more contented. The main effect
was to standardize their behaviour as it standardized the cut
of their hair and the style of their dress. It did not, however,
make them more feminine. The American girl, remarked
Maurice Dekobra in 1931, is a beautiful little tigress (although
without claws) who feeds on orchids (without perfume),
gramophone records (without needles)[,] and nocturnal tele-
phone calls (without passion).  Another French observer,
Christiane Fournier, was even more scathing. Writing a year
after Dekobra, she declared that American girls knew nothing
whatever about real love. All they wanted were husbands who
would both earn a million dollars and also wash the dishes.
What was wrong, she insisted, was that in the United States
the women had the men completely under their thumbs...                                               p. 132

... We have already mentioned some of the effects which may
be thought to follow the education of boys by unmarried
women, although perhaps it is an exaggeration to say, with
John Erskine, that the schools have the best intentions but
that what they are actually doing is making girls out of
    However, it must, I think, be admitted that one effect is
that boys learn to obey women...
In one of her critical and well-informed columns in the Wash-
ington Post, Mary Haworth declared that she thought that
the manners and customs of American men were woman-
tailored to a far greater extent than in any other modern
society. American men have, she stated, been taught, with
a few exceptions, by mothers and nurses in their cradle era,
and by women school-teachers in the nursery school, kinder-
garten and grade-school phase of education. It has thus been
possible for the American woman to fashion her ideal man...

29 J. Erskine, Influence of Women and Its Cure, p. 70, Cf. C. F.
Ulrich's review, "Off with their Heads" (Sat. Rev. of Lit., Feb. 15,
1936, vol. xiii, p. 13).                                                                                                         p. 138

... In the preceding pages it has often been said that the social                                        p. 141

dichotomy between the sexes (concerning which more will be
said later) led to an absorption of men in business, thereby
permitting women to dominate the social scene...
                                                           ... Miss Dix always
managed to show what Maurice Dekobra called her imper-
turbable good sense. She pointed out how in the United
States no amount of education or sophistication or knowledge
of what happens to other people prevented women from
believing in fairy-tales. They expected to be perpetual brides,
trailing their clouds of glory for over forty years, and when
this did not happen they could not take it without "squawk-                                           p. 142

ing to heaven" that marriage was a failure. Men, she said,
take marriage as it is, while women yearn for it as it isn't.
Or again, a few weeks later she replied to a girl of nineteen
who said she was very miserable because her husband did
not come up to her idea of the dream husband and the
romantic lover whom she thought he would be. Miss Dix
said that if she had waited to marry until she were grown-up
she would have realized that nobody got a fairy prince for
a husband, and it would be far better for her to realise that
she was dreaming of some impossible creation built out of
her imagination...                                                                                                          p. 143

                                                      ...  boys were often
in as great a fix as the girls. "What line of conduct do the
girls like?" asked one. Did they "crave a little mauling"? He
went on to tell Miss Dix that when he tried a little petting
the girl refused, but if he did not persist, then she would
not date him again, because he was slow. Similarly, if he
actively insisted, he lost the date, because then he was too
"fast." To these conundrums Miss Dix had a ready answer.
She told him that the mystery of how a woman's mind works
made the riddle offered by the Sphinx look like a puzzle
which any moron could solve without effort...                                                                p. 147

                                                                 ... In the United
States, where the growth of the idea of sex equality has been
one of the most important features of the changing social
scene, it could be expected that courtship would reflect this
tendency to a marked degree...  The American girl, fed as
she is week in and week out by the phantasies of Hollywood,
still dreams of the Prince Charming who will take her away
to realms of happiness where life will be one long honey-
moon. Since real life is utterly different from that portrayed
in the magazine or on the screen, disillusionment sets in: the
young wife becomes discontented and miserable, and divorce
follows...                                        ... The main obstacle to
female success and adjustment in courtship is psychological.
Since, in the United States, woman has gained what she be-
lieves is almost complete equality with man, the usual female
role in courtship has to be modified in response to these
claims. In other societies man is usually (though not always)
the one who woos: woman is pursued and won: she is not the
pursuer. This pattern of being pursued and being able to
yield to a man equally desired is a source of the keenest
enjoyment to a woman, since, when finally overcome, she is                                          p. 153

able to enjoy the exquisite passivity which is her role. More-
over, man is at a disadvantage when pursued, and he is apt
to take fright and run away...
He does not altogether care for the signs of the times as
suggested by the titles of such books as Get your Man and
Hold Him, Hold your Man!, How to Snare a Male, or Win
your Man and Keep Him and How to Attract Men and
Money."' Neither did he much relish the picture painted by
Disney's Bambi, where the three bold young females soon
had the fawn, the rabbit[,] and the skunk all "titterpated." But
the fact remained that this was a prevailing tendency, and
men had to make the best of it, and run away when the
chase became unbearable.55  Moreover, if he read the mag-
azines intended for feminine consumption, he might not be
altogether edified by what he found there regarding the Amer-
ican husband. In 1938 Uhler and Fishback were asking if
men were "mice" and saying that they were as timid as
amoebae. Nine years later Louise Simpson said that a hus-
band was seldom a mouse, but nevertheless could be "trapped";
while in 1942 Popenoe told the readers of the Ladies' Home
Journal how husbands could be improved "scientifically," and
in 1944 a wife revealed the secret of "How I Maneuver my
Husband," while the man stated how he liked it!
   It is true that in the United States the courting woman,
or the woman who desires to be courted, attempts to make
of all those subtle tricks known to the feminine world
everywhere, and her experiences of dating and petting have
made her acquainted with what the male wants and how he
responds to attractive suggestions. But what makes courtship
more difficult for the educated American girl is her incurably
romantic approach, with its tendency to divorce love from
sex ...

55 The Theme of All Women are Wolves   (Ed. by A. Silver) is
that it is the girl who is always out to get the boy and that the chief
mission of woman is to pursue the male until capture is effected...                                              p. 154

... Of all periods in the life of the child, the early stages are
often thought to be the most important, for it is during this
period that the course of subsequent development is usually
laid down. From the start of life the girl often behaves dif-
ferently from the boy, yet, in the aim of "equality" for the
sexes, how often--and above all in the United States--are
these differences forgotten, or sometimes even denied. The
ova do not search out the spermatozoa. These swim in search
of them in order to exercise aggression against them and to
penetrate them. The very act of conception implies an act
of male aggression against female passivity. Yet the ovum
does not reject the assault, but welcomes it and enfolds the
vigorous visitor. The very act of love is impossible for the
man without tumescence, while in woman it is always pos-
sible...                                                                                                                          p. 156

                                                                Actresses ...
on the screen are idols and what is offered is the un-
attainable and the impossible.  Moreover, it has been pointed                                         p. 188

out that the standards set by the screen characters are likely
be accepted in many cases even if they be contrary to
prevailing mores, Charles C. Peters [1933] giving as an example
the fact that, according to his estimate, 76 per cent. of the pictures
illustrating love-making present the girl as aggressive as op-
to passive in her behaviour....                                                                                        p. 189

                                      ... Cinema husbands are not
like the men who daily return worn out from the office,
described in Life in 1946 as "wrung-out rags." ...                                                          p. 190

[footnote]             ... The domination of a woman by a power-
ful male is naturally a favourite phantasy in the United States, where
women so often have to play the role of the dominant sex. Many
novels harp on this theme, and scenes are in print, as they are on
the screen, to show some hairy-chested giant as the wild lover...

                                      ... Sir Thomas Beecham, ..
 .. on returning from the United States in 1946, de-
clared that Hollywood was a universal disaster compared
with which Hitler, Himmler and Mussolini were trivial. The
arts in America, he continued, were a gigantic racket run by
unscrupulous men for unhealthy women....                                                                     p. 192

... Perhaps one of the most curious examples of the Holly-
wood portrayal of the American Way was seen in the picture
The Best Years of Our Lives. Here we can see one of the
basic patterns of life in the United States, a life where the
men are childish, nervous and inept, and the women are
strong, dignified and wise. The pictures of the sailor who
has lost both his hands is especially instructive. For here we
have the male who cannot any longer be aggressive. Safe at
last, the woman must be the active partner, as the man's
passivity is forced upon him. 86
    In the more recent pictures of the post-war years, it was
not to be expected that Hollywood would forsake the themes
which had so long expanded box-office receipts, namely, sex
and violence. Woman had, as always, to be portrayed in her
triple roles, that of the glorified American showgirl, the
saintly Mother[,] or the devouring Mom.
    Female pulchritude was still displayed in ravishing forms ...

86 Cf. the film King's Row, where a male character is legless. It
was Mable Dodge Luhan who acutely observed that women like
to have their men sick in bed, as then their patients cannot escape
the domination that the female can thus impose upon them.                                                      p. 193

                   ... Whenever I arrive in my hotel in the United
States I turn on the radio, hoping that one of these so-called
"soap-operas" may be in progress...               ... this deluge
of sentimental folly is of profound psychological interest and
importance. For this is what the radio thinks millions of
American women want, and in fact millions do listen to the
activities and sayings of a troop of moronic characters, sob-
bing, drooling, sniggering and sometimes reeking in gore
mixed with gush, until even the most hardened investigator
has to turn the radio knob to silence. Here we find, as Phil
Wylie has pointed out, "mother-love" of the lowest kind, for
those who listen can hardly fail to be stamped with the
matriarchal brand...                                        ... in ...
these daytime serials can be detected certain broad outlines
of what might almost be called policy. ..
... in the core of the story is generally a woman's problem
placed before women: poor, suffering, tender-hearted women,
from whose beautiful eyes stream tears--salty tears, buckets
and buckets of them. Here, in these poignant dramatic
scenes, the women of America can learn how good and
long-suffering they are, how self-sacrificing and self-effacing
--how superior, in fact, to the mere man who always creates
the troubles, and who is weak, miserable and generally inept...                                      p. 195

            ... These dramas of the air assume the pattern of
straight news. Phantasy becomes reality...
... since they are often written by women--American
women--it is natural that man should be put in the place
reserved for him by the dominant sex in the United States....                                          p. 196

    ... In a female-dominated country like the United States
the man must always be trying to escape from the bands--
swaddling bands--which are constantly throttling him. Yet,
since his early years have been controlled by woman, he finds
complete escape impossible. Only in athletics and business
does it seem that the women cannot often follow him; and
even in the latter occupation he is often surrounded by
by painted "cuties" ogling him and titillating him...                                                           p. 208

                                                        ... In baseball, Paul
Gallico maintained, was one excellent escape. Here his "boss-
inhibited psyche" might be freed; and he went on to explain
that the "average American" was a downtrodden and hen-
pecked creature, existing within the framework of a strict
and rigid matriarchal system. He is always being told what
to do and how to do it, and so it is that when he can escape
the women he loves it...                                    ... even
in the female-free world of athletic contests, the American
man is still a victim to that form of delayed maturity imposed
upon him through the influence of the American woman...                                              p. 209

                                        ... The two sides of the American
man's character were well described by George Cabot Lodge
in one of his letters to Langdon Mitchell in 1904. The Amer-
ican man was an anomaly, he wrote: and then he went on
to compare his efficiency in the practical affairs of life with
his sentimental idiocy. As regards women, Lodge bluntly
stated that man had been dethroned and a woman ruled
in his stead, while as a husband he was "inept and drivelling"
in everything but making money...                  ... Nearly
forty years later Dr. M. F. Farnham, writing in Coronet,
stated that the American husband, far from being the once
dominant male was now a "sad imitation." More often than
not, she declared, he was a cringing and timid person, hen-
pecked and even afraid to say what he wanted. She mentioned
cases of men who were not allowed to walk on the living-
room rug except when visitors were present, who could only
smoke cigars in the privacy of the bedroom, or, "believe it or
not," an instance of one husband who was only allowed to
go out alone to play bowls with his friends once every three
months. Finally, she suggested that it might be as well if "our
women" quietly retreated from a few of their indefensible
positions while they can still do so gracefully.
   It has been a puzzle for many years how long the American
man is going to tolerate his position, though there is little
doubt that in thousands of cases he has no idea that any other
life is possible, so used to it has he become. Indeed, Gerhard
Venuner in his New York ohne Schmincke hazards the joking
assumption that some mysterious hormones act upon him in
a way which favours his subjection. In a review of his book,
published in a Hamburg journal, Dr. Nettebaum asserted
that men can be seen in the United States kneeling before
women putting on their overshoes, and that it is not unknown                                         p. 211

for a husband to have his ears boxed by his wife in a public
place.16 ...
... Mr. John Fischer, of Harper's Magazine,...
                       ... declares that "never in history has any
country contained such a high proportion of cowed and.
eunuchoid males," for it is in the United States that the Ideal
Male "dedicates his life to the pampering of women."...
... the American Father--"Poor old Pop"- .. is almost
a national figure of jest...
      ... Graham Hutton explains the remark of the American
who said that the only two depressed classes were Negroes
and white husbands ...

 16 See Our Petticoat Government , etc. Cf. the cover of Vogue
(Sept. 15, 1946), which shows the meek man kneeling before the
woman, who is standing on a chair.                                                                                     p. 212

... We have seen above that, from the early days of Ameri-
can extreme feminism, attempts have been made to pretend
that women were "as good" as men and could do all that men
did....  as Viola Klein and Karen Horney have both pointed out,
castration phantasies now and then play some part in the
development of the American girl, and how occasionally there
arises a desire for revenge followed by a symbolic castration
of the opposite sex.
    Now, it has often been asserted that women dictate the
purchase of a good deal of male clothing in the United States,
and thus it is possible that the obedient American man is in-
clined to accede to the wishes of his womenfolk more easily
than would be the case elsewhere, especially if the favoured
garments are exhibited and described in an attractive manner.
Towards 1936-8 there began to appear on the American
market a variety of odd articles of male attire ...
                               ... all designed in order, apparently,
to disguise the fact that the wearer was masculine and to
pretend that he was feminine. There were odd snap-pounches
and "concealed no-gap" flies; and in one advertisement the
device was so drawn that not only was all trace of the ob-
jectionable bulge obliterated, but the tight binder was so de-
signed that the role of the wearer was reversed. He had been
turned into a fake woman.19...

19 ...   A kind of symbolic castration has been achieved,
just as the threat of actual castration is often used to deter children
from undesirable habits. Indeed, one American mother declared that
all she had to say was "scissors" to have immediate effect ...                                          p. 213

... The increase of knowledge about the sexual life had affected
women for the worse rather than for the better. For the more
she knew, the more she suspected that she was being cheated.
Reality seemed so different from what she had anticipated ...
Many women knew little of the art of love as described by
Marcel Barriere in his Essai sur le Donjuanisme Contem-
porain. The art of love, he says, consists in initiating women
into sensual pleasure, in revealing to them its poetry and secret
mysteries...        The man's pleasure is forgotten; what is im-
portant is only the pleasure that he bestows, so that his partner
can say it was to him that she owes her deepest bliss.
    It is interesting to observe how the American female before
marriage has to play the part of the romantic doll, and how
after marriage, when the dreams of youth have been shattered
and Prince Charming is seen without the halo, she adopts
role of the dominating Mother ("Mom"), ruling not only
children but her husband also,
    How far such a dominating position is desired or enjoyed
is far from clear. It is obvious that, in many cases, the adop-
tion of such a role is compensatory and is, in a sense, forced
upon the woman. Through it she attempts to become appar-
ently independent and not in any way "inferior" to the man
whom she secretly despises for his spineless acceptance of
the position allotted to him in the United States...
       ...  a case printed in "The Worry Clinic" in the New
York Post of January 15, 1943, referred to a young woman,                                         p. 222

aged twenty-two[,] engaged to the type of "fine man" so idealized
in the United States.  She declared that sometimes he irritated
her so much that she could scream. "Some day I may scratch
his eyes out, so there!" ended her complaints. Further analysis
showed what was wrong. Her irritation stemmed from the fact
that her "fine man" was, as the psychologist put it, one of
"these long-suffering doormats," and the girl herself finally
declared that she only wished that her fiance would give her a
sound spanking. Summing up the situation, the psychologist
declared that the more men submit to "such petticoat rule,"
the more irritated and angry the women become.  He summed
up one of the basic reasons for the frustration and unhappi-
ness that so many American women experience. Yet it is not
often that American women complain and confess their true
feelings, and doubtless they often accept their position and
even glory in it. 28
    One way out of the American wife's dilemma is to have
more than one husband to fulfil her demands in various di-
rections. This solution was amusingly put forward in 1925
by Alexander Black, and the relevant sections condensed in
The Reader's Digest for February 1946. One husband would
look after her material needs, another would act as handy-
man about the house, and the third would attend to her during
the night, and when not active would have to be a "noiseless
sleeper," so as not to disturb her ladyship...
                                                    ... I am of the opinion
that the lack of full sexual satisfaction is at the core of the
discontent manifested by so many American women, and as it
has therefore its repercussions in every department of life ...

28 See Emily Hahn, who stated that Englishwomen and American
men "know their place," that a "female minority" rules the States,
and that American "boys" are scared to death of not loving their
mothers (London Evening Standard, March 16, 1948, p. 6) ...
... Mrs. M. A. Hamilton said, on Feb. 21, 1949, when broadcasting
on American women in the United States, "Mother knows best"
for "Mom rules the home." She even stated that in that "woman's
Paradise" men wear overshoes because women insist, for the
United States is ruled by women and they know it and "everybody
knows it." ...                                                                                                                  p .223

                                     ...  The man, for his part, has to con-
tend with a complex of ideas and ideals which are fundament-
ally hostile to satisfactory relations. Tied to the maternal
image, adolescent in behaviour and outlook, and with a pic-
ture of woman completely out of focus, many an American
man finds that full and satisfactory relations are impossible.
Full virility is not lacking: where he fails is in not using
his powers so as to obtain not only the maximum satisfaction
for himself, but also that for his partner, ...    ... the attitude
of dominance and superiority adopted by the American
woman is fatal to her own enjoyment...                                                                         p. 224

... The American cartoon is frequently valuable as a pointer
towards the more intimate social relations between the sexes.
A subject very commonly portrayed is the spineless male being                                     p. 225

bullied, cajoled or persuaded to wake up and realize what a
woman wants...
                ... were he to possess the technique of a Casanova
and the virility of a sexual athlete, his work would be in vain                                           p. 226

were he to attempt to court many an American woman.  For
if the American man's courtship is a "wash-out," to use
Odette Keun's words, an American woman's bed-manners are a
disaster. This truth came to the British author, R. W. Thomp-
son, when he was in New York. There he saw these superb
American women with their "lovely limbs," their "beautiful
legs," with that amazing background of "breasts, buttocks and
bellies" on the bookstalls, on the boards and even on the
bedposts. Here they were, perfectly turned out, ready made
and patterned, but "not for love."32  For he saw clearly that
he was in the motherland of dominant women who were mak-
ing idols of themselves and demanding tribute. Such women
were to be worshipped at a distance...

32 R. W. Thompson, Black Caribbean, pp. 50-1.

It might be an American axiom, as Varigny averred in 1889,                                          p. 227

that in the United States woman was queen: she might be
"unique," or, as F. Roz expressed it in 1927, "un objet
precieux et rare, infiniment recherche," she might be "envied"
in England and "revered" on the Continent, as the Nearings
maintained in 1912; she might, as Mrs. M. A. Hamilton ex-
pressed it when broadcasting from England in 1949 be "the
Eighth Wonder of the World," but could she be happy when
her men never seemed to grow up ...
    It was rarely that she lost her patience with the men who
failed her. To do so would be undignified, and also it would
show that she was at least partially dependent upon men for
her own satisfaction. Occasionally, however, it was too much.
One day the Baltimore Post carried a story of an incident
where three girls offered a man a lift in their automobile.
Driving to a quiet spot, they stopped, proposed a "petting
party," but found the guest unable or unwilling to gratify
them. Stung with contempt and fury, they seized him, stuck
pins into him, and left him in such a condition that he
to be removed to the nearest hospital.37

37 See Americana , 1926, p. 87; and cf. the American Mercury
(March 1926). Another case has recently been reported...

                                                        ... as Emily Hahn has
put it in Seductio ad absurdum, seduction was really the art                                         p. 228

persuading a person to do what he or she really wanted to do
all the time. The question was, did the American woman
want anything done to her?  Did her position as the dominant
sex permit any act of aggression, without some kind of psyche-
logical conflict ensuing? Certainly, aggression with her consent
was difficult. But what about it without her consent?
    This question always brings to my mind an incident in a
theatre I once attended. During one of the scenes in the play,
a number of women were together and about to be interviewed
viewed by a mysterious man. Much whispering went on in
the waiting-room, and then one said in a high-pitched voice,
"Do you think he'll rape us all? How wonderful!" The house
broke into applause, and women all round me were clapping
and stamping, their eyes bright with anticipation.
    In 1953 the United States Government crime reports show
17,900 cases of rape. How far these were genuine cases of
rape with violence on unwilling and resisting victims I do
not know, and it does not concern us here.38 What is now
of interest to consider is whether or no some American women
cherish phantasies of rape, or perhaps it would be better to
say of violent love-making, thus relieving themselves of the
pretence of dominance, and enjoying what otherwise they
would have resisted as being incompatible with their ideas of
superiority and moral virtue...

38 Cf.  J. A. and R. Goldberg, in Girls of City Streets for an analy-
sis of 1,400 cases of alleged rape. Some time ago the Louisville Times
decided to print the names of women who complained of rape in
cases where the defendant was found not guilty. It was apparently
found necessary to do this as a protection for men against the designs
of frustrated and sex-starved women. In 1943 a girl of seventeen com-
plained that she had been raped by twelve men during a cinema per-
formance at the Bronx Opera House, where some time previously a
woman had stated she had been raped twenty-five times!                                                         p. 229

                                                             ... one of the main
reasons for the violent colour prejudice in the South is due
to the fact that the white women are sexually unsatisfied and
jealous of the attention that coloured women get from white
men, while white men are often jealous of coloured men,
since the former labour under the common delusion that peo-
ple of dark skin colour are more virile, sexually competent[,]
and capable of sustained activity than persons of lighter
   These beliefs permeate the South and have created great
trouble, misery and psychological tension. Before the civil
war, Southern society, always very different from that of the
East, was partly centred upon the position, charm[,] and de-
sirability of women, but the presence of the Negro embittered
relations, since the white woman had to be represented as the
antithesis of her coloured sister. Young men consorted with
black women as a matter of course, and indeed it is said that a
Southern jest tells of how men in the South do not know till
they marry that they can embrace a white woman. Thus the
white woman of the South was supposed to have no desires
and no passion. She was a block of ice, a white goddess, pure
as the snow and as cold, and any approach was, in a sense, a
violation of an ideal, almost sacrilegious...                                                                     p. 233

                                                ... The Negro woman was
not only complaisant; she was free from that ever-present
sense of guilt and sin which still permeates all American so-
ciety. Thus she offered a contrast to the white woman of the
South, who was thereupon raised on a pinnacle and presented
to the world as the perfect example of ice-cold chastity,
purity[,] and innocence. The result of this gynaecolatry was (and
is still) catastrophic. For the terrible frustration which the
Southern woman suffered was turned outward and became
aggressive, and her aggression was directed quite simply and
naturally against those whom she believed were partly re-
sponsible. It is thus that we find that the whole question of
colour prejudice in the South revolves around the sexual ques-
tion. The ever-present thought of rapes; the eternal question
as to whether one wants one's daughter to marry a Negro;
the marked sadistic elements in certain lynchings; the grow-
ing jealousies and rivalries which are beginning to spring up--
all these to the student in abnormal psychology are unmis-
takable pointers towards what J. W. Johnson has called 'the
core of the heart of the American race problem.' " ...                                                     p. 234

                                         ... In the United States female
tranquillity is an impossibility. The failure to find the mate
she needs is finally accepted, and the domination which was
partly the cause of the failure becomes a kind of compensatory
device whereby her own self-respect may be maintained. The
American Mother becomes "Mom," and takes her place in the                                      p. 235

curious matriarchal set-up of American society, where she
reigns supreme ...
                          ... An American girl's bedroom is shown ..
.. On the walls are eleven "pin-ups." No, not of boy-friends or
actors, says the caption, but of famous pin-up girls. Indeed, it
was an all-woman room, and possibly the caption suggests the
"forerunner of an all-woman world." ...
                                                    ...  in the Washington
Post, Mary Haworth is constantly having to deal with the
question of maternal dominance and the adolescent attitude
of the married man. On December 20, 1942 she was advising
a divorced wife who married one of a mother's five spoilt
sons. He proved to be impossible, two of the others died of
alcoholism and another committed suicide. Two days later
another wife told how her husband wanted to go back to his                                         p. 236

mother, and not live with his wife, as he was the "perfect
mama's boy."...
... Dorothy Dix's column told the same story. In 1942 two
sisters (age twenty-eight and twenty-three) and their brother
(twenty-six) wrote asking advice on how two escape "their
mother's tyranny." ...     The same year a young woman
wrote asking advice on how to deal with mothers who try
to prevent their sons from having anything to do with her.
She described the maternal barrage of insinuation and abuse,
and then remarked that "of course ... Sonny crawls back
safely to Mamma and I lose out."  In October of the same
year Miss Dix had a whole article on the dominating woman.
When a man marries, she said, this kind of woman believes
he belongs to her "just as much as though he were a slave
she had bought in the market-place." As to the children,
every symptom of initiative is ruthlessly crushed. "They must
always hold on to Mother's hand and be guided by her." They
are left in perpetual babyhood even after they have grown
up. The divorce courts are filled with their complaints that
they aren't pampered "as Mother did." Men have their ward-
robes, their stomachs, their eyes, their tastes and their
thoughts taken over by women.
    In 1943 a bewildered wife wrote to Miss Dix asking what
was to be done with her mother, who, young, well[,] and strong,
insisted on living with her and being supported by her, and at
the same time tried to persuade her to leave her husband and
child and live with her elsewhere. Finally, in 1943 Miss Dix
said in plain words that "thousands upon thousands" of Amer-
ican mothers were wrecking homes because they could not
bear the thought of their children's independence. This was
what was called "mother love," Miss Dix dryly remarked, but
it would be better for the children if it were hate...                                                         p. 237

...  I have always been amazed at the quantities of alcohol
that American men consume preparatory to love-making ...                                           p. 244
                                       ...  It must be difficult for many
an American man to have a normal spontaneous relation
with a woman who has an attitude of cold dominance or of a
goddess requiring worship.  Sexual satisfaction, therefore, has
to be either attained in phantasy or with women to whom sex
is a profession and who do not fall within the class of "good"
women to which belong the mother, the sister[,] and the wife...                                      p. 245

... As early as 1862 I. J. Benjamin stated that America worships
two idols ..  Mammon  and  the  female  sex ...                                                              p. 256  (footnote)

            ... With feminism triumphant she lost her feminin-
ity, and with her femininity her peace of mind....                                                             p. 257

   The main difference between the two great blocs of English-
speaking people is, I am convinced, the position of women
in the two societies. In the one case we have a culture
through the development of which feminine influence has
become dominant, and through this dominance a kind of
infantilism and immaturity is spread among considerable
portions of the population. In the other, as among the great
Latin peoples, feminine influence is pronounced, but woman
has never attempted to usurp the position accepted by man,
and thus bring him under her undisputed sway. Such an
empire brings neither happiness nor peace of mind to her
who rules it and nothing but neurotic restlessness to him
who submits. This is one key to the American enigma, and
through an understanding of the American woman's place
and sexual activities in the industrial society of the United
States, the paradoxes and contradictions in American life
may become resolved.                                                                                                 p. 258


Dingwall, Eric John. The American Woman, Signet Books, New York . © 1956, 1957.

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