Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cautionary advice to young ladies - and Internet users

I found this bizarre photocopy - posted here - via someone's Twitter feed earlier today. Stu Kennedy, who put it up, tells me that it was forward to his brother at work as part of a circulatory email.

The text, which purports to be from "a sex education textbook for girls" from the 1960's", reads as follows:

When retiring to the bedroom, prepare yourself for bed as promptly as possible. Whilst feminine hygiene is of the utmost importance, your tired husband does not want to queue for the bathroom, as he would have to do for his train, but remember to look your best when going to bed. Try to achieve a look that is welcoming without being obvious. If you need to apply face cream or hair rollers, wait until he is asleep before doing so, as it can be shocking for a man last thing at night. When it comes to the possibility of intimate relations with your husband, it is important to remember your marriage vows and in particular, your commitment to obey him.

If he feels that he needs to sleep immediately afterwards, then so be it. In all things be led by your husband's wishes. Do not pressure him in any way to stimulate intimacy. Should your husband suggest congress, then, agree humbly all the while being mindful that a man's satisfaction is more important than a woman's. When he reaches his moment of fulfilment, a small moan from yourself is encouraging to him and quite sufficient to indicate any enjoyment that you may have had.

Should your husband suggest any of the more unusual practices, be obedient and uncomplaining but register any reluctance by maintaining silence. It is likely that your husband will fall promptly asleep after relations have concluded, so once he is fast asleep, adjust your clothing, freshen up and apply your night-time face and hair care products.

You may then set the alarm so that you can arise shortly before him in the morning. This will enable you to have his morning cup of tea ready when he awakes.

A hoax, I presume. It certainly reads like one, though that hasn't stopped many people from taking it at face value. The "sex education" book isn't named in any of the online sources for the text. It is variously attributed to the early 60s, the 1950s, or specifically to 1963; several sources add the claim that it was "written by a woman" (although the author herself is never named). Almost all versions include the phrase "this is an actual extract". The earliest dated example I've tracked down online is from an old messageboard, August 2002.

The page above, whose provenance I cannot trace, seems to be from a printed original. I can't confirm this; there are, however, other known printed versions. The same passage also occurs in "The Good Wife's Guide", supposedly taken from a Home Economics textbook (also from the Sixties) in which the sexual advice is tacked onto the end of more general comments about an ideal housewife.

The first paragraphs of this read as follows:

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return from work. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it. Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

These same paragraphs also occur in a shorter piece with the same title, which claims to be from Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May, 1955.

This is how The Good Wife's Guide ends:

Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

A good wife always knows her place.

The longer Internet version omits the two sentences following "fairness and truthfulness". Instead, it continues like this:

Once he has had a chance to have his evening meal clear the dishes and wash up promptly. If your husband should offer to help decline his offer as he may feel obliged to repeat this offer and after a long working day he does not need the extra work.

Encourage your husband to pursue his hobbies and interests and be supportive without seeming to encroach. If you have any little hobbies yourself try not to bore him speaking of these, as women's interests are often rather trivial compared to men's.

At the end of the evening tidy the home ready for the morning and again think ahead to his breakfast needs. Your husband's breakfast is vital if he is to face the outside world in a positive fashion.

Once you have both retired to the bedroom prepare yourself for bed as promptly as possible....

There follows the sexual advice with which we began.

According to Urban Legend site Snopes, the magazine extract is a fabrication: it didn't surface until long after the text began circulating by email and is "clearly a mock-up". It is just possible that it dates from the 50s - presumably as a satire on contemporary images of the ideal housewife. On balance it's likely to be far more recent, however. It is said to have been circulating in faxed form since the 1980s.

To sum up: the sex advice, purporting to be "an actual extract from a sex education textbook", began life as a hoax continuation of an original spoof article, itself likely to have been a hoax. But the style also owes something to another piece dismissed by Snopes, the hilarious "Advice to Young Brides" supposedly written in 1894 (though the repeated use of the word "sex" rather gives it away). The bride in that text, though, is imagined to be a young woman of rather more spirit than the submissive Stepford-style wife depicted in the passage allegedly from the 1960s. For example:

The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency.

Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.

Clever wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage.

It's also rather kinky:

Most men are by nature rather perverted, and if given half a chance, would engage in quite a variety of the most revolting practices. These practices include, among others, performing the normal act in abnormal positions; mouthing the female body; and offering their own vile bodies to be mouthed in turn.

A hoax, obviously. Yet according to Wikipedia, while Advice to Young Brides "reads like a satire on the Victorian era" and is often assumed to be a spoof, it is actually genuine. At least, it is accepted as being so by the University of Washington, which published the piece in its bizarre entirety on its website in 1998. The URL would seem to bear this out. Furthermore, it was the pamphlet's use in a UW course in human sexuality that year that led to its modern circulation on the Internet.

Despite these undoubted facts, I remain sceptical. There are good reasons for thinking it to be a hoax: neither the alleged writer (a suspiciously-named Ruth Smythers) nor the supposed publisher have left any trace in the records. In fact, the only evidence offered in the text's favour is its endorsement by the University of Washington. Academics have fallen for hoaxes often enough not to take this as decisive.

And what of the piece with which we began? Some sources date it precisely to 1963, the year (according to Philip Larkin) in which "sexual intercourse began". A coincidence? The world it depicts probably never existed - unless Mad Men is a documentary.

If anyone has any clue as to who actually wrote any of these pieces, and when, do please let me know.

SEE UPDATE 14/2/2010


Anonymous said...

"...a small moan from yourself..."

Nag, nag, nag.

Edwin Moore said...

William Donaldson (of the Henry Root letters) is always a likely candidate, though i don't think this one is quite up to his usual standard. Donaldson's best, for me, are the non-sexual ones - there was a good one about Lee van Cleef and modern art from one of his bog books, that still pops up occasionally.

The photo doesn't look right does it? The drying thingy is 50s I think, the clothes are surely much earlier and the human wearing them played centre half for Partick Thistle in 1961.

Anonymous said...

I've no idea who wrote them but they did bring a smile to my face - thanks - *moan*.

Sue R said...

A few discrepancies in these texts. I don't think rotary lines were invented until the 70s ( I could be worng but I don't recall ever seeing them until the mid 70s), the term 'mouthing' strikes me as unlikely. In those days it dwould have been known more euphemistically as 'intimate kissing'. And, to talk about 'the normal act in abnormal ways' (or whatever it says) is not how it would have been expressed, people talked about 'intimacy' or 'the intimate act' when they wanted to be polite. Also, the top photo looks like an obvious fake. The woman is dressed in Edwardian clothes and she appears to be superimposed on the rotary line. My guess is that she is a Scottish fishwife from the 1900s.

gsw said...

"This will enable you to have his morning cup of tea ready when he awakes."

This is a dead give away. Anyone growing up in England in the sixties knows that the husband made the moring tea and served it to his family in bed.

Natalie said...

The font is the same in both the intro and the text, and it looks like a modern font. Is it verdana? I think verdana has only been around since the 90s.

HelenB said...

Thanks very much for this.

I received it in an email, cackled but was convinced it had to be a hoax, didn't manage to find it on Snopes.

I do love the way people LONG to believe it's true. It's like what Blanche says in 'Streetcar Named Desire': "I don't tell what's true. I tell what OUGHT to be true."

Unknown said...

It probably is a hoax, but I don't think it's a dead cert. There was a vast range of thought, and there would certainly have been people that thought like that. In fact, there are certainly people nowadays who still think like that!

But times haven't changed as much as we like to think - Do a google image search for:
adverts sexist women

If you think the beliefs of yesteryear are truthfully represented by magazine articles and adverts then I would say things have barely changed at all.

alysha said...

The Hills Hoist Rotary clothesline was invented in Australia in 1946, so while I am quite sure this is a hoax...the small moan of gratitude does it for me, the clothesline is not anachronistic.

Jim said...

I was born in 1938. Based on these comments (save for alysha's on the rotary clothesline) I imagine you kids will be explaining to one another why it was impossible that I or my school mates ever existed; why we could or would never have used the language or had the thoughts we did; that kids never "really" had oreos & milk as snacks after school; that I "could not have" attended a one room country school with a potbellied black iron stove in the middle, double desks so the older kids could help the younger ones study, the 2nd grader drove the teacher to school in a Model A Ford (& once almost knocked the school building off its foundation by failing to brake properly), learned to read by gas & kerosene lantern light, or many other events which were actually commonplaces at the time.

The greatest ignorance is the presumption that things have always been as they are today, and are likely to continue that way. The presumption that people who remember the truth about the past are liars or fantasists is a great prejudice; it takes geniuses like Schliemann (Troy) to prove how wrong the skeptics are and how accurate oral histories and traditions are. But the lesson is never learned, each new generation lapses into the same ignorance of and prejudice against the past again.

I cannot produce copies of the magazines or books that are discussed here. I can say that many of the quarrels with the details are baseless, as exemplified by the astonishing belief that rotary clotheslines appeared only in the '70s.

And I can say that the attitudes and beliefs communicated by the articles and books described in this post existed, and were written about and advocated in popular literature of my grandparent's, parent's and my own 1940's & 1950's lives. We did not dispose of "old books" or magazines so readily then - they were not cheap, and were valued. So I got my earliest sex education from "Home Economics", physiology, and "Eugenics" texts published from the '20's through the '40's.

People who want to comment on the past should spend some time in the periodicals section of a library, reading periodicals from the periods they are commenting on, before doing so. Start with the 1880's and 1890's womens, householders, and farm magazines, intended for mass consumption. I believe you'll be much less skeptical about these items after exposure to real media from that period. And you might even find the sources of the documents.

Anonymous said...

I have the actual magazine from my grandmother with the "Good Wife's Guide" in it and can assure that it isn't a hoax but the real thing.

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